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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  5,232 ratings  ·  213 reviews
A comprehensive collection of letters spanning the adult life (1914-1973) of one of the world’s most famous storytellers.

‘It is not possible even at great length to "pot" The Lord of the Rings in a paragraph or two. It was begun in 1936, and every part has been written many times… the labour has been colossal; and it must stand or fall, practically as it is.’

J.R.R. Tolkien
Kindle Edition, 480 pages
Published December 13th 2012 by HarperCollins (first published 1981)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,232 ratings  ·  213 reviews

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Jason Koivu
I discovered The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien back in '96 when I moved to an LA suburb and was searching through the library for something interesting to read while I took advantage of their free A/C during the blistering summer heat.

This was definitely something interesting, but only because I was a Tolkien fanboy. Who else would find joy in pouring over mostly mundane letters to friends, family and publishers? Me, I pored over over them, so happy to read even the most minuscule detail of the man
Dear Unwin,
the Hobbit will be ready tomorrow, honest.

Yours faithfully,


Dear Unwin,
I've been swamped by illness, work, exams, more work, more exams, lectures, more work and more exams. I can't possibly get it ready this decade.

Yours faithfully,


Dear Unwin,
did you like it?

Yours faithfully,


Dear Unwin,
glad you liked it. The illustrations will be ready tomorrow.

Yours faithfully,


...this decade, etc.

Dear Unwin,
I may have no taste but the American cover art is appalling and
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tolkien, as popular as he is, is too often misunderstood. His works and world are wrongly interpreted and crazy assumptions are made about the man himself. Worst is when people use The Lord of the Rings to make a point that Tolkien himself would have disagreed with. For instance, after Obama was elected one political commentator happily declared, "The shadows are lifting from Mordor" — being apparently completely unaware that Tolkien was politically against big government and that Obama's moral ...more
Daniel Ionson
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What better way to enter the mind of a mentor you'll never get to meet than to read his letters?

There are so many facets I gleaned about the man by reading these letters--his humor, sadness, fear & humility.
Stephanie Ricker
An excerpt from a letter to Walter Hooper, 20 February 1968:
"I remember Jack [C.S. Lewis:] telling me a story of Brightman, the distinguished ecclesiastical scholar, who used to sit quietly in Common Room saying nothing except on rare occasions. Jack said that there was a discussion on dragons one night and at the end Brightman's voice was heard to say, 'I have seen a dragon.' Silence. 'Where was that?' he was asked. 'On the Mount of Olives,' he said. He relapsed into silence and never before hi
Sherwood Smith
One of my favorite rereads.

Not only does one catch a glimpse of Tolkien's personality, life, and times, but deep in this book are buried letter-essays that provide the kernels of his ideas "On Fairy Stories" and the poem Mythopoeisis.
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“It is a curse having an epic temperament in an overcrowded age [1944] devoted to sappy bits!”

A treasure trove of insightful material into the life and writings of Tolkien, but not for everyone. Readers uninterested in Tolkien’s writings need not waste their time.

Where to start? With the negatives, since they’re so few. Tolkien is opinionated, peevish and pedantic. He hated the appellation “professor.”

Among these letters covering most of his adult life, we learn how he viewed his world, his writ
Jenna (Falling Letters)
Review originally posted 4 January 2013 on Falling Letters.

I thought I would breeze through this book and finish it in two days maximum. Not because it would be an 'easy' read, but because I had lots of time to read and I am highly interested in the subject matter. Not so! The book contains 430 pages of letters so dense and filled with so much that it took me much longer to read. This is not at all a complaint. I was absolutely delighted to have so much to sink my teeth into.

I don't read books a
Mar 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All fans of Tolkien
This book is simply a must-read if you're a Tolkien fan. Most of the letters in this book are really interesting and they certainly changed the way I see Tolkien. The letters contain fascinating information on the absolutely huge creation process of LoTR and the whole mythology, which was probably the most interesting part of this book. But even more important, they shed light on the mind and thoughts of this great man.

