Tolkien’s letter to Baronne A. Baeyens, 1963-12-16

2018-04-28: Well, I’ve been informed that Tolkien’s unpublished letters may be subject to copyright. I would think that unpublished letters would be the one thing that would definitely not be subject to copyright — in fact, the possibility had never even occurred to me.

And so, I’m redacting most of this post. Most of my transcription is already available in other places on-line. I will limit myself to quoting the small portions of the letter that I believe have not been available before.

RR Auction Company, who previously auctioned Tolkien’s letter to H. Cotton Minchin which I wrote about in 2014, now has several more letters up for auction. As before, they have posted lovely scans of the letters1 — affording us the opportunity of transcribing them for posterity.

1 Currently posted here, although previous experience tells me this link will become defunct before long.

I’ll get the ball rolling here with a letter that was previously auctioned in 2009, written by Tolkien on 16 December, 1963, to Baronne A. Baeyens. According to the Tolkien Gateway, the (hopefully temporarily) erstwhile Lord of the Rings Plaza published an extract from this letter at that point, which the Tolkien Gateway has quoted.

My transcription follows and, following that, the one-page “secretarial” letter of the same date to Baronne Baeyens. I welcome queries, comments, and corrections below!

Dear Madame,

I enclose a merely secretarial letter. I am obliged to leave a large part of the letters to a part-time secretary; but I always re-read them before sending any reply, and I felt that your most charming and interesting letter deserved a personal note, though it must be briefer than it should be.

Please give my best wishes to your son. He is of course right and perceptive to pity Gollum. I find still very moving to me the place where Gollum on the brink of repentance is cast back by the brusque and understandable (& not very perceptive) loyalty of Sam.

The drawing I am v. grateful for. It is more than ‘amusing’. I have written quite a lot, after all.

Yours sincerely,

JRR Tolkien

I cannot quite make this last word out. Your thoughts?

Well, I’m back

I don’t, as a rule, discuss personal or family matters here; that’s the role for The Mueller-Harder Family Journal. Nevertheless, I feel I should mention that I’m more-or-less “back” from an unexpected journey health-wise. Details — no doubt too many for some readers, and never enough for others — are at a specialized set of pages at No more need be said here.

To celebrate, I gave a new paper last week at the Tolkien in Vermont conference at UVM, titled “Mapping Mordor: Normalizing Tolkien’s maps as the first step in examining his worldbuilding method of construction-by-revision; or, Yet further confirmation (as if we needed it) that Tolkien had no master plan, did not ‘first make a map and make the narrative agree,’ and, in fact, never did produce a map that exactly portrays what’s described in The Lord of the Rings.” This was not the longest title of the conference!

I’ll also be travelling to Kalamazoo in three weeks to give a paper at the pre-International Medieval Congress Tolkien Seminar in Kalamazoo, Michigan — rather more pithily titled “The Tolkien Art Index” — giving a tour (perhaps obviously) of the Tolkien Art Index. Dr. Anna Smol (whose page giving details of the Tolkien Seminar I linked to above) also has produced a very useful page detailing the Tolkien-related sessions and papers at the congress itself, which I’ll be staying for.

(Thanks to an unexpected travel grant), I plan in July also to attend the Tolkien Society Seminar 2018 immediately preceding the International Medieval Congress at Leeds University. Dr. Dimitra Fimi has provided a page listing Tolkien-related sessions and papers at that congress, which I’ll also be attending. Immediately thereafter, I’ll be able to go to Oxford to visit the Bodleian Library’s exhibition, “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth,” and with luck I should also be able to verify the Tolkien Art Index entries for the Bodleian’s art holdings.

And finally, in October I plan also to attend the North American Cartographic Society annual meeting, this year in Norfolk, Virginia. I had a lovely time this last year in Montréal and learned quite a lot. Several people asked me whether I’d consider giving a paper on Tolkienian cartography this next year. This might just happen.

It’s good to be back. I’ve lost some time, but am looking forward to making some of it back up between the conferences.

Paper given…


… at the 15th annual Tolkien in Vermont conference at UVM:

Mapping Mordor: Normalizing Tolkien’s maps as the first step in examining his worldbuilding method of construction-by-revision; or, Yet further confirmation (as if we needed it) that Tolkien had no master plan, did not “first make a map and make the narrative agree,” and, in fact, never did produce a map that exactly portrays what’s described in The Lord of the Rings

Donald Swann

Though it may seem a slight departure from the usual theme here at Vermont Softworks, I’d like to take a moment to remember Donald Swann, for today is his birthday.

Some readers will recognize him as the composer and tenor of the English comedic duo Flanders and Swann. Their best-known songs are probably “I’m a g-nu,” “The hippopotamus song,” and “Madeira M’Dear?” — though I have to say my favorites may be “The reluctant cannibal” and “Misalliance.”

In fact, Swann was a serious and prolific composer, producing not only nearly 2,000 songs, but choral works, musicals, operas, and instrumental works as well.

1 2018-05-09: I had mis-identified William Elvin as a tenor. Duly corrected! Thank you, Garry!

One particularly near and dear to my heart is his song cycle, The Road Goes Ever On, with poems by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien approved highly of Swann’s music. (A good transfer of the original LP with Swann on piano and William Elvin, baritone1, can be found on YouTube here — but you’ll probably want to try to hide the video of the guy smoking while dubbing the LP.)

Just over a week ago — on Bilbo’s and Frodo’s birthday, in fact — Richard G. Leonberger gave a lecture/recital at the Marion E. Wade Center. The lecture is quite accessible, and presents a good bit of information about the history of the cycle up through the current year. Oh, anyone who is interested in Elvish lyric diction should pay close attention about 25 minutes in.

The agreeable performance (sadly miked from the audience) begins at the 41-minute mark. Schubert, anyone?

The Road Goes Ever On (Swann & Tolkien)

The Tolkien Art Index

The Tolkien Art Index is live! 463 pieces of art by J.R.R. Tolkien are listed — essentially, everything that has been published that is even tangentially related to Middle-earth.

At this point, there are titles, descriptions, notes, tags, dates, cross-references — essentially everything except thumbnail versions of the images themselves. These are ready to add, but I must first secure permission to post them, and I have only just now initiated that process — so we’ll need to be patient!

I hope this will be of use to the Tolkien research community. Please do let me know if anything seems awry!