Tolkien Gateway

Letter 215

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 215
RecipientWalter Allen, New Statesman
Date17 April 1959
Subject(s)Responses to a request for contributions to a symposium

Letter 215 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien was asked to contribute to a symposium to be published in the New Statesman. He was given a list of questions they hoped he would consider. Tolkien began a long response that addressed many of their questions, but decided to simply send his regrets in a short note.

[edit] The sent letter

He stated that it was impossible for him to take part in the symposium. He had only recently returned from convalescence after an operation and faced much neglected work. Term began next week and he could not produce any copy in time.

[edit] The unsent draft

Tolkien began by saying all he had to say about writing for children was in "On Fairy-Stories". The Hobbit had been published, in a hurry and without due consideration, when he was still under the convention that "fairy-stories" were for children, and he had had children of his own at the time. The desire to address children had nothing to do with the story or his urge to write it. Intelligent children, he was glad to say, singled out the places where the address was to children as blemishes. When he wrote The Lord of the Rings he had thought more about the composition and did not address it to children or any other class of people. It was a long exciting story of the sort that he naturally enjoyed.

He was not interested in children and certainly not in writing for them. He wrote fairy-stories because he wished to write this kind of story and no other. It was the easiest way for him to comment on the world. He was not conscious of any repression exerted on him in ordinary life. Large numbers of adults enjoyed his stories so he had no need to escape to another audience.

"Comment on the world" was not meant to sound solemn. He had neither didactic purpose nor allegorical intent, and disliked allegory.

The relation of The Hobbit to the sequel was that The Hobbit was his first essay to a complex narrative which had been brewing in his mind for years. It was addressed to children only because he had children and had been brought up to believe that there was a special connexion between children and fairy-stories. He doubted the connexion but convention was strong. The Hobbit began in a whimsical, even facetious mode but moved steadily to something more serious, significant, consistent, and historical.

Tolkien fired back questions for the symposium: Asking what are "children", what culture, what ages, what grades of intelligence? Children's tastes varied as differently as those of adults. Life, proclaimed Tolkien, was above the measure of us all and we all needed literature above our measure. Thus one should never write down to Children or to anyone.