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Tolkien, Christopher Reuel

Christopher Reuel Tolkien is probably best known as the dedicated and meticulous editor of his father's posthumous publications. Chr. Tolkien was born on November 21, 1924 while his father, J.R.R. Tolkien, was still working at the University of Leeds. He is the third and youngest son of Edith Tolkien (née Bratt) and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. After J.R.R. Tolkien's appointment to the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in 1925, the entire family moved from Leeds to Oxford, where Christopher Tolkien grew up and where he attended the Dragon School and the Oratory School (Reading).

His interest in his father's work dates back to an early date and he and his elder brothers made up the original audience of The Hobbit. Yet Christopher also took an interest in the legends of the time before the Third Age of Middle-earth and when his father started working on a sequel to The Hobbit after 1937—which would grow into The Lord of the Rings—, he became deeply involved in the whole process. He not only made fair copies of some chapters, but also drew the maps which proved invaluable for Tolkien in his labour to synchronize events and which still provide today's reader with guidance in Middle-earth. Furthermore, most of book four of The Lord of the Rings (Frodo and Sam's journey into Mordor) was sent serially to Christopher who, from 1943 to 1945, trained as a pilot in South Africa with the Royal Air Force. It is also from this time that more than seventy letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son survive, many of which were published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981).

Before joining the R.A.F., Christopher Tolkien had started studying at Oxford and after the war he returned to read English at Trinity College. He shared his father's enthusiasm for Old English, Middle English, Old Norse and the related literatures and specialised in these subjects. He also continued attending the meetings of the Inklings, a group of literary-minded men who gathered around C.S. Lewis—who was for a while Chr. Tolkien's tutor—and that included, among others, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis brother W.H. Lewis, Nevill Coghill, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield. The Inklings would typically gather once a week, discuss questions of literature, theology, philosophy, and read out to each other from their work in progress (see Carpenter; The Inklings).

After graduating from university, Christopher Tolkien worked as a tutor and lecturer in the English Faculty while completing a B.Litt. thesis, a commented edition and translation of the Old Norse Hervarar Saga. The study was published in 1960 as The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise. It is also during the 1950s that Chr. Tolkien begins to make a name for himself as a philologist and medievalist. Thus, he discussed the possible historical elements in the Old Norse poem "The Battle of the Goths and the Huns" and published the paper in 1955-56 in the Saga-Book (University College, London, for the Viking Society for Northern Research). In 1956 he wrote the introduction to E.O.G. Turville-Petre's edition of Hervarar Saga ok Heithreks, and two years later he co-edited, together with Nevill Coghill, Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale, which was followed in 1959 by The Nun's Priest's Tale (also with Nevill Coghill). In the same year, Faith Faulconbridge, whom Christopher Tolkien had married in 1951, gave birth to their son Simon. Faith and Christopher separated in 1963 and Christopher married Baillie Klass in 1967 with whom he has a son, Adam (born 1969), and a daughter, Rachel (born 1971).

Elected to a Fellowship at New College, Oxford, in Autumn 1963, Christopher Tolkien continued to lecture on Old English, Middle English and Old Norse languages and literatures. In 1969, he co-edited (together with Nevill Coghill) another of Chaucer's tales, The Man of Law's Tale.

After the death of his father in 1973, Christopher Tolkien became his literary executor. The first two posthumous publications of his father's writings appeared in 1975. One, the "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings", was published in Jared Lobdell's A Tolkien Compass (no longer included in the second edition, though) and is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's notes which he put together for translators of The Lord of the Rings. The other publication contains J.R.R. Tolkien's translations of the Middle English poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo.

