Letter to Mary Fairburn (10 October 1968)

From Tolkien Gateway

On 10 October 1968, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a letter to Mary Fairburn.[1]

  • Contents: Miss Fairburn had written to Tolkien, expressing a disappointment that her illustrations would not be used for an illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings. In his letter on 10 October, Tolkien replies that he is "distressed" learning about her poor financial situation, but that "your ill fortune [in the matter of the illustrations] . . . is mainly due to the present situation in the book world. Allen and Unwin have found that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in any form is now so expensive that any attempt to produce it in a special or more sumptuous form is [bound to be] a failure". He also writes that he is "reluctantly sending back to you the pictures I have received", since Fairburn had written that she would give them to a friend as payment for a debt. However, Fairburn had mentioned three other pictures (including portrayals of the Old Forest and the Dead Marshes), not seen yet by Tolkien, and he therefore adds: "they sound most interesting, especially The Old Forest", wanting to take a look at them. In the middle of writing his letter, Tolkien spoke with Rayner Unwin on the phone, mentioning Fairburn and her pictures. Unwin "was not so decisive as I had expected, & was evidently ready to 'consider' an illustrated edition". But he adds that pen-and-ink illustrations would be "much more likely to prove publishable" and that she should not be too hopeful about a swift progress. Finally, he writes that he is sending her £50 in the letter,[note 1] "As a gift", and he does not want her to mention this in any reply.
  • Publication: The Times Literary Supplement 14 September 2012.

See also


  1. As of 2012, worth circa £1,250.


  1. Paul Tankard, "An unknown vision of Middle-earth", The TLS.co.uk (accessed 25 September 2012)