Letter to Nancy Smith (Christmas 1963)
- Comment: In the Newsletter (Fall 2002) for the Manuscript Repositories Section of the Society of American Archivists, it is said that Marquette University Libraries bought this unpublished letter, which "offers revealing insights about the Oxford professor's fantasy fiction."
- Authenticity: High
- Publication: None.
From the archivists
New Tolkien Research Materials at Marquette University Libraries
Scholars of J.R.R. Tolkien now have access to two new documentary sources in Marquette University Libraries' Department of Special Collections.
An unpublished letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien to Nancy Smith, indexer of The Lord of the Rings, offers revealing insights about the Oxford professor's fantasy fiction. In 1963, several years after preparing the index to The Lord of the Rings, Nancy Smith received an invitation to deliver a lecture about the book to a Tolkien society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She wrote to Tolkien asking for a greeting that she might read to the group. J.R.R. Tolkien responded with a 1,300 word, handwritten letter, composed over several days surrounding Christmas, 1963. The retired professor described his inspiration for Hobbiton, and the "slow degrees" by which he composed The Lord of the Rings. In addition, Tolkien revealed childhood memories of writing verse about a great green dragon. He outlined how his great mythology began to take shape during 1914-1918, in part while recuperating after the Battle of the Somme. Finally, Tolkien described the parts of The Lord of the Rings that most moved him, nearly a decade after the book's release: the description of Cerin Amroth, the sound of horses of the Rohirrim, and Gollum's failure to repent.
Marquette University Libraries' purchase of the letter at auction was made possible by the Tolkien Archives Fund, established by the late Richard E. Blackwelder (1909-2001). Dr. Blackwelder created the endowment to acquire and preserve Tolkien research material, sponsor public programming, and prepare catalogs about Marquette's world-renowned manuscript collection.
Also now available within the Tolkien Collection is the original screen treatment for a never-produced film version of The Lord of the Rings, written by Morton Grady Zimmerman and annotated by J.R.R. Tolkien. In 1957 J.R.R. Tolkien had agreed to review a film story line, but judged the project unsound and pulled back from further negotiation. The Zimmerman materials also include the screenwriter's production notes, along with correspondence between Tolkien's publisher, Rayner Unwin, and Hollywood agent Forrest J. Ackerman, and one letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to "Mr. Ackerman and Others." Morton Grady Zimmerman (1937-2000) donated the materials to Marquette.
The J.R.R. Tolkien Collection includes more than 11,000 pages of original manuscripts for three of the author's most celebrated works, The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Lord of the Rings, in addition to the original copy of the children's book, Mr. Bliss. The collection also includes books by and about Tolkien, hundreds of periodical titles produced by Tolkien enthusiasts, audio and video recordings, and a host of published and unpublished materials relating to Tolkien's life and fantasy fiction.