Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Pratchett's Letter to Tolkien

 So, we've long know that in his youth Terry Pratchett, who wd become the first person knighted for writing fantasy, wrote a fan letter to J. R. R. Tolkien, the man who more than any other invented the genre. It was a pleasure, therefore, to find the whole letter (Pratchett to Tolkien, November 22nd 1967) printed in full in the new Pratchett biography  

Dear Professor Tolkien;


This is simply a letter of appreciation. I have just read 'Smith of Wootton Major'. To tell the truth, when I ordered it I expected a light tale akin to 'Farmer Giles of Ham' --instead I read and re-read it with awe.


I don't know what there was in it that moved me to write this letter. It was something that 'The Lord of the Rings' never possessed except in very short measure, that feeling of recognition. You said something in 'Smith' which I hope I grasped, and there was a feeling almost of recognition. An odd feeling of grief overcame me when I read it. I cannot explain my feelings any clearer. It was like hearing a piece of misic from way back, except that it was nearer poetry by Graves's definition. Thank you very much for writing it.


Now I await the Silmarilion, [Nt1]

Your faithfully,

Terence Pratchett.


Wilkins does not print Tolkien's reply, no doubt for reasons of copyright, but he does tell us that Tolkien's reply was brief, just four sentences, in which JRRT noted that this was the first fan mail he had received re. SWM. 

'You evidently feel about the story very much as I do myself. I can hardly say more.' [Nt2]

We already knew the main sentence in Tolkien's reply ('You evidently feel . . .') from its being quoted in SCULL & HAMMOND, JRRT COMPANION & GUIDE: CHRONOLOGY page 746. The short following sentence ('I can hardly . . .') was previously unpublished, so far as I can tell.

--John R.

current reading: TERRY PRATCHETT: A LIFE IN FOOTNOTES, by Rob Wilkins, December 2022


Notes— the slight misspelling of Silmarilon (sic) is Pratchett's]


Rownsepyk said...

Hi John! It is a great letter, and response. The Bodleian had this letter on display in the Maker of Middle-earth exhibition, in 2018. It is reproduced in the catalogue, along with a short essay about it and Tolkien's reply, on pp. 102-103 (Figure 11).

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Rownsepyk

Thanks for pointing this out. I had been fortunate enough to see the exhibit (twice) but don't now remember every individual piece on display, six years later. So it's nice to have reminders.

Looking in McIlwaine's excellent catalogue I see that she reprints Pratchett's whole letter, along with Pratchett's famous analogy comparing Tolkien with Mt. Fuji.

--John R