JRR Tolkien thought teaching was 'exhausting and depressing'

The Lord of the Rings author made the comments in a previously unseen letter written to another teacher

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The Independent Online

There are undoubtedly many Middle Earth devotees who would have loved him as their teacher – but the feeling may not have been mutual.

In a previously unseen letter addressed to a fellow teacher, JRR Tolkien said that “all teaching is exhausting and depressing”, with few comforts.

In the note, dating from 17 January 1984, The Lord of the Rings author thanks a Mrs A Mountfield for sending him an epistle written by one of her pupils.

Tolkien types: “The Hobbit seems to go down well at school; I have had several letters telling me of class activities arising from interest in it. Not all as well penned as this."

However, at the end of the letter is an additional hand-written message, in which he champions a rather more sombre view of teaching.

“All teaching is exhausting and depressing and one is seldom comforted by knowing when one has had some effect,” he writes.

“I wish I could now tell some of mine (of long ago) how I remember them and things they said, though I was (only, as it appeared) looking out of the window or giggling at my neighbour.”


Mrs Mountfield said she had forgotten about the letter before coming across it years later folded away in one of her books, shortly after she received another letter from a former pupil citing her influence on his life.

“I like to attribute the coincidence to a little touch of Gandalf magic,” she told The Guardian.

“How right Tolkien was that teachers are seldom 'comforted by knowing that one has had some effect' and how very nice when, 50 years after the event, it happens.”

The letter is expected to fetch up to £2,000 when it is auctioned at Bonhams in London on 18 June.

Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, but dedicated much of his time to writing.

He revealed that the first line of The Hobbit came to him while he was marking English exam papers:” I wrote on it: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’.”