Tolkien Gateway

Letter 137

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 137
RecipientRayner Unwin
Date11 April 1953
Subject(s)Turning in material for The Lord of the Rings

Letter 137 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien had meant to write to Rayner sooner and apologized that it was already eleven days into April. His recent move[notes 1] had been disastrously dislocating and he still could not find the papers and notes he needed. Things had gone wrong with the examination business and soon he had to go to Glasgow to deliver a W.P. Ker Lecture as yet half prepared.

At last Tolkien had completed Part I of The Lord of the Rings (which he called "The Return of the Shadow" containing Books I and II) and would send the manuscripts quickly. Included would be the original Foreword. The Appendices had not been decided – he did not want to promise things that would not appear but hoped that what was promised would prove possible.[notes 2] What would not be included was the design[notes 3] required in Book II, Chapter iv,[1] which needed redrawing.

Tolkien was keeping the facsimiles of the burnt torn pages of the Runic Book. Originally planned for the beginning of Book II, Chapter v,[2] he regretted their disappearance and hoped they might be included in the appendix.

Tolkien believed that he would not "make such heavy weather" of the remaining work. The first two books had been written long ago, often altered, and needed much attention. The later parts were nearly done and they could have Vol. II as soon as they wanted. He asked for when his attention would be needed for this work since he was facing exam-scripts from 20 June through 1 August.

Maps were worrying Tolkien. He felt that maps of the Shire, of Gondor, and of the whole field of action were needed. He had them but not in replicable form and would try to draw them as soon as he could.

At this point Tolkien said he had to turn forcibly to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.[notes 4].

Having forgotten the matter of Publicity he asked Rayner to apologize to the Department for him. He tried to do something, produced about 300 words of text, and was including it too. He had also solicited a blurb from his friend, George Sayer, the most normal reader and liker of his work he knew, and he had provided a piece of 95 words. He had surprised Tolkien with what he called overheated praise. He called Tolkien the "greatest living poet", Tolkien thought his verses "up to standard", and C.S. Lewis had regarded them on the whole poor, regrettable, and out of place. He once tried to explain "briefly" what it was all about to a friend and found that he had produced 41 pages and 10,000 words.[notes 5]

[edit] Notes

  1. As explained in Letter 136, he had to move for his wife's health, per doctor's orders.
  2. The first edition listed what the Appendices would have; the one item omitted would be the index of names.
  3. The West Gate of the Mines of Moria
  4. This was the subject of his W.P. Ker Lecture.
  5. This was the Milton Waldman letter (see Letter 131).


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Journey in the Dark"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm"