[After Allen &
Unwin, under pressure from Tolkien to make up their minds, had reluctantly
declined to publish The Lord of the Rings together with The Silmarillion,
Tolkien was confident that Milton Waldman of Collins would shortly issue both
books under his firm's imprint. In the spring of 1950, Waldman told Tolkien
that he hoped to begin typesetting the following autumn. But there were delays,
largely caused by Waldman's frequent absences in
The Third Age
is concerned mainly with the Ring. The Dark Lord is no longer on his throne,
but his monsters are not wholly destroyed, and his dreadful servants, slaves of
the Ring, endure as shadows among the shadows. Mordor is empty and the
But in the
north Arnor dwindles, is broken into petty princedoms, and finally vanishes.
The remnant of the Numenoreans becomes a hidden wandering Folk, and though
their true line of Kings of Isildur’s heirs never fails this is known only in
the House of Elrond. In the south Gondor rises to a peak of power, almost
reflecting Numenor, and then fades slowly to decayed Middle Age, a kind of
proud, venerable, but increasingly impotent
In the middle of this Age the Hobbits appear. Their origin is unknown (even to themselves)[****] for they escaped the notice of the great, or the civilised peoples with records, and kept none themselves, save vague oral traditions, until they had migrated from the borders of Mirkwood, fleeing from the Shadow, and wandered westward, coming into contact with the last remnants of the Kingdom of Arnor. Their chief settlement, where all the inhabitants are hobbits, and where an ordered, civilised, if simple and rural life is maintained, is the Shire, originally the farmlands and forests of the royal demesne of Arnor, granted as a fief: but the ‘King’, author of laws, has long vanished save in memory before we hear much of the Shire. It is in the year 1341 of the Shire (or 2941 of the Third Age: that is in its last century) that Bilbo - The Hobbit and hero of that tale - starts on his ‘adventure’.
In that story, which need not be resumed, hobbitry and the hobbit-situation are not explained, but taken for granted, and what little is told of their history is in the form of casual allusion as to something known. The whole of the ‘world-politics’, outlined above, is of course there in mind, and also alluded to occasionally as to things elsewhere recorded in full. Elrond is an important character, though his reverence, high powers, and lineage are toned down and not revealed in full. There are allusions to the history of the Elves, and to the fall of Gondolin and so on. The shadows and evil of Mirkwood provide, in diminished ‘fairy- story’ mode, one of the major parts of the adventure. Only in one point do these ‘world-politics’ act as part of the mechanism of the story. Gandalf the Wizard[††††] is called away on high business, an attempt to deal with the menace of the Necromancer, and so leaves the Hobbit without help or advice in the midst of his ‘adventure’, forcing him to stand on his own legs, and become in his mode heroic. (Many readers have observed this point and guessed that the Necromancer must figure largely in any sequel or further tales of this time.)
The generally different tone and style of The Hobbit is due, in point of genesis, to it being taken by me as a matter from the great cycle susceptible of treatment as a ‘fairy-story’, for children. Some of the details of tone and treatment are, I now think, even on that basis, mistaken. But I should not wish to change much. For in effect this is a study of simple ordinary man, neither artistic nor noble and heroic (but not without the undeveloped seeds of these things) against a high setting - and in fact (as a critic has perceived) the tone and style change with the Hobbit’s development, passing from fairy-tale to the noble and high and relapsing with the return.
The Quest of the Dragon-gold, the main theme of the actual tale of The Hobbit, is to the general cycle quite peripheral and incidental - connected with it mainly through Dwarf-history, which is nowhere central to these tales, though often important.[‡‡‡‡] But in the course of the Quest, the Hobbit becomes possessed by seeming ‘accident’ of a ‘magic ring’, the chief and only immediately obvious power of which is to make its wearer invisible. Though for this tale an accident, unforeseen and having no place in any plan for the quest, it proves an essential to success. On return the Hobbit, enlarged in vision and wisdom, if unchanged in idiom, retains the ring as a personal secret.
