Tolkien Notes 7
The editor in chief at Locus Publications has informed us that our book The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien has been nominated for a Locus Award in the category of (naturally) Art Book. As subscribers to Locus Magazine for many years, we’re very pleased to be honoured, though with competition from books on Tarzan and Steampunk, and Brian and Wendy Froud’s Trolls, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed.
Tolkien collectors wanting to add a letter by Tolkien to their libraries have had many opportunities lately, and more are coming along soon.
On 12 December last year, Tolkien’s autograph letter signed to John Kettle at the Felsted School, Ledbury, Herefordshire, 15 March 1942, three pages with envelope, sold as Lot 186 in the Sotheby’s, London auction English Literature, History, Children’s Books & Illustrations for £7,500 plus 25% buyer’s premium, against a house estimate of £8,000–12,000. This would have been a good letter to have, with Tolkien discussing The Hobbit and his then-continuing work on The Lord of the Rings.
On 17 April, a one-page typed letter signed by Tolkien, to a David Hicks in London, 12 January 1966, sold at RR Auction as Lot 689. Tolkien thanks Hicks for birthday greetings and mentions that he is writing more about the world of The Lord of the Rings, i.e. ‘The Silmarillion’. Although very short and typewritten rather than manuscript, this sold for $3,259.20 plus 20% buyer’s premium.
On 23 April, an even briefer typed letter signed by Tolkien, to Peyton Moss of Tuxedo Park, New York, one page, 2 January 1967, enclosing three signatures (not present with the letter) to Moss’s son, sold as Lot 238 at Doyle’s, New York, for $1,800 plus 25% buyer’s premium.
On 11 June, at Sotheby’s New York branch, two Tolkien letters will be for sale, as Lots 226 and 227 in Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana. The first is Tolkien’s letter to H. Cotton Minchin of  April 1956, five pages of closely written manuscript, unfortunately with water damage to p. 2. Readers may be familiar with a draft of this letter published in Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 247–8. It is very substantive on The Lord of the Rings, having been written on the heels of the first publication of The Return of the King. The letter has appeared in the market before, but never with so many pages (three of the five) reproduced. The house estimate is $15,000–25,000.
The second Tolkien item being offered at Sotheby’s 11 June sale is a typed letter signed to G.S. Rigby, Jr. of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, dated 6 December 1965, briefly acknowledging that The Lord of the Rings contains theological elements. The house estimate for this, together with the original envelope, is $4,000–6,000. The complete letter is reproduced in the catalogue and online.
Last Thursday, on the morning of publication day for The Fall of Arthur, we awoke to an e-mail from Amazon U.S. informing us that something had gone wrong with the payment mechanism for our order of Tolkien’s book, and we were asked to correct it. Although we did so at once, delivery of the order was thus put back another two weeks (with slow free shipping). Anxious that we have a first printing of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition, Christina walked to our local bookshop, and happily was able to buy a copy there, already at a ‘bestseller’ discount we assume was based on advance orders. We don’t mind that another copy is still on its way from Amazon: if that one is a first printing, all well and good; if it’s a later printing, or in less good condition that the one Christina picked up, it will be our reading and reference copy, which we intended to buy at some point anyway.
That afternoon, Christina was leafing through the book when she came across a reference on the copyright page to a frontispiece reproduction of a page of the Arthur manuscript held in the Bodleian Library – but our copy has no such plate! Wayne pointed out that Tolkien’s American publisher, for whatever reason, has not always included all of the pictures or plates present in the British edition. Nonetheless, Christina walked back to the shop to check another copy, and found that none of the available American copies had the reproduction. We’ve since learned from our friends at the Tolkien Collector’s Guide that the frontispiece is present in the British edition, which we have on order from Amazon U.K. (the trade edition) and Book Depository (the deluxe).
Douglas A. Anderson writes in the latest post on his Tolkien and Fantasy blog about an unpublished dramatic adaptation of The Hobbit by the late science fiction and fantasy author Joanna Russ (1937–2011), which he has read in typescript in the Russ papers preserved at Bowling Green State University. He speculates that Russ prepared this stage play at the end of the 1950s, for presentation at the Yale Drama School where Russ was a student. He had known that she sent Tolkien a copy of a Hobbit play in typescript, but that this did not meet with his approval; however, Tolkien waived his objections provided that performance was part of the normal education process at the School. Anderson notes that Russ’s adaptation, with details such as Bilbo killing the dragon, would not have pleased Tolkien, but that her version is no worse than others. ‘Whereas those were done without Tolkien’s input or approval,’ Anderson writes (his text first appeared in the December 2012 New York Review of Science Fiction), ‘Russ did the honorable thing and asked Tolkien, and thereby was shot down. I suspect that Peter Jackson’s forthcoming films of The Hobbit, now expanded from two to three films, may make Joanna Russ’s version appear as the more faithful to the original text.’
In the course of his article, Anderson reviews ‘published references in Tolkien scholarship about a dramatization of The Hobbit that originated from a female student at the Yale Drama School, though the name of the adaptor is nowhere given, and all evidence points to it being Russ’. The references, to correspondence between Tolkien and Charles Lewis of his publisher, George Allen & Unwin, may be found also in The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, pp. 542–3. We can now add to this – confirming Doug’s deduction – that Tolkien names Joanna Russ in his reply to Charles Lewis on 30 April 1959 as the person who had sent him her adaptation of The Hobbit. Since Russ was still alive when we published the Companion and Guide, and her name had not yet (as far as we know) been mentioned as the object of Tolkien’s scorn, we thought it courteous not to reveal it ourselves.