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Letter 52

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 52
RecipientChristopher Tolkien
DateNovember 29, 1943
Subject(s)Rant about government

Letter 52 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Summary

Christopher, aged eighteen, had been called into the Royal Air Force and was in training.

Tolkien claimed that his political opinions leaned increasingly to Anarchy (philosophically understood) or to "unconstitutional" Monarchy. He would arrest anyone who used the word "State" except in the inanimate sense and if they did not recant, execute them! He wanted to return to personal names—government is an abstract noun meaning governing and it should be an offense to write it with a capital G or to refer to people. If people referred to "King George's council, Winston and his gang" it would help clear thought and reduce the slide into "Theyocracy".

The proper study of Man is anything but Man, said Tolkien. The most improper job was the bossing of other men. Not one in a million was fit for it, least of all those who sought it. The mediævals were only too right in taking nolo episcopari[note 1] as the best reason for making a man a bishop. Give me a king, declared Tolkien, mostly interested in stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier for the cut of his trousers. But that only works when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way. The quarrelsome, conceited Greeks managed to pull it off against Xerxes; but the abominable chemists and engineers have put such power into Xerxes' hands that decent folk do not seem to have a chance. We are all trying to do the Alexander-touch that orientalized him and his generals. The Greece that was worth saving from Persia perished anyway. The special horror is that the present world was all in one bag with nowhere to fly to. The only bright spot was the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations.

Cheers to you, said Tolkien. It was a dark age but they had a comfort: they otherwise would not know or so much love what they did love. The fish out of water is the only fish to have an inkling of water. Have at the Orcs, with winged words, hildenæddran (war-adders), biting darts—but make sure of your target.

Note

  1. Latin: "I do not wish to be made a bishop."