The Mixed Legacy of Christopher Tolkien | The Imaginative Conservative

Image result for J.R.R. Tolkien

“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

 

Happy 80th Birthday to Middle Earth!

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As if it weren’t enough that both the traditional date of the Autumnal Equinox, and my own birthday, fall upon this date, today is also the 80th anniversary of the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s classic The Hobbit, back on 21 September, 1937!

The above picture is the cover art from the original Allen & Unwin (U.K.) edition; the one below is the cover of the paperback Ballantine (U.S.) edition which was my personal introduction, in 1977, to the world of Middle Earth:

1976Hobbitballantine

My father, who was then hospitalized following a heart attack, had first The Hobbit, and then all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, brought to him by a friend to read; as he finished one, I proceeded to devour it in turn. They have remained a major influence on me – literarily, linguistically, and philosophically – ever since!

So I salute the great Professor Tolkien and his epic achievement. May he rest forever in the Undying Lands, beyond the Sundering Seas!

If Middle Earth were the 21st century West….

 

I especially “like” this one:

Gondor calls for aid

Not that thoughts and prayers are not important! They are. And sometimes prayer is all one can do; if so, then one has an obligation to do what one can. I am not one of those who disparages people for doing all they can, or know how to, do! Even “positive energy” has its place. But if that is all King Theoden had done, not suiting actions to thoughts, Orcs and Haradrim would have been feasting in Minas Tirith, while the Lord of the Nazgûl reigned from the throne of the Kings of Men…

In real-world history, if thoughts, prayers, and positive energy had been all King Jan III Sobieski sent to the relief of Vienna, instead of Winged Hussars, Ottoman Turks would have ruled from the Imperial City, and the history of Europe and the world might have been much different!