I’ll be honest - when I sat down to write this article last week, I couldn’t bring myself to put words to digital paper at first. The news from the Tolkien Society that the son of J.R.R. Tolkien passed hit me hard - but I had no time to really think due to attending the Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor reveal event.
As the weekend went by I had a chance to reflect on the passing of a literary titan in his own right. Christopher Tolkien’s contributions to his father’s secondary universe cannot be overstated. By his tireless work, the world of Middle-earth is massive compared to what it would have been when his father passed away.
On Thursday, January 16th, the son of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher John Reuel Tolkien, passed away aged 95. Once the news was announced an outpouring of love from literary fans, Middle-earth scholars and more started to hit the Internet. I myself have probably retweeted more Christopher Tolkien tributes than anything else this week, and for good reason - Christopher Tolkien is, without a shadow of a doubt, why I love his father’s work so much.
Indeed, for many it’s the posthumous publications of much of his father’s work that many of us have enjoyed the last 50 years since J.R.R. Tolkien’s death. Christopher was named Executor of his father's estate upon his passing, but he fully took on the mantle, and in that time has published the unfinished work of his father, from the legendary history of Arda and Middle-earth, The Silmarillion in 1977 all that way to The Fall of Gondolin last year.
Image source: Charles E. Noad (via The Tolkien Society)
For me personally, it was The Silmarillion that really opened up Tolkien’s world. I had seen the films and read the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, but the extended universe that Christopher had edited and released captivated me - and still does 15 years after my first read through. Christopher kept his father’s legacy alive, working tirelessly to ensure that it was being read and represented in the highest fashion.
Reading about the Fall of Gondolin, the terrible Oath of Fëanor, the destruction of Westernesse and the diminishing of the Men of Númenor - all made possible because Christopher kept his father’s work alive since he passed. But being the caretaker of Middle-earth wasn’t all he did in his life - Christopher was, in his own right, a brilliant scholar and professor. He followed in his father’s footsteps after serving in World War II as a lecturer and tutor at Oxford. He was also known as a scholar in Old Icelandic, publishing The Saga of King Heidrek The Wise in 1960.
However, it was his work publishing his J.R.R. Tolkien’s notes and stitching together the stories his father meant to tell for the last 50 years have made the greatest impact. Millions around the world are inspired by the story of Beren and Lúthien, the courage of Fingolfin to defy and challenge Morgoth, as well sorrowful tale that is The Children of Húrin. And while the world may have at some point learned more about Professor Tolkien’s unfinished works, the passion Christopher showed in bringing the stories to life - and his ferocious defense of those stories was unparalleled.
The House of Finwë and its struggles during The Silmarillion, as well as the triumphs of the Sons of Fëanor and the Noldorin Exiles in Middle-earth are thrilling to read. Seeing these characters in the books and then recreated on screen in The Lord of the Rings Online roots that world more fully in Tolkien’s creations - even if The Silmarilion isn’t directly pulled from as source material by the video game.
In fact, I don’t think I would enjoy the world of Middle-earth in LotRO as much had I not delved into The Silmarillion as well as the 12-volume History of Middle-earth series. Being able to know more about Arda and the world Tolkien created has made me appreciate the dedicated work the LotRO team have poured into every detail even more. Learning about the Valacirca - the Sickle of the Valar - and knowing the story behind how Varda, the Star-kindler - set it as a challenge to Morgoth makes seeing the constellation in the sky in LotRO more meaningful.
Players on LotRO’s Landroval server took to the Party Tree in The Shire to celebrate Christopher Tolkien’s life yesterday. The fireworks were stupendous, and thankfully one Twitter user, @Ace_Gallifreya, captured some of the sights for posterity.
It was a very sad day indeed when the world learned of Christopher’s passing. And while the world is diminished knowing he’s no longer with us, we can thank Eru we had him for the time we did. The literary landscape is forever changed due to his dedication to the world his father created, and I can’t imagine a better caretaker of that legacy than Christopher himself.
“...and slowly the ship slipped down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and hear 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.” - The Grey Havens, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Namárië, Christopher. And Thank you.