JRR Tolkien’s Newly Discovered Letter: Teaching is ‘Exhausting and Depressing’

A newly discovered letter penned by J.R.R.Tolkien has revealed a touching message to his former teachers. Tolkien, who famously wrote the first line of The Hobbit while marking exam papers, told a fellow teacher that “all teaching is exhausting and depressing”.

Tolkien wrote the letter in response to Anne Mountfield, a newly qualified teacher who was working at Eltham Green School in London. Mountfield had written to Tolkien that her “rather restless” class had been spellbound when she read them The Hobbit. Tolkien typed her a reply, saying her letter gave him great pleasure and “The Hobbit seems to go down well at school”.

He then added a handwritten note to the bottom of the letter, telling Mountfield that “All teaching is exhausting, and depressing and one is seldom comforted by knowing when one has had some effect. 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”.

Mountfield said she had forgotten about her own letter from the author until it fell out of a copy of Tolkien’s book Tree and Leaf last year, shortly after she herself had received a letter from a former pupil about the influence she had been on him. “I like to attribute the coincidence to a little touch of Gandalf magic,” she said. “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 sold for for £2,500 (AU$ 4,536) at Bonhams.