Tolkien Gateway

Letter 280

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 280
RecipientRayner Unwin
Date8 November 1965
Subject(s)Status of "Sir Gawain" and "Pearl"

Letter 280 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien expected that Rayner was getting anxious about his translations of "Sir Gawain" and "Pearl". Disastrously, he had put them aside to work on revising The Lord of the Rings, which took him clean away from these poems. He was finding the selecting and compressing of notes, plus an introduction, difficult. He had too much to say and was unsure of his target. The main target was the general literary reader unknowledgeable in Middle English. However students and academic folk of English Departments would read it too and some of the latter had pistols loose in their holsters.

Enormous amount of editorial work went into producing a version, and along the way he had made important discoveries regarding certain words and passages (Tolkien then modestly said of importance in the little world of Middle English). Exposition of his points would eventually appear in academic journal articles, but it was desirable to indicate differences in his readings from that of others.

The question Tolkien put to Rayner was how many pages beyond just the text he could be allowed so that he could tailor his trimmings.

[edit] Note

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo, a book with translations of all three poems, was published by Christopher Tolkien after his father's death.