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Remembering Christopher Tolkien, 1924–2020

Christopher Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien

760 words

J. R. R. Tolkien’s youngest son, Christopher, died on January 15 at the age of 95. Even in old age, Christopher cut a striking scholarly figure, sitting as he did in a green cardigan before a log fire. His reedy voice, occasionally crackling like the dry wood in the stone hearth at his feet, carrying with it subtle wisps of academic gravitas, as smoky shadows curled like grey-blue snakes around a towering bookcase filled with leather-bound tomes looming like Orthanc over his shoulder. Shelves stacked with studies of ancient texts like the Ancrene Wisse and the Ormulum. The whole scene — a sequence from a documentary entitled J.R.R.T: A Film Portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien (1996) — is somewhat reminiscent of the ominous expository chapter “The Shadow of The Past” from Tolkien’s magnum opus. A prescient image, given Christopher’s filial crusade to preserve the integrity of his father’s work and bring unpublished manuscripts like The Silmarillion (1977) and Unfinished Tales (1980) to light.

Christopher, born in Leeds while his father tutored at University there and later educated at Oxford’s famous Dragon School, joined the Royal Air Force and served in South Africa before lecturing at New College Oxford from 1964 to 1975 and publishing his own translation of The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (1960). Described by his father as his “chief critic and collaborator,” he was warmly welcomed by such intellectual giants as C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Warren Lewis, and Nevill Coghill, as a junior member of the famed Inklings group that met at the Eagle and Child Inn on St Giles, Oxford.

Christopher only left his role at the thirteenth-century cloistered college to work on his recently deceased father’s papers in the mid-1970s. It was a decades-long and painstakingly laborious task that he maintained, with great stamina and energy right up until the end of his life. Christopher diligently edited the 12 volume History of Middle Earth, The Children of Hurin (2007), The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (2009), The Fall of Arthur (2013), Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary (2014), Beren and Luthien (2017), and The Fall of Gondolin (2018).

Sadly, Christopher’s was unable to ensure the fidelity of Peter Jackson film versions of both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Speaking to Le Monde from his villa in the South of France in 2012, Christopher accused Jackson of having “eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.” He continued:

Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time . . . the chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me. Such commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: turning my head away.

And indeed, that is exactly what he did by also refuting the recent and rather underwhelming Tolkien biopic starring Nicholas Hoult and Lilly Collins — a lead I shall follow when the Amazon serialization of the prequel to The Lord of the Rings hits the screens, a televisual spectacular allegedly focusing on the Second Age of Middle Earth and starring the Iranian Nazanin Boniadi and Puerto Rican Ismael Cruz Cordova, a somewhat incongruous piece of casting which will no doubt be supplemented by various south-east Asians and Africans over the course of the plot. Perhaps it is best that Christopher did not live to see his efforts sullied by such Hollywood virtue signaling.

So as per Bilbo’s Last Song, I say adieu to a great man who fulfilled the wishes of all Tolkien purists and hope that he may rest in the knowledge that his endeavors were not in vain.

Day is ended, dim my eyes,
but journey long before me lies.
Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
The ship’s beside the stony wall.
Foam is white and waves are grey;
beyond the sunset leads my way.
Foam is salt, the wind is free;
I hear the rising of the Sea.

Farewell, friends! The sails are set,
the wind is east, the moorings fret.
Shadows long before me lie,
beneath the ever-bending sky,
but islands lie behind the Sun
that I shall raise ere all is done;
lands there are to west of West,
where night is quiet and sleep is rest.

Guided by the Lonely Star,
beyond the utmost harbour-bar,
I’ll find the heavens fair and free,
and beaches of the Starlit Sea.
Ship, my ship! I seek the West,
and fields and mountains ever blest.
Farewell to Middle-earth at last.
I see the Star above my mast!

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6 Comments

  1. Traddles
    Posted January 19, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute to Christopher Tolkien–someone who, with Roger Scruton, is hopefully finding a new home “west of West.”

    Along with their scholarship and storytelling, I appreciate how the Tolkiens understood the value of such things as home, friendship, duty, love, and one’s people.

    I hope that when we turn things around, we can reinstitute those “cloistered colleges,” where real learning and scholarship can thrive again, protected from Political Correctness.

