Uton Herian Holbytlas
My dear Tollers--
Uton Herian holbytlas* indeed. I have drained the rich cup and satisfied a long thirst. Once it really gets under weigh the steady upward slope of grandeur and terror (not unrelieved by green dells, without which it would indeed be intolerable) is almost unequalled in the whole range of narrative art known to me. In two virtues I think it excels: sheer sub-creation--Bombadil, Barrow Wights, Elves, Ents--as if from inexhaustible resources, and construction--the construction Tasso aimed at (but did not equally achieve) which was to combine the variety of Ariosto with the unity of Virgil. Also, in gravitas. No romance can repell the charge of 'escapism' with such confidence. If it errs, it errs in precisely the opposite direction: the sickness of hope deferred and the merciless piling up of odds against the heroes are near to being too painful. And the long coda after the eucatastrophe, whether you intended it or no, has the effect of reminding us that victory is as transitory as conflict, that (as Byron says) "There's no sterner moralist than pleasure" and so leaving a final impression of profound melancholy.
No doubt this is increased for me by the circumstances in which I heard most of it for the first time: when there was great danger around us but, in me at any rate, a happier heart than now. But that only accounts for a small part of my total impression. I am sure it is in itself a great and hard and bitter book which, tho I love it, I shall never open without a certain shrinking. It will rank, along with the Aeneid as one of what I call my 'immediately sub-religious' books.
Indeed (unexpectedly) the general aroma seems to me more like the Aeneid than anything else, in spite of all your Northernness. This is partly because both (a.) Are so often sylvan (b.) Have strategy, as distinct from mere combat, and (c.) Suggest an enormous past behind the action.
All the alliterative verse I liked.
I congratulate you. All the long years you have spent on it are justified. Morris and Eddison, in so far as they are comparable, are now mere 'precursors'.
The mappemound is as you warn me, now inaccurate. But on a rather different point--do you mean the Shire to be so large?
I miss you very much.
~The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter to Tolkien (Oct. 27 1949)
*"Let us praise hobbits."
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