After reading this, I feel like I know Tolkien a lot better than I did from j
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading Tolkien's letters has to be fascinating for anyone interested in the man and/or his works. He reflects on what he wrote, gives advice to his sons, reports on the progress of his work, and sends irritated letters to Germans who have asked if he's of Jewish descent. It's a pretty exhaustive collection, with an index and little bits of context to go with each letter. Worth reading!
Jacob Aitken
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: inklings
This could be described as "the glory of Germanic culture without Naziism." Tolkien saw a number of items that are either not noticed in the world, or not harmonized: 1) Germanic literature has an austere cultural beauty about it; 2) Modernism has no beauty; 2) Hitler rightly reacted to the decadence of democracies; 3) Hitler's actions would destroy the beauty of Germanic culture; 4) There would be no winners in WW2.

Besides brilliant commentary and background on the LotR, we gain insight into JR
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a ride!

I really enjoyed this. This book is for ppl really interested in Tolkien and his masterpieces chiefly those on Middle Earth.

I came to know a lot more about the man behind the books and also about Middle Earth and it's myths. There are answers for very interesting matters, like hobbits, ents and the Elvish tongues.

It was such a pity that he couldn't publish the Silmarillion during his life time as I can feel that through out his letters this was in his mind all the time and he did wo
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Being a huge fan of Tolkien’s work, I had never really known much about his life itself. This book was a unique and deeply insightful look into Tolkien’s life, his thoughts, his stances, and his seemingly constant procrastination.

It was quite amusing to see him repeatedly excusing his “lateness” due to *(enter excuse here)*. Humorous, but of course, writing a story is a big job and I cannot imagine what it would be like to write during a war and only with pen and paper. A very different time!

Tolkien speaks often in these letters about his distaste for the over-analysis of literature. He says that trying to learn more about the author and his life and trying to fit the literature into that outside environment is unwise, and basically, annoying. So, as I read these letters of Tolkien I tried not to let what I learned about him, his life, and his views color the stories, particularly those, of course, of the Legendarium. As I am apt to over-analyze things, especially those for which I ...more
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mealtimes
This is a fantastic collection, and special kudos to Carpenter and Tolkien's son Christopher for making it so amazing; probably there is little time for Christopher left in this world (I write in 2019) although he continues to produce book after book after book. Still it would be nice to have more letters. What we have here is an amazing curation.

Whereas there are a lot of letters in the three volume collection of Lewis' letters that are filler (a lot of letters to his father with typical school
Jun 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I can relay just how much I loved reading this. A lot of information about the characters, themes, and linguistic elements in his writing, as well as a nice glimpse into his role as father, husband, and professor. As a more-than-casual fan of Tolkien, I found this book to be extremely insightful, and can't believe it took me this long to finally read it.
@TolkienKC ~ Read for the Tolkien Society of Kansas City and finishing our discussion on Friday, August 24, 2018, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Central.
Dave Sammath
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Where does one begin to review this collection of letters?

It is first and foremost a must read for anyone who desires to "study" Tolkien's work. The main recurring insights throughout the numerous letters on Tolkien's Middle-earth is that 1) it IS NOT (intentionally) ALLEGORICAL 2) The Silmarillion (despite being published posthumously and edited by his son) is vital to understanding LOTR fully 3) Death and immortality are the main themes of "The Jewels and Ring" 4) Almost every criticism since
Tim and Popie Stafford
Fascinating collection of letters. I only got about halfway before I had to move on, but that half took him through the war years and the publication of LOTR. Politically and socially he was half curmudgeon, instinctually conservative, suspicious of progress (particularly airplanes)--a lot like Chesterton in his traditionalism and his Catholicism. Tolkien and Lewis were much better friends than I had realized. It appears that every book either man wrote in this period, he read out loud in its en ...more
A fascinating insight, albeit only a small one, into the life and thoughts of an author I so strongly admire. Aside from the very interesting parts about his life, the sort of kick in the stomach at the first letters after the death of his wife, the fact that there's so much thought and story about Middle-Earth and all his other works, was an absolute pleasure to read. If I'm going to write about Lord of the Rings for my thesis, who better to explain the vast universe than Tolkien himself? Absol ...more
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wishlist, ebooks
And after all that whining, I finished The Letters today after all! Feel a bit uncomfortable 'rating' this – any evaluation of this is going to be as much a review of the person of Tolkien as of his ideas and works, and that doesn't seem quite right to me. All the same, will attempt a longer review later to at least describe what it was like, if not how good or bad it was.
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m still going to fight him.
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating insight into Tolkien, spanning decades. Reading his thoughts on the script of the proposed animated Lord of the Rings movie, I can’t help but feel he would’ve disapproved of Jackson’s adaptation.
Chad Warner
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tolkien fans
I'm a fan of Tolkien's legendarium (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion), so I really enjoyed this "behind-the-scenes" look at how they came together during Tolkien's life. It was interesting to hear his explanations of the themes he intended to include in his works.

