During the summer of 1938, in anticipation of the projected publication of a German translation of The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien was asked by the German publisher to provide a declaration that he was of arisch (aryan) heritage. Tolkien was annoyed by the request. He wrote to Allen & Unwin, his English publisher—which was acting as intermediary—that he was “inclined to refuse,” and he noted that he “would regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.” In deference to Allen & Unwin, however, he enclosed drafts of two possible replies; the one sent by Allen & Unwin does not survive, but the unused draft was preserved in the firm’s files. In it, Tolkien wrote that “if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.” He went on to remark 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.” Whether because of the tone of Tolkien’s response or the subsequent outbreak of World War II, the possibility of a German edition of The Hobbit did not surface again until 1946.
An entirely different issue was involved in the dispute over publication of the first American paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings. That edition was issued by Ace Books in May, 1965, without Tolkien’s authorization, an act made possible by the failure of Tolkien’s authorized American publishers, Houghton Mifflin, to establish proper copyright protection for the trilogy. Houghton Mifflin then commissioned Ballantine Books to publish a slightly revised and newly copyrighted alternative paperback version, which contained Tolkien’s plea that readers “who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors . . . purchase it and no other.” The Tolkien Society of America and the Science Fiction Writers of America took up the author’s cause, and Ace Books bowed to demands that it print no more copies of The Lord of the Rings.
Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. London: Allen and Unwin, 1977. Written with access to Tolkien’s unpublished...
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