Christopher John Reuel Tolkien died on 16 January 2020, at the age of 95, in Draguignan, Var, France.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s third son Christopher passed on an year ago today. He was his father’s literary executor and spent countless hours sorting, deciphering, interpreting, editing and publishing his father’s mountains of unpublished literary output. With him, the person who was most closely connected with and most knowledgeable about his father’s work from an early age on left Middle Earth and sailed into the West. Don’t even know where to start expressing our gratitude… Maybe best to keep it simple:
Rest in Peace, Mr. Tolkien. Thank you for all the work you have done.
In this video, published in 1992, Christopher Tolkien comes alive again. Among others, you will also meet his father again, two of Christopher’s siblings (one of whom is still alive), and well-known scholars interested in the world of J.R.R.T. such as Tom Shippey.
There is The Bard, and then there is The Professor.
Today 47 years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien sailed into the West. We hope that on the Blessed Shore, he is raising a glass today with his son Christopher, looking back at their handiwork, hopefully satisfied with the gift they have given to us who remain behind on the Hither Shore.
Requiescat in Pace, Professor.
Featured Image by Alan Lee, above painting by Donato Giancola.
“As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself”.
“The Declaration is a letter from the barons and whole community of the kingdom of Scotland to the pope in 1320, asking him to recognise Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.
The Declaration was in Latin and was sealed by eight earls and about forty barons. Over the centuries various copies and translations have been made, including a recent microscopic edition.”
The Declaration of Arbroath and Scottish independence
“The Declaration was written during the long war of independence with England which started with Edward l’s attempt to conquer Scotland in 1296. When the deaths of Alexander III and his granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway, left Scotland without a monarch, Edward used the invitation to help choose a successor as an excuse to revive English claims of overlordship. When the Scots resisted, he invaded.
Edward refused to allow William Wallace’s victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297 to derail his campaign. In 1306 Robert the Bruce seized the throne and began a long struggle to secure his position against internal and external threat. His success at Bannockburn in 1314, when he defeated an English army under Edward II, was a major achievement but the English still did not recognise Scotland’s independence or Bruce’s position as king.
On the European front, by 1320 Scottish relations with the papacy were in crisis after they defied papal efforts to establish a truce with England. When the pope excommunicated the king and three of his bishops, the Scots sent the Declaration of Arbroath as part of a diplomatic counter-offensive. The original letter, delivered to the pope in Avignon, is lost, but we know it reached him. He wrote to Edward II urging him to make peace, but it was not until 1328 that Scotland’s independence was acknowledged.
The Declaration was probably drawn up by Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath. It was authenticated by seals, as documents at that time were not signed. Only 19 seals now remain of what might have been 50 originally, and many are in poor condition.”
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Although thoroughly postmodern, the American poet Theodore Roethke would have been at home with almost any of the lyric poets of the 16th and 17th centuries.
In a Dark Time
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
If you are looking for something to read in a meditative way during the next 40 days, try Tolkien’s ‘Leaf by Niggle’.
There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start sometime, but he did not hurry with his preparations.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle
Of the short fiction J.R.R. Tolkien wrote and published, Leaf by Niggle is probably the most fitting for the upcoming time of Lent, if you are inclined towards such things. Of all times of the year, this is when we consider this life and that which is to come. Leaf by Niggle is undoubtedly autobiographical as well as an allegory, as can be seen right from the start. In good Tolkien-ian manner, Leaf by Niggle begins by relating this, that is, his own story to the larger historical ‘cauldron of stories’.
Allegorical meaning is signaled at once by the first sentence: ‘There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make.’ The reason for his journey is never explained, nor how he knows that he has to make one. But there should be no doubt as to what this means. The Old English poem ‘Bede’s Death-Song’ begins, in its original Northumbrian dialect, ‘Fore thaem neidfaerae’, ‘(Be)fore the need-fare’. A ‘need-fare’, or ‘need-faring’, is a compulsory journey, a journey you have to take, and that journey, Bede declares, begins on one’s ‘deothdaege’ or ‘death-day’. So the long journey the ‘little man’ Niggle has to make – which all men have to make – is death. The image is at once ‘as old as the hills’, completely temporary, and totally familiar. This is the easiest of the equations in the extended allegory.
