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Maxwell Perkins, A Great 20th Century Literary Editor

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

My friend, Dan Garshman told me that September 20th was the birthday of Maxwell Perkins, the most famous American editor. He discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. His fellow editors at Scribner wanted to sign more experienced writers thinking they were a sure thing, but Perkins looked for new talent, and he struck gold.

Perkins became the model for a new kind of editor. He did much more than clean up a book for publication; he looked for a writer he believed in who still had a lot of work to do, and then nurtured the book until it reached its final form. He suggested changes to the plot, he came up with book titles, and was a friend to the writers he published.

Perkins was not good at spelling and punctuation, and he was a very slow reader. His gift lay in spotting talent, particularly in writers who didn’t have reputations yet. He was also talented at getting those writers to respond to criticism of their work. He said that Fitzgerald was very sensitive to criticism, that “he could accept it, but as his editor you had to be sure of everything you suggested.” Hemingway was a perfectionist, and claimed to have written parts of A Farewell to Arms over 50 times. Perkins said, “Before an author destroys the natural qualities of his writing — that’s when an editor has to step in. But not a moment sooner.”

But his biggest challenge by far was Thomas Wolfe, who was a chronic over-writer who struggled to delete a page. Wolfe would write his novel Of Time and the River (1935) standing up, using the top of a refrigerator as a desk (he was 6’6’’), and then he would throw each page into a box without editing or looking at it. Perkins had to go through the mess of papers and put the pages in order, based on his best guess. Over time, they became estranged. In 2016, the movie Genius came out dramatizing their relationship, with Colin Firth as Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe.

Later in his career, he also published Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country. Despite his huge success, he was a modest, idiosyncratic character who liked to stay out of the limelight. The way he thought about editing contrasts with how people thought of him. He was famous for having discovered so many important writers, but he thought editors shouldn’t draw attention to themselves for the work they did on other people’s books. He said: “An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. […] An editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing.”

Bigotry and Hate on the Left

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

This is a terrific essay on the depths of bigotry and hate as practiced by the far left. The piece was sent to me by my good friend, Dr. Stephen Dubel, no friend of the far left.

THE AMERICAN THINKER
August 24, 2017

If There Aren’t Two Sides, Why Is There Division?
By Jeffrey T. Brown

George Clooney and his wife just donated a large sum of money to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal hate group active in smearing non-adherents to Marxist theology. He said, “There are no two sides to bigotry and hate.” Paul Ryan has been equally generous with his wisdom on how there is somehow only one side to issues of bigotry and hatred, though there are clearly two or more cultural factions expressing diametrically opposed views on myriad social and cultural issues.

If there are not two sides to a phenomenon, then there is only one side. If there’s only one side, then everyone must be on the same side, since there isn’t another option. Working on such deep philosophical levels, we can then discern that those who rallied in Boston to protest against “free speech,” for example, actually speak for all of us when they demand that those who express resistance to anarchy and repression and hatred on the left, and who are then attacked violently for defending cherished American freedoms, should stop speaking at all or assume the risk of injury and death through anarchistic mob violence. Remember that no one speaking in favor of “free speech” in Boston was a Nazi, or a KKK member, or a member of any other traditional Democrat-associated group. They were “counter-protested” for defending the fundamental American right to speak freely without injury from other citizens.

One must be a champion simpleton to believe that the only people who hate are those the simpleton vehemently hates. Or perhaps it is merely an herculean act of dishonesty that motivates a seemingly cogent person to say something so monumentally dishonest and stupid.

Politically speaking, if we boil this down to a uniquely American perspective, we observe that there are two clearly recognizable sides. On the one hand, there are those Americans who recognize the necessity of the Constitution and Bill of Rights as a shield against the tyranny and oppression of a mob of frenzied zealots bent on power and destruction. Those Americans – we’ll call them “grown-ups” – understand what the Founders knew. Sooner or later, the capacity for human vice, and the ease with which it is manipulated, will exceed the capacity for reason and wisdom in a significant percentage of the population, and there will be demands for revenge and retribution by those whose weakness has been rubbed raw.

