Brian Aldiss

Friendships: J.R.R. Tolkien

Mention has been made of the Inklings. This was the literary group which met frequently in the aforementioned pub, The Bird and Baby. The leading members were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. One was accustomed to seeing Tolkien bustling along in the Broad, clutching a copy of Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer.

Possibly he was then – even then!, as they say – awaiting publication of his mighty Lord of the Rings.

At that time, I – on a humbler level – had seen my novel Hothouse published. I gave a copy to C.S.Lewis, who, terribly friendly – liked it and bought a copy which he presented to Tolkien.

Gratified! – the word hardly covers my responses when I received a letter from Tolkien saying how much he had enjoyed reading Hothouse. My affairs were then in tumbledown order; in fact, I was living in one room in Paradise Square. Tolkien’s letter illuminated the room.

Even more astonishing! A month later came another letter from Tolkien. This one said that he had re-read Hothouse and enjoyed it even more a second time! He apologised because previously he had not praised the style of the writing sufficiently.

What kindness! He could not have known its effect on me and my resolution to pull myself together.

For the next few days, no one could bear my company. “Oh, by the way…”, I would start, clutching their lapels.

Of course, I have lost those two letters since. Tolkien died in the September of 1973. But today, his style of High Fantasy, as it has come to be known, is still in print, still bought, still read. He is a wonder, one of the most intensely read authors of last century and this. And an Oxford man.

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