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What's classier than J.R.R. Tolkien telling off Nazis? Absolutely nothing.

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Why is there a picture of Smaug up there? Well, that was one time J.R.R. Tolkien delivered the burns. Here's another occasion.

In 1938, Tolkien was in talks with Berlin publishing house Rütten & Loening to release a German-language edition of The Hobbit. Things were going smoothly until the publisher suddenly required documentation of Tolkien's Aryan heritage. This rankled Tolkien such that he wrote to his friend and publisher Stanley Unwin:

I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten & 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 strongly to any such declaration appearing in print. I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as 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.

You are primarily concerned, and I cannot jeopardize the chance of a German publication without your approval. So I submit two drafts of possible answers.


Tolkien drafted two letters for Rütten & Loening — A.) one that ignored the request entirely; and B.) a kiss-off that discreetly called them idiots for buying into the Third Reich's historically bankrupt appropriation of the term "Aryan." It's unclear which version Unwin sent, but the interesting one was dated July 25, 1938:

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 Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But 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. 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 sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, 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, forbear 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 sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.


And in a correspondence to his son in 1941, Tolkien would similarly sum up Adolf Hitler as a "ruddy little ignoramus." Obviously, The Hobbit would eventually be published in German, and you can see artwork from the 1974 edition by Klaus Ensikat here, along with Hobbit art from many international translations.

And as if you needed any more proof that Nazis were cultural dolts, let it also be known that the Third Reich had bizarrely strict rules governing the performance of jazz music ("Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality.")

The Letters of Tolkien via Graviton1066 and Too.Tired.To.Sleep via Letters of Note and Boing Boing.