03/09/2012 09:28 am ET

Letters Of Note: I Have No Ancestors Of That Gifted People

In 1938, some months after the initial publication of The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien and his British publisher, Stanley Unwin, opened talks with Rütten & Loening, a Berlin-based publishing house who were keen to translate the novel for the German market. All was going well until, in July, they wrote to Tolkien and asked for proof of his Aryan descent. Tolkien was furious, and forwarded their letter to his publisher along with two possible replies — one in which their question was delicately side-stepped, and one, seen below, in which Tolkien made his displeasure known with considerable style.