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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
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93 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 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. The LETTERS are a treasure-trove of intellectual delight, and with such keen, piercing wit, humility, and a beautiful Catholic faith, it is wonderful to know that Tolkien was as wonderful as we all secretly hoped he would be. What is also so humanizing about it is because you also see Tolkien frustrated, hurt, and just trying to provide for his family. He's not perfect by any means, which makes LETTERS all the more endearing. The most heart breaking line in this book is the very last: "It is stuff, sticky, and rainy at present - but forecast are more favourable." This was written a mere four days before death overtook him. He was moving to a much better place.

Tolkien once said if you truly wanted to know him read LOTR and THE SILMARILLION. Those are, naturally, the best places to start, because Tolkien's mind moved primarily along mythological grooves. However, for a more conventional portrait of this remarkable man, there's no better place to start than THE LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN.
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 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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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified 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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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 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
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.

And unlike in a lot of compiled-letters books, Tolkien's own personality seems to shine through his letters -- intelligent, imaginative, immersed in his faith, work and family, and capable of being quite snippy when he wanted to be. His letter to Allen & Unwin about a "Dr. O" is particularly funny ("Coming home dead without a head... is not very delightful"). While Tolkien's style seems very formal at first, it's easy to get immersed in his longer letters. The shorter ones are usually quite short -- one is only two lines long, announcing that "I shall be murdered if something does not happen soon."

And while Tolkien answered intelligent questions with extensive responses, he didn't seem to like untrue rumors. When Dr. O claimed that the Ring was "der Nibelungen Ring," he responded dryly that: "Both rings were round, and there the resemblence ceases." Touche, professor. He also shows an endearingly humble attitude towards his work, even calling his charming drawings "ill-drawn."

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. Even less devoted fans may be staggered by "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien."
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
What more can be said about Tolkien. After reading all of his published fiction, all of the textual reconstruction (most of it laborious but entirely fascinating) by Christopher Tolkien, most of the biographies of Tolkien, and the obscure works by Tolkien recently published, like Mr. Bliss and the Father Christmas Letters, I figured I knew all there was to know about the best author of the 20th century. At the same time, I had tons of questions about how Tolkien saw his work, how he reacted to its success and its abuse and especially about his philological foundations and the process that led him to create a world to give his invented languages a realistic setting.
Until I picked up this book containing hundreds of his private correspondence, I figured that these questions were unanswerable. Not so, within these letters, Tolkein gives inexhaustivly interesting defenses of himself and his greatest literary works. From the letters where he aplogizes to his publisher for taking 10 years longer to finish the Lord of The Rings than he promised, to his angry reaction to the American film company and the BBC who produced dramatizations which severly distorted the plot and characters of his book, its all here.
Tolkien answers the critical reviewers of his works.
Tolkien challanges text critics to use their "literary scientific methods" to find where he paused in his writing of the Hobbit for 1 year.
Tolkien answers fan mail questions about LOTR.
Tolkien's lettes and telegrams to his son serving in S. Africa during the war.
A brilliant letter from Tolkien to his other son on the question, "Can men and women be friends without sexual attraction".
Tolkein's devastating response to a 1939 German company's request to translate the Hobbit into German and their query "But are you of Aryan descent?"
Over and over again I was astounded by Tolkien's mastery of the lost art of letter writing, his vast, flavorful vocabulary and sheer omniscience of language - his overwhelming intelligence flows from every page.

Tolkien never makes me feel as stupid as I am, relative to his genius, instead when I read him I find that he is mysteriously and unnervably able to express himself with perfect clarity down to the level of his audience, possibly his greatest ability and also possibly never equaled in modern history by any other literary figure. No other literary figure is as accessible as J.R.R. Tolkien.
I also realized after reading this 400 page book, that I learned much more about the Hobbit and the LOTR than I did in reading the 12 volume set by his son Christopher on his writing. Indeed I would venture to say that this is the only non-fiction book you need to read to understand his fictional works. I will be selling my other books about Tolkien, freeing up at least a full shelf on my bookcase.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
As of this posting, the kindle version, as other have noted since 2013, is still defective. The footnoting links don't work, and the other issues described in the previous two-star ratings still exist.

Too bad, because otherwise I would have bought it (my review is based on the kindle sample, which is sufficient to test the problematic issues).

Are there any plans for getting this fixed? Ever?
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you have read "The Lord of the Rings" or other works by Tolkien, and are interested in learning more about him (what inspired him, what his views on things were, and what kind of person he was, and the process by which he wrote his literary works, especially "LotR"), this is a book you should definitely read. I found this book to be highly interesting and entertaining, and even educational. There is a huge index to help you find any subject or topic you're looking for. You will find letters to his family members, to his publishers, to friends like C.S. Lewis, and many more-all covering a variety of topics and thoughts from this brilliant writer and philologist. Thoughts on Christianity, and Tolkien's beliefs; his views of World War I (in which he fought) and World War II; a great deal of letters to his readers answering a multitude of questions about his books, especially "The Lord of the Rings"; his personal views and goals of his works; and so much more. It's really a look into the minds and thoughts of a genius, although he would never agree with that-his letters are filled with the upmost humility, even self-deprecation, of himself and his abilities. At the same time, he takes very strong, even stubborn, stances on issues he felt strongly about. His letter-writing style is so unique and is quite fascinating to me, and he can be quite funny. I definitely recommend this informative and very interesting book.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
One of the greatest literary figures of modern times, Tolkien is principally known as a novelist, scholar, mythologist, poet, essayist and philologist. However an element of the man that tends to go unnoticed is the fact that, on the basis of this volume at least, he was one of the greatest letter writers of the 20th century. Whether the reader is an avid consumer of all things Tolkien, or is just looking for an enjoyable book, this collection of letters will not fail to delight. There is much intriguing information on his writings to be gleaned from `The Letters of JRR Tolkien' but there is a lot more besides. Even if one were to skip all letters refering to Middle Earth there would remain a large and fascinating chunk of the book to explore. We knew that Tolkien's literary imagination was remarkable, but what is revealed here is the staggering depth and breath of Tolkien's thought on all matters. The letters deal with an immense range of topics: religion, language, politics, art, literature, philosophy, current affairs, theology, history - the list is endless and wonderfully diverse. His style is lively and never bland or cumbersome to read. Original ideas and phrases that stick in the mind, seem to flow from his pen without effort.
The author that emerges from `The Letters of JRR Tolkien' is a very human man, deeply religious, humble, affectionate and witty.
This is a delightful volume, relevant to anyone who has the remotest interest in literature or indeed any aspect of human affairs. It will provide enormous pleasure through many readings and re-readings
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
I picked up this volume on a whim. Would I find dry rhetoric? Mindless commentary on Tolkien's writings? Or, ideally, something special?
Something special! Indeed. If I could go back in time and sit with Tolkien and friends while they smoked pipes and discussed their writings, this is what I'd overhear. If I could pick Tolkien's brain on many subjects considering the Ring and Middle Earth, these are the sorts of things he'd say. These letters cover a wide range of topics over a number of years and point directly to the source of Tolkien's inspirations. Questions that have long lay dormant in my mind sprung to life and found reprieve here within these stunning letters.
Do you wonder about the spiritual implications of "The Lord of the Rings"? Do you wish for insight into Tolkien's relationship with C.S. Lewis? Do you pine for the day you could've had Tolkien respond to your own questions? This side of eternity, "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien" may be the closest you'll come to satisfying these itchings. If you're a fan, this is indispensable. And, I might add, a lot of fun besides.
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