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Letter 38

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 38
RecipientStanley Unwin
DateMarch 30, 1940
Subject(s)The forward to Beowulf, by Clark Hall

Letter 38 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Summary

Allen & Unwin had sent a letter on 27 March desperately asking for the promised forward to Clark Hall’s Beowulf, even if it was just “a word or two”. An abashed Tolkien called his own behavior vexatious and uncivil. He reported that he had gotten into trouble, wasting time and labor, under a misapprehension of the pagination of the page-proofs. In a footnote he also mentioned that his wife’s illness had become worse, he had been living in an attic due to damage to his house [note 1], and that he had been ill.

Although Tolkien acknowledged that “a word or two” would suffice, he felt that a fairly considerable preface was necessary. Since there was no reference to the problems faced by a translator or critic, Tolkien worked to provide useful remarks. This grew into a manuscript of 17 pages, with each page about 300 words long, plus a metrical appendix which was just as long. It was at this point that the 27 March letter arrived and Tolkien sent in what he had produced.

Notes

  1. Water pipes had burst during the winter of 1939-1940.