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2018-04-28: Well, I’ve been informed that Tolkien’s unpublished letters may be subject to copyright. I would think that unpublished letters would be the one thing that would definitely not be subject to copyright — in fact, the possibility had never even occurred to me.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

rendering-of-third-map-mordor.jpg

… 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

Pagination cross-reference for The Lord of the Rings

My friend and colleague Andrew Peterson visited this last weekend to help with the initial work on my new pagination cross-reference for The Lord of the Rings. I had decided to include the following editions:

  1. Second edition of 1965 (Allen & Unwin 1966, Houghton Mifflin 1967): the three-volume hardcover edition for many years considered the “standard”.
  2. Ballantine paperbacks (Ballantine Books): I don’t know whether every Ballantine edition has the same pagination; certainly, the copies I have from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s all do; this is probably still the most common edition in the U.S.
  3. 1994 (Houghton Mifflin 1994): HarperCollins digitized the text for this single-volume 1994 edition illustrated by Alan Lee; though it’s not terribly common, John Rateliff has used it for LotR references in The History of the Hobbit.
  4. 50th Anniversary Edition “A” (HarperCollins & Houghton Mifflin 2004/5): The one-volume setting of the text edited by Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull and at least one subsequent three-volume set with continuous pagination (see A1 – A5 at Hammond & Scull’s Lord of the Rings Comparison). Arguably the closest thing we have to an authoritative edition today.
  5. 50th Anniversary Edition (B): The HarperCollins three-volume setting of Hammond & Scull’s edition (see B1 – B3 at Lord of the Rings Comparison). Essentially the same as the immediately preceding edition, although much less wieldy, somewhat less common, and perhaps slightly more accurate.

I’ve built a database which will contain one record per paragraph of The Lord of the Rings, containing the first few words of the paragraph, the paragraph number within the chapter and book (watch for a posting soon describing how this is assigned), and the page number on which the paragraph begins in each of the five editions listed above. In addition, there are spots to put the correlative page in Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (if there is one) and Words, Phrases and Passages in The Lord of the Rings (in Parma Eldalamberon XVII).

With help from my wife Karen, Andy and I exhaustively entered the relevant page numbers from all seven volumes for all of Book I, and have tweaked the procedures so further data entry should go somewhat more quickly.

Once we’ve entered the rest of the data, I’ll make everything available freely in spreadsheet form. I may also have the time to create an on-line pagination converter and companion iOS app.

With these tools, we’ll be able to easily find quotations in any of these editions of The Lord of the Rings and see at a glance whether there are relevant notes in Reader’s Companion and Words, Phrases and Passages. In addition, we’ll be able to begin using standardized paragraph numbers when we cite passages in LotR.