Tolkien Gateway

Letter 328

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 328
RecipientCarole Batten-Phelps (draft)
DateAutumn 1971
Subject(s)The success of The Lord of the Rings, inspiration

Letter 328 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien regretted that Miss Batten-Phelps' letter had been delayed as well as his delayed answer. He was harassed by business and in constant anxiety about his wife's failing health.

Tolkien was interested in her references to M.R. Ridley, whom Tolkien had known well at Oxford. Her letter let Tolkien know that his old colleague had termed his works "literature", which had gained intelligent and well-equipped readers. Tolkien said that the horrors of the American scene had given him great distress and labour. Americans had an entirely different mental climate and soil, polluted and impoverished to a degree only paralleled by the lunatic destruction of the physical lands of America.

Tolkien was grateful for her remarks on the critics and for her personal delight in The Lord of the Rings. Her high praise was such that a mere "thank you" would seem conceited, though actually it made him wonder how he had achieved such an effect. Written slowly and carefully, it emerged as a Frameless Picture on a brief episode in History, surrounded by the glimmer of limitless extension in time and space. This may explain why so many people found it readable, but did not fully explain what had happened. It was as if an ever darkening sky had been pierced by almost forgotten sunlight.

A few years ago a man whose name he had forgotten visited him. He thought that many old pictures seemed to have been designed to illustrate The Lord of the Rings and brought some reproductions. He wanted to discover if Tolkien's imagination had fed on pictures, as it had by certain kinds of literature and language. Finding that Tolkien had not seen the pictures before and was poorly acquainted with pictorial Art he had looked fixedly at Tolkien and said, "Of course you don’t suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?" Pure Gandalf! Ever since Tolkien said he was unable to suppose so. It was an alarming conclusion for what had been a private amusement.

Miss Batten-Phelps had spoken of "a sanity and sanctity" in The Lord of the Rings which deeply moved Tolkien. No one had said this before, but as he began this letter another had arrived from a man who said he had created "a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp." No man can judge his own sanity but if sanctity inhabits one's work then it came not from him but through him.

The Lord of the Rings no longer belonged to him, said Tolkien, he now took a deep interest in its fortunes, as a parent would of a child. He was comforted that it had good friends to defend it.