Phil Kaveny

The Fiction of Philip Kaveny

J.R.R Tolkien and the Curse of The Hobbit by Phil Kaveny

J.R.R Tolkien and the Curse of The Hobbit

British author, Marxist critic, and academic, Raymond Williams (1922-1989), and British author, critic, and academic J.R.R Tolkien (1892-1973), share enough significant markers as outsiders within the British class (caste) system that an application of some of Williams’ formulations relating to the process of  mediation between sub- and superstructure would be interesting as applied to J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. [1]

For purposes of this study, we have chosen to examine some aspects of the relationship that developed between J.R.R. Tolkien and the representatives of his British publisher Allen and Unwin starting from 1937, the year of The Hobbit’s publication, until 1954. This was year when volume one, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring first appeared.

William’s calls his theoretical approach “cultural materialism,” at once evoking the Marxist focus on the economic means of production and emphasizing the role of cultural production. Stressing the complex interaction of culture and society, he investigates the material, historical factors that inform culture –part of societies “superstructure –but he also shows how culture shapes society in an ongoing process of contesting   and resisting dominant Modes of Production. (My Italics, Norton Anthology, 1566)[2]

A compelling aspect of Raymond Williams’ work on Marxism and literature is that it enables one to look at a work of literature as something that challenges “all idealizing notions of literature,” by allowing us to look at work of literature in a way which does not foreground intrinsic formal and timeless aspects of that work.  This aesthetic-based tendency is avoided by situating the whole concept of literature in its social-historical context, both that of its creation and that of its audiences.  By extension, I would argue the need to understand the relationship of the literary producer to the dominant mode of production. Through the interaction with economic base and social and economic, legal and political superstructure in which they are situated, critics may enhance our understanding of certain choices made by a particular author about the form and content of their work.  In this case, the source of my information will be correspondence between J.R.R. Tolkien and his academic and non-academic, British, publishers, Allen & Unwin. I have chosen to look at the period from the appearance of the first edition of The Hobbit in 1937 and the first volume, first edition, of The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring in 1954. In doing this it is absolutely critical that we don’t look at this process through resounding literary and economic, and even academic success of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings during the last half of the 20th Century.  Rather we must look at how they appeared to J.R.R. Tolkien and the representatives of his publisher during the period of this study 1937-1954.

           Though most personal and biographical details of J.R.R 1892-1973 are not relevant to this study, there is the exception of those that affect his role within Mid-20th century British capitalist society. This would be the role that a rather grim personal economic situation had on his completion, revision, and the final release to his publisher of volume one of The Lord of the Rings.

           Also here we most note that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were conceived under conditions of modern capitalism in mid-20th-Century England. During the seventeen-year period, the British economic base was in a state of crisis, first with the economic stagnation the characterized the last few years of the Great Depression which was precipitated by the stock market crash that preceded the outbreak of World War II, on September 1st 1939. This is not just abstract historical speculation since it was an historical event with worldwide impact. The Second World War directly effected Tolkien’s literary production since all of Allen & Unwin”s copies of The Hobbit remaining for sale were destroyed when their London warehouse was destroyed during a firestorm resulting of a 1942 German air raid. I would also add that it is common knowledge that after Second World War, debts to The United States, and loss of its other colonies made England destitute place after.  This grim economic climate persisted into the first few years of the Cold War. So grim was Britain’s economic plight, in fact, that wartime rationing, most particularly that of paper for publication, was carried on well into the early 1950’s. To this mix must be added the rather harsh effect that the thousand-pound loss the publishers projected for the publication of The Lord of the Rings would involve.

If we give Fredric Jameson his due and accept his model of a spiraling mutating, multinational global Capitalism it appears to me that certain things follow. For example, the circumstances which allowed for the generation of Tolkien’s work and the network of business and social relationships which used to characterize an independent, family-owned, publisher like Allen & Unwin simply don’t’ exist in the 21st Century [3]

           For example, let’s examine Tolkien’s role Within British society as a” redundant worker,” since the academic market for his kind of work was already shrinking by the 1920s.  In the introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien Author of The Century Tom Shippey, J.R.R Tolkien’s successor at Oxford, suggests that Tolkien used The Lord Of The Rings as a method to seek a more popular audience for his academic work which Norman Cantor labeled ‘Diachronic Philology,’ in his Chapter on the “Oxford Fantasists” in his quite well received 1991 book entitled Inventing The Middle Ages.[4]

There was a gap of seventeen years between the time that J.R.R. Tolkien admitted to his publisher “I can’t think of anything more to say about Hobbits,” and the appearance of volume one, The Fellowship of the Ring of The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1954.  In my conclusion I will suggest some reasons for the existence of that gap.

