Tolkien Gateway

Letter 306

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 306
RecipientMichael Tolkien
DateWritten after 25 August 1967, found 11 October 1968, eventually sent
Subject(s)Switzerland, George V’s coronation, Catholic Church troubles, moving, poetry, professorship

Letter 306 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien was delighted that Michael had visited Switzerland and the very place that affected him so deeply. Bilbo's Misty Mountains journey, especially the glissade down the slithering stones into the pines, was based on Tolkien's 1911 adventures (although the wargs-episode partly derived from S. R. Crockett's The Black Douglas). He also remembered the year because there was no rain from April through October, except for King George V's coronation (which was significant to him because he had been sent to help "line the route" during a parade).

Tolkien described the details of his Swiss hiking adventure. He recalled the Silberhorn as the Silvertine (Celebdil) of his dreams. He called it a remarkable experience at 19 after a poor boy's childhood, just before going to Oxford.

"Trends" in the Church were serious,[notes 1] said Tolkien, and it had become an arena of strife and change instead of a solace. Having been born during the reign of Queen Victoria he felt an acute stripping away of security. He stated that the Church which once felt like a refuge now felt like a trap. He derided the search for "primitive Christianity" with an analogy to a tree. A full-grown tree was nothing like its seed, and if you dug to find the seed you would find it missing.

"Ecumenical" developments had his sympathy, Tolkien stated. Christian re-union had long been prayed for and an increase in "charity" was an enormous gain (although he noted the "cockiness" of "our new friends", especially in the Church of England). Tolkien then recalled how, in a surprisingly rational way, he had been treated as a youth by Father Francis.

At this point in the letter "October 1968" was inserted and Tolkien said that the earlier part of his letter must have gotten lost in the confusion of his move.[notes 2] In the previous residence he had known where all his papers were. However, on 17 June he had fallen, went to an Orthopaedic Centre, and never went back to that house or his room again. It had been like reading a story and coming to a sudden break with a chapter or two missing.

Tolkien reported that his poetry had received little praise and thought that in the contemporary atmosphere it was believed that "poetry" must only reflect one's personal agonies. The verses in The Lord of the Rings were all dramatic and not reflective of the poor old professor's soul-searchings.

It was only since retirement that he found out he had been a successful professor. His "friends" had been chiefly pleased to tell him that he had spoken too fast and too softly; too true, said Tolkien, having had too much to say in too little time. He said that he never gave the "inaugural" speech when taking up either of his "chairs" because he was too frightened of the don-audience. He did deliver a "valedictory" in 1959 that was surprisingly packed.

[edit] Notes

  1. This may refer to the outcomes of the Second Vatican Council.
  2. The move was from 76 Sandfield Road to 19 Lakeside Road.