Unseen Tolkien letters discovered at The National Archives
The Lord of the Rings author wrote the two letters to the British Council in 1945
Two handwritten letters composed by J.R.R. Tolkien have been discovered at The National Archives in Kew.
The never-before-seen letters reveal a correspondence between the British Council and Tolkien from 1945.
In addition to writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien was a professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. The letters are regarding funding for his early English languages research.
Tolkien was hoping to gain funding for a collaborative research project with his former student, Simonne d’Ardenne. When the letters were written in 1945, d’Ardenne was Professor of Comparative Grammar, English Philology, Old Norse and Gothic at Liege University in Belgium. She was hoping to join Tolkien at her previous place of study and conduct research into historical languages.
Tolkien sent two letters in support of d’Ardenne’s application for funding to the British Council. The first is dated 24 August 1945, when he wrote: “Mlle d’Ardenne is a very considerable scholar, and in a field (early English) that is otherwise poorly represented in countries of ‘Latin’ language…The war cut short our communications and left us with much unfinished work on hand.”
He said d’Ardenne’s return to Oxford would be “of the greatest assistance”, acknowledging: “I find it very difficult to pick up the threads without her help.”
On 11 October 1945, Tolkien sent a follow up after not receiving a reply and hoped “soon to have a favourable decision”.
“It would be of great satisfaction – and assistance to me. I am being pressed by the Early English Text Society… concerning the work of Professor d’Ardenne and myself in our joint field… Assistance to this eminent scholar, one of the most distinguished in mediaeval English, is my chief object.”
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The British Council granted the scholarship and Professor d’Ardenne joined Tolkien at Oxford University in January 1946.
Unfortunately, Tolkien became unwell and the manuscripts which they were hoping to pick apart were unavailable due to bomb damage at the British museum. Professor d’Ardenne consequently submitted a request to postpone the last three months of her scholarship until May 1947, a request which was granted.
The documents are being held in the National Archives alongside previously catalogued correspondence from Tolkien.
Sarah Castagnetti, Visual Collections Team Manager at The National Archives, said: “These letters provide an intriguing new glimpse into Tolkien’s life and work, allowing us to hear from one of the world’s best-loved authors in his own voice and through his own handwriting.
“This discovery by one of our volunteers shows once again the enduring importance of archives and the windows they offer to the past.”