Oxford alum J. R. R. Tolkien changed the landscape of storytelling with his classic story Lord of the Rings, leading to a resurgence of the fantasy genre. However, the success of Tolkien’s stories was an unexpected accident. The Hobbit, a story originally written for his children, came to the attention of Susan Dagnall, an employee at the London publishing firm George Allen & Unwin. After encouragement from Dagnall to submit the story for publishing, the story became a huge enough hit that Tolkien was asked to write a sequel which became Lord of the Rings. His creations have remained a staple of the genre, and influenced later franchises including the Harry Potter and Game of Thrones series.
At RR Auction, we have received many letters and other written material by Tolkien, with some relating to his famous works. In November 2021, RR Auction sold a Tolkien letter refuting the presence of symbolism in his work dated 1957 for $59,139. In part the letter reads, “There is no ‘symbolism’ or conscious allegory in my story. Allegory of the sort ‘five wizards = five senses’ is wholly foreign to my way of thinking. There were five wizards and that is just a unique part of history. To ask if the Orcs ‘are’ Communists is to me as sensible as asking if Communists are Orcs.” This letter was referenced in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter, and its centering on The Lord of the Rings make this a stand out piece.
Tolkien’s typed letters have also received lots of love from bidders, like this typed letter signed by the Middle-earth author to young artist Mary Fairburn. The text reads in part, “I think the samples of illustrations you sent me are splendid. They are better pictures in themselves and also show far more attention to the text than any that have yet been submitted to me. My publishers and I decided long ago not to have The Lord of the Rings illustrated…After seeing your specimens I am beginning to change my mind, and I think that an illustrated edition might be a good thing.” Tolkien had been previously disappointed with most illustrated printings of The Hobbit, and opted against producing an illustrated version of The Lord of the Rings. After seeing Fairburn’s illustrations he did speak with his publishers about printing an illustrated edition of his epic, though the project never came to fruition. This lot – which realized $8,011 – included the letter along with one of Fairburn’s illustrations depicting the castle at Minas Tirith.
Tolkien pieces have remained popular at past auctions, and we’re always looking for new pieces for upcoming auctions. If you have a Tolkien letter, autograph, or book you’re thinking of selling, reach out to one of our professionals today to see what RR Auction has to offer! We can be reached via telephone at 800-937-3880 or fill out our consignment form below.
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