Goodreads: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Publication Date: 1981
Humphrey Carpenter presents a collection of J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters that shed light on his professional life, his creative inspiration and philosophy, his Catholic faith, and his thoughts on World War II, among other matters.
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters provide a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the world’s most beloved authors. From his thoughts on subcreation, his speculations on what might have happened if Sam had not caused Gollum to reject conversion, his responses to C. S. Lewis’s writings, and more, the book is full of tidbits to delight fans of LotR as well as more philosophical musings for those who want to think more deeply about how Tolkien envisioned the morality of his own subcreated world. His Catholic faith and his love of philology imbue the whole.
Tolkien’s letters show that he thought very carefully about his work, even as he faced accusations from readers that his book must be in contradiction to Christianity. With spirit, Tolkien defends the act of subcreation, arguing that his world need not exactly mirror ours, but also indicates that he believes the morality of his world is in accordance with ours. Frodo has a vocation to destroy the Ring. Frodo does not fail just because he is mentally broken–he did everything in his power to fulfill his quest. Gandalf inspires others to use their strengths and talents to face evil. Orcs are not creations of the Dark Lord but rather twisted creatures.
But there are fun bits as well. Did you wonder whom Tolkien most identified with? It is Faramir–a character he admits he was initially surprised to find walking into his story. He also delights in answering fan mail (while it was still manageable), providing lengthy descriptions of the then-unpublished stories of the First and Second Ages and sometimes corresponding in runes. These moments balance out some of his more acerbic moments, such as his distaste for Disney and Americans, or his criticisms of the illustrators he felt did not read or understand his work.
If you ever wondered about Tolkien’s private life, about his professional obligations, his friendship with T.C.B.S. members or the Inklings, or his feelings about C. S. Lewis and Lewis’s work, there is something here for you, even if the glimpses are sometimes only brief and tantalizing. It’s a worthwhile read for any fan of Tolkien’s work.