"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R Martin

17 January 2012

Review: The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien - Edited by Humphrey Carpenter

This may have taken me quite a long time to finish but I got there in the end. I began this book already completely in love and obsessed with Tolkien's legacy and his inspiring works of epic fantasy. I lovelovelove The Lord of the Rings but am already building an impressive collection of his works and others book regarding his life and works. This book is just brilliant to truly understand the world of Middle Earth and his inspiration for such epic tales. But this book is so much more than an inside look at his thought processes on the journey towards his written works; it is also a window into the life of the famous man himself. There isn't much I can say about this work. If you love Tolkien, his work or simply enjoy reading the almost lost art of letter writing then I would urge you to give this book a read. It is both heartwarming and amusing. Tolkien says what he thinks with regards to individuals who have dared to edit his work, produced a poor illustration for his books and even calls one indivdual an "ass" for daring to write a sequel to The Lord of the Rings. His letters produce an image of a hardworking, tired old man who devoted his life to the completion and publication of his works. People assume that The Lord of the Rings was his biggest achievement but throughout this book it is clear that he was eager for The Silmarillion to be completed and published so that people could understand the world and culture that he was envoking in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. His love for his family and his friends, mainly C.S Lewis is clear in his letters. He states that without the support of C.S Lewis he wouldn't have thought of publishing The Lord of the Rings and where would the literary world be now if that hadn't occured?! He also relied heavily on the support and criticism of his son Christopher, with many of the letters between them being sent during the Second World War when Christopher was posted to Africa. And most heartwarming of all is his devotion to his wife Edith. Throughout the collection of letters Tolkien doesn't refer to his wife much but towards the end after his wife death, his grief is clear to see. "I am utterly bereaved, and cannot yet lift up heart" he writes after her death and I felt that these few words summed up his devotion to her. His love for her is also clear when he states: "for she was (and knew she was) my Luthien." In his works The Silmarillion Tolkien tells the story of Beren and Luthien a tale of eternal love, inspired by the love of Tolkien and his wife Edith (a story that really needs to be read to be fully understood and appreciated!). 
I truly enjoyed this book. I genuinely feel that I know more about Tolkien as a man, as an author than before. He was a man who felt that there was a gap in literature, that he couldn't get hold of tales of adventure, fantasy, dragons etc. So he simply created a world, a language, a legacy that I love. He was the father of fantasy and without him I doubt we would have some of the great fantasy novels and series that are dotted on bookshelves around the world. I apologise that this review is all over the place, but I just finished the book and it may sound silly but I feel sad because I was reading the letters of a man who isn't around to see the legacy that he left behind. And because I urge others who enjoy his works to read it to appreciate it because my review simply doesn't do it justice! So to finish this post I will quote from one of his letters within the book that I've decided is my favourite:

"But I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been mere name; and of Lothlorien no word had reached my mortal ears till I came there. Far away I knew there were the Horse-lords on the confines of an ancient Kingdom of Men, but Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure. I had never heard of the house of Eorl nor of the Stewards of Gondor. Most disgquieting of all, Saruman had never been revealed to me, and I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf’s failure to appear on September 22."

1 comment:

  1. You read the whole book? Impressive! I tend to just randomly read letters or otherwise use the index the find the topic I'm interested in.

    It is quite amazing how enlightening his letters actually are, and it can be amusing when you/someone else comes up with a theory about Tolkien's books and then you're just shut down when someone cites contradicting evidence from Tolkien's own letters!


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