HarperCollins have announced a new revised and expanded edition of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien will be published in November, to include over 150 additional letters, increasing the total letters to 500.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien was first published in 1981, edited by Humphrey Carpenter – Tolkien’s official biographer – with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien. Tolkien was a prolific letter-writer, and many of his letters contain valuable insights into his personal life, his academic career, his views, and of course his works; some insights into his works only exist from the letters.
Although it is believed that many thousands of letters were written in his lifetime, the 1981 version of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien contains 354 letters. It has been known that the published version of The Letters was edited down due to publishing constraints.
“Since it was first published in 1981, Letters has become the closest thing we can ever have to J.R.R. Tolkien’s autobiography. Within its selection of just over 350 letters, edited by Tolkien’s official biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, and his son and literary executor, Christopher, Tolkien is revealed in all his colours: storyteller, academic, friend, husband, father and grandfather. They are intimate, heartfelt, wise, funny, fascinating; they brilliantly showcase the lost art of letter-writing and are a time-machine transporting us into the life of one of the twentieth century’s literary greats.
‘But this was not the book envisaged by Humphrey and Christopher. At the publisher’s request, they were required to reduce the original selection to what was then deemed a publishable extent. By going back to the editors’ original typescripts and notes, it has finally been possible for us to reinstate the 150 letters they excised purely for length – an additional 50,000 words – and publish the book as originally intended.” – Jennifer Hart, Senior Vice President and Associate Publisher of William Morrow
Speaking about this, Humphrey Carpenter’s widow, Mari Prichard, says: “Humphrey returned to Oxford as a producer/presenter for the new BBC local radio station. His breakfast show included biographies of Oxford characters, and Tolkien naturally became a subject. This led to him writing the first, and still only, fully authorised biography and then working closely with Christopher Tolkien to edit the letters. I am so pleased that, with this new edition of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey and Christopher’s painstaking work can finally be appreciated as it was originally intended.”
The revised and expanded edition of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien will be published in hardback by HarperCollins in the UK and William Morrow in the USA. It will be released on 9 November 2023 in the UK and 14 November in the USA, with translations in other countries to follow. The book will be over 700 pages in length.
From the publisher
The comprehensive collection of letters spanning the adult life of one of the world’s greatest storytellers, now revised and expanded to include more than 150 previously unseen letters, with revealing new insights into The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.
J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the languages and history of Middle-earth as recorded in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, was one of the most prolific letter-writers of this century. Over the years he wrote a mass of letters – to his publishers, to members of his family, to friends, and to ‘fans’ of his books – which often reveal the inner workings of his mind, and which record the history of composition of his works and his reaction to subsequent events.
A selection from Tolkien’s correspondence, collected and edited by Tolkien’s official biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, and assisted by Christopher Tolkien, was published in 1981. It presented, in Tolkien’s own words, a highly detailed portrait of the man in his many aspects: storyteller, scholar, Catholic, parent, friend, and observer of the world around him.
In this revised and expanded edition of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, it has been possible to go back to the editors’ original typescripts and notes, restoring more than 150 letters that were excised purely to achieve what was then deemed a ‘publishable length’, and present the book as originally intended.
Enthusiasts for his writings will find much that is new, for the letters not only include fresh information about Middle-earth, such as Tolkien’s own plot summary of the entirety of The Lord of the Rings and a vision for publishing his ‘Tales of the Three Ages’, but also many insights into the man and his world. In addition, this new selection will entertain anyone who appreciates the art of letter-writing, of which J.R.R. Tolkien was a master.