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J. R. R. Tolkien

Author Kevin Shortsleeve
Air Date 1/3/2001

J. R. R. Tolkien Transcript

A recent poll of 25,000 avid readers in the United Kingdom voted The Lord of the Rings the Number One Book of the Century. Yet, it may surprise you to learn how narrowly this trilogy was saved from oblivion. In the early 1950s, Tolkien was frustrated with the recently completed manuscript. The sweeping story represented his life work. He had been toiling on it for fourteen years – some of its sections were even older, the Tom Bombadil poems having been composed nearly thirty-five years prior.

His friend and associate at Oxford, George Sayer, had read the typed manuscript – the only copy then in existence – and was eager to congratulate the author. So he turned up on Tolkien’s doorstep to find the writer, as Sayer described “obviously unhappy and disheveled”. The publishers were not moving on his book.

Hoping to raise his spirits, Sayer invited Tolkien over to his house to play on his new ferrograph, a tape recording device. Tolkien accepted – with one reservation – the first thing he must be allowed to record was The Lord’s Prayer – in Anglo Saxon – so that he could chase the Devil out of the machine. Once this formality was out of the way, Sayer handed Tolkien his manuscript, and the author eagerly read the words of Gandolf, from The Fellowship of the Ring.

He recorded for several hours that afternoon and as Sayer remembers, the performance had a marked effect on Tolkien’s spirits. He became excited and filled with enthusiasm. Sayer recalled fondly Tolkien’s words. “They are all wrong.” he announced. “The publishers are wrong, and I am wrong to have lost faith in my own work. I am sure this is good, really good. But how am I going to get it published?”

Sayer suggested one last publisher – a former student of Tolkien’s- and the rest, as they say, is history.

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