J.R.R Tolkien did not consider The Hobbit, first published in England in 1937, to be anything more than a one-shot children’s book, at odds with the major body of his work. Yet the demand that it created for more stories like it in the form of sequels was to haunt him for the rest of his life.  As we turn to Letter 17 to Stanley Unwin, Chairman of The Board of Tolkien’s British Publisher, Allen & Unwin, dated 15 October 1937, these few lines sum it up:[5]

All the same I am a little perturbed. I cannot think of anything more to say about Hobbits. Mr. Baggins seems to have exhibited so fully both the Took and Baggins side of their nature. But I have only too much to say, and much already written about the world into which the Hobbits intruded. You can of course see any of it and say what you like about it…

In 1955, eighteen years, later J.R.R Tolkien summarized the publishing history of The Hobbit in Letter 163 written to W.H. Auden, 7 June 1955. In this letter he relates the creation of The Hobbit to the literary projects of his lifetime.

… Though the first real story of this imaginary world, almost full formed as it now appears, was written in prose during sick leave in 1916.[6]…I wrote a lot else in hospital before the end of the first great war…The Hobbit was originally quite unconnected, though it inevitably got drawn into the circumference of the greater construction and even modified it.  It was unhappily, as far as I was conscious, as a children’s story…The Hobbit…was eventually published not because of my own children’s enthusiasm (but they liked it well enough) but because I lent it to Rev. Mother of Cherwell Edge when she had the flu, and it was seen by a former student who was at that time in the office of Allen & Unwin. I believe it was tried out on Rayner Unwin but for whom when grown up, I should never have got the trilogy published …[7]

Here Tolkien continues and explains why there had to be a sequel to The Hobbit.

…Since The Hobbit was a success a sequel was called for: and the remote Elvish Legends were turned down. The publisher’s reader said that they were too full of the kind of Celtic beauty that maddened Anglo-Saxons in too large doses… All the same I was not prepared to write a sequel in the sense of children’s story… As I expressed elsewhere the connection in the modern mind between children’s stories is false and accidental and spoils the stories in themselves and for children also….

A lot of labor was involved since I had to make a linkage with The

Hobbit, but still with more background mythology as well.

Letter 125 to Sir Stanley Unwin Mar 10 1950:.

…Thank you for your letter of March 6. I see in it your good will; but also fear your opinion that this mass of stuff is not really a publisher’s affair at all but requires an endowment.  I am not surprised… I realize the financial difficulties and the remote chance of recovering any of the great cost. I have no money to sink in the bog and can hardly expect you to sink it in.  Please do not think that I feel that I have a just grievance if you decline to become involved, without much hesitation. After all the understanding was you would welcome a sequel to The Hobbit, and this work cannot be regarded as that in any practical sense or in the matter of atmosphere, tone, or audience addressed. I am sorry I presented such a problem. Willfully, it may seem, since I knew long ago that I was courting trouble producing the unprintable and un-saleable.

The matter remained at that point until Tolkien found another publisher, Milton Waldman, who owned Harper Collins. Though we do not have the exact date of the letter, according to Humphrey Carpenter the editor of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, it appears to have been written in August 1950.  After Allen and Unwin, under pressure from Tolkien to make up their minds, had reluctantly declined to publish The Lord of The Rings together with The Silmarillion, Tolkien then wrote Milton Waldman a ten-thousand word letter indicating Lord of The Rings and The Silmarillion were indivisible and thus had to be published together.

Letter 128 August 1950.

My dear Waldman.