Realising that the task of identifying, deciphering, classifying and finally editing the numerous notes and manuscript pages would claim all his attention and energy, Christopher Tolkien resigned his Fellowship in 1975 and soon afterwards moved with his family to southern France. There he dedicated the following decades to the daunting project of making available the material that illustrates and documents the growth of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium to a wider public. The first fruit of this labour was The Silmarillion which appeared 1977 and that, for the first time, made accessible to the general reader much of the mythological and historical background of The Lord of the Rings. Christopher Tolkien also provided notes on some of his father's pictures that appeared in calenders in the years 1976 to 1978, and he published in 1979 an annotated collection of Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien, which presented another side of Tolkien's creative and artistic mind (and which has been superseded by Hammond and Scull's 1995 J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator). The next year saw the publication of Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, which features material written after the completion of The Lord of the Rings, i.e. from the 1950s to the 1970s. In 1983, Christopher Tolkien edited The Monster and the Critics and Other Essays, a collection of scholarly papers by J.R.R. Tolkien, containing, among others, Tolkien's ground-breaking lecture on Beowulf from the year 1936 (see Drout's 2002 Beowulf and the Critics by J.R.R. Tolkien for an in-depth study of the development of this paper) and the important essay for the interpretation of The Lord of the Rings "On Fairy-Stories". The Book of Lost Tales, Part One was published in the same year and is the first volume of the twelve-volume The History of Middle-earth. From 1983 till 1996, Christopher Tolkien edited and published each year, with the exception of 1995, one volume of this series. The first two volumes, The Book of Lost Tales I & II (1983 & 1984), present the earliest forms of the legends and tales, dating back to the years 1916-1920, that were later edited in The Silmarillion. The third volume, The Lays of Beleriand (1985), comprises of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic poems that centre on Túrin (The Lay of the Children of Húrin, 1920-1925) and on Beren and Lúthien (The Lay of Leithian, 1925-1931; The Lay of Leithian Recommenced, 1949-1955). The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986) unites a collection of texts, maps and illustrations that pertain to the years 1926-1930 and illustrate the development of the cosmogony of the Elder Days. Volume five, The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987) gives the unfinished 'time-travel' story that Tolkien wrote in 1936-37 and, with the presentation of other writings, brings up the coverage of the development of Middle-earth to the inception of the writing of The Lord of the Rings in 1937. Volumes six to nine constitute a sub-series (The History of the Lord of the Rings) within the History of Middle-earth in so far as they provide a detailed account of the writing of The Lord of the Rings. The Return of the Shadow (1988) gathers the drafts, sketches and versions from the years 1937-39 and ends with the Fellowship in the Mines of Moria. The Treason of Isengard (1989) covers the revisions and new writings made during the years 1939-42 and brings the protagonists to Lórien, describes the breaking of the Fellowship and the encounters with the Riders of Rohan and Treebeard. The War of the Ring (1990), containing the writings from the period between 1942-46, takes the story almost to its end (The Last Debate). Sauron Defeated (1992) brings The History of The Lord of the Rings to a close and relates the events that mark the end of the Third Age (written 1946-48). The volume also features The Notion Club Papers, taking up the time-travel theme already encountered in The Lost Road. It was composed 1945-46 and shows how the world of Middle-earth comes into contact with the modern world of the 1980s. Volumes ten and eleven of the History of Middle-earth cover 'The Later Silmarillion'. Thus, Morgoth's Ring (1993) and The War of the Jewels (1994) contain material on the Elder Days that was composed after the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings (1948-60). The final volume twelve, The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996), collects a variety of texts related to the legendarium.

Christopher Tolkien's studies of medieval languages and literatures, his training as a philologist and editor of manuscripts as well as his intimate and first hand knowledge of his father's writings made him an ideal candidate for the task of identifying, deciphering, ordering, transcribing, commenting on, and finally editing the vast bulk of papers related to Tolkien's literary production. It is due to a unique combination of talents, scholarship, energy and filial duty that the Tolkien community has now, after 13 years of labour, a rare tool at their disposal for research into the literary genius of J.R.R. Tolkien. The manuscripts and notes predominantly concerned with the linguistic aspects of Middle-earth—some 3000 pages—have been entrusted by Christopher Tolkien to a group of American linguists in the early 1990s. They have, since then, edited and published some of those equally complex materials.

Next to his work as editor of his father's writings, Christopher Tolkien also made several recordings of passages from The Silmarillion (Of Beren and Lúthien, 1977; Of the Darkening of Valinor and Of the Flight of the Noldor, 1978). He thus continued a task he had already begun in the 1940s, when he had been appointed to read out aloud each new chapter of The Lord of the Rings at the meetings of the Inklings—who generally agreed that he did a much better job at this than his father. He also read the chapter The New Shadow (published 1996 in The Peoples of Middle-earth) at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford during the 1992 Tolkien Centenary Conference.

Furthermore, he appeared in at least one documentary (J.R.R.T.: A Portrait of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien 1892-1973 [Landseer Productions, 1992, longer version released on video 1996 as J.R.R.T.: A Film Portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien]).

Within the Tolkien Estate, which holds the copyright to most of the published works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien remains, as literary executor and general manager of the Company, the central figure.

Thomas Honegger

Further Reading

Anderson, Douglas A. 1997. 'Profile: Christopher Tolkien'. The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal 92:53-56.

Anderson, Douglas A. 2000. 'Christopher Tolkien: A Biliography'. In: Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter (eds.). 2000. Tolkien's Legendarium. Wesport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 247-252.

I would like to thank Douglas A. Anderson for his help and willingness to share his expertise with me, and Christopher Tolkien for his kindness in factually correcting this article.

See also: Life; Oxford; posthumous publications; Estate; History of Middle-earth; Tolkien, Bailee; Tolkien, Simon; Inklings; Lewis, C.S.; Silmarrillion.

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