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Letter 238

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 238
RecipientJane Neave
Date18 July 1962
Subject(s)Money, health, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Sir Gawain, details about Pearl

Letter 238 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien had sent a cheque to his aunt and apparently she wished to return it so that he could buy a wheelchair for Edith since she had arthritis. Tolkien appreciated her noble and self-sacrificing suggestion but urged her to cash the cheque and spend it. He called it a small cheque taken from present abundance above the needs of his family. Edith did not need a chair and if she did he could give her one.

The abundance was astonishing and Tolkien was grateful to God. Not long before he had worried that they could not continue to live where they were on an inadequate pension. But becoming a septuagenarian he began receiving a retirement pension. Unwin had told Edmund Fuller[notes 1] that his books were the most important and profitable things he had ever published. (This was just for his aunt; it was unwise to boast or advertise good fortune, as all Fairy-stories teach.)

Tolkien and his wife were healthier this year, partly due to dieting. Edith did all cooking, most housework, and some gardening – heroic effort but beneficial. They had lost their "help" and Tolkien said that if his aunt wanted to pray for temporal blessings, ask for the near-miracle of new help.

His book of poems[notes 2] was done, for his part. Pauline Baynes had begun the illustrations and the publishers were intending it for Christmas. His current project was putting into order his translation of Sir Gawain and Pearl.

The Pearl was much the more difficult to translate due to its metre. He had begun work on it years ago; in fact some stanzas had been broadcast in the 1920s.[notes 3] Tolkien said he mostly finished it before the war, but it disappeared during the conflict and while working on The Lord of the Rings. Scholars had thought its metrical form was almost impossible to write in and thus quite impossible in modern English.

Tolkien sent his aunt his own original stanzas, which was related to his own mythology. He said he would send her a copy of Pearl as soon as he could get a carbon copy. It has 101 twelve-line stanzas. It was an elegy but used the then fashionable[notes 4] dream-framework to discuss theological views about salvation. It had moments of poignancy. It also was absurdly complex in technical form but the poet was on the whole successful. Tolkien then gave exacting details of the construction of Pearl.

[edit] Notes

  1. An American critic
  2. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  3. Actually on 7 August 1936
  4. Pearl was contemporary with Chaucer.