On the other hand, there are those Americans – we’ll call them “angry toddlers” – who are emotional puppets, whose alarming mental weakness predisposes them to manipulation and misdirection dressed up as virtue. They decline mental exercises that require objectivity, reason, and actual morality, because these do not bring the desired result, which is their presumed moral primacy over those their handlers seek to dominate and control, not to mention the wealth and property of those targets. These people are not the most dangerous among us, but they run a close second because of their utter inability to process basic information and come up with a correct answer. The most dangerous are those who manipulate such people to steal what they want while pretending to be making things better.

At the heart of our social conflict, we are engaged in a total war for the soul of America, and despite the malice of people like Clooney and Ryan, there certainly are two sides. As Americans, we on one side of the struggle see the anarchists and Marxists for who they really are. They, on the other hand, see the liberals and progressives for who they are and recruit them for their gullibility and stupidity to fight us. No political philosophy has brought more hatred, death, and destruction to the world than communism, and no political movement has ever been misrepresented so fully to its “useful idiots.” It is an ideology motivated by every human vice, yet the “anarcho-communists” who constitute the Antifa movement have somehow led Democrats to believe that Antifa’s cause is their cause, and it must be fought by frenzied mental patients throwing bottles of urine, clubbing bystanders, tearing down statues, killing police, and attacking elderly women holding American flags.

So liberal Democrats happily and proudly rally against “free speech” for the sake of their righteousness. They are committed to eradicating the Bill of Rights for its protection of those they hate, those against whom they are deeply bigoted, those whose declared right to refuse to be owned by tyrants is the single biggest obstacle to their victory. They have decided for themselves that violence, but only their violence, is acceptable, because their motives are so “moral.” Their “morality” encourages violence to achieve peace, which is akin to encouraging rape to achieve virginity. Such is the intellectual depth of the tools being manipulated by a communist movement to destroy capitalism and, with it, their own individual freedom.

To win this fight, those on the Left, regardless of party affiliation, recognize the need to falsely moralize about exercising resistance to totalitarianism, embodied by not only believing in, but practicing protected inalienable rights. That is the objective when saying something so patently absurd as “There are no two sides to hate and bigotry.” It is to discourage and dishearten those who have not surrendered to liberal/progressive/Marxist/communist theology, those who have not offered themselves up to the wisdom of the state to come, which will be controlled by those wearing black clothing, hoods, and masks. It calls self-preservation against our own overthrow “hatred” and “bigotry” and treats these as morally unacceptable principles. To those on the left, those who would unseat our president and hasten our plunge from a constitutional republic to a mobocracy, there is only one side in this struggle that is valid: theirs.

Remember what the left means when it says there are not two sides to hate and bigotry. Leftists are actually saying it is hate and bigotry to resist them. It is hate and bigotry to wish freedom for yourself and your children, to demand to keep what you earn, to live your life peacefully, and to reject totalitarianism. It is hate and bigotry to live in white skin and not believe that it should determine one’s future any more than dark skin should, to refuse to be owned by those whose every word and deed is itself motivated by hatred and bigotry against us. To them, refusal to accept the place in society they have reserved for us is the epitome of hate and bigotry.

We must accept and understand that we cannot win this argument and escape the impending punishment of the left’s overwhelming hatred and bigotry by surrendering. If the leftists prevail, they will exact their revenge upon us for our refusal to buckle and submit. We must do all we can now to remain free, while they lie the hardest to conquer us.

Our War Against Memory

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Our War Against Memory
Victor Davis Hanson
8/22/17

The new abolitio memoriae Back to the Future Romans emperors were often a bad lot — but usually confirmed as such only in retrospect. Monsters such as Nero, of the first-century A.D. Julio-Claudian dynasty, or the later psychopaths Commodus and Caracalla, were flattered by toadies when alive — only to be despised the moment they dropped. After unhinged emperors were finally killed off, the sycophantic Senate often proclaimed a damnatio memoriae (a “damnation of memory”). Prior commemoration was wiped away, thereby robbing the posthumous ogre of any legacy and hence any existence for eternity.

