Tolkien Gateway

Letter 75

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 75
RecipientChristopher Tolkien
Date7 July 1944
Subject(s)Latest personal news, bullfinches and beer, the failure of machines

Letter 75 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien wrote this letter in "midget type".[notes 1] He explained that although he had written recently he had a great desire to communicate. He had been shopping and dealing with cadets. On the way home his tire blew and he consoled himself at The Gardeners' Arms.[notes 2] Arriving at home, Tolkien had enlarged the hen house. A family of bullfinches had nested in the Tolkiens' garden and entertained with their antics. There were also wrens about and all birds had increased in numbers after the mild winters.

Continuing the letter on 9 July, Tolkien noted that bullfinches had a connexion with the noble art of brewing ale. Tolkien had been looking at the Kalevala recently and there was part that dealt with the origin of beer. When first made it was in open birch tubs and the heroes came in, lapped it up, and got mightily drunk. The bullfinch suggested to Osmo’s daughter the notion of putting the stuff into oak casks with hoops of copper and storing it in a cellar. Thus was ale first created. Tolkien wished he had visited the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes before the war. Finnish had nearly ruined his Classical Honour Moderations and was the germ of the Silmarillion.

Tolkien wondered how his son was getting on with his flying since first going solo. He had been touched by Christopher’s observations on skimming martins. That touched the heart of things and laid bare the tragedy and despair of all machinery. Art is content to create a new secondary world in the mind. Machines attempt to actualize desire but cannot do so with any real satisfaction. Additionally, after the Fall, machines not only failed to satisfy desire but also were used for new and horrible evil. From Daedalus and Icarus to the Giant Bomber was no advance in wisdom. This terrible truth was like a worldwide mental disease that only a tiny few perceived. Well, he said, he would forgive the Mordor-gadgets some of their sins if they brought his letter quickly to Christopher.

[edit] Notes

  1. On a Hammond typewriter with interchangeable typefaces, one of which was very small.
  2. A pub not yet discovered by the "Stars or Stripes", a reference to all the American servicemen in Oxford.