Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Another Tolkien Letter

Tolkien's letters depict him as a modest and polite man. But on occasion, he could be roused to anger:
To Rayner Unwin
12 Sept. 1965

[In August 1965 Ballantine Books produced the first 'authorised' American paperback of The Hobbit, without incorporating Tolkien's revisions to the text. The cover picture showed a lion, two emus, and a tree with bulbous fruit.]

I wrote to [his American publishers] expressing (with moderation) my dislike of the cover for The Hobbit. It was a short hasty note by hand, without a copy, but it was to this effect: I think the cover ugly; but I recognize that a main object of a paperback cover is to attract purchasers, and I suppose that you are better judges of what is attractive in USA than I am. I therefore will not enter into a debate about taste -- (meaning though I did not say so: horrible colours and foul lettering) -- but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who had read the tale (I hope you are one) could think such a picture would please the author.

These points have never been taken up, and are ignored in [their] latest letter. These people seem never to read letters, or have a highly cultivated deafness to anything but 'favorable reactions'.

Mrs. ---- [a representative of the paperback publishers] did not find time to visit me. She rang me up. I had a longish conversation; but she seemed to me impermeable. I should judge that all she wanted was that I should recant, be a good boy and react favorably.
When I made the above points again, her voice rose several tones and she cried: 'But the man hadn't TIME to read the book!' (As if that settled it. A few minutes conversation with the 'man', and a glance at the American edition's pictures should have been sufficient.)
With regard to the pink bulbs she said as if to one of complete obtusity: 'they are meant to suggest a Christmas Tree'. Why is such a woman let loose?


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