Powered by In more practical matters, there followed a concurrent abolitio memoriae (an “erasing of memory”). Specifically, moralists either destroyed or rounded up and put away all statuary and inscriptions concerning the bad, dead emperor. In the case of particularly striking or expensive artistic pieces, they erased the emperor’s name (abolitio nominis) or his face and some physical characteristics from the artwork. Impressive marble torsos were sometimes recut to accommodate a more acceptable (or powerful) successor. (Think of something like the heads only of the generals on Stone Mountain blasted off and replaced by new carved profiles of John Brown and Nat Turner).

A Scary History Without Leon Trotsky’s organizational and tactical genius, Vladimir Lenin might never have consolidated power among squabbling anti-czarist factions. Yet after the triumph of Stalin, “de-Trotskyization” demanded that every word, every photo, and every memory of an ostracized Trotsky was to be obliterated. That nightmarish process fueled allegorical themes in George Orwell’s fictional Animal Farm and 1984. How many times has St. Petersburg changed its name, reflecting each generation’s love or hate or indifference to czarist Russia or neighboring Germany? Is the city always to remain St. Petersburg, or will it once again be anti-German Petrograd as it was after the horrific First World War? Or perhaps it will again be Communist Leningrad during the giddy age of the new man — as dictated by the morality and the politics of each new generation resenting its past? Is a society that damns its past every 50 years one to be emulated?

Abolition of memory is easy when the revisionists enjoy the high moral ground and the damned are evil incarnate. But more often, killing the dead is not an easy a matter of dragon slaying, as with Hitler or Stalin. Confederate General Joe Johnston was not General Stonewall Jackson and after the war General John Mosby was not General Wade Hampton, just as Ludwig Beck was not Joachim Peiper. Stone Throwers and Their Targets What about the morally ambiguous persecution of sinners such as the current effort in California to damn the memory of Father Junipero Serra and erase his eponymous boulevards, to punish his supposedly illiberal treatment of Native Americans in the early missions some 250 years ago? California Bay Area zealots are careful to target Serra but not Leland Stanford, who left a more detailed record of his own 19th-century anti-non-white prejudices, but whose university brand no progressive student of Stanford would dare to erase, because doing so would endanger his own studied trajectory to the good life.

We forget that there are other catalysts than moral outrage that calibrate the targets of abolitio memoriae. Again, in the case of the current abolition of Confederate icons — reenergized by the Black Lives Matter movement and the general repulsion over the vile murders by cowardly racist Dylan Roof — are all Confederate statues equally deserving of damnation? Does the statue of Confederate General James Longstreet deserve defacing? He was a conflicted officer of the Confederacy, a critic of Robert E. Lee’s, later a Unionist friend of Ulysses S. Grant, an enemy of the Lost Causers, and a leader of African-American militias in enforcing reconstruction edicts against white nationalists. Is Longstreet the moral equivalent of General Nathan Bedford Forrest (“get there firstest with the mostest”), who was the psychopathic villain of Fort Pillow, a near illiterate ante-bellum slave-trading millionaire, and the first head of the original Ku Klux Klan? Were the 60–70 percent of the Confederate population in most secessionist states who did not own slaves complicit in the economics of slavery? Did they have good options to leave their ancestral homes when the war started to escape the stain of perpetuating slavery?

Do such questions even matter to the new arbiters of ethics, who recently defiled the so-called peace monument in an Atlanta park — a depiction of a fallen Confederate everyman, his trigger hand stilled by an angel? How did those obsessed with the past know so little of history? Key to General William Tecumseh Sherman’s devastating strategy of marching through Georgia and the Carolinas was his decision to deliberately target the plantations and the homes of the wealthy, along with Confederate public buildings. Apparently Sherman believed that the plantation owners of the South were far more culpable than the poor non-slave-holding majority in most secessionist states. Sherman generally spared the property of non-slave owners, though they collectively suffered nonetheless through the general impoverishment left in Sherman’s wake.

In our race to rectify the past in the present, could Ken Burns in 2017 still make his stellar Civil War documentary, with a folksy and drawly Shelby Foote animating the tragedies of the Confederacy’s gifted soldiers sacrificing their all for a bad cause? Should progressives ask Burns to reissue an updated Civil War version in which Foote and southern “contextualizers” are left on the cutting room floor? How about progressive icon Joan Baez? Should the Sixties folksinger seek forgiveness from us for reviving her career in the early 1970s with the big money-making hit “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”— her version of The Band’s sympathetic ode to the tragedy of a defeated Confederacy, written over a century after the Civil War. (“Back with my wife in Tennessee / When one day she called to me / Said, “Virgil, quick, come see / There goes the Robert E. Lee!”) If a monument is to be wiped away, then surely a popular song must go, too. Are there gradations of moral ambiguity?