I have replied that in his letter I saw his good will, but also perceive that the mass of this stuff is not fit for ordinary publication and requires an endowment.  I had in my letter made a strong point that The Silmarillion etc. and The Lord of the Rings went together as one long saga of jewels and rings and I am resolved to treat them as one thing however they might be formally issued.

Milton Waldman withdrew the offer to publish of The Lord of the Rings with the Silmarillion, daunted by the idea of publishing a total of one-million, two-hundred thousand words. Given paper shortages and publishing costs and lack a commercial market in post WWII England, they could not support the venture.  This decision left Tolkien high and dry since he had ended negotiations with Allen & Unwin before going to Harper Collins.

Letter 133 22 June 1952.

  As for The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion they are where they were. The one is finished and the other is still unfinished or (unrevised), and both gathering dust. I have been both off and on too unwell and too burdened to do much about them and too down hearted. Watching paper shortages and cost mounting against me. But I have rather modified my views. Better something than nothing…I would rather consider the publication of any part of the stuff. Years are becoming precious. And retirement (not far off), as far as I can see, brings not leisure but poverty that will necessitate scraping a living by exam grading and such like tasks.[8]… Can anything be done to unlock the gates I slammed shut myself?

    From the Introduction to Letter to Rayner Unwin (134) on 29 August. Rayner Unwin replies on 1 July 1952.

”We do want to publish it for you.  It is only the means that have held us up.”

    This is the same Rayner Unwin who read and recommended to his father, Sir Stanley Unwin, that The Hobbit be published. He rose to head the family publishing firm and lived to see it bought out by Rupert Murdock in 1988.  He died in 2000.

           The first Impression of The Fellowship of the Ring, volume one, of Lord of the Rings, published by Allen and Unwin, appeared in July 1954, followed shortly thereafter by The Two Towers, and The Return of the King in Oct 1955. One of the ironies of it publication is Allen and Unwin, not expecting much success, offered J.R.R. Tolkien a contract in which he and they split the profits after costs. J.R.R. made several thousand pounds on the publications but because of the confiscatory nature of post-WWII British tax laws was forced to sell all his Lord of The Rings material to Marquette University in Milwaukee Wisconsin, where they still reside in 1958.

In a sense the entire fate of The Lord of the Rings was culturally determined by a subtle interplay between the economic base of modern British capitalism and the cultural, social, and business relationships which were intertwined with it.  But this is the point where I continue rather than stop.  If I am doing a Marxist analysis, then to consign the publication of The Hobbit to a series of happy accidents, and the existence of The Lord of the Rings to Tolkien’s personal necessity is to defeat my argument before it has probably started.

Analysis and Conclusion

The following three of Raymond Williams’ formulations are useful for understanding J.R.R Tolkien’s non-academic publishing successes and failures: “the dominant, the residual, and the emergent.” I think they can help inform this study. For example, Tolkien’s experiences as a language professor made him part of the residual of a previous[9] system which was governed by a kind of pre-capitalist model of social relationships.  These relationships that were not simply all business and the bottom line as we have come to understand them. The vast amount of personal attention and encouragement Tolkien received from his publisher’s representatives was very different from the way his other submissions were treated. In the initial marketing of The Hobbit, Tolkien was compared to another Oxford professor of a century before, Lewis Carol, who, while a Mathematics professor wrote Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. So I suspect that at least in the mind of the publisher there was a kind of cultural space for a book like The Hobbit and the potential for Tolkien to be marketed as a kind of mid 20th Century Lewis Carol.  This holdover expectation persisted to the point of letting Tolkien illustrate the story even though he was not a professional artist, but did produce some engaging drawings drawing which were omitted from the 1947 edition of The Hobbit for economic reasons. I will address later in this paper a certain William Blake-like quality, in color and intensity possessed by some of Tolkien’s later art work. Further, we will explore the significance this had for the production of The Fellowship of the Ring.  Therefore Tolkien’s production of The Hobbit, and even his position as Don and his historical connection to Oxford, represent a kind of marketable residual property.  At the same time it might be recognized as not archaic by the general potential readership. In a sense Tolkien might be thought of as quaint but not weird. Then Allan and Unwin is behaving in way that is quite understandable and logical within the dominant mode of production of the period of study. But it is not just as simple as a few bucks on the bottom line since the first printing of The Hobbit was around five thousand, and the second printing was lost in an air raid.

