While Strider leads our proto-fellowship through Eriador’s very own Jundland Wastes, let’s take a look at another letter that almost assures us that his sequel to The Hobbit might not ever begin.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Yesterday, I wrote about how Tolkien decided to set aside the Silmarillion once again to write another book about hobbits, even though he had absolutely no idea what to write about.
Let’s first take a look at a letter where the fate of the sequel seems almost hopeless. It was written on December 16, 1937, two months after he promised his publisher that he would soon start. In it, he admitted that he would much rather be working on the Silmarillion. He had returned to it after finishing The Hobbit and was apparently really enjoying himself.
Tolkien had sent his publisher, Stanley Unwin, a copy of some Silmarillion writings. He starts the letter expressing his joy that they were not outright rejected. Here, we get a quick glimpse into how he wanted it to be published (at this point in his history). Tolkien had written verse forms of two of the longer tales, but admitted here that they were just for him and not very good (also, not very finished).
That Unwin did not “reject them with scorn,” made him unbelievably ecstatic. “But I shall certainly now hope one day to be able, or to be able to afford, to publish the Silmarillion!” Unwin had apparently given them to a test subject to read. The reader didn’t care for the poetry, but quite liked the prose narrative for its “brevity and dignity.” His only criticism was the “eye-splitting Celtic names.” Ultimately, the reader praised it for its “mad, bright-eyed beauty.”
Tolkien naturally took issue with the idea that the names were “Celtic.” He also wasn’t sure how to take the “mad” bit, though I think anyone who’s ever read the Silmarillion gets what this reader was saying. All in all, Tolkien was incredibly happy with the response.
However, even if the Silmarillion was to be published, a sequel to The Hobbit had to come first.
“I think it is quite plain that quite apart from it [the Silmarillion], a sequel or successor to The Hobbit is called for. I promise to give this thought and attention. But I am sure you will sympathize when I say that the construction of elaborate and consistent mythology (and two languages) rather occupies the mind, and the Silmarils are in my heart. So that goodness knows what will happen.”
Tolkien wondered “what more can hobbits do?” They were funny, sure, but their comedy was “suburban.” He also wondered what roll Tom Bombadil might play. This strange fellow had been invented about four years earlier and separate from Middle-earth, but Tolkien seemed to want to draw on him (or draw on anything) for a starting place. “Could he be made into the hero of a story?”
He wrote this on December 16th. It seemed as if he had no idea what or when he might be able to start writing the sequel. When Unwin received the letter, he must have thought it might never come. But just three days later, Tolkien wrote him again.
“I have written the first chapter of a new story about Hobbits – ‘A long expected party’.”
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look-see at this “first chapter.”
A Few Notes:
- Also in this letter (number 19, by the way), Tolkien requested one of the color illustrations Unwin was using for a reprint of The Hobbit. “Is there a spare one available of the dragon on his hoard?” he asked. “I have to give a lecture on dragons, (at the Natural History Museum!!!) and they want a picture to make a slide of.” On New Year’s Day, 1938, Tolkien gave a lecture on dragons “as part of a series for childrend at the University Museum, Oxford.” I wonder if that lecture was ever written down.
- I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m stringing out this letter business. I find it incredibly fascinating and I wanted to give more of the backstory to how Lord of the Rings was first invented.
About the Photo
I had no idea which photo to use for this one. So I figured that Tolkien’s going to use a lot of paper, I guess. Right? Sure.
- Day 62
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 301
- 159 miles to Rivendell
- 1,478 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop. (map)