The Mixed Legacy of Christopher Tolkien | The Imaginative Conservative

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“Only the works published during J.R.R. Tolkien’s lifetime should be considered canonical, whereas the unfinished works collected, collated, and edited by Christopher Tolkien should be considered extra-canonical. I would even venture to suggest that Christopher Tolkien’s work should be considered as footnotes to his father’s corpus and not an extension of it…”

— essay by Joseph Pearce

Source: The Mixed Legacy of Christopher Tolkien | The Imaginative Conservative

Opinions will differ, but I have to confess, I am inclined to agree with this perspective. Even from an early age – I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 1977, at age 11, and The Silmarillion not much later – I have had a sense that Christopher Tolkien’s edited and compiled contributions to the Middle Earth legendarium of his father were, let us say, of a second tier. Not apocrypha, precisely; but certainly deuterocanonical, to use terms I would not learn for some decades after that original reading!

Since Christopher Tolkien’s passing, and the outpouring of encomia to his memory, I have come to appreciate more fully the degree to which he was a collaborator (a junior collaborator, it must be said, but a collaborator nonetheless) – perhaps even, in a certain limited sense, a co-creator – with his father in the development of the latter’s legendarium. But that has not altered my early-formed perception that he, to some extent – maybe a significant extent – rode the coat-tails of his father’s name and fame.

On the one hand, his life-long work as executor, curator, editor, and compiler of J.R.R. Tolkien’s copious literary legacy exhibits a remarkable, and admirable, level of filial devotion. One cannot help but be impressed, and as I say, admiring. On the other, it (rather conveniently) meant that he never had to actually do anything on his own. I know from my own experience that it is a far simpler matter to edit and compile the works of others (and it would doubtless be even easier with one as well-known as one’s own father) than it is to generate original content of one’s own.

In any case: as the essay notes,

“We should be aware… that Christopher was making subjective judgments with respect to his father’s intentions, which may or may not be valid. And we should also bear in mind that Tolkien did not feel that any of the material in Christopher’s History was ready for publication, which is why it wasn’t published. At best, the raw materials that Christopher Tolkien stitches together are unfinished works; at worst, they are rejected pieces of work that Tolkien never intended to bring to fruition or to see the light of day.”

Now, some of that lack of publication had to do with J.R.R. Tolkien’s publishers, and their sense (and in some cases, Tolkien’s own) of what the reading public would be interested in – what would sell, in other words. But the critique is not unreasonable or inaccurate, even so.

To give an idea of how drastically Tolkien himself could change his original concepts, it may be worth noting that the earliest form of the character that became Strider – heir of Isildur, Ranger of the North, Lord of the Dunedain, and last King of Gondor and the West at the close of the Third Age and the dawn of the Fourth – was originally a “wild” hobbit named Trotter, with wooden feet. What might Tolkien have done with his “unfinished tales,” if he had had the time, energy, and in some cases, desire to bring them to published form? Impossible to know.

I would, however, agree with Pearce that The Silmarillion represents something of a special case. It was by far the most complete and fully-formed of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unpublished works; it was also, as his surviving correspondence makes clear, one he had hoped and intended to publish, one day (although he was unsure of how it would be received). This, combined with the fact that it was published so soon – only four years after his death – makes it much closer to simply editing the work of a living author (though of course it lacks his final imprimatur) than any of the twelve volumes of compiled and edited tales collectively known as “The History of Middle Earth.” It is certainly, as Pearce points out, at least “quasi-canonical.”

In any case, the late Christopher Tolkien is to be commended for preserving and curating so much of his father’s work, which otherwise might have been moldering in boxes, or worse yet, discarded entirely. As Pearce accurately notes, “his painstaking editing of his father’s unfinished and discarded works can help all lovers of Middle-earth to further appreciate the genius who gave us The Lord of the Rings.” But that doesn’t necessarily place them in the same league as those works of his which were published under his – J.R.R. Tolkien’s – authority, and in his own lifetime. Nor, if I may indulge in supposition, do I think that The Professor would have wanted us to think them so!

 

Now Residing in the Blessed Realm: Chris Tolkien (1924-2020) | The American Conservative

Rivaled only by his father, he was an exemplar of piety and scholarship who understood myth like few men in history.

Source: Now Residing in the Blessed Realm: Chris Tolkien (1924-2020) | The American Conservative

A splendid tribute! I have come to the conclusion that I have, heretofore, sadly underestimated the importance – and abilities – of Christopher Tolkien. Perhaps, if God so wills it that I make it to the Blessed Realms myself, we may meet, and I can apologize!

 

Christopher Tolkien – The Last Goodbye (EN) | Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft e.V.

Christopher Tolkien – The Last Goodbye (EN)

Source: Christopher Tolkien – The Last Goodbye (EN) | Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft e.V.

“Christopher Tolkien passed away on 15th January. He was the third son of J.R.R. Tolkien, his literary heir and executor. He published 24 books by Tolkien after the death of his father, including Tolkien’s life’s work, The Silmarillion. Without Christopher Tolkien’s tireless work, Middle-earth would be a great deal smaller.”

The best and most complete account I have seen yet on the life of Christopher Tolkien, and his role in not only preserving, but even helping to form, his great father’s legacy. There are a number of things in this account which I did not know, but I found this of particular interest:

“In 1963 Christopher became a Fellow at New College, Oxford. Christopher now regularly attended meetings of the “Inklings”, the literary circle of friends around his father and C.S. Lewis. The other members felt that he could read from the evolving Lord of the Rings manuscript better than his father. Christopher was the last living member of the Inklings.”

The last Inkling has passed into the Uttermost West. The end of an age! 😥

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

It is sobering, somehow, to think that when I first became aware of the existence of Christopher Tolkien, he was right around the same age I am now. Perhaps even exactly! And now he has passed on, at age 95.

I have a tendency to somehow imagine that people remain ever the age they were when I first knew them, but it is not the case. As Simon & Garfunkel put it, “Time hurries on, and the leaves that are green turn to brown…”

“Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!”

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

 

“Ubi sunt?” – Song of the Rohirrim: a lament

Viking warriors – wallpaper – vintaged

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

This lament the great J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and placed in the mouth of Aragorn son of Arathorn – heir of Isildur and rightful King of the West, of Eriador, in Tolkien’s magisterial Middle Earth mythos – as he was describing the Land of Rohan and its inhabitants, the Rohirrim (“Horse Lords”); and later, in part, in the mouth of Theoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Rohirrim, himself.

But it is of a mode that would have been easily recognized by our forebears in the ancient and medieval worlds, for it is a well-known poetic form: the lament, known by scholars as “Ubi Sunt?” from its Latin incipit: “Where is…?” It is a lament for the greatness of things now past, and perhaps, irrecoverable: “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” as we might say.

Hiraeth

Tolkien disliked allegory, but he did allow for what he called “applicability.” And so we can agree with him that The Lord of the Rings was not written as a direct allegory of any historical event, either World War Two, or the Cold War, or today’s social, cultural, and political struggles, with which this blog – originally intended merely as a celebration of things English, British, and Anglican – has become inexorably and inescapably emmeshed.

But we, as Men of the West (*), in this present age of the world, can also recognize that this passage, a lament for the Rohirrim, is applicable to our current age, and can also serve as a lament for us – for the West – in our present and dire situation.

A lament, yes, but perhaps also a rallying-cry?

For the Rohirrim, by their defense against the assaults of the fallen wizard Saruman, and later and most famously by their critical role in overthrowing the Siege of Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, did much to help break the power of the Shadow, and make possible the destruction of Mordor and of its Dark Lord, Sauron.

So where, Men of the West, are our Rohirrim? Where is our King Theoden (whose name meant “Lord of the People”)? Who is our Aragorn Elessar?

Ubi sunt…?


* “Men of the West” in the old sense, in which “Man” or “Men” was inclusive of all members of a people, folk, tribe, or region – or humankind in general, depending on context – and not merely those who are biologically male.


Following are some additional quotes by Professor Tolkien, some of which may encourage us, and some of which may, let us hope, strengthen our resolve:

“Always after a defeat and a respite,” says Gandalf, “the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo.
“So do I,” says Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

conversation in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

Faramir, Ranger of Gondor and son of Denethor, Steward of Minas Tirith

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Haldir, an Elf of Lothlorien, in “The Fellowship of the Ring”

“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentlehobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

– Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: a toast at a “Hobbit Dinner” in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1958.

 

How Did Lewis and Tolkien Defend the Old West? | The Imaginative Conservative

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“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron. But I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentle hobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien

Source: How Did Lewis and Tolkien Defend the Old West? | The Imaginative Conservative

Would you better understand, not only those great authors, thinkers, and defenders of Western Christendom (note: “Old West,” here, does not mean “cowboys and Indians”), C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but also the world we live in, how we got here, and where it may lead, should we continue on our present trajectory? Then read this essay! Long, but worth it.


N.B. – There are a few, mostly minor, issues of spelling and/or proofreading in this rather lengthy essay (doubtless I have many in my own writings, as well). Most are minor, and easily forgiven (the youngest companion of Frodo, in the Fellowship of the Ring, was Pippin, not “Pippen”), but one at least is significant:

The favorite haunt of the Hobbits was “a well-farmed countryside,” not “a well-armed countryside.” They did indeed turn out to be fairly well-armed, at the last, but with hunting arms, not weapons of war. Hobbits were, as Tolkien notes, not a warlike people!

The Tolkien Option: Consolation and Eucatastrophe — 1517

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“Tolkien calls this sudden, unexpected turn in a story the eucatastrophe. According to Tolkien, it is the highest function of all good stories. It derives from the Greek words, ‘eu’for ‘good’, and ‘katastrophe’ for destruction. It is a good catastrophe, the collision of grief and joy.”

Source: The Tolkien Option: Consolation and Eucatastrophe — 1517

In my previous post, I alluded to J.R.R. Tolkien’s lexical coinage and philosophical concept, eucatastrophe. So I thought it only fitting to post a link to this essay (also referenced in my preceding post) from the good folks at 1517:

“Recovery, escape, and consolation. These are the essential elements of a good fairy story, writes J.R.R. Tolkien. As air, water, and food are to humanity, so are recovery, escape, and consolation to the fairy tale.

“Tolkien’s view of recovery helps us regain a proper view of the world, to see life as it should be; through our journey in a good story, we see our own world more clearly. Escape is the longing that good stories give us; the desire to be freed from the prison of death and darkness.

“And now, at last, we come to Tolkien’s final element of a good fairy story: consolation. We see the consolation of a good story most clearly in its denouement…”

Click through and read on, for more!

Disney’s New Film “Tolkien” Erases the Christian Faith and the Western Literary Tradition From the Story of the Author of “The Lord of the Rings” | PJ Media

Disney’s treatment falls far short in addressing two fundamental touchstones of Tolkien’s life and work: the ancient and medieval texts of the Western literary tradition and the Catholic faith of the author.

Source: Disney’s New Film ’Tolkien’ Erases the Christian Faith and the Western Literary Tradition From the Story of the Author of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ | PJ Media

Disappointing but, sadly, not surprising:

The new Disney film cuts out some of the most important influences in his life. The movie does not once mention the great ex-atheist and Christian author C.S. Lewis, a close friend of Tolkien… The movie also does not mention the Inklings, the society of writers who read each other’s works and spurred both Lewis and Tolkien on to greatness. The film focuses on the early influences of Tolkien’s life, so these cuts may be justifiable.

Worst, however, is the film’s neglect for Tolkien’s faith, which inspired his entire life. The movie also cuts out the literary works that inspired his imagination — touchstones of the Western literary tradition. In fact, the author’s literary masterpiece The Lord of the Rings is heavily influenced not just by the Western literary tradition but by Christianity and Jesus in particular.

I had been looking forward to seeing this movie, but now I am not at all sure I want to spend the time or the money. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in light of all this, the Tolkien Estate have disavowed the film. In a statement on 23 April, the Estate said:

“The family of J R R Tolkien and the Tolkien Estate are aware of the Fox Searchlight motion picture entitled ‘Tolkien’ that is due for release in May 2019. The family and the estate wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film. They do not endorse it or its content in any way.”

The PJ Media post linked above notes that “Joseph Loconte, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at The King’s College in New York City and author of the recent book A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18, saw the film… and noted the glaring omissions in remarks to PJ Media,” inter alia:

“As a student at the King Edward’s School at Birmingham and later at Oxford, Tolkien was immersed in works such as The Aeneid, Le Morte d’Arthur, and Beowulf. Here are stories of the noble quest: the tragic hero who answers the righteous call on his life, acts with courage, and performs his duty — regardless of the chances of success,” Loconte said. “The triumph of multiculturalism, however, has mostly marginalized these works from the academy, along with the ideals and virtues they embody. Despite its respect for Tolkien’s intellectual life, the film’s writers seem unable or unwilling to explore it with care.”

Worse yet, Tolkien’s strong Catholic Christian faith has been sidelined or ignored entirely in the movie, as Loconte explains:

“Tolkien’s Christian faith is another great factor in his life and career, a force that animates all of his creative energies… Yet there is no hint that Tolkien possessed a faith of his own, or that it was a source of strength and comfort during the tragedy of the war.

“In fact, Tolkien was a regular churchgoer, and even attended Mass whenever he could while a soldier at the Western Front. In explaining the power of myths to grip our imagination, Tolkien spoke of the eucatastrophe — the reversal of a catastrophe through ‘a sudden and miraculous grace.’

And the ultimate eucatastrophe, as Tolkien himself pointed out, was the Crucifixion and Resurrection itself, the core of the Christian faith, and the greatest outpouring of grace the world has ever known. Loconte continues,

“Until Hollywood acknowledges this grace as a divine reality, as an authentic source of literary imagination, its treatment of Tolkien will remain small and insular, like a fretful hobbit afraid to ever leave the Shire.”

Sad. But as I say, not surprising!