By this I mean that all forms of capital are not easily measured in short-term profit and loss. In a sense, I think that Allen and Unwin may have been thinking of it as a kind of investment, which, at relatively low cost, might bring them future profits and children’s book awards. I am not contending that this was all part of a considered decision, but rather the direction in which things may have moved.

As I have done more work on J.R.R. Tolkien since I first drafted this paper, it would seem that he was playing a kind of game where he attempted to pit two publishers, Allen & Unwin, and Harper Collins against each other by offering them something they wanted in return for publishing something he wanted. In 1947 Tolkien revised The Hobbit in order to make it integral with The Lord of the Rings which he was completing at the time. This was done with the hope of offering The Lord of the Rings for publication along with The Silmarillion which was rejected originally along with a number of other items written by Tolkien shortly after the publication of The Hobbit in 1937.

To this point in this study I have primarily relied on The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien as my primary source material.  These hundreds of letters are of course quite useful, but we have only his letters not the replies. However, I have come upon additional material which can inform us on the position of Allen and Unwin and their representatives in dealing with Tolkien.  These letters illuminate the role that the British economic base and their perception of it had in their dealings with Tolkien. The picture that one gets is a bit different from the one in Tolkien’s letters.

         Luckily for this study, a tribute to Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R.’s son, collaborator, and literary executor was published in 2000 and Entitled Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essay’s on The History of Middle Earth. In it Rayner Unwin writes about the early reception of J.R.R. Tolkien’s non-Hobbit material.  In his essay “The Early Days of The Elder days”, he notes:

   When in the autumn of 1937 J.R.R. Tolkien offered The History of Middle Earth-or at least some parts- of it to his publisher it was turned down flat as a “hopeless proposition” by Susan Dagnall.(who was as much as anybody responsible for discovering The Hobbit) The “Geste of Beren Luthien” was rejected as “not worth considering,” by Edward Crankshaw. (3).

         This rather summary treatment is given after the publication of The Hobbit but before it started to win awards. But what is important to note is that these works were rejected more than anything because they were not like The Hobbit. I noted earlier that in the case of The Hobbit Tolkien was given special treatment and encouragement, one might even say he was developed as a writer.  But what Rayner Unwin seems to be referring to here is the sort of perfunctory, even and soul wrenching, rejections that we have all learned to live with in the latter 20th century.

   My father when he first met Tolkien shortly after the publication of The Hobbit made a note about what he thought about Tolkien was going to submit. What arrived and was entered on the incoming manuscript was slightly different… But my father would never have analyzed the discrepancies. It is very unlikely that he did more than flip through the pages of the various bundles of manuscripts…The Silmarillion was among the submissions and therefore was described in the manuscript ledger as the Gnomes material … But be that as it may no one but Susan Dagnall and Edward Crankshaw left written notes on the matter of Middle-Earth and both were dismissive.

         What seems clear here was that it was felt that the content of the manuscripts was just too weird to be considered for publication but Sir Stanley Unwin still wanted a sequel to The Hobbit and was willing to soften and make his rejection ambitious with the hope of keeping Tolkien.  This although it appeared if it did not have Hobbits, it was really not worth considering.  So what was wrong with Gnome material? I think yet another of Williams’ formulations is useful in understanding the Gnome material.

         Earlier I mentioned Williams’ use of the term ‘residual’ as existing in any point in time along with the emergent and the dominant. In a sense, it seems that The Hobbit might have struck the readers as containing elements of residual English cottage- or small-town lifestyles.  This idealization is similar to that which we have found and experienced even in the last ten years, on our dozen or so trips to England.   Bilbo’s home is like a well-furnished condo, with full pantries and more good stuff than he can really keep away from his uninvited guests. This is not of course to say that this is not a sentimentalized construction of an England that only existed in or minds. However, Bilbo’s’ home is very comfortable and modern and he smokes tobacco in the first edition of The Hobbit, changed to pipe weed in the 1947 edition to make it consistent with the tone of The Lord of the Rings. True, Tolkien takes us off into a world of Wargs, Elves, Troll and dragons. But not right away, maybe this is why the readers did not lose interest, as they might have if the met an Orc right away.  Nearly sixty years later, Rayner Unwin at the 1992 Tolkien Centenary Conference, said”

