Since today is a Saturday (and I’m taking tomorrow off), I thought it would be fun to hit up a few of Tolkien’s letters. The book The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is an absolutely essential tool in the study of all things Middle-earth – especially Lord of the Rings.
We’re been talking a bit about Gandalf and I thought it would be fun to see what Tolkien had to say about him in his letter written before the publication of Lord of the Rings. Gandalf first appeared in The Hobbit and was created specifically for the book.
Shortly after the publication of The Hobbit on September 21, 1937, author Richard Hughes wrote to Tolkien with a million questions about the larger context of the narrative. He said that it was “one of the best stories for children,” but he was “afraid that certain parts of it would be too terrifying for bedside reading.” This was, he said, “a snag.”
In his reply (No. 17, sent via his publisher), Tolkien relates that another reader wanted to know “fuller details about Gandalf and the Necromancer.” Tolkien, however, recognized Hughes’ snag – “but that is dark – much too much…”
“I am afraid that snag appears in everything’ though actually the presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible is, I believe, what give this imagined world its verisimilitude.”
Moving on, Tolkien mentioned him again in a note (yes, even his letters had footnotes), from a February 1939 letter (No. 33). By this time, he was well into writing Lord of the Rings – 300 of 500 manuscript pages, according to his own accounting.
Here he returned to the “readers young and old who clamoured for ‘more about the Necromancer.'” But the Necromancer, he replied “is not child’s play.” In the note accompanying this passage, he gives a veritable Robot Roll Call of who we might expect to find in this sequel to The Hobbit:
“Still there are more hobbits, far more of them and about them, in the new story. Gollum reappears, and Gandalf is to the fore: ‘dwarves’ come in; and though there is no dragon (so far) there is going to be a Giant; and the new and (very alarming) Ringwraiths are a feature. There ought to be things that people who liked the old mixture will find to have a similar taste.”
The “Giant” was, of course, Treebeard. Tolkien wrote this letter as he was still kicking around the idea that Treebeard would be evil.
But for the next five years, Gandalf went unmentioned in these letters. And when he was brought up again (No. 83), it came as a surprising allegory. In a letter to his son Christopher, he complained bitterly that while Hitler was a “vulgar and ignorant little cad,” there were many other such people “who don’t speak German, and who given the same chance would show most of the other Hitlerian characteristics.”
He wrote with disdain about articles in the paper “seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don’t know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?)”
In conclusion to this thought, he wrote: “It can’t be helped. You can’t fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy; but unfortunately Gandalf’s wisdom seems long ago to have passed with him into the True West.”
A Few Notes
- There are a few other references, of course. But those were mostly incidental and maybe not as interesting.
- Also, the version of Letters that I use is a first edition and its index is incredibly bad. I really need to update my copy.
About the Photo
I suppose that I’m going to have to get a few more photos having to do with war, huh? This is a Spanish-American War era cannon outside the courthouse in Mt. Vernon, Washington.
- Day 144
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 711 (257 from Rivendell)
- 83 miles to the Doors of Moria
- 210 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,068 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. 17th night out from Rivendell. January 9-10, 3019 TA. (map)