Many of you will have read the volume of Tolkien’s collected letters. Many of them dealt with the process of preparing the books for publication. A few days ago I was contacted by somebody whose father was one of those proofreaders with whom Tolkien corresponded. He kindly allowed us to post this:

“My father, Jack Liddament, was a proof reader for Jarrolds of Norwich in 1954 – coincidentally, the year I was born. He was given the job of reading LOTR and spent the best part of the year on the work. He remembers that many people thought at the time that the book was something of a curiosity and could not really see much of a market for it, but he thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it would be successful.

Proof readers are by nature fussy about accuracy and the correct use of words and my father was impressed by Tolkien’s own attention to detail. I remember him telling me that the scholarship underpinning the invented languages in the book made the story very powerful and added depth and substance to the work. He recalls that some of his colleagues at the printers saw fit to correct Tolkien’s use of “dwarves” for the plural of “dwarf” at the post-proof stage without consulting either proof reader or the author, which led to Jarrolds getting a pointed letter from Tolkien asking them to change the words back again!

As the proof reader, my father was expected to question any seeming inaccuracies or inconsistencies, marking them up on the printers proofs and then sending them to the author, who usually either crossed out the suggested changes or ticked them to signify agreement. Tolkien often went further than that, adding little notes and explanations in the margins of the proofs and enclosing small drawings and extra material. He sent my father a thank you note at the end of the work, saying that he was grateful for the effort that my father had put in at the proof reading stage.

My father continued working for Jarrolds through to his retirement about 15 years ago. Since then, he has pursued his own writing ambition in a very different genre – cowboy stories. Despite having never travelled further west than Wales, he has had five novels published and shows no sign of slowing down as he approaches 80.

He will be very interested in the films and will be keen to see how the power of the written language and the detailed mythology that Tolkien created transfers to the screen.”

Thanks to Martin for that!