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Letter 124

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 124
RecipientSir Stanley Unwin
Date24 February 1950
Subject(s)The "Authentic History of Faery"?
The Lord of the Rings ready – was it and The Silmarillion wanted?

Letter 124 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Allen and Unwin sent Tolkien an enquiry from a Mr. Selby asking if he had written an "Authentic History of Faery". After explaining that he had been busy and ill, Tolkien said he could neither imagine nor discover what Mr. Selby was referring to. He had not written an "Authentic History of Faery" nor would he have chosen such a title. It was unlikely that he had ever heard of his Silmarillion, known only to five people.

On a more important topic (to him, said Tolkien), Unwin had expressed interest in his proposed Lord of the Rings. It was now finished, if still not fully revised, and in a condition for a reader to read. Professional typing would have cost £100 but since he did not have that to spare, Tolkien had typed it almost all by himself. Looking at it, said Tolkien, showed him the magnitude of the disaster – the work had escaped his control and had become a monster of 600,000 words. He could clearly see its impracticality but it was off his chest and he could do nothing beyond a little revision of inaccuracies. Worse, Tolkien felt it was tied to the Silmarillion.

Tolkien reminded Unwin of that work, a long legendary of imaginary times in "high style", full of Elves. His reader many years ago rejected it because it contained a Celtic beauty intolerable to Anglo-Saxons in large doses. He probably was right and Unwin had suggested using it to draw upon rather than publish. Unfortunately Tolkien said he was not an Anglo-Saxon and the Silmarillion had refused to be suppressed. He had kept it out of Farmer Giles with an effort. Its shadow was deep upon the later parts of The Hobbit and had captured The Lord of the Rings, which required the Silmarillion to be fully intelligible.

Tolkien said he wanted to publish them both in conjunction or connexion, yet he realized that a little packet of a million words[notes 1] was not likely to see the light, even if paper were easily available. For Tolkien the whole matter was now "exorcized" and rode him no more; he could now turn to other things, perhaps the Little Kingdom of the Wormings.[notes 2]

Tolkien apologized for so long a letter that was so full of himself. Since Unwin had been so patient for so long Tolkien felt that he owed him an explanation. He was ready to send this mountain of stuff, warning that it would take a reader a long time to read it. If it was rejected he would not be surprised since it was so obviously an unprofitable proposition.

In a postscript, Tolkien asked how Rayner was prospering, recalling that Unwin's son had read much but not all of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien also asked how Farmer Giles was doing.

[edit] Notes

  1. This was an overestimate of the length of the two works by several hundred thousand words.
  2. The planned sequel to Farmer Giles of Ham, never published.