Happy Birthday to a man who has given so many people so many hours of pleasure!
When I was doing research for my novel which includes a Tolkien-obsessed character, I came across the following in a collection of Tolkien's letters. It is written to a German publisher and is dated 25 July 1938. I thought it was simply marvelous.
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 inquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the 18th century from Germany: the main part of my dissent 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. 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 inquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subject 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 suitability for publication, which it appears that satisfied herself without reference to my Abstammung.
I trust you will find this reply satisfactory,
and remain yours faithfully,