Or do Middlebury and Berkeley students or antifa rioters in their infinite wisdom have a monopoly on calibrating virtue and defining it as 100 percent bad or good? Who of the present gets to decide whom of the past we must erase — and where does the cleansing of memory stop? Defacing Mt. Rushmore of its slave owners? Who of the present gets to decide whom of the past we must erase — and where does the cleansing of memory stop? Defacing Mt. Rushmore of its slave owners? Renaming the double-whammy Washington and Lee University?

Are we to erase mention of the heavens for their August 21 eclipse that unfairly bypassed most of the nation’s black population — as the recent issue of Atlantic magazine is now lamenting? Revolutions are not always sober and judicious. We might agree that the public sphere is no place for honorific commemoration of Roger B. Taney, the author of the Dred Scott decision. But statue removal will not be limited to the likes of Roger B. Taneys when empowered activists can cite chapter and verse the racist things once uttered by Abraham Lincoln, whose bust was just disfigured in Chicago — and when the statue-destroyers feel that they gain power daily because they are morally superior. Correct and Incorrect Racists? The logical trajectory of tearing down the statue of a Confederate soldier will soon lead to the renaming of Yale, the erasing of Washington and Jefferson from our currency, and the de-Trotskyization of every mention of Planned Parenthood’s iconic Margaret Singer, the eugenicist whose racist views on abortion anticipated those of current liberal Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Ginsburg said, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”)

At what point will those who went ballistic over President Trump’s clumsy “on the one hand, on the other hand” criticism of both the abhorrent racists who marched in Charlottesville (parading around in the very Nazi garb that their grandparents had fought to vanquish) and the unhinged anarchists who sought to violently stop them demand that Princeton University erase all mention of their beloved Woodrow Wilson, the unapologetic racist? Wilson, as an emblematic and typical early progressive, thought human nature could “progress” by scientific devotion to eugenics, and he believed that blacks were innately inferior. Wilson, also remember, was in a position of power — and, owing to his obdurate racism, he ensured that integration of the U.S. Army would needlessly have to wait three decades.

Do any of the protestors realize that a chief tenet of early progressivism was eugenics, the politically correct, liberal orthodoxy of its time? Just as in Roman times, chipping away the face of Nero or Commodus did not ensure a new emperor’s good behavior, so tearing down a statue of a Confederate soldier is not going to restore vitality to the inner city, whose tragedies are not due to inanimate bronze. When Minnesota Black Lives Matter marchers chanted of police, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon,” was that a call for violence that was not long after realized by a spate of racist murders of policemen in Dallas? Are such advocates of torching police officers morally equipped to adjudicate which Confederate statue must come down? And did President Obama swiftly condemn the forces that led the shooter to select his victims for execution? After Major Nidal Malik Hasan murdered 13 fellow soldiers in cold blood, screaming out “Allah Akbar” as he shot, did “both sides” Obama really have to warn America that “we don’t know all the answers yet, and I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all the facts”? And did it take him six years before he discovered the catalysts when finally calling the murders a terrorist attack? Did Obama have to dismiss the Islamist anti-Semitic terrorist slaughter of targeted Jews in a kosher market in Paris with the callous and flippant quip that the murderers had killed “a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris”? Were there demonstrations over that moral equivalence? And was it inevitable that the anti-Semite, homophobe, and provocateur with past blood on his hands for inciting riot and arson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, would advocate yanking public sponsorship of the Jefferson memorial?

