In 1904 (at the age of 12) J.R.R. Tolkien sent a "puzzle letter" (pictured below) to a family friend; Father Francis Morgan.

What does it say?

Obviously it would be trivially simple to google the answer, so I want you to promise me that you didn't :-)

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ It's so tempting to Google it! But I won't <grits teeth> $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2015 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ Is this the complete letter, or is there more below what you've included? $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2015 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor - Apparently, there's a page 2. You'll need to go to the Bodleian library to read it. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I'm several hours' drive away from the Bodleian library! But thanks - now I know it's OK to end in mid-sentence. I was trying to fit the last 2 pictures to "Ronald" or some kind of signature... $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2015 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ I will quite happily offer a 500 rep bounty for visiting the Bodleian and posting the second page :-) $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 18:00

1 Answer 1


The sender's address (top right) was:

Woodside House, Rednal (wood, S, eye, D=500, E, house, {N, A, L=50} in red)

The letter reads:

My dear wise owl Fr. Francis, (M=1000, eye, deer, Y's, owl, France with 'Fr.' on it, hiss)

You are too bad (U, R, 2, bee, A, D=500)

not to come in (knot, 2, sea, O, M=1000, E, inn)

spite of Fr. Dennis. (spit, E, OF, Fr., D=500, hen, eye, S)

I am so sorry you (Hyam, sew, saw, rye, yew)

did not like the (D=500, eye, D, knot, L=50, bike-B, tea, HE)

word 'piano' in my l... (words, pea, note-T, inn, M, eye, L)

...ast letter. So I... (mast-M, letter, sow, eye)

Thanks to Pete and d'alar'cop and LeppyR64 and JNF for help with some of the clues (see comments below).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @rand al'thor Your leaf looks like peas to me. The second to last image looks like a man sowing seeds $\endgroup$
    – Pete
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 21:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How about (following the "PEA") "NOTE" - "T" = "NOE" giving "PEANOE" - PIANO? Also how about HYAM = I AM? $\endgroup$
    – d'alar'cop
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 13:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am makes sense and then the grass is probably "rye". I am so sorry making the topiary yew for you. $\endgroup$
    – LeppyR64
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 14:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I want to say that the little book is "word" but it's tough to say without the context of either the previous letter or the continuation on the second page. $\endgroup$
    – LeppyR64
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd say Snake is hissing $\endgroup$
    – JNF
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 12:53

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