Tolkien Gateway

Letter 272

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 272
RecipientZillah Sherring
Date20 July 1965
Subject(s)A piece of old (1910) Gothic language

Letter 272 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Zillah Sherring had bought a used copy of The Fifth Book of Thucydides with strange inscriptions written in it by a previous owner. Tolkien's name was one of those on the flyleaf and she wrote to ask him if any had been his work, such as the long one at the back.

Tolkien replied that the book had belonged to him and that the writing on the back page was in Gothic or what he thought Gothic might be. He had bought Joseph Wright's 1910 Primer of the Gothic Language from a school-friend who had mistaken it for a Bible Society product. He had been fascinated by Gothic and the Primer had allowed him to convert words of other Germanic languages into Gothic script. He had often put "gothic" inscriptions in books, sometimes with his Gothicizied name – Ruginwaldus Dwalakōneis.

The inscription that Sherring transcribed and sent to Tolkien had a fault: HVNDAI instead of HVNDA. Including some errors, what Tolkien meant to say in the inscription was:

I read the words of these books of Greek history ("year writing") in the sixth month of this year: thousand, nine hundreds, ten, of Our Lord: in order to gain the prize given every year to the boy knowing most about Thucydides, and this I inscribed in my books on the twelfth of the sixth (month) after I had already ? first read through all the words carefully.

Tolkien mentioned that he had a problem with the vocabulary since he only had short specimens to use. He also said that he had no compunction in writing in his own books, although usually now only notes supposed to be of use.