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J.R.R. Tolkien Wrote High-Class Roast After Nazis Asked Whether He Was Jewish

For over 80 years, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit has given young minds an enchanting introduction to a world of adventure and imagination. From there, so many of us gleefully traveled down the Lord of the Rings rabbit hole and were rewarded with some truly epic tales we won't forget.

However, back in real life, the challenges of a horrifically brutal regime had some odd implications for how many people could have access to the story that launched a whole new whole.

And Tolkien was just as displeased as you might imagine.

In 1938, Tolkien's famous book had already achieved considerable success and would soon have the public clamoring for a sequel.

Reddit | vvallerus

While that was going on, the German publishing house Rütten & Loening wrote to Tolkien's publishers in the interest of producing a German edition of The Hobbit.

As Newsweek reported, the German publisher had once been owned by German Jews, but they were forced to sell it to an "Aryan" German citizen due to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.

Although negotiation for this German release went smoothly at first, Tolkien was taken aback by a demand from Rütten & Loening.

Reddit | moonlightsugar

According to Gizmodo, the publisher wanted documents proving Tolkien's own "Aryan" heritage.

He never necessarily claimed any, but that was their demand.

Tolkien was incensed and wrote to his publisher and friend Stanley Unwin before he sent a word of reply to Rütten & Loening.

Wikimedia Commons | Spudgun67

"I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten & Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of arisch origin from all persons of all countries?

Personally, I should be inclined to refuse to give any Bestätigung (although it happens that I can), and let a German translation go hang. In any case I should object strongly to any such declaration appearing in print."

"Bestätigung" here means "confirmation", in this case of German heritage.

So while this may suggest that Tolkien refused to answer them, he instead thought it would be better to give Unwin the final decision.

Reddit | undercome

He continued his letter to Unwin, saying,

I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.

You are primarily concerned, and I cannot jeopardize the chance of a German publication without your approval. So I submit two drafts of possible answers.

One of these two replies ignored the question completely, but the other was a lot clearer on what he thought of Nazi anti-Semitism.

Wikimedia Commons | summonedbyfells

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. 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.

After subtly tearing down the Nazi mis-characterization of what Aryan heritage actually is, Tolkien continued.

Wikimedia Commons | Hohum

My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject - which should be sufficient.

I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army.

But right after he tells them something that would give them a little hope that he's on board with them, he lets the real burns fly.

Getty Images | PA Images

I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

According to Newsweek, it's actually unclear whether Unwin sent this letter or not.

Reddit | Big_Lynx

However, since The Hobbit wouldn't have a German version until 1957, we can conclude that either Unwin actually sent the spicier of the two replies or it wouldn't have mattered if he had.

h/t: Newsweek, Gizmodo