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in honor of Bilbo's Birthday yesterday

... and the 75th anniversary of the Hobbit'spublishing, here's one of my favorite letters. German publishers asked whether he was Aryan (this was in the leadup to WWII), and here's his reply. From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

30 To Rütten & Loening Verlag

[One of the 'two drafts' mentioned by Tolkien in the previous letter. This is the only one preserved in the Allen & Unwin files, and it seems therefore very probable that the English publishers sent the other one to Germany. It is clear that in that letter Tolkien refused to make any declaration of 'arisch' origin.]


25 July 1938                                                                                    20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter. .... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Flindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject – which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its suitability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and

remain yours faithfully
J. R. R. Tolkien.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
azalaisdep
Sep. 23rd, 2012 12:56 pm (UTC)
I have always loved that letter. It is such an elegant, just-about-courteous (though clearly he was finding that difficult) rebuttal of an entire racist philosophy in a couple of paragraphs. I do hope the version the publishers actually sent to Germany packed all the same punch.
marta_bee
Sep. 23rd, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
I know. That man had class, no two ways about it. And wit. I think JRRT had wit to spare.
engarian
Sep. 24th, 2012 12:06 am (UTC)
And here my DH and I were just discussing Tolkien's origins this afternoon. Great minds, etc...

- Erulisse (one L)
marta_bee
Sep. 24th, 2012 12:09 am (UTC)
Nice how that works sometimes, isn't it?
dreamflower02
Sep. 25th, 2012 04:25 am (UTC)
That one has always been among my favorites!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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