He who is with sin now casts the first stone? We are in an age of melodrama, not tragedy, in which we who are living in a leisured and affluent age (in part due to the accumulated learning and moral wisdom gained and handed down by former generations of the poor and less aware) pass judgement on prior ages because they lacked our own enlightened and sophisticated views of humanity — as if we lucky few were born fully ethically developed from the head of Zeus. In my own town, there used to be a small classical fountain dedicated by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. It was long ago torn down. (Who wishes to recall the forces that led to Prohibition?) In its place now sits an honorific statue to the clawed, half-human Aztec deity Coatlicue, the hungry earth-mother goddess. Coatlicue was quite a bloodthirsty creation, to whom thousands of living captives were sacrificed. The goddess was often portrayed wrapped in a cloak of skin and wearing a neckless of human hearts, hands, and skulls. Our town’s new epigraph atop Coatlicue is Viva la Raza — “Long live the Race.” Should there be demonstrations to yank down such a racialist and Franco-ist hurrah? Or are the supposed victims of white privilege themselves exempt from the very chauvinism that they sometimes allege in others?

Is there a progressive rationale that exempts Coatlicue and its racist plaque, whose sloganeering channels the raza/razza mantras of Fascist Spain and Mussolini’s Italy? Are we to have a perpetual war of the statues? The Arc of History More Often Bends Backward There is a need for an abolition of memory in the case of Hitler or Stalin, or here in America perhaps even of a Nathan Bedford Forrest. But when we wipe away history at a whim (why in 2017 and not, say, in 2015 or 2008?), we’d better make sure that our targets are uniquely and melodramatically evil rather than tragically misguided. And before we get out our ropes and sandblasters, we should be certain that we are clearly the moral superiors of those we condemn to oblivion. Before we get out our ropes and sandblasters, we should be certain that we are clearly the moral superiors of those we condemn to oblivion. Be careful, 21st-century man. Far more hypercritical generations to come may find our own present moral certitude — late-term and genetically driven abortion, the rise of artificial intelligence in place of human decision-making, the harvesting and selling of aborted fetal organs, ethnic and tribal chauvinism, euthanasia, racially segregated dorms and “safe spaces” — as immoral as we find the sins of our own predecessors. For the last decade, we were lectured that the arc of history always bends toward our own perceptions of moral justice. More likely, human advancement tends to be circular and should not to be confused with technological progress. Just as often, history is ethically circular. No Roman province produced anyone quite like a modern Hitler; Attila’s body count could not match Stalin’s. In the classical Athens of 420 B.C., a far greater percentage of the population could read than in Ottoman Athens of A.D. 1600. The average undergraduate of 1950 probably left college knowing a lot more than his 2017 counterpart does.

The monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Amazon are far more insidious than that of Standard Oil, even if our masters of the universe seem more hip in their black turtlenecks than John D. Rockefeller did in his starched collars. Moneywise, Bernie Madoff outdid James Fisk and Jay Gould. The strangest paradox in the current epidemic of abolitio memoriae is that our moral censors believe in ethical absolutism and claim enough superior virtue to apply it clumsily across the ages — without a clue that they fall short of their own moral pretensions, and that one day their own icons are as likely be stoned as the icons of others are now apt to be torn down by black-mask-wearing avengers.
A final paradox about killing the dead: Two millennia after Roman autocrats’ destruction of statues, and armed with the creepy 20th-century model of Fascists and Communists destroying the past, we, of a supposedly enlightened democracy, cannot even rewrite history by democratic means — local, state, and federal commission recommendations, referenda, or majority votes of elected representatives. More often, as moral cowards, we either rely on the mob or some sort of executive order enforced only in the dead of night.
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, to appear in October from Basic Books.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450689/erasing-history-censoring-confederate-past-rewriting-memory-mob-vengeance

Raymond Chandler

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

My friend, Dan Garshman tells me that today, July 23rd is the birthday of one of my favorite authors, mystery writer, Raymond Chandler (1888) , born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, before his Irish mother took him to England so he could get a proper education. Chandler’s novels explored the tough, lawless, and luxurious side of Los Angeles through the sharp narration of his most famous creation, wisecracking, chess-playing private eye Philip Marlowe, who made his debut in Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep (1939).

He was educated at preparatory school in England and studied international law in Germany and France before moving back to Britain. He mostly wrote poetry, managing to publish 27 poems and short story called “The Rose-Leaf Romance” before moving to Los Angeles (1912), where he found work as a tennis racket stringer and a bookkeeper at a creamery. Chandler enlisted in the Canadian air force and spent time on the front lines in France during World War I. When he returned to L.A., he took a well-paying job in the oil industry, but drank too much and had affairs with the office secretaries, so he was fired after a year.

