Letters reveal Tolkien as a grouchy Hobbit

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He may have captivated more than 100 million readers with his tales of Hobbits, wizards and orcs but J R R Tolkien proved to be a total duffer when asked to promote his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Letters by the author being auctioned this month show Tolkien had little time for spin. The correspondence, revealed yesterday, shows that the academic had decided to leave the writing of 100 words of promotional material for his book to the marketing specialists. Writing to a family friend and confidant, George Sayer, whose family are selling the archive, the author said he had agonised over the publicity piece for the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954.

In one letter from the archive, expected to fetch up to £35,000, he told Sayer the task had proved too much and that he eventually "gave up and got the 'blurb' writers to do it". The collection of 11 letters, with annotated proof copies of all three volumes of the 1,300-page epic and signed first editions of other works, sheds new light on Tolkien's struggle to finish his books.

The writer, who was professor of medieval English literature at Oxford University, complains of having to juggle his twin roles as writer and academic. He also grumbles about insomnia, having to wear a vest in June, being unable to afford a tape recorder and pain from injuries suffered by falling into a rose bush. Most letters are handwritten, although others are typed because "my right hand gives trouble if I use a pen or pencil too long".

Despite an apparently grouchy character, Tolkien compares himself favourably with the protagonist of his trilogy, writing: "I resemble a Hobbit at any rate in being moderately and cheerfully domesticated, though no cook."

The archive is being auctioned as part of a sale of 20th-century books and manuscripts at Christie's on 16 November. Next month sees the release of the first film in a £210m trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, starring Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee, which is likelyto lead to a resurgence of interest in Tolkien's works.