Source: p 133 of 493, Letter to Christopher Tolkien 9 August 1945, #102, The Letters of JRR Tolkien

The news today about 'Atomic bombs' is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world! Such explosives in men's hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope 'this will ensure peace'. But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we're in God's hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.

I leafed through the Tower of Babel, and Genesis 11:4.6 says:

6 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.

So I'm guessing that Tolkien opines the main goal of these Manhattan Project scientists as building as deadly a weapon as possible, to prove their superiority as the best physicists worldwide? Then accordant with Genesis 11:4.6, these scientists would hold too much power which God prevented?

I seem to be inferring that Tolkien deems this the true motive, dominating the humanitarian one of just building something to deter Japan?

Obiter dictum: I was reading JRR Tolkien's Wikipedia entry when I lighted upon this opinion of his.

  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about literary interpretation of a non-dictionary word by a specific author.
    – user3169
    Jan 22, 2015 at 3:04
  • 3
    I voted to not close. I believe we can confirm for a learner a well known allusion, without confirming specific interpretations.
    – user6951
    Jan 22, 2015 at 4:14

1 Answer 1


In civilization that has roots in Judeo-Christianity, it would be strange indeed to think that the Roman Catholic Tolkien was alluding to some other thing then the Tower of Babel story in Genesis.

The reading of the Genesis story is straightforward.

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

So v6 states The Lord's motivation for confounding the people's language: now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. As such, per Tolkien, "The Lord [did] not look kindly on Babel-builders."

Tolkien writes the letter on the day of the second atomic bomb being dropped on Japan. One just has to read Tolkien's letter to see what concerns him about this event and to identify who the Babel-Builders are that he refers to.

Beyond that I would not go in an answer, since ELL is not for analysis of detailed interpretations.

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