Tolkien Gateway

Letter 228

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 228
RecipientAllen and Unwin
Date24 January 1961
Subject(s)Tolkien's opinion about the Swedish publishers of Lord of the Rings wanting to exclude the Appendices from their edition

Letter 228 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien had sympathy with any foreign publisher attempting to translate his work. His interest in a translation was pecuniary if the basic text was respected. Normally he would wish to refrain from damaging the business of being published in other countries but the Appendices had a pecuniary aspect.

Tolkien disagreed that the Appendices gave the work a "scholarly" look, believing that they played a major part in producing the total effect of an historical reality. From hundreds of letters it could be seen that the Appendices played a very large part in the reader’s pleasure, and induced library readers to buy the work.

Tolkien was interested in what the sales of his book were in English in countries where a translation had appeared. He felt that the original was his only protection against translators since he could exercise no control over their work. Translators were guilty of very strange mistakes, as he would be in their situation, working under limited time pressures.

As an example, Tolkien pointed to Dr. Ohlmarks[note 1] mistranslation of “their feet had tough leather soles and were clad in thick curling hair”[1] as “their feet had tough feathery soles, and they were clad in a thick curing hair”. This produced an image of hobbits dressed in matted hair with feather-cushioned treads, made even more absurd since Ohlmark suggested that hobbits were modelled on the inhabitants of Headington.

While he did not object to biographical information he stated that it should be correct and pertinent. In the future he either wanted to see anything of this nature in advance or give Allen and Unwin a brief statement for inclusion if demanded.

Who is Who was not safe for foreigners ignorant of England. Ohlmarks used it to create a ridiculous fantasy. Tolkien called Ohlmarks a very vain man (discovered in correspondence) who preferred his own fancy to facts and pretended to knowledge he did not have. Ohlmarks attributed sentiments and beliefs to Tolkien that he repudiated, such as claiming that Tolkien disliked the University of Leeds. This was impertinent and untrue, and if it came to the knowledge of Leeds he would make Ohlmark apologize.

[edit] Notes

  1. Åke Ohlmarks translated The Lord of the Rings into Swedish and added his own biographical article about Tolkien. See Letter 229 for more of Tolkien's reaction to this article.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Concerning Hobbits"