A Tremendous Book.

Anatoly Vorobey (Avva) has posted about Mallams’ auction lot 539:

Tolkien (J.R.R.). ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ trilogy Pt I.’The Fellowship of the Ring‘ 4th Imp. Nov 1955. Pt II ‘The Two Towers‘. 2nd Imp 1955. Pt III ‘The Return of the King‘ 2nd Imp 1955. Allen and Unwin, London. Original red cloth, much split and bumped with m/s letter from Roger Lloyd? with comments (3+)

Avva is convinced — and it seems very plausible to me — that the author of the letter is Roger Bradshaigh Lloyd, an Anglican priest and writer who published with Allen & Unwin; at any rate, it is an interesting look at a reader’s impression of the trilogy before it was famous. I will reproduce Avva’s transcription, with his guesses and question marks replaced by my own readings:

1. Tolkien is not happy with his women. Goldberry is frankly tiresome. Galadriel not quite real. I’ve forgotten the name of the Amazon-princess who Aragorn [he means Faramir] married, which means she didn’t interest me enough to remember it.

2. Gollum. Everybody seems to picture him differently. Hazel thinks of him as a seedy ferret, Susan Babington as a kind of seal, I as a frog run to seed. Actually he was a degenerated hobbit. Anyhow he’s wonderful.

3. The evil is so intense and so real as to be really frightening; and, as someone said to me, there is no other book which makes you feel how slimy and revolting a thing evil really is. I think this most rare achievement is partly due to the fact that the dark Lord never appears in person. But where his writ runs the very earth stinks.

4. All the hobbits but one grow more and more real as the tale goes on. But Frodo gets more and more shadowy. Yes, of course, because he bears the Ring all the time which by its nature saps the vitality of all who touch it. This, I think, is a fine stroke.

5. I could have spared all the notes at the end. It seems to me a mistake even to pretend to try to anchor it to historic actualities.

But it is a tremendous book and I can’t forget it. Philip Unwin, its publisher, and a friend of mine, told me that when the huge bundle of MS came, they were dismayed & at first refused to take the risk of publishing it. So Tolkien offered to cut it into 3 parts, & if they would publish the first part separately, & then see how it went. A bit dubiously they agreed. The three volumes cost 21/- each. Six weeks ago they had sold more than 12,000 copies of each volume. By now it may be twice that, for it sells steadily. So you see! Yet, as a publisher’s reader, I’m sure I should have reported, “Magnificent indeed, but you can’t hope to do more than cover your expenses!”
Our love

Yours ever
Roger Lloyd

As I wrote to Anatoly: I’m sure of all of them except “Our,” and my wife agrees it pretty much has to be that — it’s just not clear who the “we” is, but of course the recipient knew.


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    Sounds a bit like a Central-Casting amiable-but-dotty vicar of the sort not really found outside England and (when it had ’em) colonies: “His writings included books on Abelard and railways and fiction as well as on religious subjects.”

  2. Exactly. You can see him getting beheaded on Midsomer Murders.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Tolkien is not happy with his women

    True dat. But then, he’s hardly alone in that.

    As I have said before, I am thoroughly Tolkien-blind, but I’m pretty sure it’s me and not him. An enthusiastic devotee in my own family was a formidably clever and literary aunt of mine. And my hero Auden was a great fan too. (Also of Charles Williams; I don’t think I’ve ever actually met anyone else who’d read any of his novels.)

    Or blessed encounter, full of joy,
    Unscheduled on the Giesen Plan,
    With, here, an addict of Tolkien,
    There, a Charles Williams fan.


  4. The “our” looks certain. As wiggly as the handwriting is, it’s very regular. Compare the “our” to the “your” before it and the “Yours” after it.

  5. Rodger C says

    Did people in those days look at “21/-” and say “a guinea”?

  6. Kate Bunting says

    Probably. We looked at 2s 6d and said ‘half a crown’.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Did people in those days look at “21/-” and say “a guinea”?


    I used to work for an orthopaedic surgeon who used to pay you in guineas when you helped him with a private case. (This was about 1982. He was quite old, mind …)

    My grandfather talked about “guineas”, too.

    Half-crowns were actual coins, of course (unlike crowns, by then.) Eight of them to a pound …

    They were actually marked as “half crown.”


    The aforesaid grandfather used to give me one when we went to see him.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Even after Decimal Day:

    “Amounts denominated in guineas (21s or £1.05) were reserved still for specialist transactions, and continued to be used in the sale of horses and at some auctions, amongst others.”

  9. I wonder what was the last year in which the prize for winning the 2000 Guineas was 2000 guineas.

    “Since 2001, the 2000 Guineas and the 1000 Guineas Stakes have offered equal prize money.” — political correctness gone mad!

  10. John Cowan says

    Did people in those days look at “21/-” and say “a guinea”?

    It depended on the context. Guinea coins were gold until they were demonetized in 1816, but after that (quoth WP) “[they] had an aristocratic overtone, so professional fees, and prices of land, horses, art, bespoke tailoring, furniture, white goods [household linens] and other “luxury” items were often quoted in guineas until a couple of years after decimalisation in 1971. The guinea was used in a similar way in Australia until that country converted to decimal currency in 1966, after which it became worth A$2.10.” Books aren’t mentioned in this list though.

  11. Yeah, but the fact is that people in those days did look at “21/-” and say “a guinea,” because they knew that’s what 21/- was, just as you would look at “$1.00” and say “a dollar.” Official usage is irrelevant.

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