Christopher Tolkien has died at the age of 95 after dedicating the latter part of his life to protecting and advancing his famous father’s, J.R.R. Tolkien’s, literary legacy. He’s recognized as the “editor” of The Silmarillion but, in the opinion of people much more expert than I on the subject of Middle Earth mythology, he was much more than that. He’s more akin to a co-creator to the most popular work of English fiction in the 20th century. He began his collaboration with his father in his teens, helping to point out inconsistencies in the narrative and even drew the maps which would adorn the publication of the Lord of the Rings trilogy originally published in 1954. He gave up his career as an Oxford professor at age 50 to study and organize the copious notes his father left, illuminating the fascinating 60-year creative process in a four-part series on The History of The Lord of the Rings. There’s something very Samwise Gamgee about such filial love and dedication.
My own history with the Tolkiens is much more recent. I didn’t become interested in Tolkien’s work until the Peter Jackson movies were released. I’m not much of a fiction reader anyway, but when my parish offered a class on the trilogy, I jumped in.
“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
I finished reading The Lord of the Rings in the summer of 2018. It was timely because, as luck would have it, our trip to the UK that fall included a stop in Oxford to visit the famed Bodleian Library (used as inspiration for the set in the Harry Potter movies, of which my girls are tremendous fans). However, we arrived just a few minutes too late to gain entrance and so ended up visiting the Weston Library across the street, which happened to have an exhibit of Tolkien’s original writings, response letters to fans, and artwork, including copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in translations of languages from every corner of the world. It was there I learned Tolkien wrote an epilogue to LotR, but it was displayed only in his handwriting in the elvish language and in English in elvish characters, neither of which I could read! That set me on a quest that landed on Christopher Tolkien’s History of the LotR, Part 4, The End of the Third Age. The epilogue, which is Sam’s story after the epic events with Frodo and his return to the Shire and family life, is published at the end of that volume.
The Silmarillion became my project for the summer of 2019. I admit to struggling with it. Tolkien seemed to have five names for every character and locale in the book and, well, my
senior middle-aged brain had trouble keeping it all straight.
My favorite relationship, and, really, the most important aspect of any fiction (and life) is the relationships between characters, is still Samwise and Frodo’s friendship. In my parish’s class, we learned that three of the characters compose the Christ figure: Frodo as the priest (offering the sacrifice), Gandalf as the prophet, and Aragorn as the king. But, Sam is the one who touches me most deeply. His unfailing love and humble service to his friend has something to teach us all. Christopher Tolkien seemed to have learned the lesson well. RIP.Published in