Tolkien Gateway

Letter 213

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 213
RecipientDeborah Webster
Date25 October 1958
Subject(s)Tolkien's Facts about Himself, and Thoughts about Them

Letter 213 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien stated that he did not like giving "facts" about himself beyond "dry" ones (which were no more relevant than juicy details to his books). He objected not only for personal reasons but because he disagreed with the contemporary trend in criticism that focused excessively on details of the lives of artists and authors. This distracted from the author's work and often become the main point of interest. Only a guardian Angel or God Himself could unravel the real relationship between personal facts and an author's works; not the author himself and certainly not so-called "psychologists".

There was a scale of significance in personal "facts". Insignificant facts (drunkenness, wife-beating, and suchlike – sins of which Tolkien was not guilty) were loved by analysts and writers about writers. But these had nothing to do with an artist’s work. Beethoven may have cheated his publishers and ill-treated his nephew but Tolkien did not believe it had anything to do with his music. There are more significant facts that have some relationship to an author's work but which do not really provide any explanation. Personally he disliked French and preferred Spanish to Italian, but it would take a long time to connect these facts to his taste in languages, and would not affect a reader's liking or disliking his invented names and bits of languages in his books. A few basic facts would be really significant. Tolkien was born in 1892 and as a child lived in the Shire in a pre-mechanical age. More importantly, he was a Christian and in fact a Roman Catholic. From his works one could deduce the Christianity but not perhaps the Roman Catholicism, except that one critic related invocations the Elbereth and Galadriel's character to Catholic devotion to Mary. Another saw lembas, which fed the will and became more potent when fasting, as derived from the Eucharist. Far greater things may colour the mind when dealing with little thing in a fairy-story.

Tolkien proclaimed himself a Hobbit in all but size. He liked gardens, trees, unmechanized farmlands, pipe smoking, good plain food (not French), ornamental waistcoats, and mushrooms. He had a simple sense of humour, went to bed late, and got up late when possible. He did not travel much. He loved Wales (or what was left of it) and the Welsh language. He also liked Ireland and its people but found the language wholly unattractive.

[edit] Publication history

The full version of the letter (with some sentences not included in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien) appeared in Deborah Webster's The Fictitious Characters of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (1972), and later in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Critical Biography (1982). The passage beginning "I am in fact a hobbit" has later reprinted in many places including J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth (1976), J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (1977) and the Telegraph Sunday Magazine (1977).[1]


  1. "Fictitious Characters of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. 1972", (accessed 3 January 2012)