Thursday, July 24, 2003

I won't be able to blog tommorow..
due to Real Life, so I am posting two of my favorite selections from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, both dated July 25, 1938, today. The Professor received a letter from a German publisher which wished to publish a translation of The Hobbit . However, they inquired whether or not he was of arisch (Aryan) extraction. The Professor promptly fired off two letters. The first was to his publisher, Stanley Unwin of Allen & Unwin.
"I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten and Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of arisch origin from all persons of all countries ?
Personally, I should be inclined to refuse to give any Bestätigung (although it happens that I can) and let a German translation go hang. In any case I should object very strongly to any such declaration appearing in print. I do not regard the (probable) absence of any Jewish blood to be necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine. "
The second was to the German publisher.
"Dear Sirs:
Thank you for your letter.... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch . I am not of 'Aryan' extraction: that is Indo-Iranian: as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustanti, Persian, Gypsy, or related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject- which should be sufficent. I have been accustomed, none the less, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forebear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its suitability for publication of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without references to my Abstammung.
I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and remain yours faithfully,
J.R.R. Tolkien "

The German translation did 'go hang', until after WWII.


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