Rest in Peace, Christopher Tolkien

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executor and spent countless hours sorting, deciphering, interpreting, editing and publishing his father’s mountains of unpublished literary output.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.

(Neo-) Classical Sunday: Rohan and Gondor Themes

The Lord of the Rings film series consists of three epic fantasy adventure films directed by Peter Jackson, based on the novel written by J. R. R. Tolkien. The films are subtitled just like the books as The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003).

Compilation of Rohan and Gondor Themes

“Few movies out there have a soundtrack that is as awe-inspiring and jaw dropping as the score for the Lord of the Rings.”

Cultured Wednesday: Giancola’s Tolkien

“Look again. There’s a lot more to see.”

J.R.R. Tolkien appears to have viewed his sub-creation as a world that others can and probably should add to.

Surely plenty of artists have tried their hand on themes from The Professor’s stories: Names such as Alan Lee, John Howe and Ted Nasmith come to mind.  Today, we were introduced to another contemporary painter who appears to love Middle-Earth: Donato Giancola.  Here is an example of his art:

The Hobbit Donato Giancola

One of the things I like particularly about Giancola’s work is that the characters from Tolkien’s books do not look like the actors that portray them in Peter Jackson’s movies.  Precisely because they have all done a terrific job portraying all those wonderful Tolkien’ian characters, they have made it quite hard to sever one’s imagination from their faces and voices.  Mr. Giancola does not seem to have this problem and I am very thankful for it.  Look at this example of Gandalf and Frodo:

Frodo and Gandalf

Now, I am no expert, so don’t take my word for anything concerning art, ask John Howe!  Here’s what he says, quoted from Mr. Giancola’s website:

“There’s more to Donato Giancola’s art than just a pretty face. Underneath the incredibly meticulous surface of his paintings is concealed a love of perspective and form, an intimate understanding of the human body, a historian’s knowledge of costume and armour, an infallible sense of implicit narrative, visual storytelling and mythical history. It’s just that you’re so rapt gazing at all the mind-blowingly pretty bits that you tend to miss it. Look again. There’s a lot more to see.”

-John Howe, concept designer, artist, historian

One last example, this time not from Tolkien’s world but from the Magic: The Gathering game cards.  It is titled ‘Amber Prison”:



Our Own Dear John Ronald: Old Customs

“What’s wrong with the old customs?”

The first of Sam and Rosie’s children was born on the 25th of March, a date that Sam noted.
‘Well, Mr. Frodo,’ he said.  ‘I’m in a bit of a fix.  Rose and me had settled to call him Frodo, with your leave; but its’ not HIM, it’s HER.  Though as pretty a maidchild as anyone could hope for, taking after Rose more than me, luckily.  So we don’t know what to do.’
‘Well, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘what’s wrong with the old customs?  Choose a flower name like Rose.  Half the maidchildren in the Shire are called by such names, and what could be better?’
‘I suppose you’re right, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam.  ‘I’ve heard some beautiful names on my travels, but I suppose they’re a bit too grand for daily wear and tear, as you might say.  The Gaffer, he says: “Make it short, and then you won’t have to cut it short before you can use it.”  But if it’s to be a flower name, then I don’t trouble about the length: it must be a beautiful flower, because, you see, I think she is very beautiful, and is going to be beautifuller still.’
Frodo thought for a moment.  ‘Well, Sam, what about ELANOR, the sun-star, you remember the little golden flower in the grass of Lothlórien?’
‘You’re right again, Mr. Frodo!’ said Sam delighted.  ‘That’s what I wanted.’

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

What indeed?


The Road Goes Ever On and On

This day in 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to Mable Suffield and Arthur Reuel Tolkien.  His father’s name would be the name J.R.R. would become famous under some 60 years later, but his heart was in the ancestral home of the Suffield’s in England’s West Midlands.  Mabel and Belladonna Took surely bear some resemblance, and so do the Tolkien’s and the Baggins’, but John Ronald’s sub-creation grew out of the leaf mold of much more than ‘mere biography’.

For John Ronald, the Road started in a windy, dusty yet strangely beautiful foreign country, far away from what would become the home of his heart.  It ended in the heart of Oxford, seventy-some years later.  And in between, something wonderful grew.  Read his Mythopoeia poem to peek behind the scenes.

the grey havens

And for us, the Road still goes on, from the Door where it began to wherever our feet, willing or weary, will eventually lead us.