    • Fenek Solere
      Posted January 19, 2020 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Dear Traddles,
      Thank you for your kind words. Like you, I see in characters like Tolkien, Scruton et al, people to look up to, emulate and seek to celebrate. It is very noticeable that The Sunday Times in the UK completely ignored the passing of both of these ‘giants’. Here at CC we honour the great and the good!
      Best Wishes
      FS

  2. karsten
    Posted January 19, 2020 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    He can have his opinion of the films. As far as I’m concerned, the LOTR trilogy was a masterpiece and fully faithful to the spirit of Tolkien’s works — and even improved on them in some regards, particularly in narrative terms. Did they have weaknesses? Yes, but so did Tolkien’s novels.

    The Hobbit is another matter, but it’s an inferior book to begin with, and Jackson was dealing with far more studio pressure and was given zero preparation time, coming in mid-stream after Del Toro abandoned the movie.

    As for the forthcoming series, it is guaranteed to be drowning in wokeism. Its explicit purpose will be to show non-white Easternlings and Southerlings (sp?) as heroic POCs. And it’s guaranteed that the series will be chock full of Nordic villains. It will be a politically-corrected woke-pious antithesis to the movies; deliberately so.

    • Vauquelin
      Posted January 20, 2020 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Might I dub this new trend of PC fantasy as “wokus pocus”?

  3. Martin Haan
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Nazanin Boniadi is not an ethnic Iranian (which, of course, is different from Iranian nationality, Iran being a multiethnic and multiracial civilization comprising peoples of all shades and colours, including Caucasians as White as your average Northern European to Blacks who are descendents of sub-Saharan African slaves imported by the Portuguese to Hormozgon in the 1500s.) Like many so-called Zionist “Iranians” in Hollywood (like the notoriously anti-Persian propagandist and pan-Turkic agitator Shoreh Aghdashloo), she is of Turkic Azeri and Turkmen background, which is evidenced by her facial features. It goes without saying that like Aghdashloo (whose Turkic features are even more pronounced than that of Boniadi) and others of her ilk, she is not representative of ethnic Iranians, who are ironically a minority in their own country (the largest group obviously being indigenous ethnic Persian-speakers.)

    All that said, to single out Boniadi as being miscast due to being “Iranian” alongside Black and non-Caucasian Latin actors is unusual. Would there be similar complaints held against Spaniards, Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, or other Europeans who do not generally look Nordic or Anglo-Saxon? Obviously, many if not most people here will never accept Iranians as White/Caucasian no matter their appearance or ancestry, but in terms of poor casting choices for the new Bezos-backed LOTR series, Boniadi would appear to be one of the least egregious to be singled out simply for being “Iranian” rather than someone of European background who is not a lily white WASP.

    It is all the more ironic since these so-called Hollywood “Iranians’ like Aghdashloo and Boniadi have a deep-seated hatred for Iran and Iranian civilization, which is evidenced in their participation in the most volatile and racist anti-Iranian and anti-Persian Zionist propaganda (the disgusting Showtime series “Homeland” for example), and their affiliation with projects sponsored by the neoconservative and Saudi-funded MEK/MKO (People’s Muhahideen), an anti-Iranian terrorist organization predominantly made up of Turkic, Kurdish, and other non-Persian ethnic groups and notorious in Iran for their anti-Persian racist propaganda.

    The recent pro-Zionist provocateur Saghar Kasraie, who praised the murder of General Soleimani and falsely claims that the people of Iran celebrated this blatant atrocity and war crime, is another example of a Turkic Azeri posing as an ethnic Iranian.

    Such people cannot be said to represent Iran or the Iranian peoples. Nevertheless, we can expect the insidious Zionist propaganda machine to continue pushing them as such even more aggressively in the months and years to come.

    As an aside, I refer to the above as “Turkic” Azeris because there are many Azeri-speaking ethnic groups in Iran and the Caucasus who are not of Turkic origin or racial background. Ayatollah Khamanei, for instance, is an example of an Iranian ethnic Azeri-speaker who is not Turkic.

    • Fenek Solere
      Posted January 20, 2020 at 4:22 am | Permalink

      Dear Martin,
      I accept your point (s) – I am extremely familiar with the conglomerate Persian/Iranian diaspora and the fall-out in/around Fall of the Shah and indeed in the very early BC’s. However, the point I am making is that shoe-horning specifically non Anglos (in the widest sense of the term) into these parts is a deliberate political act regardless of their acting talents.

      Regarding the merit of the movies – well – it is true Jackson made a ‘fist’ of the LotR trilogy but the books can ever be beaten in my personal opinion.
      Best
      FS

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