~ Tom Shippey: J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
Have we forgotten, or do we just habitually underestimate the power of song?
There Beren lies. His grief no tear,
his despair no horror has nor fear,
waiting for footsteps, a voice, for doom.
Silence profounder than the tomb
of long-forgotten kings, neath years
and sands uncounted laid on biers
and buried everlasting-deep,
slow and unbroken round him creep.
The silences were sudden shivered
to silver fragments. Faint they quivered
a voice in song that walls of rock,
enchanted hill, and bar and lock,
and powers of darkness pierced with light.
He felt about him the soft night
of many stars, and in the air
were rustling and a perfume rare;
the nightingales were in the trees,
slim fingers flute and viol seize
beneath the moon, and one more fair
than all there be or ever were
upon a lonely knoll of stone
in shimmering raiment danced alone.
Then in his dream it seemed he sang,
and loud and fierce his chanting rang,
old songs of battle in the North,
of breathless deeds, of marching forth
to dare uncounted odds and break
great powers, and towers, and strong walls shake;
and over all the silver fire
that once Men named the Burning Briar,
The seven stars that Varda set
about the North, were burning yet,
a light in darkness, hope in woe,
the emblem vast of Morgoth’s foe.
‘Huan, Huan! I hear a song
far under welling, far but strong
a song that Beren bore aloft.
I hear his voice, I have heard it oft
in dream and wandering.’ Whispering low
thus Lúthien spake. On the bridge of woe
in mantle wrapped at dead of night
she sat and sang, and to its height
and to its depths the Wizard’s Isle,
rock upon rock and pile on pile
trembling echoed. There werewolves howled,
and Huan hidden lay and growled
watchful listening in the dark,
waiting for battle, cruel and stark.
~ From J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lay of Leithian. Illustrations by Alan Lee
Here’s a more scholarly way of expressing how (and why) Tolkien saw himself as a discoverer of legends rather than an inventor of stories.
But Tolkien also thought – and this takes us back to the roots of his inventions – that philology could take you back even beyond the ancient texts it studied. He believed that it was possible sometimes to feel one’s way back from words as they survived in later periods to concepts which had long since vanished, but which had surely existed, or else the word would not exist. (…) However fanciful Tolkien’s creation of Middle-Earth was, he did not think he was ENTIRELY making it up. He was ‘reconstructing’, he was harmonizing contradictions in his source-texts, sometimes he was supplying entirely new concepts (like hobbits), but he was also reaching back to an imaginative world which he believed had once really existed, at least in a collective imagination: and for this he had very great deal of admittedly scattered evidence.
~ Tom Shippey: J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of the Century.
Remembering Elisha Andrews and his wife Ruth Loveland takes us back to colonial America.
This past Wednesday 270 years ago, our 8th (and 9th) great-grandfather Elisha Andrews passed on in his home village in Glastonbury, Hartford Co., CT. To the day half a year later, his wife Ruth (née Loveland) followed him. On his Find-A-Grave memorial, the following is quoted (see also the featured image):
Elisha Andrews, eldest son of Stephen, of Glastonbury, and his wife, Sarah Gillett; record of his birth on the Hartford town books. He lived in East Glastonbury, and succeeded his father as clerk of the school society; he was both mechanic and farmer, as was common in our early history. He married the 9th February, 1726, Ruth (Loveland). He was the first of four of the name in as many generations, being great-grand-father of Capt. Elisha, of South Manchester, now, 1867, living at the age of 78. Rev. A. B. Chapin. D. D., in his History of Glastonbury, says, Elisha Andrews, as clerk from 1743 to 1749, had few peculiarities of spelling, and wrote a respectable hand. He died the 29th January, 1750, aged 43 years, 7 months. 19 days. He seems to have been a school-teacher, in 1747.
Genealogical history of John and Mary Andrews, who settled in Farmington, Conn., 1640: embracing their descendants to 1872; with an introduction of miscellaneous names of Andrews, with their progenitors as far as known; to which is added a list of some of the authors, clergymen, physicians and soldiers of the name.
by Andrews, Alfred, 1797-1876
Said birth took place on 10 Jun 1706, 13 years after Glastonbury was founded; he was the first of four children born to Stephen and Sarah.