   In 1937 Tolkien gave my father everything for publication but what he wanted. What he wanted was more Hobbits.[10]

But the Gnome material, in whatever consideration, might have thought of as being archaic, that is to say, so completely out of place as to make it nearly incomprehensible at the time it was submitted. In his article, Rayner Unwin goes on to suggest the possible outcome had his fathers firm published any of the “Gnome material” Tolkien sent them in 1937.

The Silmarillion might have been deemed publishable but I doubt it. But I doubt even more had it been published that it would have found a market, it being even more difficult to categorize than Lord of the Rings, and book buyers during the inter-war years being ever more conservative about categories. It took 26 years and a world war for before The Worm Ouroboros achieved its first reprint. [11]


            This is only conjecture.  But Christopher Tolkien and a number of scholars edited The Silmarillion for publication after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death and the original material for The Silmarillion as it appeared in 1977 differed greatly from what was submitted in 1937. There was a serious disagreement between members of the team working The Silmarillion as to whether Tolkien’s work was to appear in discrete scholarly units or woven together as narrative. The narrative camp lost and Christopher Tolkien, and Guy Gavriel Kay (1954- ), his assistant, went their separate ways. Kay went on to do his own creative writing. In a sense Kay did with his own work what he sought to do with J.R.R Tolkien’s and in the process became a major 20th Century High fantasy author. To rephrase what I am saying, the only complete and commercially published works during the period of this study were The Hobbit (1937), Farmer Giles of Ham (1949), and volume one of Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (1954). So in a sense Allen and Unwin never really swayed from their 1937 decision.[12]

My conclusion

In his autobiography The God Father Papers Mario Puzo states that with the success of The Godfather he learned a great secret which he wished he would have understood as a young man. He said he had spent easily the first half of his life trying to get some of what he believed to be great literary works published. But, then he learned that if you produce a blockbuster bestseller then you can get anything published.  I don’t know if that was true or not for Puzo later, but it did raise this question.  Why didn’t J.R.R. Tolkien give Sir Stanley Unwin what he wanted, more Hobbit’s, and then get the rest of his work published?  I have asked this question to number individuals who comprise the inner circle of contemporary Tolkien scholarship, that is to say those who have been granted the highest level of access to Tolkien resources by Christopher Tolkien.  The consensus answer is because he couldn’t. However, being of a postmodern bent, I keep asking questions. In a sense he did give Allen and Unwin more Hobbits, along with the a lot of other things from the history of  Middle Earth and the Third Age in The Lord of The Rings, but he gave them to them on his own terms.

I think that the key period in all of this is really the period of negotiation between J.R.R. Tolkien and the two publishers. Because in a sense Tolkien really has nothing to lose since all of his other work that does not include Hobbits has been effectively stonewalled by Allen and Unwin. Though he may have not known that for certain. Raynar Unwin also makes the point that the 1937 rejections may have in fact been unintentionally ambiguous.  This may have given J.R.R Tolkien the idea that his other work might be made publishable even though after World War II the sheer economics of publishing a work of over a million words, as the combined Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings presented Milton Waldman of Harper Collins with insurmountable problems

An interesting thought in all of this was that J.R.R. Tolkien might have been waiting for Raynar Unwin, who had originally been his ten-year-old first reader for The Hobbit in 1936, to complete his Masters degree in The United States at Harvard and then take his position in the family firm which is in fact what finally led to the publication of The Lord of the Rings.  Though not a true sequel to The Hobbit, it was at least recognizable to the next generations of readers.  There are a number of in fact interesting questions which though past the scope of this study might be addressed in my future work. It was clear that Allen and Unwin priced volume one, The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, at 21 shillings (about $50.00 in 2006) and offered Tolkien a profit-sharing agreement to cut costs and still projected a thousand pound loss. But most important, they ignored the paperback rights, feeling that The Fellowship of Ring simply did not fit the profile of United Kingdom paperback reader.  This was just at the time when the two-bit culture of the paperback revolution was about to sweep the publishing world.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, J.R.R Tolkien illustrated some of his work which gave it a special charm and character and sometimes at its best a William Blake-like power and naïveté. This led to something which he was greatly disappointed by with The Fellowship of the Ring because to was deemed too expensive to produce four color plates that he wanted to be included. The plates appeared forty years later in J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, By Wayne G. Hammond & Christiana Scull.( Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 1995).   Here is what reviewer had to say about the plates


