The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

From Tolkien Gateway
The name Letters refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see Letters (disambiguation).
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien Letters 1981.jpg
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
EditorHumphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Released20 August 1981
FormatHardcover; paperback
Pages463 (first edition)
720 (second edition)
ISBN0048260053

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is a collection of letters, letter fragments, letter drafts, and endnotes by J.R.R. Tolkien. The first edition contained 354 entries, it was edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien, and was published in 1981.

The Letters is considered an autobiography of Tolkien, since he himself didn't write one. And it is widely recognized as an indispensable book of resource for both Tolkien scholars and fans, as it contains much information and insights on his literary works and personal life.

An index has been provided by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull since 1995.

A revised and expanded edition was published on 9 November, 2023. The new edition includes 154 new entries, bringing the total number of letters to 508.

Contents[edit | edit source]

The selection of 354 letters in the original edition dates from October 1914, when Tolkien was an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, to August 29 1973, four days before his death.

The letters can be roughly divided in four categories:

  1. Personal letters to Edith Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien and his other children
  2. Letters about Tolkien's career as a professor of Anglo-Saxon
  3. Letters to his publishers at Allen and Unwin explaining his failing to meet the deadline and related topics
  4. Letters about Middle-earth

The last category is especially of interest to Tolkien fans, as it provides a lot of information about Middle-earth which cannot be found elsewhere in the works published by Tolkien himself. It is remarked thus:

During the composition and the publication process of his literary works, J.R.R. Tolkien continually corresponded with friends, family members, colleagues, and his publishers, and for years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, with his readers as well. Indeed, many of his letters are direct (inasmuch as Tolkien strove to be direct) answers to questions about which people had written to him. His letters contain much background and expository material that never made it to publication, and also a great deal of explanation of his intent or purpose. He often went to great lengths to clear up readers' misunderstandings. In a few instances, however, Tolkien didn't actually provide a clear, if any, answer to the question (for example, "Who is Tom Bombadil?" or "What happened to the Entwives?"), although he did address these topics in his letters, thus leaving us with at least the final word on the subject from the author himself.
—Mike Brinza[1]

Revised and Expanded edition[edit | edit source]

The Revised and Expanded edition was published on 9 November, 2023, by HarperCollins. In this edition 154 previously unseen letters have been added, and 45 existing letters updated and extended. Now the total number of entries has increased from 354 to 508, and page number from 463 to 720.

In essence this is not a "second edition", but a "fully restored first edition". As noted by the editor that, during the publication of the first edition, much of the original content had to be cut out due to the printing limitations of the time. Thus, this new edition offers an opportunity to restore all that was lost, and represents what the original editors had envisioned the book to be.

Carpenter's numbering system is kept, while the new letters are inserted in their due places with a lowercase letter, e.g. letter 18a is placed between letter 18 and 19.

From the publisher[edit | edit source]

The comprehensive collection of letters spanning the adult life of one of the world’s greatest storytellers, now revised and expanded to include more than 150 previously unseen letters, with revealing new insights into The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the languages and history of Middle-earth as recorded in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, was one of the most prolific letter-writers of this century. Over the years he wrote a mass of letters – to his publishers, to members of his family, to friends, and to 'fans' of his books – which often reveal the inner workings of his mind, and which record the history of composition of his works and his reaction to subsequent events.

A selection from Tolkien's correspondence, collected and edited by Tolkien's official biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, and assisted by Christopher Tolkien, was published in 1981. It presented, in Tolkien's own words, a highly detailed portrait of the man in his many aspects: storyteller, scholar, Catholic, parent, friend, and observer of the world around him.

In this revised and expanded edition of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, it has been possible to go back to the editors’ original typescripts and notes, restoring more than 150 letters that were excised purely to achieve what was then deemed a ‘publishable length’, and present the book as originally intended.

Enthusiasts for his writings will find much that is new, for the letters not only include fresh information about Middle-earth, such as Tolkien’s own plot summary of the entirety of The Lord of the Rings and a vision for publishing his ‘Tales of the Three Ages’, but also many insights into the man and his world. In addition, this new selection will entertain anyone who appreciates the art of letter-writing, of which J.R.R. Tolkien was a master.

Publication history and gallery[edit | edit source]

UK editions
1981 hardcover first edition  
1990 paperback  
1995 paperback  
2006 paperback  
2023 hardcover expanded edition  

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References

  1. Tolkien Letters FAQ at Wayback Machine (accessed 3 June 2022)


The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7* · 8* · 8a · 8b · 8c · 9 · 10 · 11* · 11a · 11b · 11c · 12 · 13 · 14 · 15* · 15a · 15b · 16 · 17* · 18* · 18a · 19* · 20 · 21* · 22* · 23 · 24 · 25 · 26 · 27* · 28 · 29 · 30 · 31 · 32 · 33 · 34 · 35 · 36 · 36a · 36b · 37 · 38 · 38a · 39 · 40 · 40a · 41 · 42 · 42a · 42b · 42c · 43* · 43a · 44* · 45* · 46 · 47 · 48 · 49 · 49a · 49b · 49c · 49d · 49e · 50 · 51 · 51a · 51b · 52* · 53* · 53a · 53b · 54* · 55 · 55a · 56* · 56a · 57 · 58* · 59 · 59a · 60 · 61 · 62 · 63 · 64 · 65 · 66* · 67* · 68 · 69 · 70 · 71 · 72 · 73 · 73a · 74* · 74a · 75 · 76 · 77* · 78 · 79 · 80 · 80a · 80b · 81 · 82 · 83* · 84 · 85 · 86 · 87 · 88 · 88a · 89 · 89a · 90* · 91 · 91a · 91b · 91c · 92* · 93 · 94* · 94a · 94b · 94c · 95 · 96* · 97 · 97a · 97b · 97c · 98 · 98a · 99 · 100

