Review of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating 4/5

Who should read it and why?

Fans of Middle-Earth or fans of great writers will come away with a deep appreciation for the process of writing and all the influences and hardships it entails. Furthermore, there is a gold mine of background information to Lord of the Rings and all of Middle-Earth that even a casual fan will find fascinating.

Quotes

Well, I have got over 2 thousand words onto this little flimsy airletter; and I will forgive the Mordor-gadgets some of their sins, if they will bring it quickly to you…

Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely (as an instrument of Providence) and had produced a situation in which the object of his quest could be achieved. His humility (with which he began) and his sufferings were justly rewarded by the highest honour; and his exercise of patience and mercy towards Gollum gained him Mercy; his failure was redressed.

His final line four days before his death:

It is stuffy, sticky, and rainy here at present- but forecasts are more favorable.

Review

The Letters of Tolkien is a window into the famous philologist, for he was a philologist before he was a prolific writer. From his study and love for words, came the fantasy world of Middle-Earth, with all its races, customs, history and unique names. The Letters provide valuable insights into Tolkien’s writing processes of the Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion, and his other short works. Such insights are usually responses to fan questions, or clarifications on certain items to his publisher. Some hilarity ensues when he lampoons attempted translations of Lord of the Rings, and when he harshly criticizes an animated film treatment sent to him.
But perhaps his best letters are those in which he discusses the divine force in Rings that is never seen, but ever present. The work is no Christian allegory, nor does it parallel Christianity one to one, but Tolkien’s faith informs his writing, even his personal letters, and he explains and exemplifies a wonderful Christian imagination.

Letters is a simple read, though long, and audiences can get into Tolkien’s personal world directly from his pen, instead of secondary critics who usually try to make up things about the author for the sake of publishing a paper. There are a few letters that are quite long and dry because they delve deeply into word studies of elvish names or dwarf history. But they reveal the intricacy and attention to detail that Tolkien had for his work. Something we should all strive for in our own works.

Surprisingly, there are only a few references to his wife Edith, (whom he called Luthien) and no letters to her at all. Whether this is an editorial choice or a telling aspect of the private nature of Tolkien, I am not sure. Regardless, I am grateful for this collection, primarily as a writer, and a Middle-Earth fan.

Dad.

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