Read JRR Tolkien’s response to a Nazi-allied publisher who asked him for proof of his “Aryan descent”

The author refused to publish “The Hobbit” in Germany until 1957.

In 1938, shortly after author JRR Tolkien published his first novel, The Hobbithe was approached by a publisher in Berlin to release a German edition of the bestselling book.

Germany had just invaded and annexed Austria, and the world was beginning to get an idea of ​​the magnitude of Hitler’s ambitions. Little did the Allied leaders know that the wheels were already in motion to wipe out the Jewish population, but laws persecuting the Jewish people had been in effect in Germany since Hitler came to power in 1933. During the six first years of his dictatorship, more than 400 anti-Semitic laws were enacted. German authorities sought an “Aryanization” of Jewish businesses, in which Jews were prevented from earning a living, and their property was turned over to non-Jewish Germans.

When the publisher, Rütten & Loening, wrote to Tolkien asking for proof of his “Aryan descent”, he replied with a letter that was acerbic in tone, bristling with sarcasm, but clear in its denunciation of Nazi racist policies. Here is the letter he wrote:

July 25, 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear sirs,

Thank you for your letter. I regret not clearly understanding what you mean by arisch. I am not of Aryan origin: that is to say Indo-Iranian; as far as I know, none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy or any other related dialect. But if I must understand that you are wondering if I am of Jewish origin, I can only answer that I regret that I do not seem to have any ancestor of this gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England from Germany in the 18th century, so most of my lineage is purely English, and I’m an English subject, which should suffice. I was accustomed, however, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the last and regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot help saying, however, that if such impertinent and irrelevant research is to become the rule in literature, then the time is not far off when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your request is no doubt made to comply with the laws of your own country, but for this to be considered as applying to subjects of another state would be abusive, even if it had (as it does not) something report either with the merits of my work or its durability for publication, which you seem to have assured yourself without reference to my Abstammung.

I hope you find this answer satisfactory, and

remain faithfully yours,

JRR Tolkien

The letter was one of two drafts (the other did not mention the editor’s request). Although it is unclear which letter was sent, the deal fell through. The Hobbit was only translated into German in 1957.

As Open Culture reported, three years later, Tolkien shared his contempt for the Nazis in a letter to his son Michael: “I have in this war a burning private grudge against that little ruddy ignoramus Adolf Hitler. Ruin, pervert, divert and forever curse this noble Nordic spirit, supreme contribution to Europe, which I have always loved and tried to present in its true light.


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