Tolkien Gateway

Letter 205

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 205
RecipientChristopher Tolkien
Date21 February 1958
Subject(s)Christopher's lecture presentation at Oxford

Letter 205 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Preface

Christopher Tolkien, a university lecturer at Oxford, presented a paper on "Barbarians and Citizens", about heroes of northern legend viewed differently by Germanic poets and Roman writers. His father was present at the reading.

[edit] Summary

An excellent performance, declared Tolkien. It had been interesting enough to keep his eyes open and attention focused throughout, despite unceasing labour and movement earlier in the day. He also felt parental pride; the satisfaction that one has not wholly failed in one's appointed part, paying forward a part of the debt one owes backward.

Tolkien said he saw why Christopher held audiences. His phrases had life and vividness, he was clear, not emphatic, and let his material speak for itself by sheet placing and shaping. Tolkien liked the history of the talk, but his greatest thrill was the mention of atta, attila.[notes 1] It made him realize what a pure philologist he was – those syllables made the whole great historic drama full of savour for him.

Nobody believed him, said Tolkien, when he stated that his long book was an attempt to create a world for languages that agreed with his personal aesthetic, yet it was true. An enquirer who asked what The Lord of the Rings was about had been told that Tolkien wanted to create a situation in which elen sila lúmenn’ omentielmo[notes 2] would be a common greeting.

As for the total sphere of the academic world, Tolkien felt that the ball was right at Christopher's feet.

[edit] Notes

  1. Christopher explained that Attila's name appeared to be Gothic and a diminutive of atta, meaning "father".
  2. "A star shines on the hour of our meeting."