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The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien Hardcover – October 15, 1981


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 463 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; 1st edition (October 15, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395315557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395315552
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Scholars and fans of the great mythologist will find a rich vein of information in Humphrey Carpenter's The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a prodigious letter writer all his life; the sheer mass of his correspondence would give pause to even the most stalwart archivist (one shudders to think what he would have done with e-mail). But with the able assistance of Tolkien's son Christopher and a healthy dose of determination, Carpenter manages find the cream of the crop--the letters that shed light on Tolkien's thoughts about his academic and literary work, as well as those that show his more private side, revealing a loving husband, a playful friend, and a doting father. The most fascinating letters are, of course, those in which he discusses Middle-Earth, and Carpenter offers plenty of those to choose from. Tolkien discussed the minutia of his legend--sometimes at great length--with friends, publishers, and even fans who wrote to him with questions. These letters offer significant insights into how he went about creating the peoples and languages of Middle-Earth.

I have long ceased to invent (though even patronizing or sneering critics on the side praise my 'inventions'): I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself. Thus, though I knew for years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down the Great River, I had no recollection of inventing Ents. I came at last to the point, and wrote the 'Treebeard' chapter without any recollection of any previous thought: just as it is now. And then I saw that, of course, it had not happened to Frodo at all.

This new edition of letters has an extensive index, and Carpenter has included a brief blurb at the beginning of each letter to explain who the correspondent was and what was being discussed. Still, we strongly recommend buying the companion volume, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, in order to better understand the place these correspondents had in Tolkien's life and get a better context for the letters. --Perry M. Atterberry --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

The old fellow's letters to friends, family, and fans offer insight into his life and writings. Fun but not essential.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

More About the Author

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892.1973), beloved throughout the world as the creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, a fellow of Pembroke College, and a fellow of Merton College until his retirement in 1959. His chief interest was the linguistic aspects of the early English written tradition, but even as he studied these classics he was creating a set of his own.

Customer Reviews

Tolkien was one of the most prolific letter writers of the 20th century.
J. Rosenfeld
J.R.R. Tolkien's letters are a gold mine for the devoted fan of Middle-Earth, and provide many insights into his mind and work.
E. A Solinas
These letters are a provide readers with a wonderful insight into the life and writings of a great author.
Pint-sized Bookworm

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Mike London on July 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
Of the plethora of Tolkien books available on the market, not only is this one of the most essential, it is also one of the most highly enlightening. Naturally, that's because it was written by Tolkien himself.

Highly illuminating, frequently entertaining, and always interesting, Tolkien's LETTERS give us a remarkable look into one of the 20th century's most popular and widely read authors. Whether he is talking to his son about marriage, struggling to publish LORT in the early 1950s, addressing fans' various questions and concerns, writing about his scholarly life or his books, Tolkien is sharp-witted, engaging, and extremely intelligent. To his credit, he never sounds condescending, and ultimately, of all the writing about Tolkien, this is ultimately the most humanizing of them all.

What makes some of the most interesting to the letters are when Tolkien is discussing his own works. Much like UNFINISHED TALES, the LETTERS are a wonderful sumplement and a great source of information about Middle-earth that cannot be found elsewhere and is incredibly enlightening, whether it be a die-hard Tolkien researcher or a first time reader.

For those familiar with the older editions of LETTERS (I have a hardback version, well before this came out), the newly revised index, prepared by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, make this alone worth purchasing. The index is so much better and makes this edition a lot easier to navigate through

What makes Tolkien's LETTERS such a valuable addition to the Tolkien canon is because, of all his books, this is the most intimate, naked look we will ever have into his mind other than through a mythological lens of his core books.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Being a long a fan of Tolkien and Middle-earth, I certainly enjoy reading all of his works. At least those that don't require a degree in Anglo-Saxon to read!
Having such a high opinion of the man tends to raise him to an almost larger-than-life position. He's unapproachable. He's brilliant.
Reading this book has helped to bring Tolkien from near-mythological status into a man. That is a good thing. One can enter the man's mind and begin to understand the thought process that occurs.
I find this better to read than a biography, because a biography tends to be "formal", and these letters are simply the un-edited and unpolished person at their best or at their worst.
I dearly love the man, and his work. These letters help me to pretend that I knew him when he was alive, which would have been a pleasure indeed.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Michael Martinez on December 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ever wonder where those Tolkien know-it-alls get their information from? This is one of the secret treasures we harbor. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien reveals his inner thoughts concerning his own life, the world as he saw it, and the characters and events in his marvelous stories.
Time and time again I've turned to the Letters for inspiration and information on what Tolkien had to say about everything concerning Middle-earth, from the family secrets and scandals of the Tooks to how Aragorn would have ruled Arnor and Gondor in the Fourth Age. Tolkien shared his private thoughts with a select group of fans who wrote to him in his lifetime, and with his friends and close relatives. These letters are a rare glimpse into his candor, wit, and values.
Many of the questions that Tolkien readers form today when they first pick up his books were shared by their predecessors in the 1930s and 1950s when The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were first published. His answers to fan questions are as fresh and informative to the 100th-time reader as to the 1st time reader.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By D. Buxman TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 13, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you have an idealized view of JRR Tolkien that you want to protect, you might want to avoid this book. The letters can be funny and extremely interesting, but sometimes I felt as if I were reading about matters that Mr. Tolkien considered private and that he might have wanted kept that way. He writes several letters about money being tight and taxes being high ("progressive tax rates in England at the time were around 90%), and he also has several letters that aren't necessarily flattering to American taste. However, there are also magically insightful letters dealing with linguistic issues and filling out some questions from The Lord of the Rings. Many common assumptions about Tolkien are challenged by this book. For instance, I always assumed that Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were quite close until Lewis passed away, but some of the letters reveal a distance that emerged between them as Lewis became involved with the woman he ultimately married. I also enjoyed Tolkien's views on Catholicism, although I am not Catholic.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
J.R.R. Tolkien was a prolific writer -- not just in creating the sprawling sagas of Middle-Earth, but also in writing letters, notes, and introspective studies of literature and religion. "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien" is a surprisingly entertaining read, and an invaluable source for figuring out Middle-Earth's history, and Tolkien's writing.

His letters start off with notes to his beloved Edith, before they got married, when he was in the army. After only fifteen pages, correspondence with publishers starts (regarding the publishing of "Mr. Bliss"), and continues with details about his writing, illustrations, and plans for future writings. "[The created legend] should be 'high,' purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry," he writes at one point.

But letters to publishers are only some of the letters Tolkien wrote in his long life. Other letters are to his kids and his friends, detailing his trip to Italy, the Narnia books, his friendships, his career, the nuances of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," "Beowulf," and explaining his thoughts on philosophy, religion, myth and his own writing -- even describing an aborted sequel to "Lord of the Rings" called "The New Shadow," which he abandoned as being "both sinister and depressing."

Do hobbits have pointy ears? Did Sauron create the orcs? Were the evil spiders inspired by a childhood tarantula bite? Was the Ring of Power "der Nibelungen Ring"? Tolkien addressed all of these in his letters. (And the answers are: Yes, no, no, and absolutely not!) Rumors are addressed, questions are answered, and Tolkien gives insights to his writings that -- obviously -- no one else could provide.
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