I gained a much better understanding the life of the man behind the myths. I wasn't aware of his financial hardship, being overwhelmed by responsibilities (career, family, writing), and poor health (his and his family
Mia Parviainen
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Tolkien's work. I haven't read every single thing he's written, and can't get through all of the The Silmarillion without stopping from information fatigue, and yet I still find something very appealing about the worlds that he created in his literature. I'm fascinated by his love for language, etymology, and story.

This tome contains a wide selection of Tolkien's letters: to his children, to publishing companies, to fans, to colleagues. Some letters are short, with quick details about hi
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tolkien & Fantasy Fans
Shelves: fantasy
Sick and tired of your pompous friends claiming they know and understand what Tolkien meant, only to shoot off at the mouth some bizarre, mid '90s goth kid trash about the real meanings of the metaphors used in Tolkien's work?

Then buy this book and put them in their place.

This book details Tolkien's real meanings in personal letters he wrote to the publishers and others.

Everything from stating that Elves are close biological cousins to man, through to real issue Elves had with Men (in compari
Feb 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book was fascinating, primarily because with about 60 years of fans and critics publishing their ideas on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, it was interesting to read the ideas of the man himself. I have not read his biography, but I cannot imagine it could be nearly as detailed as the letters collected in this volume. Granted, this book should not be read by folks just interested in The Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, or Silmarillion. There is plenty of that (and it is FANTASTIC AND JUICY!), but the ...more
Edward Waverley
Look up CS Lewis in this book's index, as you were probably already thinking of doing. Tolkien's letters to his friend Lewis, as well as his incredibly frank remarks about Lewis in letters to others, are enough to make this collection very valuable. Tolkien states unequivocally that he detests volumes two and three of Lewis' Space Trilogy, and attributes the failure of "That Hideous Strength" in particular to Lewis' friendship with Charles Williams during its composition. (You will see also that ...more
One night my wife looked over at me sitting on the couch and asked, “are you seriously reading that book?” She could not understand why anyone would want to read hundreds of pages of someone’s personal letters. Admittedly, it is rather odd. This book is certainly not for everyone. But for those who have enjoyed Tolkien’s stories, this set of letters offers an intriguing and enlightening glimpse into his mind. I most enjoyed seeing Tolkien speak of his Catholic faith as well as getting the window ...more
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although not for the casual reader, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is a very interesting look into Tolkien's writing process, his opinions on matters ranging from Disney to the purpose of life, and the pre-internet publishing industry.

I got the sense that Tolkien was a serial procrastinator when it came to writing, as he was constantly explaining to his editors why he hadn't been able to make any progress on his work, or apologizing to a friend/acquaintance for not answering their letter sooner.
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Studi Tolkieniani: le 'Lettere' di Tolkien fuori catalogo 3 12 Jul 03, 2013 04:47AM  

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, WWI veteran (a First Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, British Army), philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the high fantasy classic works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings .

Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and Merton Professor of English lang
“For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more--remembering my own sins and follies; and realize that men's hearts are not often as bad as their acts, and very seldom as bad as their words.” 459 likes
“Criticism - however valid or intellectually engaging - tends to get in the way of a writer who has anything personal to say. A tightrope walker may require practice, but if he starts a theory of equilibrium he will lose grace (and probably fall off).” 146 likes
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