Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Briggs and Tolkien

So, it feels good to read a case of persistence paying off. Thanks to researcher Katy Makin's willingness to sort through bundles of letters and documents, she found a real treasure: a letter from J. R. R. Tolkien to renowned folklore scholar and fellow author Katharine Briggs. Taken together with two letters in the Bodleian, this letter in the Folklore Society Archive at University College London forms a brief correspondence:  

Briggs to Tolkien, October 11th 1954.  [Bodleian]

Tolkien's reply, 13th October.  [Folklore Society Archive]

Briggs' follow-up, 21st October.  [Bodleian]

This thus falls in the brief period between the publication of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (29th July) and that of THE TWO TOWERS (November 11th). The brief excerpt from Tolkien's letter accompanying this articles reveals that Briggs had two specific critiques. First, she zeroed in on the changes made to try to bring the the Gollum chapter in THE HOBBIT into line w. the new account of those events in the new book (something that did not get satisfactorily resolved until the changes of 1944/47). And second she found it hard to believe that anyone wd run with his hands in his pockets as Bilbo is said to have done.

Regarding Gollum she replies 'I hope you will approve of my treatment of his unhappy psychology'

In addition to the gollum scene she alludes briefly to the return of the king: 'hope this is Aragorn' --a reminded that the third volume's title is more ambiguous than some wd have it. 

I'm particularly glad to learn of Makin's discovery because I've long been certain some correspondence existed between K.M.B. and J. R. R. Tolkien but have never managed to make any sort of methodical search for it.   

The timing of Tolkien's and Brigg's exchange is significant. The first of Brigg's two masterpieces --the novel HOBBERDY DICK (1955)* -- was not yet out, while the other, her best-known work, AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAIRES (1976)**,  wd not come out until a few years after Tolkien's death. In addition to warm praise of Tolkien's work, Brigg's ENCYCLOPEDIA marked the re-discovery of THE DENHAM TRACTS, with its appearance of Hobbits in the work of a folklore collector in the 1850s.

  TSR clearly used Brigg's DICTIONARY as a major resource for folklore creatures in the D&D roleplaying game.*** The same is true of Wizards of the Coast for Magic: the Gathering; a copy of Brigg's book was in WotC's games library of resource and reference materials.  

Here's the article about Makin's discovery:

--John R.

*We know that CSL read HOBBERDY DICK, though rather condescendingly


***My own copy is starting to disintegrate; a note inside tells me this was a gift from Charles Noad, a detail I had forgotten.


Baron Greystone said...

I always thought JRRT created hobbits himself. I'll have to look that book up. Thanks.

OnTheTrail said...

@Baron Greystone. The reference comes from the (as John says) The Denham tracts - a Collection of Folklore'. The reference to 'Hobbits' is noted in two places. First in the chapter, 'The Folklore of the North of England', and in the index where Hobbits are described as being 'a class of spirits'.

Baron Greystone said...

Wouldn't this revelation from the Denham Tracts mean that the term "Hobbit" is public domain, like "Orc?"