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2018-04-28: Well, I’ve been informed that Tolkien’s unpublished letters may be subject to copyright. I would think that unpublished letters would be the one thing that would definitely not be subject to copyright — in fact, the possibility had never even occurred to me.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

Facsimile of Tolkien’s full 1956 letter to Cotton Minchin

The American auction house RR Auction recently sold Tolkien’s 1956 letter to H. Cotton Minchin.1

1 2016-11-04: RR Auction has recycled its item numbers; this link now points to another item.

Much of the text of this letter has been available in the form of Humphrey Carpenter’s abridgment of Tolkien’s draft of the letter.2

2 See The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981, #187.

As part of the auction, RR Auction made available good-quality scans of all five pages of the letter, affording us the opportunity of reading the full text of Tolkien’s final (beautifully penned) draft for what I believe is the first time.

Pieter Collier at The Tolkien Library has republished the scans (as I have here, too), and has transcribed the letter in full. An ad hoc group of Tolkien scholars promptly submitted a number of corrections and suggestions, which Pieter immediately incorporated into his transcription. The result seems to be a highly accurate reading of Tolkien’s letter. Some highlights:

Maps take a lot of time and work. It would of course be impossible to make a map of an ‘invented’ tale, or rather to write a mappable tale, unless one started with a Map from the beginning. That I did — though inevitably some inconsistencies, needing the adjustment of map or text, crept in in the course of a long work, constantly interrupted. But there is a wide gap between a rough map, though accurate in scale and distances, and one drawn and lettered passably enough for reproduction!

You would, by the way, render us a very great service, if more and better maps are to be produced, if you would be so kind as to send us any notes of faults, inconsistencies, or omissions, in maps or text.