Tolkien Gateway

Letter 276

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 276
RecipientDick Plotz, "Thrain" of the Tolkien Society of America
Date12 September 1965
Subject(s)The "Tolkien Society", work on The Silmarillion, Shire places, Númenor, Charles Williams

Letter 276 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

After heading his letter with "To the T.S.A. First Communiqué from the Member for Longbottom", Tolkien explained that he had been in Ireland and had just unburied Plotz's letter from a mountain of mail. While complemented by the formation of the "Tolkien Society" he did not see how he could be a member of a society devoted to his own works. He offered to help in an informal capacity, and said he could provide information not in print with the proviso that the plea: Engaged on the matter of the Eldar and of Númenor: would be accepted without offense as an adequate excuse for inadequate answers.

The Silmarillion was written but in a confused state, having been altered and enlarged, needing linkage with The Lord of the Rings, and lacking a thread for stringing together its diversity. He considered publishing it in parts and hoped to release the first part in the next year. There was also many matters not strictly part of the main story: cosmogony, the Valar, Númenor, War in Middle-earth (the fall of Eregion, death of Celebrimbor, and the history of Celeborn and Galadriel). The Akallabêth was written while the rest of its history would be just annals, except for The Mariner’s Wife.

While Tolkien understood the amusement of using special names from the story for society members, but he thought it a mistake to give names of characters or offices from the story. Personally he would have preferred "The Shire Society". He suggested as more appropriate and amusing to give members the title "Member for Some-place-in-the-Shire" or Bree. While there were only 30 suitable place names in the small section of the Shire printed[1] there were many more available on his map. He had devised them according to the style, origins, and mode of English (especially Midland) place-names, and he would be delighted to construct new names on the same principles and to find places for them on maps of Bree and the Shire.

C.S. Lewis was one of only three people who had read much of Tolkien's "mythology" of the First and Second Ages.[note 1] Lewis liked being read to but all he knew of Tolkien's "matter" was what he retained in his memory. Lewis's spelling numinor was a hearing error. Tolkien said the Eldarin base of NDU "below, down; descend" became Quenya núme "going down, occident"; númen "towards sunset" + nóre "inhabited land", with a translation of Westernesse. Númenor was Tolkien's own alteration of the Atlantis myth and of all mythical or "archetypal" images the one most deeply seated in his memory. For many years he had had a recurrent Atlantis dream of a stupendous and ineluctable wave advancing from the Sea.

Echoes of Lewis's vague memories of "The Silmarillion and all that" had surfaced in his works. Tolkien pointed to Eldil as related to Eldar in Out of the Silent Planet, Tor and Tinidril related to Tuor and Idril in Perelandra. However, Lewis's mythology was quite different from Tolkien's. It had been broken to bits then made coherent by contact with C.S. Williams' "Arthurian" stuff. It was a pity in Tolkien's mind since he was wholly unsympathetic to Williams' mind.

Tolkien only knew Charles Williams as a friend of Lewis. They liked each other and enjoyed talking but had no common ground on deeper or higher levels. Tolkien found his work alien, sometimes very distasteful, and occasionally ridiculous (an exhibition of his own sympathetic limits, said Tolkien). Tolkien remained entirely unmoved by Williams while Lewis was bowled over, being a very impressionable man. Tolkien did not owe Lewis for "influence" but for sheer encouragement; he was the only one that gave him the idea that his "stuff" could be more than a private hobby. But for him Tolkien would not have finished The Lord of the Rings.

[edit] Note

  1. Actually four in total, including Christopher Tolkien, Rayner Unwin, and Lord Halsbury.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Part of the Shire" map