The sequel, The Lord of the Rings, much the largest, and I hope also in proportion the best, of the entire cycle, concludes the whole business - an attempt is made to include in it, and wind up, all the elements and motives of what has preceded: elves, dwarves, the Kings of Men, heroic ‘Homeric’ horsemen, orcs and demons, the terrors of the Ring-servants and Necromancy, and the vast horror of the Dark Throne, even in style it is to include the colloquialism and vulgarity of Hobbits, poetry and the highest style of prose. We are to see the overthrow of the last incarnation of Evil, the unmaking of the Ring, the final departure of the Elves, and the return in majesty of the true King, to take over the Dominion of Men, inheriting all that can be transmitted of Elfdom in his high marriage with Arwen daughter of Elrond, as well as the lineal royalty of Numenor. But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly though the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact anthropocentric. But through Hobbits, not Men so-called, because the last Tale is to exemplify most clearly a recurrent theme: the place in ‘world politics’ of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and Great (good as well as evil). A moral of the whole (after the primary symbolism of the Ring, as the will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also inevitably by lies) is the obvious one that without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.
It is not possible even at great length to ‘pot’ The Lord of the Rings in a paragraph or two..... It was begun in 1936,5 and every part has been written many times. Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered. I do not say this in recommendation. It is, I feel, only too likely that I am deluded, lost in a web of vain imaginings of not much value to others - in spite of the fact that a few readers have found it good, on the whole.[§§§§] What I intend to say is this: I cannot substantially alter the thing. I have finished it, it is ‘off my mind’: the labour has been colossal; and it must stand or fall, practically as it is.
[The letter continues with a summary (without comments) of the story of The Lord of the Rings, after which Tolkien writes:]
That is a long and yet bald resume. Many characters important to the tale are not even mentioned. Even some whole inventions like the remarkable Ents, oldest of living rational creatures, Shepherds of the Trees, are omitted. Since we now try to deal with ‘ordinary life’, springing up ever unquenched under the trample of world policies and events, there are love-stories touched in, or love in different modes, wholly absent from The Hobbit. But the highest love-story, that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond’s daughter is only alluded to as a known thing. It is told elsewhere in a short tale, Of Aragorn and Arwen Undómiel. I think the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty. But I will say no more, nor defend the theme of mistaken love seen in Eowyn and her first love for Aragom. I do not feel much can now be done to heal the faults of this large and much-embracing tale - or to make it ‘publishable’, if it is not so now. A light revision (now accomplished) of a crucial point in The Hobbit, clarifying the character of Gollum and his relation to the Ring, will enable me to reduce Book I chapter II ‘The Shadow of the Past’, simplify it, and quicken it - and also simplify the debatable opening of Book II a little. If the other material, ‘The Silmarillion’ and some other tales or links such as The Downfall of Númenor are published or in process of this, then much explanation of background, and especially that found in the Council of Elrond (Bk II) could be dispensed with. But altogether it would hardly amount to the excision of a single long chapter (out of about 72).
I wonder if (even if legible) you will ever read this??
[§§§]It is only in the time between The Hobbit and its
sequel that it is discovered that the Necromancer is Sauron Redivivus, growing
swiftly to visible shape and power again. He escapes the vigilance and
re-enters Mordor and the
[****] The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the specifically human race (not Elves or Dwarves) - hence the two kinds can dwell together (as at Bree), and are called just the Big Folk and Little Folk. They are entirely without non-human powers, but are represented as being more in touch with 'nature' (the soil and other living things, plants and animals), and abnormally, for humans, free from ambition or greed of wealth. They are made small (little more than half human stature, but dwindling as the years pass) partly to exhibit the pettiness of man, plain unimaginative parochial man - though not with either the smallness or the savageness of Swift, and mostly to show up, in creatures of very small physical power, the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men ‘at a pinch’.
[††††] Nowhere is the place or nature of 'the Wizards' made fully explicit. Their name, as related to Wise, is an Englishing of their Elvish name, and is used throughout as utterly distinct from Sorcerer or Magician. It appears finally that they were as one might say the near equivalent in the mode of these tales of Angels, guardian Angels. Their powers are directed primarily to the encouragement of the enemies of evil, to cause them to use their own wits and valour, to unite and endure. They appear always as old men and sages, and though (sent by the powers of the True West) in the world they suffer themselves, their age and grey hairs increase only slowly. Gandalf whose function is especially to watch human affairs (Men and Hobbits) goes on through all the tales.
[‡‡‡‡] The hostility of (even good) Dwarves and Elves, a motive that often appears, derives from the legends of the First Age; the Mines of Moria, the wars of Dwarves and Orcs (goblins, soldiery of the Dark Lord) refer to the Second Age and early Third.
[§§§§]But as each has disliked this or that, I should (if I took all the criticisms together and obeyed them) find little left, and am forced to the conclusion that so great a work (in size) cannot be perfect, nor even if perfect, be liked entirely by any one reader.