Happy Birthday, dear John Ronald.  And Thank You.  You have given us so much…

Our Own Dear John Ronald: What Art Can Do

Art with a capital A.

A minstrel of Gondor stood forth, and knelt, and begged leave to sing.  And behold!, he said:

‘Lo! lords and knights and men of valour unashamed, kings and princes, and fair people of Gondor, and Riders of Rohan, and ye sons of Elrond, and Dúnedain of the North, and Elf and Dwarf, and greathearts of the Shire, and all free folk of the West, now listen to my lay.  For I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.’

And when Sam heart that he laughed out loud for sheer delight, and he stood up and cried: ‘O great glory and splendor!  And all my wishes have come true!’  And then he wept.

And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed.  And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Sounds like Art with a capital A.

Featured John Howe’s depiction of Frodo and Sam, and Gollum, on their way to Mount Doom.


Our Own Dear John Ronald: Copyists’ Ignorant Errors

‘Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.’

Balrogs owe a part of their existence to an editorial problem.  There is an Old English poem called EXODUS, like several Old English poems a paraphrase of a part of the Bible.  (…) [Tolkien] thought on linguistic grounds that it was older than BEOWULF, and he thought that like the BEOWULF-poet, the EXODUS-poet had known a good deal about the native pre-Christian mythology, which could with care be retrieved from his copyists’ ignorant errors.  In particular, the poet at several points mentions the SIGELWARA LAND, the ‘land of the Sigelware’.  In modern dictionaries and editions, these ‘Sigelware’ are invariably translated as ‘Ethiopians’.  Tolkien thought, as often, that that was a mistake.  He thought the name was another compound, (…) and that it should have been written *SIGEL-HEARWA.  Furthermore, he suggested (…) that a *SIGEL-HEARWA was a kind of fire-giant.  The first element in the compound meant both ‘sun’ and ‘jewel’; the second was related to the Latin CARBO, soot.  When an Anglo-Saxon from the pre-literate Dark Age said SIGELHEARWA, before any Englishman had ever heard of Ethiopia or the Book of Exodus, Tolkien believed that what he meant was ‘rather a son of Múspell [the Old Norse fire-giant who will bring on Ragarök] than of Ham, the ancestors of the Silhearwan with red-hot eyes that emitted sparks, with faces black as soot’.

The fusion of ‘sun’ and ‘jewel’ perhaps had something to do with Tolkien’s concept of the SILMARIL.  The idea of a fire-spirit re-emerges in the brief glimpse of the orc-chieftain who stabs Frodo, with his ‘swart’ face, red tongue and ‘eyes like coals’, but it also gave Tolkien Durin’s Bane, the Balrog. (…)  The clash of Gandalf and the Balrog produces (…) feelings of mystery: we hear of, but do not understand, the opposition between ‘the Secret Fire … the flame of Anor’, and ‘the dark fire … flame of Udûn’.  What Tolkien does in such passages is to satisfy the urge to know more (the urge he himself felt as an editor of texts so often infuriatingly incomplete), while retaining and even intensifying the counterbalancing pleasure of seeming always on the edge of a new discovery, looking into a world that seems far fuller than the little at present known.  If gold and greed and mastery are ‘the desire of the hearts of dwarves’, then words and links and inferences are the lust of philologists.  Tolkien had that lust as strongly as anyone ever has, but he felt it was one which could be strongly shared.

~ Tom Shippey: J.R.R. Tolkien.  Author of the Century.

balrog and gandalf movie

Our Own Dear John Ronald: The Ultimate Artists

Ars longa, vita brevis? Not for the Elves.

Tolkien believed devoutly that there had once been an Eden on earth, and that man’s original sin and subsequent dethronement were responsible for the ills of the world; but his elves, though capable of sin and error, have not ‘fallen’ in the theological sense, and so are able to achieve much beyond the powers of men.  They are craftsmen, poets, scribes, creators of works of beauty far surpassing human artefacts.  Most important of all they are, unless slain in battle, immortal.  Old age, disease, and death do not bring their work to an end while it is still unfinished or imperfect.  They are therefore the ideal of every artist.

