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!

 

Some reasons to read Beowulf | The Wordhoard

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“Here are just a few reasons why you might want to read Beowulf.”

Source: Some reasons to read Beowulf | The Wordhoard

There are many reasons you may wish to read Beowulf, the classic Old English epic – which has, of course, been translated into modern English many times. Among the reasons cited by this blogger:

“First, it is a famous example of literature from the Early Middle Ages. Second, it represents English-language literature in its infancy. Third, it has had impacted modern literature since its rediscovery.”

All true, of course! But I am convinced that the best reason is that it’s a rousing good story, created, recited, and later written and read, by and for our forebears – at least, the ancestors of those of us who are of English heritage, by blood, language and culture!

Here is a modern-English translation, and one that grasps the rhythms and richness of the great original. And here is a recitation of the opening stanzas, in the original language:

I like this one, because it’s set up in such a way that one can follow along in both Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and modern English!

 

The Poetry of England | The Imaginative Conservative

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Source: The Poetry of England ~ The Imaginative Conservative

“The real tragedy of England’s passing… is not that the England we love is a figment of the imagination, but that it is real, in the sense that Platonic forms are real. This real England is present in Old English and Middle English; in Chaucer and Chesterton; in Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens. The England to be found in these places is more real than it is in present-day Birmingham or Leicester, which are only English in a superficial and fading sense. Nor does the England to be found in these places depend on our ability to see it.

“If England continues to sink into the primeval soup of ‘post-Christian’ barbarism, it is possible that nobody will read Shakespeare a century from now. They will not want to read it and will probably be unable to read it even if they wanted to. Yet the goodness, truth, and beauty to be found in Shakespeare, Chaucer, et al will not be in the least diminished by the inability of future generations to see it. A tree does not cease to exist because a blind man cannot see it. England will not cease to exist because the ‘post-English’ barbarians residing in England fail to understand that which is beyond their ken.”

True indeed! Yet what a loss it would be to the world, if the real England, the true England, the “Olde England,” were to retreat utterly and forever into the Mists of Avalon, into the realm of Platonic forms, into the Mind of God, and into the memory of poets and mystics and musers like me, to exist no more in the world of men…

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.

 

Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

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Sample covers of three of the books in the series of medieval mysteries, The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters.

Any writer who can make a living by her pen can be proud of her work, but it wasn’t until 1977, when A Morbid Taste for Bones introduced Cadfael, that Pargeter made her bid for literary immortality.

Source: Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

The Anglophilic Anglican has alluded to this excellent series of historical mysteries – “The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael,” by Ellis Peters (nom de plume of medieval scholar, author, and Shrewsbury, England, resident Edith Pargeter) – but I have not addressed them directly. Let me make up for that omission, now!

For those who may not be aware, the Cadfael Chronicles are a long-running series of medieval mysteries comprising 21 volumes – 20 novels and a short-story collection – written between 1977 and 1994, and set in 12th-century England: specifically, in the years 1137–1145, in and around the town (city) of Shrewsbury, near the Welsh border, and its Benedictine monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The protagonist, the eponymous Brother Cadfael of the aforementioned monastery, is both monk and herbalist, as well as a sort of medieval private investigator; a veteran Crusader and one-time sailor who – having seen much of the known world, in his first half-century or so – has chosen this quiet (?) harbor to live out the remainder of his earthy life.

Let’s let Levi Stahl tell it: Continue reading “Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads”

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!

Laura Ingalls Wilder: the conversation continues

An old and cherished college friend sent me the linked article, below, with this notation: “Interesting article and perspective from ALA’s office of intellectual freedom of the (former) LIW award.”

ALA Laura Ingalls Wilder Award ALSC


Will some librarians consider it right to purge her works from library collections? We hope not.

Source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Award – when is it censorship? – Intellectual Freedom Blog


Following is my reply:

It is indeed an interesting article and perspective, and I’m glad the conversation is continuing. There is a lot in that article with which I agree. And of course, the ALSC has a perfect right to rename their award if they want to, regardless of my or anyone else’s opinion of the action!

But just as James LaRue points out – accurately – that books must be taken in their entirety, and in context, so too, I believe, must actions. And I cannot help but take this action in the context of a time in our social history in which nearly every icon of our past is under attack, one way or another.