101 · 102 · 102a · 103 · 104 · 105 · 106 · 107 · 107a · 108 · 109 · 110 · 111 · 111a · 112 · 113 · 114 · 115 · 116 · 117 · 118 · 119 · 120 · 121 · 122 · 122a · 123* · 124 · 125 · 126* · 127* · 128 · 128a · 129 · 130 · 130a · 131* · 132 · 132a · 133 · 134 · 134a · 135 · 135a · 135b · 135c · 135d · 136 · 137 · 137a · 137b · 137c · 137d · 137e · 138 · 139 · 140 · 140a · 140b · 140c · 141 · 141a · 141b · 141c · 141d · 142* · 142a · 143 · 143a · 143b · 143c · 143d · 143e · 144 · 144a · 145 · 146 · 146a · 147 · 148* · 148a · 149* · 150 · 151* · 152* · 153 · 154 · 155 · 156 · 157 · 158 · 158a · 159 · 160 · 161 · 162 · 162a · 163 · 164 · 165 · 165a · 165b · 166 · 166a · 166b · 167 · 168 · 168a · 169 · 170 · 171 · 172 · 173 · 174* · 175 · 176 · 177 · 178 · 179 · 179a · 179b · 179c · 180 · 181 · 182 · 183 · 184 · 185 · 186 · 187* · 188 · 188a · 189 · 190 · 191 · 192 · 193 · 194 · 194a · 194b · 195 · 195a · 195b · 196* · 196a · 197 · 198 · 199 · 200 · 200a

201* · 202 · 203 · 204 · 204a · 205 · 205a · 205b · 206 · 207 · 208 · 209 · 210 · 211 · 212 · 212a · 213 · 214 · 214a · 214b · 215 · 215a · 216 · 217 · 218 · 219 · 220 · 220a · 221 · 222 · 222a · 222b · 222c · 222d · 222e · 222f · 223 · 224 · 225 · 226* · 227 · 228 · 228a · 229 · 230 · 231 · 231a · 232 · 233 · 234 · 235 · 236 · 237 · 238* · 239* · 239a · 240 · 241 · 241a · 241b · 242 · 242a · 243 · 244 · 245 · 246 · 247 · 248 · 249 · 249a · 250 · 251 · 252 · 253 · 254 · 254a · 255 · 256 · 257 · 258 · 259 · 260 · 261 · 262 · 263 · 264 · 265 · 266 · 267 · 268 · 269 · 270 · 271 · 272 · 273 · 274 · 274a · 275 · 275a · 276* · 277 · 277a · 278 · 279 · 280 · 281 · 282 · 282a · 283 · 283a · 283b · 284 · 284a · 285 · 286 · 287 · 288 · 289 · 289a · 289b · 289c · 289d · 290 · 290a · 291 · 292 · 293 · 293a · 293b · 294 · 294a · 294b · 295 · 295a · 295b · 296 · 297 · 298 · 298a · 299 · 300

301 · 302 · 303 · 304 · 305 · 305a · 306 · 307 · 307a · 308 · 309 · 309a · 310 · 311 · 312 · 313 · 314 · 315 · 315a · 315b · 316 · 317 · 318 · 319 · 319a · 320 · 321 · 322 · 323 · 324 · 324a · 325 · 326 · 327 · 328 · 329 · 330 · 330a · 331* · 331a · 331b · 332 · 333 · 334 · 334a · 335 · 336 · 337 · 338 · 338a · 339 · 339a · 340 · 341 · 342 · 343 · 343a · 344 · 345 · 346 · 347 · 347a · 347b · 348 · 348a · 349 · 349a · 350 · 351 · 352 · 353 · 354

Unpublished letters

Letters marked with a (*) are updated and expanded in the new edition.
A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
On Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil · The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth ·
The Fall of Númenor · The Maps of Middle-earth
Not on Arda Short stories
and poems
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · Letters from Father Christmas ·
Mr. Bliss · Roverandom · Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Collected letters and poems The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien · The Collected Poems of J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited old texts A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse · The Old English Exodus
Books by other authors
Biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Reference works The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide
Scholarly studies The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer ·
Tolkien's Library · Tolkien on Chaucer, 1913-1959
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
Other works by Tolkien
Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
Collections of artwork
and manuscripts
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
The Art of The Hobbit · The Art of The Lord of the Rings · Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth ·
Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
This list is only a selection of works, for a fuller bibliography of Tolkien see here or here. See also a timeline and an index.