“One returns to it as I am doing just at this instant, as I turn to page 161 fig. 156 to Tolkien’s rendering of untitled third page of the (Book of Mazabul)…” “in the three ‘pages’ from the fragmentary record book of the Moria Dwarves found by the Fellowship in book 2, chapter 5… ‘It had been slashed and stabbed and partially burned, and it was so stained with black and other dark marks like old blood that little of it could be read’.” The Illustration is more than the words in this case, for the page appears like nothing else I have seen in a book. It is not an object of art but, simply put, an embodiment of the doom of Moria’s dwarves. It is a historical document, which still speaks even after flame and fire and war. It is almost like a rift into another world which it was Tolkien’s role–only–to chronicle.”
What Tolkien did with this illustration was to draw on his actual experience working with Anglo Saxon Manuscripts which would have been quite familiar to him. The Beowulf manuscript which Tolkien translated went through a similar fate, according to Michael Drout, one of the editors of the Journal Tolkien Studies. It is clear from the illustrations and just about everything else that Tolkien did that he had an extraordinary commitment to his work.  What is extraordinary is the degree that his publishers bought into it. Perhaps a reason for it was that they too were at the point of change. Rayner makes it clear that he too was astounded by the attention Tolkien was able to garner for his projects, those that were accepted.

I think it’s clear that he was in a sense constrained by inescapable personal economic realities that played out in a very complex manner indeed. In the end Tolkien, faced with what turned out be the stonewall rejections of 1937 material and Milton Waldmen’s rejection of The Silmarillion and Lord of The Rings package in 1951 still managed to get some of his work out by in fact integrating The Hobbit and a synthesis which allowed Lord of The Rings to at least refer to his body of then-deemed un publishable.  I also can envision a profitable use of Raymond Williams’ terms the archaic, residual, dominant, and emergent. I think that these terms might be very profitably applied to the reception of The Lord of The Rings in the half-century since its publication, and of course the economic impact of all of the related spin, which of course by now have an economic impact in the billions, if you count films and video and role playing games, and the proposed New Zeeland theme park. In a sense Tolkien’s Middle Earth has developed into a secondary universe in its own right. I think Williams’ formulations, even the few that I have used, are robust enough to do the job. However I don’t think that one can use the term ‘emergent’ effectively retrospectively, because to do so would be to argue for a level of determinism with which I am not comfortable.

[1] For example, they were WWII and WWI veterans, respectively. They were both scholarship students at Oxford and Cambridge, and of course they both produced academic and creative writing. But perhaps most importantly, they both lived to see England transformed as global multinationals replaced modern capitalism in the last third of the 20th Century. Tolkien was an outsider for other reasons. He was born in South Africa in 1892, returned to England with his mother and brother in 1895 shortly before his father died there. His mother converted to Roman Catholicism shortly before her death in 1904, leaving the brothers as orphans, and finally as wards of Roman Catholic priest Father Francis Morgan.

[2] The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 1565-1567.

[3] I think that Fredric Jameson says it best on page 141 of The Cultural Turn. “Thus the system is better seen as a kind of virus … and its development as something like an epidemic (better still a rash of epidemics, an epidemic of epidemics). The system has its own logic which powerfully undermines it and destroys the logic of more traditional or pre-capitalistic societies ….” The only thing Jameson did not note here was this epidemic also destroys earlier stages of capitalism.

[4]  Cantor also offers a rather interesting hypothesis to explain Tolkien’s relationship to his own world of his literary creation based on Tolkien’s view of his work as being one of reporting his imaginary world rather than creating it. So that his secondary world in all its components is real to Tolkien in the same way that a high functioning schizophrenic is real to them.

