Tolkien Letter

Last week, someone I've never met or even spoken with on the telephone, gave me a letter signed by J. R. R. Tolkien.  It’s a wonderful and unexpected gift.  I was just getting used to skepticism (and occasionally flirting with pessimism), and then along comes a clear indication things are wicked cool in life and good has to be a major part of any assessment.  And, of course, I’m now committed to an as yet undefined spiritual debt.  This gift has rocked my world.  There’s some fine print from the giver that I’m to “pass it along as a free gift to someone who loves the work in [my] turn.”  Seems fair.  I’ve fallen asleep more nights dreaming of such a gift than I have imagining flying, or commissioning an original Frazetta painting, having the fortunes of Howard Hughes and buying the world a Pepsi, or any number of erotic dreams.  I'd guess about 35-60 times.  Other dream reoccurrences are less, though we must take in mind that the estimated number of recalled dreams isn’t that high, as I don’t regularly recall my dreams and these are approximations.  But, this isn’t a dream, and I’ve received a valuable gift from a stranger.  Cool!

Now, the “stranger” isn’t entirely unknown to me.  About a year and a half ago I received an e-mail from a New Zealand woman.  She wrote to me about a flame-war I was waging on the newsgroup sci.archaeology against an old kook who was spouting racist and sexist crap.  There was a mention she’d been reading my columns for over a year, ever since I heard they were shooting The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand and I went to a few newsgroups semi-seriously asking anyone in New Zealand to invite me for a visit, so I could be an extra in the film.  Well, she introduced herself, said she was a writer, and we exchanged a few e-mails.  Last summer, I mentioned in a couple of my columns that a local fellow was in possession of a signed Tolkien letter and that if he could find it in his files I’d trade Edgar Rice Burroughs’ autograph for it, as he’s a big Tarzan fan.  The woman wrote and asked if having a Tolkien letter was important to me.  She said that when she was a young girl she'd written Tolkien a letter about genealogy and hobbit recipes for cooking rabbits, Tolkien’s secretary wrote back a nice reply and Tolkien personally added a few lines and signed the letter.  Unfortunately, when she became a young adult, she felt embarrassed by the types of questions she’d posed and cut up the letter, throwing away her juvenile efforts.  Half the letter was saved, the bulk of the reply and Tolkien’s comments and signature, and she'd offered it to friends and family, but no one was interested.  She asked if I wanted the letter.  After changing my underwear several times, I wrote back and said, “Sure!”

A couple of months went by without any word from her.  Christmas was approaching and I e-mailed and asked for her address, so I could send a card.  She answered, I sent the card, and ...that was that.  During November and December I’d mentioned to others that I might be getting a signed Tolkien letter from a “stranger” and generally walked around alternatively on clouds and eggshells.  January passed, then February, and March brought all sorts of questions.  Had she changed her mind?  The Fellowship of the Ring is the most popular movie on the planet, Tolkien letters are getting around $1400 and more on E-Bay, and I wondered if the letter had found another home.  I e-mailed her at one point and asked about her health.  A week and a half ago, she e-mailed back and informed me that her computer had been dead for three months, she’d been sick, and something was coming in the mail.  Last week, the gift arrived...

The above lines penned by Tolkien read (as near as I can manage):

I believe he married a sister of
Fredegar (Fatty) Bolger, but I
will look into the matter.  I have some
records of the family of the Bolgers of Budgeford,
whose lands were not far from Buckland, but they were
for lack of space not included.  J. R. R. Tolkien

In The Peoples of Middle-earth by J. R. R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien, Vol. XII of The History of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996; p. 117, note 1), Christopher writes:

"On one of his copies of the First Edition he added to the genealogy of the Tooks (Fredegar's mother being Rosamunda Took) 'Estella' as the sister of Fredegar and her birth-date 1385; and to the Brandybuck genealogy he added to Meriadoc's '= Estella Bolger 1385', noting beside this that he had told a correspondent in 1965 that 'I believe he married a sister of Fredegar Bolger of the Bolgers of Budgeford'.  These corrections, for a reason unknown to me, were not incorporated in the Allen and Unwin Second Edition, but they did occur in a later impression of the Ballantine edition of 1966, and hence Estella Bolger and her marriage to Merry Brandybuck are entered in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster.

These additions to the family trees were made at the instance of Douglas A. Anderson in the Houghton Mifflin edition of 1987, to which he contributed a note on the history of the text.  Estella Bolger and her marriage to Meriadoc have finally entered the British 'tradition' in the re-set edition published by HarperCollins in 1994 (see Douglas Anderson's 'Note on the text' in this edition, p. xii)."

I'm unsure if all of the top half of the Tolkien letter was destroyed or not.  In a separate note, she wrote that she has kept the "head address," which is:

76 Sandfield Road,
Oxford, (Headington( [sic]
28th, May, 1965.

The dates and genealogical information thus agree, but that shouldn't be a surprise.  Prof. Tolkien's writing of The Lord of the Rings was a labor of love, as was the twelve-volume The History of Middle-earth by his son, and a magical attention to detail abounds in both efforts.

So, Merry married Fatty's sister?  Good for him!  Happy endings for all!

Reaching for a pint and a pipe,

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