Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Tolkien's letters, take II

It's been a week now since the revised and expanded edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's Letters was published in the US. I wandered down to my local independent bookstore that morning and there it was on the shelf.

I've been reading it, intermittently. It's 708 pages long. The previous edition was 502 pages long. Not only does it have newly-published letters, easily identifiable as they've been given interstitial serial numbers, but, especially in the earlier part of the chronologically-ordered book, additional material has been added to existing letters. That is not marked, but you can find it using this remarkable guide, though I fear that every time they update it (fixing typos, tweaking summaries), they give it a new URL. What I did was go through it with both editions open before me, and draw marginal lines down past the new material in the old letters. It's my copy and I can annotate it in whatever way seems useful.

If I did this for the whole book, it'd be insanely long, but here's a few gems from the new material in the earlier section of the book. This should tempt you into reading this book.
My daughter, aged 8, has long distinguished between literary and actual terrors. She can take any amount of dragon, and a reasonable dose of goblin; but we recently had to change all the handles on the chest-of-drawers in her room, because the former handles 'grinned at her', even in the dark.

[to a son contemplating marriage at an early age] I was less old than you when I met your mother, and I have remained faithful ever since. But that was not the first time I had felt 'in love'. [Really? Considering his living circumstances at the time, where would he have met his previous amour, and who could she have been?]

Last war, I often did not see my sweetheart (and later wife) for weeks and months. I only saw my brother about twice in 3 or 4 years.

Very few men, but practically all women set great store by dates and anniversaries. It does not follow that the men are wholly in the right about it! Anyway as a practical lesson in the way to live and conduct one's social affairs smoothly, this difference between the sexes is well worth remembering. A man can avoid a lot of trouble for himself, and avoid giving much pain to others, by noting it.

I said, outside Lichfield Cathedral, to a friend of my youth - long since dead of gas-gangrene (God rest his soul: I grieve still) [so it was most likely G.B. Smith] - 'Why is that cloud so beautiful?' He said: 'Because you have begun to write poetry, John Ronald.' He was wrong. It was because Death was near, and all was intolerably fair, lost ere grasped. That was why I began to write poetry.

I have no advice to give except to practice your religion as well as you can: taking every opportunity of the sacraments (esp. Confession) and pray: Pray on your feet, in cars, in blank moments of boredom. Not only petitionary prayer.

Open air preacher being heckled, particularly by one ill-favoured and rather dirty little man on the outskirts. He kept on shouting, whenever the preacher paused for breath: 'Gah! Christianity's been in the world 2000 years, and what good's it done?' waving towards the unsavoury surrounding slum. The preacher at last lost his temper and shouted back: 'Water's been in the world more than 2000 years, and look at your neck!'

On Sat. we go into that infernal, abominable, never to be sufficiently execrated Double S[ummer] Time (which has contributed as much as any other single factor to my weariness). God deliver us from it soon. I shd. like to put 'Freedom of the Clock' or 'Hands of the Hour Hand' into the Atlantic Charter. (Not that that would do much good.) [A fellow hater of DST! God bless you, Professor!]

I would not really like to endure my teens again, but I fancy (idly, for the thought is really meaningless) I could at least make better use of the time since 25 (espec. 25-45) if 'I had it again.' But 'I've had it' as they say now. There is of course always some best use we can make of our time, even in the most abominable exterior circumstances, and only one time (with no return) in which to make it.

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