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Letter 96 to Christopher Tolkien (1945)

“I am so glad you felt that 'the Ring' is keeping up its standard, and (it seems) achieving that difficult thing in a long tale: maintaining a difference of quality and atmosphere in events that might easily become 'samey'.”

 

20 Northmoor Road, Oxford                                        30 January 1945 (FS 78)

My dearest Chris,

(...)
I am so glad you felt that 'the Ring' is keeping up its standard, and (it seems) achieving that difficult thing in a long tale: maintaining a difference of quality and atmosphere in events that might easily become 'samey'. For myself, I was prob. most moved by Sam's disquisition on the seamless web of story, and by the scene when Frodo goes to sleep on his breast, and the tragedy of Gollum who at that moment came within a hair of repentance – but for one rough word from Sam. But the 'moving' quality of that is on a different plane to Celebrimbor etc. There are two quit diff. emotions: one that moves me supremely and I find small difficulty in evoking: the heart-racking sense of the vanished past (best expressed by Gandalf's words about the Palantir); and the other the more 'ordinary' emotion, triumph, pathos, tragedy of the characters. That I am learning to do, as I get to know my people, but it is not really so near my heart, and is forced on me by the fundamental literary dilemma. A story must be told or there'll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving. I think you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle's) never to be approached – or if so only to become 'near trees' (unless in Paradise or N's Parish).

Well my space will soon run out, and also it is 9 p.m., and I have some letters of necessity to write, and 2 lectures tomorrow, so I must be thinking of closing down soon. I read eagerly all details of your life, and the things you see and do – and suffer, Jive and Boogie-Woogie among them. You will have no heart-tug at losing that (for it is essentially vulgar, music corrupted by the mechanism, echoing in dreary unnourished heads), but you'll remember the other things, even the storms and the dry veld and even the smells of camp, when you return to this other land. I can see clearly now in my mind's eye the old trenches and the squalid houses and the long roads of Artois, and I would visit them again if I could.

I have just heard the news. Russians 60 miles from Berlin. It does look as if something decisive might happen soon. The appalling destruction and misery of this war mount hourly : destruction of what should be (indeed is) the common wealth of Europe, and the world, if mankind were not so besotted, wealth the loss of which will affect us all, victors or not. Yet people gloat to hear of the endless lines, 40 miles long, of miserable refugees, women and children pouring West, dying on the way. There seem no bowels of mercy or compassion, no imagination, left in this dark diabolic hour. By which I do not mean that it may not all, in the present situation, mainly (not solely) created by Germany, be necessary and inevitable. But why gloat! We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling world-catastrophes. Well, well – you and I can do nothing about it. And that shd. be a measure of the amount of guilt that can justly be assumed to attach to any member of a country who is not a member of its actual Government. Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter – leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines. As the servants of the Machines are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful. What's their next move?

All the love of your own father.

 


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