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Letter 32

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 32
RecipientJohn Masefield
DateJuly 27, 1938
Subject(s)Response to invitation to impersonate Chaucer, England's literary tradition

Letter 32 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Summary

Masefield invited Tolkien to impersonate Chaucer in Oxford’s 1938 Summer Diversions to recite the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. With the invitation were some lines of verse with which Masefield proposed to introduce Tolkien. Tolkien accepted and said he had no objection as a performer to Masefield’s introduction. However, as a student of Chaucer, he did have some objections: The lines suggested that Chaucer was the first English poet, and all before was dumb and barbaric; this was misleading, Tolkien asserted, because in England’s 1200 years of literary tradition Chaucer stands in the middle. Tolkien also felt that Chaucer was autumnal rather than springlike and more middle-class than kinglike.

As for the performance, Tolkien had misgivings about using a supposedly 14th century pronunciation, which might not be sufficiently intelligible. He thought a modified modern pronunciation avoiding archaism would be best, as Masefield once employed.