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Letter 206

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

Summary

This fragment of a letter, dated April 8, 1958, was written to Rayner Unwin. 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 embarassed about this; it was mushroom soup, named after Farmer Maggot, not 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 interweaved with speeches. He liked all but one of the speeches, by a psychologist. Tolkien himself also speeched, in a parody of Bilbo's speech.

At the end of the night, the Rotterdam tobacco company Van Rossem gave him three barrels of pipe-weed: Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby and Southern Star, and several pipes. Tolkien finishes 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 invitaiton 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.
  • 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."