Six letters signed to George Sayer.Oxford: 1953-1966 Stock Code: 142718
Six letters signed from J. R. R. Tolkien to his close friend George Sayer, with whom he made the first recorded readings of The Lord of the Rings and who was key in giving Tolkien the confidence to publish it after being rejected by nearly every major British publisher, including Tolkien's own publisher, Collins. This is a highly desirable set of correspondence from Tolkien, all but one written in his unique calligraphic style, of which four refer to The Lord of the Rings. Most of Tolkien's archive is split between the Marquette University special collections and the Bodleian; autograph letters appear sporadically on the market, though rarely with such a close connection.
Sayer (19142005), head of the English Department at Malvern College, was introduced to Tolkien through their mutual friend C. S. Lewis on a walking holiday in Malvern in August 1947. Sayer recalled: "Lewis then drew me on one side and said that they would be extremely grateful if I would be willing to walk much of the time with Tolkien, while they went on ahead. 'He's a great man, but not our sort of walker. He doesn't seem able to talk and walk at the same time. He dawdles and then stops completely when he has something interesting to say' Tolkien seemed glad to be left behind by the Lewis brothers, whom he described to me as 'ruthless walkers, very ruthless indeed'".
By August 1952, Tolkien had almost given up hope of getting published when he lent the manuscript to Sayer, and came to stay with him in Malvern. "He had worked for fourteen years on The Lord of the Rings and before that for many years on The Silmarillion. They really were his life's work... He had now nothing to look forward to except a life of broken health, making do on an inadequate pension. He was so miserable and so little interested in anything except his own troubles that we were seriously worried. What could we do to alleviate his depression? I could walk with him and drive him around during the day, but how were we to get through the evenings?" Sayer's solution was to introduce Tolkien to a Ferrograph, an early-model tape recorder. To cast out any demon that might be lurking in it, Tolkien first recorded the Lord's Prayer, before going on to recite some of the poems from The Lord of the Rings. "He was delighted with the result He listened carefully and, I thought, nervously, to the play-back. 'You know,' he said, 'they are all wrong. The publishers are wrong, and I am wrong to have lost my faith in my own work. I am sure this is good, really good" (Sayer, pp. 224). Rayner Unwin visited Tolkien in Oxford the following month, and Tolkien gave the manuscript to him shortly after.
In the first letter of this series, dated 28 April 1953, Tolkien writes to Sayer: "eventually I got my first batch (2 books) off on April 11th (17 days late for contract)", referring to the revised proofs of books 1 and 2 which made up The Fellowship of the Ring (his contract stipulated that the manuscript would be delivered ready for the printer by 25 March 1953). Allen & Unwin had also asked Tolkien to supply a description of the book for publicity purposes in not more than 100 words. Tolkien, feeling unequal to the task, turned to Sayer, who supplied a blurb of 95 words. Here, Tolkien writes to thank his friend for his "laudatory" effort: "I went and sent in your effort to A and U with a few more notes, and they replied that the 'publicity department' were grateful and would make use of it I am deeply grateful and blushful. It was rather a lot to ask of you: a difficult job; but it got me around an awkward corner".
In the two letters from 1966, Tolkien writes of his gratitude to Sayer of this time, noting, "you have never had any token of my gratitude to you for your great kindness and generous support and help in the matter of The L.R. in the dark days of doubt. I was about to ask A&U to send you a set of the book 'deluxe' in the Pauline Baynes panoramic box, when the matter of a new edition arose. There will be a new edition this autumn, incorporating the amendments, corrections, and additions devised for the 'authorised' American paperback; also provided with an index. Would you prefer this?" (11 March 1966). Tolkien follows this up a week later, re-affirming Sayer's importance to him: "You did much! You made tape-recordings. You got estimates of printing costs. You were extremely kind to me, at a low ebb. And I believed your praise, somehow more than anyone else's" (21 March 1966).
The letters here comprise the following:
i) 28 April 1953: Tolkien writes to tell Sayer that "eventually I got my first batch (2 books) off on April 11th (17 days late for contract)", referring to the revised proofs of Books 1 and 2, which made up The Fellowship of the Ring. (Tolkien had originally envisioned The Lord of the Rings as a single volume work divided into six sections he called "books", together with extensive appendices, and Allen and Unwin decided it would be more economical to publish it in three volumes.) Tolkien had also been asked by Allen & Unwin to write a description of less than 100 words, including a biography of the author, for publicity purposes, and Tolkien feeling that he could not do so in less than 300 or 400 words, had asked Sayer to assist. Tolkien sent Allen & Unwin a blurb of 95 words from Sayer, and here thanks his friend for his "laudatory" effort, and writes: "I went and sent in your effort to A and U with a few more notes, and they replied that the 'publicity department' were grateful and would make use of it I am deeply grateful and blushful. It was rather a lot to ask of you: a difficult job; but it got me around an awkward corner". Allen and Unwin incorporated Sayer's comments on poetry in The Lord of the Ring in their final blurb. Tolkien also goes on to note: "I am sending, for your entertainment I hope, a copy of another matter which also came to a head... If I can manage to visit you again, or you can endure to take me in, we could perhaps make a two-voice recording and see how it sounds?" Chronology p. 421.
