28       To Stanley Unwin

 

[On 1 June, Unwin told Tolkien that Houghton Mifflin had now sold approximately three thousand copies of the American edition of The Hobbit. In April, the book had been awarded a $250 prize by the New York Herald Tribune for the best juvenile story of the season. Meanwhile Rayner Unwin had criticized the second and third chapters of the new story for having too much ‘hobbit talk’.]

4 June 1938                                  20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Mr Unwin,

Thank you for your comforting news. It is indeed comforting, for in spite of unexpected strokes of luck, such as the American prize, I am in considerable difficulties; and things will not be improved in September, when I vacate my research fellowship. That will mean, of course, that the pressure on my writing time will be less, except that as far as I can see I shall have to return to the examination treadmill1 to keep the boat afloat.

Your previous letters of April 29 and May 3 have I fear long lain unanswered. I meant long ago to have thanked Rayner for bothering to read the tentative chapters, and for his excellent criticism. It agrees strikingly with Mr Lewis’, which is therefore confirmed. I must plainly bow to my two chief (and most well-disposed) critics. The trouble is that ‘hobbit talk’ amuses me privately (and to a certain degree also my boy Christopher) more than adventures; but I must curb this severely. Although longing to do so, I have not had a chance to touch any story-writing since the Christmas vacation. With three works in Middle English and Old English going to or through the press, and another in Old Norse in a series of which I am an editor under my hand on behalf of the author who is abroad,2 and students coming in July from Belgium and Canada to work under my direction, I cannot see any loophole left for months!...

                                Yours sincerely

                                   J. R. R. Tolkien.

 

P.S. My answer was delayed, because your letter arrived in the midst of our little local strife. You may not have noticed that on June 2 the Rev. Adam Fox3 was elected Professor of Poetry, defeating a Knight and a noble Lord. He was nominated by Lewis and myself, and miraculously elected: our first public victory over established privilege. For Fox is a member of our literary club of practicing poets – before whom the Hobbit, and other works (such as the Silent Planet) have been read. We are slowly getting even into print. One of Fox’s works is Old King Coel, a rhymed tale in four books (Oxford).

 

 

Notes

1. Besides his other duties at Oxford, Tolkien often acted as an external examiner for other universities, and marked Higher Certificate papers, as he was in need of the extra income. 2. It is not clear precisely to which works Tolkien was referring. Possibly he had in mind the Middle English Ancrene Wisse and Pearl, the former of which he was editing for the Early English Text Society, and the latter of which he was working on with E. V. Gordon – though in fact neither of these projects was near completion. The work in Old English was probably the revision of Clark Hall’s translation of Beowulf, of which Tolkien was reading the proofs, and to which he was supposed to be contributing an introduction; see no. 37. The work in Old Norse to which he refers was probably an edition of Viga-Glums Saga, edited by G. Turville-Petre (Oxford University Press, 1940); this was one of the Oxford English Monographs, of which Tolkien was joint editor with C. S. Lewis and D. Nichol Smith. 3. Fox was Dean of Divinity of Magdalen College and an early member of the Inklings.