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Letter 229

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 229
RecipientAllen and Unwin
Date23 February 1961
Subject(s)Tolkien’s reaction to Åke Ohlmarks' "nonsense"

Letter 229 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

An angry Tolkien sent to his publishers his translation of Ohlmarks’ introduction to the Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings with his comments, hoping that it would justify to Allen and Unwin his annoyance. Christopher Tolkien supplied seven excerpts that illustrated why his father was so upset. Below are the excerpts; the italicized portions are Tolkien’s translations of Ohlmarks’ introduction followed by Tolkien’s comments (not italicized).

It is hard to believe that the deep-rooted native-born hobbit from Middle South England…would feel at home [in Leeds]. Inauguration into the Anglo-Saxon chair in Oxford was for him like coming home again from a trial expedition up to the distant "Fornost". – The first serious piece of presumptuous impertinence, said Tolkien, for he was devoted to the University of Leeds and left with regret. If this nonsense were to come to the notice of the University it would give offense and Ohlmark would have to apologize.

One of his most important writings, published in 1953, also treats of another famous homecoming, "The Homecoming of Beorhtnot, [sic] Beorhthelm’s son." – Tolkien said that Ohlmarks knew nothing about the subject and had not seen the poem, blaming him for writing about it as if he did.

The professor began by telling tales about it [Middle-earth] to his children, then to his grandchildren… One can clearly see before one the fireside evenings…at Sandfield Road in Headington…with the Barrowdowns or Headington Hills in the rear and the Misty Mountains or the 560 feet high Shotover in the background. – Such outrageous nonsense, said Tolkien, that he would have suspected mockery except that Ohlmarks was every ready to assume intimate knowledge that he did not have. Of his two grandchildren, one was 18 and only heard of the book 5 years ago while the other was only 2. He wrote the book before moving to Headington, which has no hills.

The Ring is in a certain way "der Nibelungen Ring" – Acidly Tolkien remarked that both rings were round, there the resemblance ceased.

…which was originally forged by Volund the master-smith, and then by way of Vittka-Andvare passed through the hands of the mighty asar [Æsir] into the possession of Hreidmar and the dragon, after the dragon’s fall coming to Sigurd the dragonslayer, after his murder by treacherous conspirators coming to the Burgundians, after their death in Atle’s snake-pit coming to the Huns, then to the sons of Jonaker, to the Gothic tyrant Ermanrik, etc. – Thank heavens, said Tolkien, for the etc., else the ring might have wound up in Ohlmarks' pocket. What is the point of all this, he asked. Those who know about the "Nibelung" traditions would think this nonsense; those who do not will not be interested. Dr. Ohlmarks was welcome to his rubbish but he had no right to unload it here.

Here [in Mordor] rules the personification of satanic might Sauron (read perhaps in the same partial fashion [as other identifications Ohlmarks has made] Stalin). – There was no "perhaps" about it and Tolkien utterly repudiated any such "reading". He conceived the situation long before the Russian revolution and such allegory was entirely foreign to his thought. Mordor was in the east due to narrative and geographical necessity with his “mythology” so that it was far removed from the Valar, Elves, and Númenor.

There are reminiscences of journeys on foot in his youth up into the Welsh border-regions. – As Bilbo said of the dwarves, he seemed to know as much of my private pantries as I did myself, or pretended to. Tolkien stated that he never walked in Wales or the marches in his youth. Why should he be made an object of fiction while still alive?