Running low on money, he began reading pulp mystery magazines and studying the formula for stories. He said Americans were “a big, rough, rich, wild people, and crime is the price we pay for it.” He liked the lack of pretension in the pulps and the tight restrictions on word length and subject matter suited his style. He published his first mystery story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” in Black Mask magazine in 1933. It was popular, and he began churning out more stories.

It took him three months to write his first novel, The Big Sleep (1939), which was made into a film, with William Faulkner writing the screenplay and Humphrey Bogart cast as Philip Marlowe (1946). When asked about the character of Philip Marlowe, he said: “He must be the best man in his world and good enough for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.”

Chandler’s second novel was Farewell, My Lovely (1940). His clipped British upbringing mixed with American vernacular proved popular with readers, who ate up lines like “He had a heart as big as one of Mae West’s hips” and “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.” Poet W.H. Auden and novelist Evelyn Waugh were big fans, but critics found his work somewhat distasteful. A reviewer from the Washington Post called his books “rambling at best and incoherent at worst,” and others cited the “moral depravity” of a fictional L.A. filled with crime, prostitutes, cheating spouses, and murder.

Raymond Chandler wrote eight novels, including The Little Sister (1949) and The Long Goodbye (1953) before he died in 1959. All of his novels except for one have been made into films. Philip Marlowe has been portrayed onscreen by James Garner, Danny Glover, Powers Boothe, and Dick Powell.

Chandler was nearly penniless when he died. He’d returned to drinking after the long illness and death of his second wife, Cissy. He wrote The Long Goodbye while she was dying and many consider this his masterpiece, due to its blend of hard-boiled cynicism and lyrical sentiment.

Chandler worked hard to improve his writing style as he aged, but he couldn’t catch a break from the critics, saying, “The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time.”

He and Cissy are interred side by side. Their shared gravestone reads, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts,” a quote from The Big Sleep.

Happy Birthday, Lord of the Rings.

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

I was made aware by my good friend, Dan Garshman, that this is the Birthday of: LORD OF THE RINGS, one of the greatest books ever written. He also provided me with some background about its creation and subsequent success.

It was on this day in 1954 that the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out, The Fellowship of the Ring. It was the sequel to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which was published in 1937. Tolkien had written The Hobbit for his own amusement and didn’t expect it to sell well. It’s the story of Bilbo – a small, human-like creature with hairy feet – who goes on an adventure through Middle Earth and comes back with a magical ring.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote: “I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands. I smoke a pipe, like good, plain food, detest French cooking […] I am fond of mushrooms, have a very simple sense of humor […] go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.”

The Hobbit sold pretty well, partly because C.S. Lewis gave it a big review when it came out. And so Tolkien’s publisher asked for a sequel. Tolkien decided the new book would be about Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, but for a long time he had no idea what sort of adventure. Finally, he decided it would be about the magical ring, though the ring had not been such an important part of The Hobbit.

Tolkien spent the next 17 years working on The Lord of the Rings. He was a professor at Oxford. He had to write in his spare time, usually at night, sitting by the stove in the study in his house.

He was well into his first draft by the time World War II broke out in 1939. He hadn’t set out to write an allegory, but once the war began, he started to draw parallels between the war and the events in his novel: the land of evil in The Lord of the Rings, Mordor, was set east of Middle Earth, just as the enemies of England were to the east.

The book became more and more complicated as he went along. It was taking much longer to finish than he’d planned. He went through long stretches where he didn’t write anything. He thought about giving up the whole thing. He wanted to make sure all the details were right, the geography, the language, the mythology of Middle Earth. He made elaborate charts to keep track of the events of the story. His son Christopher also drew a detailed map of Middle Earth.

Finally, in the fall of 1949, he finished writing The Lord of the Rings. He typed the final copy himself sitting on a bed in his attic, typewriter on his lap, tapping it out with two fingers. It turned out to be more than a half million words long, and the publisher agreed to bring it out in three volumes. The first came out on this day in 1954. The publisher printed just 3,500 copies, but it turned out to be incredibly popular. It went into a second printing in just six weeks. Today more than 150 million copies have been sold around the world. It is considered one of the best-selling books of all time.


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