R&R’s August auction will offer a very interesting Tolkien letter in which J. R. R. Tolkien discusses the motivation behind his most famous creation, the Lord of the Rings.

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Tolkien Letter at RRauction
Tolkien handwritten letter with J.R.R. Tolkien signature

Tolkien's Insight: Handwritten Letter Explaining Lord of the Rings' Origins

AMHERST, N.H.—Sometimes an author’s work speaks for itself—but it’s always fascinating to have the writer’s own perspective, particularly on a classic that has earned one of the biggest cult followings in the history of literature. Such is the case with a letter to be offered in R&R Enterprises’ August auction, in which J. R. R. Tolkien discusses the motivation behind his most famous creation, the Lord of the Rings.

In the 1967 letter, handwritten to admirer Elise Honeybourne, Tolkien begins with observation that it is "a very hobbit-like kindness to send a present on your own birthday!

He then continues:
"Thank you very much indeed for your generous and delightful letter, one of the most warming and comforting that I have received. As I said in the ‘Foreword’ to the American paperback edition (ballantine Books), I wrote The Lord of the Rings because I wished ‘to try my hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.’ As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving; and it has been a great pleasure (and a surprise) to find that so many other people have similar feelings. But no one has written me a letter more warm, and few have come near it….

Tolkien then discusses a different aspect of the Rings:
"I am specially grateful for your pleasure in the names: I took a great deal of trouble with them...."

He then comments on the origins of Honeybourne’s surname and notes that
"It’s such a good name that I must, in any future, more complete map of the Shire (often asked for), find a place for it. It is one of the comparatively rare place-names that means what it says: a stream, of sweet water and/or flowing through flowery-meads."

Tolkien began The Lord of the Rings as a sequel to The Hobbit, a fantasy story he had originally written for his children and published in 1937. The popularity of The Hobbit led to demands from his publishers for more stories about hobbits and goblins, and so, in that same year, Tolkien embarked on what would become his epic masterpiece. Tolkien’s perfectionism, as well as his academic duties, delayed  completion until 1949; the work in its entirety remained unpublished until 1955, when the author was 63 years old.

Letters from Tolkien are quite uncommon and highly coveted; completely handwritten examples, let alone those with such significant content, are of the greatest scarcity. The present example is expected to generate unusually widespread interest from collectors.

R&R’s August auction begins on July 30 and ends on August 15. Bids are accepted online or via telephone, fax, or e-mail. For information or to consign to future auctions, visit the R&R web site at or contact Elizebeth Otto at .

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