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The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien Hardcover – 1 May 1981
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Since initial publication, as happened with Carpenter's biography, one has also become aware that some censorship may have been applied to the text. This doesn't seem necessary, as we are all human and full of foibles and JRRT was no exception.
However a companion volume of sorts already exists. The Father Xmas Letters, which complements this book nicely. Unfortunately, these too have been censored to remove many autobiographical elements. One can only hope that a full, unexpurgated version of these will eventually be released in the future.
However...! The printed paper version is much easier to flip through. Most letters contain several added notes, which come at the rear of the book. So you are constantly keeping a finger bookmark at the rear whilst reading at the front and flipping back and forth between the two. This is not so easy in electronic format, but can be achieved by adding multiple electronic bookmarks.
It would be nicer if the notes in the letters acted as hyperlinks to the notes in the back of the book.
But the most focus is naturally on the Author of "The Lord of the Rings" and the narrative process. We follow the process from the first letters suggestion that the sequel to "The Hobbit" is now beginning - and all the way to publication. And after publication, when first the reviews - then later on the letters from readers - are comming and discussed.
The first letter is a letter to Tolkiens fiancÃ© (his later wife) and she apears in and out of the letters, ending with the touching letters following her death. The last letter, written only a few days before Tolkien himself dies clearly shows an old and somewhat tired man, but still a man with the full intellectual potential.
The book is very essential for all readers of LOTR, but also for readers of the misc. biographies and analyses of Tolkien. My only complaint is that one of the editors - Christopher Tolkien - obviously took out some letters or removed parts from other letters that didn't "fit in". Only in that sense is this book crippled.
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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