LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN by Humphrey--Ed. Carpenter
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LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Carpenter, author of a fine biography of Tolkien (1977) and a somewhat less successful study of his circle (The Inklings, 1979), must be as well qualified as anyone for the task of pruning the surviving correspondence into publishable form. But to anyone familiar with the use made of the letters in the biography, the 350-odd letters included here in whole or in part may appear a narrowly planned selection. The choice is heavily weighted toward Tolkien's later years, and toward material of some conspicuous bearing on The Lord of the Rings. There are a great many letters to Ring fans, both eminent (W. H. Auden, Naomi Mitchison) and obscure, a few letters to C. S. Lewis and others of the Inklings, and various communications to Tolkien's publishers, Sir Stanley Unwin and later his son Rayne. There are also many letters to Tolkien's children, including a series sent to his son Christopher--stationed in South Africa, not far from the elder Tolkien's birthplace, during a WW II stint in the R.A.F.--that record the progress of the Ring-narrative in mid-course. Tolkien's discussions of the books are illuminating, to be sure, especially in showing how his invented languages shaped the matter of Middle-earth. One is also grateful to have some of his own reflections on his Catholic faith (and the question of the summum bonum in his epic), on the rights and wrongs of the real-life war going on as he worked on the Ring, and on the business of art. Still, the selection of material seems overprogrammed; one could wish for more letters from Tolkien's youth, and more on subjects of no obvious connection with the Middle-earth stories. But this is an impressive and virtually indispensable addition to the Tolkien literature, nonetheless.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin