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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Vale Christopher Tolkien!

From Wikipedia. Fair use

Christopher Tolkien, son of the wonderful J.R.R Tolkien, is no more. True, he did get to the decent age of 95, and he was working till 2017, but it’s always sad to lose someone so special.

You may or may not know it, but without Christopher, we might have only The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. Christopher’s second wife, Baillie, edited The Father Christmas Letters after Tolkien’s death. There are a number of other small books for younger readers, published posthumously.

But there is far more. There are now several volumes of “The History Of Middle-Earth.” (I have read them!) There are individual novels centred around Middle-Earth in earlier ages. There are his translations of mediaeval poems such as Gawain And The Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo. There is his translation of Beowulf, complete with notes.

Guess who edited all this stuff? 

But the first book published after Tolkien’s death in 1973 was The Silmarillion, a story of Middle-Earth from the beginning. I have a first edition in hardcover, which I bought at Sunflower Bookshop, my local bookstore, on the recommendation of the delightful Brian Ormsby, who, with his wife Noreen, opened a shop that is still there, though with a new name. I admit it took me a very long time to get past Chapter 1, but a friend in England persuaded me to read on, and she was right. It did become more readable after that chapter. 

Christopher Tolkien edited and finished the book with the help of a young student from Canada, a gentleman called Guy Gavriel Kay... Yes, that Guy Gavriel Kay, the future author of some wonderful historical/alternative universe fantasy novels. But at that stage, he was a student. He must have been pretty special even then to have been chosen to help with that project. Christopher spent the rest of his life working on his father’s unpublished works, willingly, so he would never have picked up just any student assistant for something so important to him. 

We really owe Christopher a lot, when you consider how tangled and confusing  the manuscripts were. There were bits and pieces, stacks of them handwritten and in small bits of paper, in no special order. He re-did the maps to make them clearer for readers, got everything in order and sometimes, as with The Silmarillion, finished what was unfinished. 

It’s not just that we now have everything but Tolkien’s shopping lists, but that we have his world building, which is phenomenal. We have bits that were left out of LOTR. (Did you know that  Tolkien was thinking of killing off Eowyn and Aragorn never marrying? So glad he changed his mind!) We know how his world began and so can make more sense of the major novels. We even know that at one time Sauron was just a sidekick to the Dark Lord Morgoth, and looked more or less human, that Morgoth ended up as a Dark Lord because he was not a team player(first chapter when the gods sing the world into being and he decides to sing his own tunes), and that Galadriel was once a very naughty girl! And we know all that because of Christopher Tolkien. 

What, I wonder, was it like for Christopher Tolkien to spend his entire life focussing on his father’s written work? He did it, though, and must have been passionate about it. He was not happy when they started making the films and went so far as to disown his son Simon for appearing as an extra in one of them. I believe they reconciled eventually, and I was happy to hear about it. But it does show how important that novel was to him. 

I’m glad also to hear that, though he couldn’t stop the films from being made, he did manage to get royalties back from New Line. Fair enough! They made a lot of money out of it.

Now there are plans for a TV series prequel to LOTR. None of it would have happened if not for J.R.R Tolkien’s third son.

Vale, Christopher! And thank you. 


Brian Joseph said...

You raise a good point. That is, to live for one's farther 's legacy seems an unusual life path to take in modern times.

This all seems to have been the ultimate world building.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, indeed, it is amazing world building. The closest I can think of is Frank Herbert’s Dune. I met him once, when he was in Melbourne, and asked him whether he wrote first and built the world as he went. He assured me that he didn’t write a word of his novel till the universe was worked out. More recently, we have had George R.R Martin’s Game Of Thrones/Ice And Fire universe, very elaborate. But neither of these worlds has fans who have worked out how to speak languages created for them. And Tolkien’s world grew and developed, chang8ng along the way.

Christopher was one of four children who grew up with his father’s stories, and never outgrew them - luckily for us! But I do wonder what he might have done with his life if he had not chosen this path?

AJ Blythe said...

Like you, Sue, I enjoyed the Silmarillon once I got into it. I had no idea about the history. That was interesting.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Anita! Glad you enjoyed reading about it. It’s probably just as well that The Silmarillion was originally rejected or we might never have had LOTR as it is - he wanted to see Silmarillion published but his publisher wanted their “new Hobbit book” and I have to say, they were right. You do have to be a fan to have the patience to read Silmarillion, I think.