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Letter 277

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 277
RecipientRayner Unwin
Date12 September 1965
Subject(s)Disgust with dealing with Ballantine Books

Letter 277 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

In August 1965 Ballantine Books produced the first "authorized" American paperback of The Hobbit without Tolkien's textual revisions. The cover showed a lion, two emus, and a tree with bulbous fruit.

Tolkien wrote to Ballantine Books expressing moderately his dislike of the cover for The Hobbit. He told them it was ugly but perhaps they were better judges of what attracted purchasers in the USA. However, he asked what the vignette had to do with the story. Where was this place, why a lion and emus, and what was that thing with the pink bulbs? His points were ignored, even in their latest letter, suggesting that they never read letters or only those with "favorable reactions".

A Mrs. ----- called him and they had a longish conversation, although she was impermeable. He felt that all she wanted was for him to recant. When he made his points about the artwork her voice rose and she cried, "But the man hadn't TIME to read the book!" (As if that settled it, he said.) Regarding the pink bulbs she spoke as if Tolkien were completely obtuse, informing him that they were meant to suggest a Christmas Tree. Tolkien asked why such a woman was let loose and said he felt shut up in a madhouse.

Tolkien wanted to finish Gawain and proceed with The Silmarillion and did not want to deal with Houghton Mifflin or Ballantine Books any more. Tolkien asked Rayner if he could suggest that Tolkien was in creative seclusion and that only he had the authority to intrude.