Elisha and Ruth in turn had five children, their 4th child and last son Robert being our direct ancestor. Both Elisha and Ruth died before they reached the age of 50: He passed on at age 43, and she one day before her 48th birthday, only 6 days after their second son Benjamin had died at the age of 22. The exact place of their burial is not known, but we assume they all were laid to rest in or around East Glastonbury. Makes one wonder if smallpox were rampant in Glastonbury at the time since both parents and a son died within 6 months from one other. After all, smallpox was a leading cause of death in 18th century Europe, and the widespread use of variolation in the North American colonies reduced the impact only during the latter part of the 18th century and mainly among the wealthy classes, too late and possibly not accessible for Elisha, Ruth and their son Benjamin.
Anyway, here we are in pre-revolutionary Connecticut, in a place where the now oldest continually operating ferry in the United States is located, the Rocky Hill – Glastonbury ferry, dating back to 1655. Today, the trip across the Connecticut River takes approximately 4 minutes, but we assume it took longer back in the day: Originally the ferry was a raft that was poled across the Connecticut River. Later, it was powered by a horse on a treadmill before the ferry was upgraded to a steamship in 1876.
There is another little historical curiosity concerning our ancestors and Glastonbury, CT: Our Elisha and his father were succeeded in their teacher-position by a certain Noah Webster, who was born in West Hartford in 1758, eight years after Elisha’s death, and who taught in Glastonbury for “a short time” around 1779, approximately 30 years after Elisha. The name Noah Webster is nowadays firmly associated with “dictionary”, especially with the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary that was first published in 1828 as “An American Dictionary of the English Language”. Webster has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education”, and his “Blue-backed Speller” books taught five generations of American children how to spell and read.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892 – 1973) and Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (1924 – 2020)
Christopher Tolkien passed on last week, almost 47 years after his father J.R.R Tolkien. The two appear to have had much in common.
By the late nineteen-thirties all this work on THE SILMARILLION had resulted in a large body of manuscript, much of it in an exquisite hand. (…) Within the family the most frequent listener to the stories was Tolkien’s third son, Christopher. The boy, wrote Tolkien in his diary, had grown into ‘a nervy, irritable, cross-grained, self-tormenting, cheeky person. Yet there is something intensely lovable about him, to me at any rate, from the very similarity between us.’ On many evenings in the early nineteen-thirties Christopher, huddled for warmth by the study stove, would listen motionless while his father told him (in impromptu fashion, rather than reading aloud) about the elvish wars against the black power, and of how Beren and Lúthien made their perilous journey to the very heart of Morgoth’s iron stronghold. These were not mere stories: they were legends that came alive as his father spoke, vivid accounts of a grim world where foul orcs and a sinister Necromancer guarded the way, and a dreadful red-eyed wolf tore the elvish companions of Beren to pieces one by one; but a world also where the three great elvish jewels, the Silmarilli, shone with a strange and powerful light, a world where against all odds the quest could be victorious.
Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
I believe that we need good tale-tellers now, as much as we did when the oral tradition was the only way that they were passed on; that the active transmission of stories plays a vital role in the development of the brain. (…) The most beautiful aspect of this shared story-telling (…) is that the collaboration and engagement between teller and audience means that they are embarking on a journey together, which can lead to the most unexpected and wondrous of places.
Alan Lee: Afterword in Tales From the Perilous Realm
I will say no more now. But I should like ere long to have a long talk with YOU. For if as seem probable I shall never write any ordered biography – it is against my nature, which expresses itself about things deepest felt in tales and myths – someone close in heart to me should know something of things that records do not record.”
J.R.R. Tolkien to Christopher Tolkien in a letter dated 11 July 1972
Apparently Christopher Tolkien went about editing and publishing his father’s autobiography all these years, and what a special autobiography it is. But now what?
He sat down under a very beautiful distant tree – a variation of the Great Tree, but quite individual, or it would be with a little more attention – and he considered where to begin work, and where to end it, and how much time was required.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle
I have a good idea where father and son are now sitting, together again after almost half a century. Surely they have much to talk about.