“I would willingly do all in my power to secure for Tolkien’s great book the recognition it deserves,” Lewis writes to Sir Stanley Unwin on Dec. 4, 1953, regarding The Fellowship of the Ring. Lewis then enclosed the following endorsement:
It would be almost safe to say that no book like this has ever been written. If Ariosto rivaled it in invention (in fact he does not) he would still lack its heroic seriousness. No imaginary world has been projected which is at once so multifarious and so true to its own inner laws; none so seemingly objective, so disinfected from the taint of an author’s merely individual psychology; none so relevant to the actual human situation yet so free from allegory. And what fine shading there is in the variations of style to meet the almost endless diversity of scenes and characters – comic, homely, epic, monstrous, or diabolic! (The Collected Letters, vol. III)
Two days later, Lewis writes to Tolkien to tell him that he had written to Unwin, though he doubted his words would be of any use.
“Even if he and you approve my words,” Lewis says, “think twice before using them: I am certainly a much, and perhaps an increasingly, hated man whose name might do you more harm than good.” Lewis was possibly referencing how his books on the Christian faith and practice might make his recommendation less than helpful for a book that stretches well beyond that.
Despite Lewis’s reservations, The Lord of the Rings was published with Lewis’s complete statement above minus the first sentence.
Another interesting person in the middle of how The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings were slated for publication is the ten-year-old son of the Unwin, Rayner. He is the one who recommended that his father publish The Hobbit in 1937, and it was again his recommendation to publish The Lord of the Rings in 1954-55 (though it was completed in 1949). Here’s his critical eye for The Hobbit from his 10-year-old point of view:
Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich! This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9. (Wikipedia and a good blog on Tolkien’s world)
HaperOne has three volumes of Lewis’s letters. They are a phenomenal resource.