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Letter 25

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 25
RecipientThe editor of the Observer
DatePrinted in the Observer on 20 February 1938
Subject(s)The Hobbit

Letter 25 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Summary

On 16 January 1938 the Observer newspaper published a letter asking about the The Hobbit's links to Beowulf and other branches of mythology, as well as the literary and philological origins of Tolkien's Hobbits. In this letter, printed in the newspaper on 20 February 1938,[note 1] Tolkien provides a thorough reply. He confirms the debt he owes to Beowulf, though thinks it was largely unconscious. Concerning Hobbits he does not remember precisely where he 'got the idea' and has not encountered the "old fairy tale" that the letter-writer vaguely remembers also contained furry creatures called "Hobbits" (Tolkien therefore suspects they are only accidental homophones, and points out that his Hobbits did not live in Africa and were not furry).

Tolkien then gives the origins of some of the names he can trace: Gandalf and the dwarves' from the Elder Edda, Smaug's from the Germanic Smugan ("to squeeze through a hole") and Hobbits' from "Obvious Sources" (he gives "the full list of their wealthier families...: Baggins, Boffin, Bolger, Bracegirdle, Brandybuck, Burrowes, Chubb, Grubb, Hornblower, Proudfoot, Sackville, and Took"). He also discusses his idiosyncratic use of the plural dwarves—he "knew no better"—and runes.

Notes

  1. In Letter 26 Tolkien explains that this "long and ridiculous" letter was intended only to be forwarded to the original letter-writer. He had written another, "short and fairly sane" reply for publication which the editor did not use.