J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Christopher died this week. Fans of Middle-earth are mourning the loss, and no wonder. We owe him much. As his father’s biggest fan, he knew what the rest of longed for: more. More history and stories of the world where hobbits live, and we got it. Without Christopher, The Silmarillion would never have been published.
As a writer who is also a Tolkien fan, I am most grateful for the series The History of Middle-Earth, which talks about changes made from draft to draft in Tolkien’s writings. Reading the four volumes pertaining to The Lord of the Rings taught me about the creative process and gives me hope as I write my own stories. (Writing novels can be a hard slog; I need all the hope I can get.)
When I first read The Return of the Shadow (The History of Middle-Earth, vol. 6), I was struck by the immense challenge Christopher tackled in deciphering his father’s drafts and mapping the evolution of his ideas. J.R.R.’s hand-writing is hard to read, and not all the documents were dated, but there were even greater difficulties. Some drafts were written on top of previous ones. Christopher did his best to read the words under the later version in order to identify what had changed. Given that The Lord of the Rings is one thousand pages long, it was no small task. We owe him a great debt for his dedicated and generous stewardship of his father’s literary legacy.
Sadly, I’ve missed my opportunity to thank him directly. I’m taking my regret as a reminder to speak up whenever I can. It’s too late to thank Christopher himself, but I can at least tell the world how grateful I am that he was willing to share so much of his father’s work with us.
If you can hear me, Chrisopher, thank you and safe travels. May you behold “white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” Rest well.
Which of the books Christopher Tolkien produced is most important to you?