Tolkien Gateway

Letter 98

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 98
RecipientStanley Unwin
DateUndated, circa 18 March 1945
Subject(s)Possibly publishing Leaf by Niggle, what could accompany it

Letter 98 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Stanley Unwin's elder son David had read Leaf by Niggle, called it "exquisite", and suggested that it be published with other short stories by Tolkien. Unwin passed this suggestion to Tolkien.

Tolkien said that he had written several imaginary letters and half of an actual one before he had received Unwin's 24 February note. He meant to inquire after Rayner and hoped Unwin had good news from his son. The Navy seemed to inflect less squalor and frustrations on its young men than the R.A.F. Tolkien's son Christopher had become great friends with Chris Unwin.[note 1]

Christopher was in transit for England. One of his group had already been killed in his first flight, and he was the one at the top of the Course. This explained part of his unproductiveness: his heart was gnawed with anxiety. Christopher had been his real primary audience who had read, vetted, and typed all of The Ring that had been completed. He also had been dragged away while making the maps. Tolkien had "squandered" all of his spare time writing to his son.

Turning to Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien said that it was the only writing that had cost him absolutely no pains at all. Usually he composed with great difficulty and endless rewriting. Over two years ago he had woken up with Leaf by Niggle virtually complete in his head. A few hours later he had it written. He was cheered, or rather bowled over, by David's comment.

Tolkien declared Niggle to be so unlike any of his other stories that he did not know what else would consort with it. He asked if he should bundle what he could find and let them choose what might go into a volume. He had one or two short verse narratives that had already appeared in the Oxford Magazine. Was Farmer Giles being considered? He had another comic fairy story half-written.

His real desire, said Tolkien, was to publish The Silmarillion. Then there was the great Hobbit sequel. It was great in the quantitative sense, could not be abbreviated, and was not finished. Three weeks with nothing else to do would be enough to get it done, but he saw little chance to get that and it was not the kind of stuff for odd moments. He would let them have a part of it to judge except that it was so closely knit that he needed to have all the chapters by him. He also only had one copy and feared to let go of it. Due to the cost of professional typing he wanted to wait until the end.

Tolkien decided that he must stop lest Unwin felt that the time and paper could have been better spent on writing and not talking about it. He then enumerated everything that was preventing him from writing, hoping for a few weeks in the year for himself. Instead of British Daylight Savings Time, if Unwin could double the day he would drown him in stuff. He was deeply grateful for Unwin's kindness and concern.

[edit] Note

  1. Actually named "Harold", a second cousin of Rayner