Tolkien Gateway

Letter 145

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 145
RecipientRayner Unwin
Date13 May 1954
Subject(s)Blurb and opinions for The Lord of the Rings, Rayner’s new son

Letter 145 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Preface

Tolkien had received the Houghton Mifflin Company's draft for dust-jacket blurbs for the American edition of The Lord of the Rings. He also was shown opinions of the book that Allen and Unwin planned for the jacket of the British edition. C.S. Lewis compared the book favourably with Ariosto, Richard Hughes put it on the same scale as The Faerie Queene, and Naomi Mitchison called it "super science fiction". Rayner Unwin also told Tolkien that his new son had been named Merlin, more appropriate than Gandalf.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien said that the Americans were not very amenable to criticism, but he thought their effort so poor that he had to make some effort to improve it. He had little hope of effect given the case of the appalling jacket they made for The Hobbit. He sent a page of suggestions to be forwarded.

Could they publish by July? Tolkien wanted publication while there was still enthusiasm, and said that July was a good month for scholastics and academics who could lift their heads then before bowing them again in September. He particularly wanted Volume I out in public before he went to Dublin on 20 July to take a degree. He was also going to Liége on 2 October.

The preliminary opinions were pleasing, but comparisons with Spencer, Malory, Ariosto, and super Science Fiction were too much for his vanity. He showed the draft to Geoffrey Mure (Warden of Merton) who was visibly shaken. He said Merton seemed to be doing well, but did not think Tolkien was in the Roger Bannister class.[note 1] Still, Tolkien's stock went up, so much that instead of a threatened ejection from his room for a mere tutor he was put into an even better room, displacing the Steward. Please, he asked, send more appreciations if Rayner had them; he promised to not become like Mr. Toad.

Rayner's son was the second Merlin he knew. He was right to reject Gandalf, who was always old and got older before his task was done – not a name for a child of Men.

[edit] Note

  1. Bannister, a Merton College Senior Scholar, was the first to run a mile in under four minutes on 6 May 1954.