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on 15 August 2003
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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on 23 August 2011
To judge by these letters, Tolkien was the most incorrigible shop-talker there ever was. Although the editor says he wanted to `demonstrate the huge range of [T's] interests', about three-quarters of it is devoted to discussing every conceivable aspect of Lord of the Rings, from whether the orcs are heretical to whether Shadowfax went with Gandalf to the Blessed Realm (no and yes, if you're interested). Admittedly, many of the more arcane items, like the two mentioned, were in response to queries by over-enthusiastic readers; but it is evident that for the second half of his life, Tolkien's magnificent octopus engrossed most of his thought and permeated everything he did. In a couple of cases he even felt himself that he'd gone over the top, and didn't send what he'd written - though apparently he still kept hold of it.

I daresay his taking his own work too seriously is better than not taking it seriously enough, though; and the committed student of Middle Earth will find a wealth of material helpful to an appreciation of it. Though he vehemently disclaimed any intention of point-for-point allegory, and though he was happy for others to find their own meanings in his work, Tolkien did naturally develop his own ideas on `what it was all about'; and anyone who has enjoyed guessing what the models were for various aspects of his world will find quite a few clues. There are also a few interesting passages on linguistics and ancient literature - not as many as I'd expected - and a few on what he himself calls `deeper (and higher) matters'. His letter to his son about marriage is one of the most sensible, thoughtful things I've ever read on the subject.

The man's titanic pedantry, and his irritation at the modern world, come through loud and clear; but also his loyalty, sincerity, his endearing love of homely comforts, and determination to keep up the fight for decency. No-one need fear that, in these pages, they will discover someone with feet of clay.
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on 8 October 2012
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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on 11 November 2002
While one could argue - and some hardcore fans really do this - that the only places to search for something about Middle-Earth are in the stories themselves (and only the stories published while Tolkien was alive!) other find that the Author also has something to add from his private life. This collection of the Tolkien letters is centered around the fairy-tale author. It shows (but to a lesser degree) also fragments from the other world surrounding Tolkien, espc. World War II and his children.
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 fiancé (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.
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on 22 October 2009
When I like an author, I like to read biographies and letters. Whereas bios are usually interesting to read, so far, letters have turned out to be not so captivating. This is not the case with Tolkien's. Far from being restrained, he really pours his soul out in writing and some of his letters have actually made me cry. An orphan early in life, he had his share of suffering. These letters coupled with the bio written by Humphrey Carpenter are a must for Tolkien fans.
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on 3 January 2001
These letters give a great insight into the life and work of JRR Tolkien, author of the Book of the (last) Century. The letters range in date from 1914 to just a few days before his death in 1973 and range in content from the serious to the hilarious. This new edition has an expanded index which should make it easier to find that elusive quote. All in all a good buy for anyone interested in JRR Tolkien and his work.
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on 6 December 2000
These letters give a great insight into the life of JRR Tolkien, author of the Book of the Century. From the serious to the hilarious (Tolkiens recount of being offered Maggot soup at a dinner in Holland). The letters range in date from 1914 to just a few days before his death in 1973. This is a book no true Tolien fan should be without.
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on 12 August 2010
For anyone interested in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit or the creation of Middle Earth in general this is a fascinating collection of letters which tell so much about the process of writing. The letters cover a wide range of topics- some are just personal though most are related to Tolkien's writing. I was particularly intrigued to read how the story of The Lord of the Rings took on a life of its own such as when Tolkien writes to WH Auden that Striders appearance in the Prancing Pony was a "shock" to him and he had "no more idea who he was than had Frodo". Also how a new character had entered the story "walking into the woods of Ithilien" as if it was nothing to do with Tolkien. This was Faramir!
Tolkien was a master at letter writing and this book will entertain and delight anyone who has an interest in the man and his work. I can't recommend it enough.
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on 14 May 2014
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien are an absolute must for anyone wishing to know more about the man, his writing process, and especially about the writing and publication process of his works. The letters offer an excellent in-sight into these, and most valuably, Tolkien himself answers questions of actual readers of the books...questions which many of us would love to be able to ask him ourselves. This is the next best thing to being able to sit down with the Professor himself for a pint and a chat.

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.
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on 6 January 2013
Already over 30 years old, Humphrey Carpenter's edition of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien still stands as a unique peep into the mind of one of the greatest authors of Western literature. One just wishes that the book be revised and updated, or a second volume be added with the help of new letters which have come to light since, but the death of the editor seems to preclude this for the time being.
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.
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