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Series of Tolkien’s letters published

A series of previously unpublished letters by Tolkien has been published in the August 2014 issue of Writing Magazine.

The article focuses on Tolkien’s writing advice to Paula Coston (née Iley).

Three letters to Paula Iley were auctioned in 1998. According to the Christie’s description, these were

A sequence of letters to a young family friend, including a long discussion of the principles of verse composition. The letter of 26.8.65 refers to the imminent publication of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in America in response to a pirated edition. In a five-page separate appendix (‘You need not read it!’) commenting on some poems sent to him, Tolkien compares his own childhood attempts at poetry – ‘I remember when I was about seven trying to write some verse about a dragon, and I said it was a ‘green great dragon‘ …’ and emphasises the importance of the technical aspects of verse (‘Verse is I think in many ways like games‘), with some particular suggestions (‘But it is great cheek to interfere with other poets’). The later letters comment on Tolkien’s departure from Oxford, ‘not wishing to witness any more of its destruction’ and escaping from the ‘persecution of the press’; and, in general terms, on poetry.

According to the editor of Writing Magazine, this is the first time these letters have been published in any length:

Paula did tell me she’s always jealously guarded the letters (and mentioned in the article not letting the biographers see them) so I believe this is the first time the contents will have been published anywhere, at least some of them.

Many thanks to Tolkien Society member, Trotter, for pointing this story out.

About the Author: Daniel Helen
Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society's digital operations, including this website.