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From Letters of Note , a clever idea for a website, a letter my son who pointed me to it called “Tolkien’s best letter.” In I have no ancestors of that gifted people , written in 1938, J. R. R. Tolkien responded to a German publisher who wanted to publish a translation of The Hobbit  but first wanted to know that he was of Aryan descent.

Tolkien begins by twitting them about their use of the word “aryan,” and then says

But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of  Jewish  origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have  no  ancestors of that gifted people.

And then goes on in a very understated, English way to denigrate their anti-semitism. The last phrase of the last (second) paragraph is a subtle insult aimed at the publisher’s including another criterion to those proper to their work.

Among his other best letters is the long and wise letter on marriage to his son Michael. I can’t find more than snippets on line, but it is well worth tracking down.

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