[5] This even though in the next seventy years it has become one of the most perennially successful children’s books in the English language with translations into more than forty languages. (Douglas Anderson, The Annotated Hobbit.)

[6] J.R.R Tolkien served as WWI British infantry officer and survived the first day of the first Battle of the Somme. Tom Shippey, Shaun Hughes, and I argue that Tolkien’s World War WI experience marked the rest of his life and work.

[7] The incident to which Tolkien refers in the is letter is famous in British circles since Rayner Unwin was the nine- year-old son of Stanley Unwin, Chairman of The Board of Allen and Unwin, and later went on to chair the firm until it was bought out by a multinational conglomerate in the 1990’s. Rayner Unwin received a half shilling reader’s fee for his recommendation to publish The Hobbit. This makes one think a bit about the movie 1980’s Movie Big  in which Tom Hanks plays a little  transported into adult hood, who then can give really authentic evaluations to product development people.

[8] Tolkien was not treated well at Oxford University nor was his son and literary executor and whose approval was necessary for inclusion of any of The Letters included when The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien was published in 1981. What it seems to have broken down to is this: that shortly before Tolkien wrote this letter he found that he would be retiring on one-quarter rather than half salary.

[9] In a sense J.R.R had positioned himself as a professor of a national literature, that is to say Anglo Saxon which up until  not much before his time had been treated more as artifact  than literature until he presented his  essay on Beowulf

The Monster and The Critic, which thought to treat Beowulf as poem rather than an artifact. What Tolkien seemed to have wanted to do is write literature like that in his own invented languages if possible in this sense he fits in with at least some of William’s, on the emerging and evolving nature of literature and literary study, Marxism pp.  (45-54)

[10]  Unwin, Rayner “Publishing Tolkien,” Proceedings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference, Kebel College, Oxford, 1992. p 24.

[11] Eric Rucker Eddison (November 24, 1882 – August 18, 1945) was an English civil servant and author. He received the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1924 and the Order of the Bath in 1929 for public service with the Board of Trade. He is best known, however, for his early romance The Worm Ouroboros (1922). He is important in that he is thought to be one of the  writers like Tolkien who produces high fantasy

[12]  I would  that during this same seventeen year period  Tolkien produced an number things for small and academic presses which found commercial  publication after the success of Lord of The Rings and even know to quote Rayner Unwin books about Tolkien do not sell as well as books by Tolkien.



Cantor, Norman.  Inventing the Middle Ages.  NY: W. Morrow, 1991.


Carpenter, Humphrey.  J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. (Oxford: Unwin, 1977).


Eddison, R. R.  The Worm Ouroboros.  NY: Ballantine, 1967 (1962).


Puzo, Mario.  The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions.  NY:  Putnam, 1982.


“Raymond Williams,“Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.  Vincent B. Leitch, ed.  NY: W.W. Norton & Co, 2001. 1565-1567.


“From Marxism and Literature, Part 1, Chapter 3.” Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.” Vincent B. Leitch, ed.  NY: W.W. Norton & Co, 2001. 1567-1575.


Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull.  J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.


Jameson, Fredric. The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on postmodernism 1983-1898. London: Verso, 1998.


Shippey, T.A. Road to Middle Earth. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1983.


_____.  Tolkien:  Author of the Century. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2001.



Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Annotated Hobbit. Annotated by Douglas A. AndersonBoston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. (Unwin, 1937).


_____.  The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.


_____.  The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Carpenter, Humphrey and Christopher Tolkien , eds.  Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1981.


Unwin, Rayner.  “Early Days of Elder Days,” Tolkien’s Legendarium:  Essays on The History of Middle-earth.  Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter, eds.  Westport, CT.  Greenwood Press, 2000. 3-6.


_____.  “Publishing Tolkien,” Proceedings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference, Kebel College, Oxford, 1992.  Patricia Reynolds and Glen H. Goodknight, eds.  Altadena, CA: Mythopoeic Society, 1995. 26-29.


Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. (rev).  NY: Oxford U. Press, 1985,


_____. Marxism and Literature.  Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1977.


This is a 1967 photo of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien is the author of “The Lord of the Rings” and an Oxford University Professor. (AP Photo)


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