A secret archive containing the deliberations of jurors who awarded the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature has been unsealed after 50 years and some material made available for public review. Fans will be pleased to discover J.R.R. Tolkien was considered for the Prize. And annoyed to hear why he was passed over.
For the past five years Swedish reporter Andreas Ekström has sifted through the Nobel archives as they come available:
“The academy keeps a strict secrecy around the archives for 50 years, but doesn’t reveal everything. The final decision is made without any notes ever becoming public. But the list of suggestions is indeed public, with some commentary to it.”
Who nominated Tolkien? None other than his good friend C.S. Lewis. The Swedish Academy invites certain academics, former winners and other institutional representatives to nominate. Lewis, as a professor of literature, was qualified to submit a recommendation. That Lewis might have nominated someone was known from his January 7, 1961 letter to Alistair Fowler (published in C.S. Lewis Collected Letters, Vol III ). I wonder — Was it known that he definitely did so, and that Tolkien was his nominee?
One thing we now know is why Tolkien lost. Critic and jury member Anders Österling declared the prose of Tolkien “has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.”
We also know for the first time how many other notable writers — Karen Blixen, Lawrence Durrell, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, and E.M. Forster — were considered for the 1961 prize ultimately given to Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andrić.
From what I’ve read about fellow Inklings Tolkien and Lewis, I can only imagine Tolkien would have been mortified to learn Lewis had sent in his name. I wonder, did Lewis ever tell him? It happens that the leading Inklings scholars read this blog so I have a good chance of finding out.
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]