ii) 24 June 1953: Tolkien writes to arrange a visit to Malvern ("I do hope that the hostile imps that seem busy with my affairs will not succeed in robbing me of the stay in Malvern. I enjoyed it immensely last year") and is interested in getting a recording device similar to the one Sayer uses: "It might prove more fun, if I got one that was either the same as yours, or interchangeable. I could then, for instance, send you a reel occasionally for your criticism, or your use". The previous summer Tolkien, while staying at Sayer's house in Malvern, had made a series of recordings of extracts from The Lord of the Rings: it was his first encounter with a tape recorder, and it was this occasion that gave him the confidence to publish Lord of the Rings (see more below). Tolkien closes the letter noting that "I have just paid a visit to my son, a master at the Oratory School, on the occasion of their prize-day; and found him more frayed looking than myself". Chronology p. 423.
iii) 25 April 1957: a short note from Tolkien, arranging lunch with Sayer, "Yesterday - in the scullery - I suddenly said to myself: 'George Sayer. Why haven't I seen him for ages? My own fault, just write'"Not noted in Chronology.
iv) 6 April 1962: Tolkien's wife Edith had a bad fall, and Tolkien writes to apologise that he will not be able to see Sayer: "Very sorry to have let you down. I am afraid my name must be muddy after the trouble the H.M. took to fit dates for me. I am afraid I have to suffer many disappointments these days the chastisement is just, but painful. However this is a piece of special ill luck. Everyone (not many) whom I can call on in such an emergency is away including my daughter. And in any case after this disastrous fall I should hardly like to leave home". He goes on to note that he has received the transcripts of his readings, and points out some typographical errors, "no doubt already observed". Chronology p. 621.
v) 11 March 1966: Tolkien's writes in gratitude for Sayer's help in getting Lord of the Rings published, and offers to send him an edition: "you have never had any token of my gratitude to you for your great kindness and generous support and help in the matter of The L.R. in the dark days of doubt. I was about to ask A&U to send you a set of the book 'deluxe' in the Pauline Baynes panoramic box, when the matter of a new edition arose. There will be a new edition this autumn, incorporating the amendments, corrections, and additions devised for the 'authorised' American paperback; also provided with an index. Would you prefer this? Incidentally the so-called 'pirates' though quite legal (in the sense that the English Government supported Drake) Ace Books have capitulated under pressure of public opinion. They have written to me direct, politely (or fulsomely), and proposed an agreement by which they pay me 3c a copy on all copies of their edition sold and undertake not to reprint it when it is exhausted. I have accepted it". he goes on to invite Sayer to a party in Merton College as part of the Tolkiens' golden wedding celebrations: "Donald Swann who will be coming has offered to accompany William Elivn (sic!) in singing the Song Cycle from Lord of the Rings which he has composed"Chronology p. 692.
vi) 21 March 1966: Tolkien writes with explanations for the need to publish a revised edition of The Lord of the Rings: "There were many good reasons for 'revision'. 1. Copyright had to be established. 2. There were many minor errors and some more serious ones in the Book. 3. I had to give some thought to the 'linking' XXXXX To the Silmarillion. But do not be disturbed. Apart from the 'Foreword' I do not think that without comparing the two editions visually you would readily pick out the places where they differ", and expresses his debt of gratitude to Sayer for his help in the summer of 1952: "You did much! You made tape-recordings. You got estimates of printing costs. You were extremely kind to me, at a low ebb. And I believed your praise, somehow more than anyone else's".
Together six items, 5 autograph letters signed in black ink, all on headed paper from 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford; and 1 typed letter signed, on unheaded paper. i) 28 April 1953, ALS, one page, written on both sides, signed Ronald Tolkien; ii) 24 June 1953, TLS, one page, typed on both sides, signed Tollers; iii) 25 April 1957, ALS, one sheet, written on one side, signed J.R.R; iv) 6 April 1962, ALS, one sheet, written on both sides, signed Tollers; v) 11 March 1966, two sheets written on all four sides, signed JR Ronald Tolkien; vi) 11 March 1966, ALS, one sheet written on both sides, signed Ronald Tolkien.
A few small closed tears, folded for posting, in excellent condition.
George Sayer, "Recollections of J.R.R. Tolkien," Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature: Vol. 21: No. 2, Article 6, 1996.
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