Tolkien Gateway

Letter 329

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 329
RecipientPeter Szabó Szentmihályi (draft)
DateOctober 1971
Subject(s)Tolkien's list of three objectionable literary criticisms

Letter 329 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien stated that he had no time to provide bibliographical material, but wanted to make three points:

First, one of his strongest opinions was that investigating an author's biography was a vain and false approach to his works, especially for narrative art. He wrote to be enjoyed. Some readers liked to criticize or analyze works, which they were free to do as long as they actually attentively read the work first. Tolkien did not sympathize with this attitude, quoting Gandalf: "He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."[1]

Second, Tolkien was not interested in serial literary history or the history of the English "novel". His work was an "heroic romance", an older and quite different variety of literature.

Third, he said that labeling writers is an inept procedure and a childish amusement of small minds. It was deadening, overemphasizing commonalities of a group of writers while ignoring was was unclassifiable and individual about each. He could not understand how he could be labeled "a believer in moral didacticism" since it was the exact opposite of his procedure in The Lord of the Rings.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"