This most recent spasm of historical iconoclasm began in the summer of 2015, when that despicable nutcase killed those poor people in Charleston, SC; and it began with attacks on Confederate flags, rapidly spreading to other iconography: street, park, and school names, and then monuments. But it didn’t end there. The Confederacy was just low-hanging fruit. I haven’t kept as precise and voluminous records as I should have, in retrospect, but some examples that come immediately to mind:

The statue of Teddy Roosevelt – our most progressive President at least until his cousin FDR, and possibly until JFK – was attacked, where it stands in front of the Museum of Natural History in NYC. The very gravesite of Andrew Jackson, certainly a controversial figure but also an American President and the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, has also been attacked, and his picture on the $20 bill is to be replaced. Thomas Jefferson’s statue has been defaced on the very campus of the university (University of Virginia) he founded; here in Maryland, the statue of Francis Scott Key has been defaced, and the National Anthem he gave us attacked (completely erroneously) as racist.

In 2016, students at Yale University’s English Department (!!!) launched a petition calling on the English department to abolish a core course requirement in “Major English Poets” to study canonical writers including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, saying that the reading list had too many white male authors. Ummmmm… to what demographic do they think that major English poets belong??? That was the most high-profile, but not the only, report of such doings I recall reading. I find myself wondering what Nancy and Del, or Bob and LeRoy, even Ira [former professors we shared – liberals all, but in the old-school sense], would think about all this…

There are similar attacks on culture, history, and heritage going on throughout the West. I could, with a little brain-searching and research, probably come up with dozens of additional examples; these are just those that came to me with a few minutes’ thought. But it is within the context of these sorts of shenanigans that I interpret the decision to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from that award.

Yes, the essay you linked makes some good points, and, as I say, I agree with a number of them. But it is possible to come up with good, noble-sounding, perhaps even nobly-intended, justifications or rationalizations for each and every one of the incidents I described above, and many more than I did not mention. But taken as a whole, looking at the big picture, what I see is the history, heritage, and culture of the West – indeed, Western civilization itself – under attack. Sustained, persistent, intentional.

I would be fundamentally and vigorously opposed to the destruction of any culture! I am certainly opposed to the attempted destruction of my own. In the larger scheme of things, removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from an award is not going to make or break Western civilization. But making that decision, even for the best-intended reasons, is another stone removed from the wall. Keep taking enough out, and how long before the whole structure tumbles?

Her response was very gracious:

“I do see what you’re saying. And wish I knew the answers… if there are any. And I will always love and respect you my dear friend!”

I replied,

“It is very mutual, my dear friend! And we are living in a time concerning which people many centuries in the future may scratch their heads… or shake them, with sadness. I very much fear that if we continue as we seem to be going, we are on the cusp of a new Dark Age.”

Her response was sober, and sobering:

“I think we both hope you are wrong about that! But I have to wonder…”

Indeed we do. We do indeed…

 


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Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder Is A Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance | The Federalist

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Pretending things that make us uncomfortable never happened isn’t going to make America better, or make American children more informed.

Source: Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder Is A Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance

I do not fully agree with this article, because I do not fully agree that we need to continually apologize for, or even “contextualize,” everything that occurred in our past that makes some present-day observers squeamish. But I certainly do agree with the title (“Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder Is A Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance”)!

And I also agree with the comment of a dear Facebook friend (who is also a follower of this blog; she may choose to identify herself if she wishes), who wrote, in response to a Wall Street Journal article which, unfortunately, is behind a firewall,

“Those who refuse to acknowledge history are doomed to repeat it. This is ridiculous. I should have expected this, I suppose, when they began badmouthing Twain’s work. The Little House books teach a great deal about the time they were written, in an entertaining way so that people will actually remember. Modern mores are already taught now, and people should be trusted to be able to filter through, seeing the changes in time periods as far as attitudes go. Ignoring history doesn’t make it go away.”

To which I can only add, “give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile”… “don’t let the camel’s nose in the tent”… whatever image you use for it, the truth remains: if you start to permit people to alter, suppress, or remove history, there’s no telling where you’ll end up. Nowhere good, that’s for certain!

It started with Confederate flags, then moved to renaming schools, streets, and parks, then to removing monuments. It started with the Confederacy, but has expanded to include Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Francis Scott Key – even Washington and Jefferson. And in literary terms, English poets, Mark Twain and, now, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

These are people who do not understand, or even try to understand, removing, altering, or destroying that which is not understood; people placing the worst possible construction on works and people which and who are complex and multi-faceted. Simplistic responses from – pardon me for saying so, but it’s true – simple minds.

It is depressing and disillusioning. What has happened to this country? We used to be so much better than this!

 


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Then please consider supporting me on Patreon!

Many thanks in advance.