Author, editor and scholar

Born: November 21, 1924;

Died: January 16, 2020.

CHRISTOPHER Tolkien, who has died aged 95, was an English editor, author, literary translator and academic, who would have been recognisable enough through his surname alone. As the son of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings’ author JRR Tolkien, he bore the distinctive name of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated writers; yet Tolkien’s contribution to his father’s work, both during and after the elder Tolkien’s life, was key to its execution and legacy in many ways.

In his youth, Christopher was a reader and helpful critic of his father’s famous manuscripts, receiving posted drafts of The Lords of the Rings while on wartime service, while in later life he made his own, ever-increasing impact upon the legend of his father’s invented Middle-earth. Following JRR Tolkien’s death in 1973 at the age of 81, Christopher became the executor and diligent chronicler of his legacy, compiling and releasing volumes of his drafts and unfinished writings, and consolidating a large body of work which already consisted of a number of meticulously-researched and realised fantasy volumes.

Most famously, Christopher constructed and edited his father’s third most famous work, The Silmarillion, for posthumous publication in 1977, a task he agreed to before JRR’s death. A series of stories which tell the wider tales of the fictional universe in which Middle-earth sits, and which he began writing in 1914, The Silmarillion was originally presented by Tolkien Snr in rough form to his publisher as the follow-up to The Hobbit, which was published in 1937.

Its rejection saw Tolkien begin work on The Lord of the Rings instead, with Christopher (and his Canadian assistant Guy Gavriel Kay, later a celebrated fantasy author in his own right) compiling his drafts and notes, and the younger Tolkien’s own stylistically sympathetic linking text, into the new narrative. Between 1983 and 1996 Christopher Tolkien created what might be considered his masterpiece as an editor – The History of Middle-earth, a collection of twelve volumes which gathered much of his father’s writings together into an extensive examination of his creative process.

In more recent years, Christopher – as editor once more – and illustrator Alan Lee created three books of stand-alone JRR Tolkien stories drawn from much of the unfinished material used in the Silmarillion and elsewhere; The Children of Hurin (2007), Beren and Luthien (2017) and The Fall of Gondolin (2018), each set long before the events of The Hobbit. Much like The Silmarillion, the mixed critical reaction to these diligent reconstructions of JRR Tolkien’s style were in inverse proportion to the enthusiasm with which Tolkien’s fans received these welcome expansions to his ‘legendarium’, his wider mythos

One of Tolkien’s most unusual early contributions was the map of his father’s invented lands which he drew in 1953 for the first print edition of The Lord of the Rings. Created using JRR Tolkien’s own hastily-assembled rough map, which he used for reference while writing, Tolkien’s map was hastily-drawn and not entirely accurate to the story, so he redrew it in more detail for his edited collection of his father’s Unfinished Tales in 1980. A small but distinctive element of the Lord of the Rings mythos, this map gave birth to the now common concept in fantasy writing that new imagined lands should come with their own complete physical geography; the original ion of the British Library.

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien was born in Leeds in 1924, the third of four children of John Ronald Reuel and Edith (nee Bratt) Tolkien. He was privately educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and the Oratory School near Reading, and studied an MA and a B.Litt. in English Literature at Trinity College, Oxford. He joined the university’s Inklings literary group alongside his father and authors including CS Lewis, and receiving the Bodley Medal from his alma mater in 2016. Between school and university, he trained with the Royal Air Force in South Africa during the Second World War.

In addition to the above, Tolkien also edited, jointly or alone, collections of his father’s letters, essays and drawings, and the elder Tolkien’s translation of the epic poem Beowulf, as well as chairing the Tolkien Estate. He was ambivalent about Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of his father’s work, reaching a financial settlement with the producers prior to the Hobbit trilogy. From his first marriage he had a son, Simon (from whom he was briefly estranged, due to disputes over his father’s estate), and two children, Adam and Rachel, with his second wife Baillie Klass. From 1975 the couple lived in the south of France, where Tolkien died.