These, then, are the elves of THE SILMARILLION, and of THE LORD OF THE RINGS.  Tolkien himself summed up their nature when he wrote of them: ‘They are made by man in his own image and likeness; but freed from those limitations which he feels most to press upon him.  They are immortal, and their will is directly effective for the achievement of imagination and desire.’

Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography


Our Own Dear John Ronald: Dvergatal

In the original Old Norse, the Dvergatal contains rather more than sixty names, mostly strung together as a simple rhythmic list.

Tolkien found the dwarf-names in the poem ‘Völuspá’, ‘The Sybil’s Vision’, one section of which is called the ‘Dvergatal’, ‘the Tally of the Dwarves’.  (…)  Tolkien did not just copy ‘the Tally of the Dwarves”, or quarry it for names.  He must rather have looked at it, refused to see it, as most scholars do, as a meaningless or no longer comprehensible rigmarole, and instead asked himself a string of questions about it.  What, for instance, is ‘Gandálfr’ doing in the list, when the second element is quite clearly ‘álfr’, elf, a creature in all tradition quite distinguished from a dwarf? (…)


In early drafts of ‘The Hobbit’ Gandalf was the name given to the chief dwarf, while in the first edition what Bilbo sees that first morning is just ‘a little old man’.  Even in the first edition, the little old man’s staff soon comes into the story, while by the third edition (…) Gandalf has become ‘an old man with a staff‘ (…).  This seems highly suitable.  Even now the ‘magic wand’ is the common property of the stage-magician, while in all popular and learned literary tradition, from Shakespeare’s Prospero to Milton’s Comus or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, the staff is the distinguishing mark of the wizard.  It looks as if Tolkien sooner or later interpreted the first element of ‘Gandálfr’, quite plausibly, as ‘wand’ or ‘staff’, while the second element, as said above, obviously means ‘elf’.  Now Gandalf in Tolkien is definitely not an elf, but then it turns out that he is not just an ‘old man’ either; one can see that to those who knew no better (people like Éomer in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ much later on) he might well seem distinctly ‘elvish’.  Tolkien seems to have concluded at some point that ‘Gandálfr’ means ‘staff-elf’, and that this must be a name for a wizard.  And yet the name is there in the ‘Dvergatal’, so that the wizard must in some way have been mixed up with dwarves.  Could it be that the reason the ‘Dvergatal’ had been preserved was that it was the last fading record of something that once had happened, some great event in a non-human mythology, an ‘Odyssey’ of the dwarves?  This is, anyway, what Tolkien makes of it.  ‘The Hobbit’, one might say, is the story that lies behind and makes sense of the ‘Dvergatal’, and much more indirectly gives a kind of context even to ‘Snow White’ and the half-ruined fairy-tales of the brothers Grimm.

~ Tom Shippey:  J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of the Century.

entering Mirkwood

Our Own Dear John Ronald: The Energy of Old Words

“Tolkien was almost excessively ‘tough-minded’: (…) all drove him to work out from single words, or cruxes, or kernels, or nuggets.”

[Philological curiosity] was the natural state, [and Tolkien’s success went] far to proving his point about the naturalness of philology and the appeal of names, words and linguistic styles; and in the wider sense of philology as that branch of learning which ‘presented to lovers of poetry and history fragments of a noble past that without it would have remained for ever dead and dark’ (from Tolkien’s Essays), he showed that its appeal too was not confined to antiquity.  I do not see how Tolkien can be denied the tribute of having enlarged his readers’ apprehensions (of language), or their human sympathies (with the disciplined, or the heroic, or the addicted, or the self-sacrificing).  But most of all I think his utility for the lover of literature lies in the way he showed creativity arising from the ramifications of words: unpredictable, certainly, but not chaotic or senseless, and carrying within themselves very strong suggestions of ‘the reality of history’ and ‘the reality of human nature’, and how people react to their world.  (…)  Words, ancient words, do not have to be hooked together to make something.  They have their own energy and struggle towards their own connections.  Observing this impulse and co-operating with it is as good a guide for an artist as turning within oneself to the inarticulate.

Tom Shippey: The Road to Middle Earth: Afterward.

the addicted
I do not see how Tolkien can be denied the tribute of having enlarged his readers’ human sympathies (with the disciplined – like Sam -, or the addicted – like Gollum -, or the self-sacrificing – like Frodo).

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