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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  5,972 ratings  ·  295 reviews
This collection will entertain all who appreciate the art of masterful letter writing. The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien sheds much light on Tolkien's creative genius and grand design for the creation of a whole new world: Middle-earth. Featuring a radically expanded index, this volume provides a valuable research tool for all fans wishing to trace the evolution of THE HOBBIT a ...more
Paperback, 502 pages
Published June 6th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1981)
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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
Jason Koivu
Aug 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, 2020
What a brilliant, brilliant man.

“Well, cheers and all that to you dearest son. We were born in a dark age out of due time (for us). But there is comfort: otherwise we should not know, or so much love, what we do love. I imagine the fish out of water is the only fish to have an inkling of water.” (To Christopher Tolkien, 1943)
Jenna (Falling Letters)
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sherwood Smith
Mar 31, 2016 added it
Shelves: letters
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.
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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! ...more
Mar 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Mario Pilla
Much as I enjoy his writing (I read The Lord of the Rings once a year), I've always assumed Tolkien was a bit of a stuffy wanker. But if he was (and I don't think that anymore), then his letters have convinced me that he was a very likeable stuffy wanker.

As I read the letters, picking up that sort of one-sided friendship one gets as one reads another's writing, I started to feel a bit of dread, which at times approached something like real horror. You read his letters, in order, following him fr
Jacob Aitken
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mitch Milam
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tolkien
I'm really glad I re-read this after reading Humphrey Carpenter and John Garth's biographies. These three books do really make a "trilogy" of sorts, and it presents a very well-realized portrait of Tolkien, imo. ...more
Abby Jones
Mar 27, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Reading this was, poignantly, a lot like the first time I read Lord of the Rings. You start out wondering what all this is and who this man is. You continue on feeling as if you have made the best of friends and are fully invested in their lives, and then it ends. You close the book and they're gone and you must carry on without them. Life feels empty. You wonder what they're doing, how they're doing, you consider starting the book over just to walk with them again. They have grown, as Data woul ...more
Feb 04, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading through this and discussing with my reading buddy.
I especially loved the letters to his family and close friends.
Some of the business letters got a little boring, but that is to be expected.
I felt this book really gave me insight into Tolkien’s personality, his inner workings, his writing, and such the way biographies have not.
This was a wonderful way to get to know the beautiful JRR Tolkien. Overall, the letters were very lovely but some were a bit dry (as to be expected).

The letters to his children through the years (especially during the war) were my favorite.

I enjoyed reading this with my friend Jamie.
Jun 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Justin Wiggins
Dec 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is time to re-read this amazing book.
Melissa Vinson
Apr 14, 2022 rated it really liked it
Goodreads says I started reading this book in March 2021 and here I am a year and a month later finally finishing it. Whew! I’m glad to finally be able to check this one off my list.

Some of the letters were tedious to read, some were very easy and interesting to read. Most of them were just mundane letters to family, friends, and his publishers, but after finishing them I can say that I feel I have a better understanding of one of my favorite writers. These letters may even have given me better
Oct 06, 2022 rated it really liked it
For those who (like me) wished to have been able to ask Tolkien himself about the Entwives, the Blue Wizards, Tom Bombadil, where Elves go after they die in battle, the major themes of LOTR, the particularities of Quenya and Sindarin, or so many other questions, this is the book for you. Letter 131 alone is extremely informative and quotable in that regard.

But aside from being a dragon-hoard full of lore, these letters also tell the story of a man with the simple wish to write legends (initially
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely 100% essential. When one sees first-hand what the modern cult-follower, the clueless "fan," and especially what Hollywood, have done to distort and cheapen the pure vision of this humble (yet deep) writer, one is just sickened to the core. ...more
Yeranouhi Astaldamar
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I felt so privileged and enriched to be able to get few glimpses of the life and mind of the Professor.
David the Ñoldo
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
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 06, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Feb 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
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
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Books2Movies Club: TOLKIEN 08: The Letters 1 1 Aug 04, 2022 12:15PM  
Studi Tolkieniani: le 'Lettere' di Tolkien fuori catalogo 3 12 Jul 03, 2013 04:47AM  

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien: writer, artist, scholar, linguist. Known to millions around the world as the author of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien spent most of his life teaching at the University of Oxford where he was a distinguished academic in the fields of Old and Middle English and Old Norse. His creativity, confined to his spare time, found its outlet in fantasy works, stories for children, p ...more

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