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Letter 281

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 281
RecipientRayner Unwin
DateDecember 15, 1965
Subject(s)Preparations for a British paperback edition of The Hobbit

Letter 281 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Summary

Tolkien said he did not remember when he drew a rough sketch of the "Death of Smaug", figuring that it must have been in 1936. He was not happy about using this "scrawl" as the cover.

The blurb proposed for the book would not do, said Tolkien, since it seriously misrepresented the story. The Hobbit had been written as if it were a true history. Asking "Are you a hobbit?" is a matter of one’s birth, not a matter of liking a quiet life and abundant food, and especially not a liking for adventure. The chief characteristics of Hobbits were their stature and the near eradication of any "spark". Gandalf selected Bilbo because he was abnormal, having the one in a million "spark" yet unkindled. The story and its sequel were not about curing bourgeois smugness by wider experience, but about the achievements of specially graced and gifted individuals. It was clear in The Lord of the Rings and present yet veiled in The Hobbit. Tolkien did not mean for this to be put into the blurb but it should not contain words that entirely miss the point.

Tolkien asked if Unwin could drop the Professor. His generation, he said, did not use Christian names outside of the family, keeping them private like the dwarves (even C.S. Lewis never called Tolkien by his Christian name, nor he him). Using "Professor" gave an impression of pedantry, probably there but not something to advertise and underline.