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Letter 206

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 206
RecipientRayner Unwin
DateApril 8, 1958
Subject(s)"Hobbit Dinner"

Letter 206 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Summary

In late March, Tolkien had attended a "Hobbit Dinner" at Voorhoeve en Dietrich, a Rotterdam bookseller. Tolkien first recounts his arrival in Rotterdam, where he was met by C. Ouboter, the boss of Voorhoeve en Dietrich, who waved a copy of The Lord of the Rings at the railway station.

The bookseller held a dinner, which included "maggot-soup". Tolkien tells Rayner Ouboter was embarrassed about this; it was mushroom soup, named after Farmer Maggot, not a soup of vermin. After meeting a representative of Het Spectrum, the publisher of Max Schuchart's Dutch translation, he went to see Rotterdam, ruined and half-rebuilt. Tolkien associated the Dutch people's love for Hobbits with this tragic event in Rotterdam: old, ancestral and natural buildings, replaced by gigantic and largely dehumanised buildings.

The second day, a Friday, he dined with 200 paying people. Both Tolkien and his Dutch friend professor Piet Harting were surprised about the attendance, and even more about the many that had been turned away. The dinner was long and abundant, and interwoven with speeches. He liked all but one of the speeches, by a psychologist. Tolkien himself also spoke, in a parody of Bilbo's speech.

The Rotterdam tobacco company Van Rossem had put up posters over-printed with pipe-weed: Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby and Southern Star. Later they sent Tolkien pipes and tobacco. Tolkien finished this fragment by thanking Rayner. Allen & Unwin had paid for Tolkien's journey.

Notes

  • Voorhoeve en Dietrich was a Rotterdam bookseller and printer, legendary in Rotterdam, but not existent anymore.
  • More about the nature of this visit is revealed in Humphrey Carpenter's biography. The invitation for this dinner followed several others; as The Lord of the Rings had been translated in most European languages, it gained huge popularity on the continent.
  • Author Hella Haasse was one of the guests at the large dinner.
  • Tolkien's speech was, according to Carpenter, in English, Dutch and Elvish. He includes the finishing statement: "[...] that it is now exactly twenty years since I began in earnest to complete the history of our renowned hobbit-ancestors of the Third Age. I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentlehobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees."