Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Price per Word

In May 2024, a scrap of papera legitimate Tolkien manuscriptwas auctioned at Doyle of New York. The piece of paper is 3 3/4 x 7 inches, and contains sixteen words, plus Tolkien's signature. The words are from a letter of 30 June 1972 that Tolkien sent to The Daily Telegraph, and which was duly published in their issue dated 4 July 1972.  Here is the item, as it appears on the Doyle auction website:

The price realized, with Buyer's Premium (but not including the sales tax), was $24,320, which considering the content to be sixteen words, comes to a price of $1,520 per word. Yikes.

Friday, April 12, 2024


The fact that Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, was one of the first reviewers of The Silmarillion on its publication in 1977, seems to have long escaped Tolkienists, and Tolkien bibliographers. The review is not cited in Richard C. West's impressive Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist (revised edition 1981), nor in Judith A. Johnson's J.R.R. Tolkien: Six Decades of Criticism (1986), nor in a handful of subsequent resources that I casually checked. But the review happened. It was published (pp. 85-86) in the November/December 1977 issue (out October 1st) of Quest, a short-lived (1977-1981) magazine published in the U.S. by the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation. 

Adams felt he had been granted "one of the greatest literary privileges and experiences of my life to be among the first, outside of the departed author’s circle, to read The Silmarillion." Yet he complained that: "I have been very seriously hindered indeed (I’m hopping mad, actually) because my proof copy lacks the most important map, the index of names, and the appendix on Quenya and Sindarin.  This is crippling."

By these omissions, Brian Henderson has noticed that the details match with the proof copies circulated by Houghton Mifflin. (See Brian's comments here.)

But the lack of those paratexts didn't really hurt Adams's appreciation for the book itself. Here follows a selection of Richard Adams's comments.

O mighty Tolkien! Prince of fantasists! How shall we find words rightly to praise thy nobility of conception, faultless consistency of narrative, and superb fecundity of invention?  

When I was asked to review The Silmarillion, I thought, “Ah, barrel-scraping, no doubt.”  . . . Usually these are dredged-up bits and pieces, well below the standard of the great work. The Silmarillion is not. It is, in my view, greater and more satisfying than both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The form of The Silmarillion is not a romantic novel, like its forerunners, but a sort of Elvish Bible. The general “feel” most resembles that of the Old Testament. Dialogue and invididual character have about the same degree of importance that they have in the Old Testament—that is to say, characters appear and vanish, subordinate to history and narrative flow as they are not in Lord of the Rings.

The style is most like Malory, the greatest fantasist of all—a kind of simple, stately, half-archaic prose, eminently clear and readable. Like Malory too is the flow and the feeling that a huge plan is being worked out. . . . Some critics may feel this is eclectic. I can imagine no other style or treatment appropriate to such a theme.

Many characters and places have two and sometimes even three names each. . . . Tolkien here is “doing his thing,” if you like it. Personally, I could unravel this stuff with delight all day and all night.

It's a pity that Adams's review hasn't been more widely known, especially back in 1977 when reviews of the book in important venues weren't very favorable. I know Tolkien bibliographer Richard C. West would have been delighted by Adams's review.