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executor and spent countless hours sorting, deciphering, interpreting, editing and publishing his father’s mountains of unpublished literary output.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.
Tuor happens to be my favorite among Tolkien’s characters. He was born in the wake of battle, both in Middle-Earth and in France.
Rían, wife of Huor, dwelt with the people of the house of Hador; but when rumor came to Dor-Lómin of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad [the Battle of Unnumbered Tears], and yet she could hear no news of her lord, she became distraught and wandered forth into the wild alone. There she would have perished but the Grey-elves came to her aid. For there was a dwelling of this people in the mountains westward of Lake Mithrim; and thither they led her, and she was there delivered of a son before the end of the Year of Lamentation.
And Rían said to the Elves: ‘Let him be called TUOR, for that name his father chose, ere war came between us. And I beg of you to foster him, and keep him hidden in your care; for I forebode that great good, for Elves and Men, shall come from him. But I must go in search for Huor, my Lord.’
My father said more than once that ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ was the first of the tales of the First Age to be composed, and there is no evidence to set against his recollection. In a letter of 1964 he declared that he wrote it ‘ “out of my head” during sick-leave from the army in 1917’ (…). In a letter written to me in 1944 he said: ‘I first began to write [THE SILMARILLION] in army huts, crowded, filled with the noise of gramophones’; and indeed some lines of verse in which appear the Seven Names of Gondolin are scribbled on the back of a piece of paper setting out ‘the chain of responsibility in a battalion’. The earliest manuscript is still in existence, filling two small school exercise books; it was rapidly written in pencil (…). In the spring of 1920 he was invited to read a paper to the Essay Club of his college (Exeter) ; and he read ‘The Fall of Gondolin’. (…) By way of introduction (…) he apologized for not having been able to produce a critical paper, and went on: ‘Therefore I have fallen back on this Tale. It has of course never seen the light before…. A complete cycle of events in an Elfinesse of my own imagining has for some time past grown up (rather, has been constructed) in my mind. Some of the episodes have been scribbled down….”
And Tuor grew up among them [the Grey-elves]; and he was fair of face, and golden-haired after the manner of his father’s kin, and he became strong and tall and valiant, and being fostered by the Elves he had lore and skill no less than the princes of the Edain, ere ruin came upon the North.
All quotes taken from: J.R.R. Tolkien: Unfinished Tales. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. 2006. The featured image is cropped; the original was painted by Ted Nasmith.
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.