Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Until the Last Ship Sets Sail Into the West"

Christopher Tolkien reads from the end of the Lord of the Rings

I was saddened to learn that J.R.R. Tolkien's son Christoper Tolkien passed away on January 16th at the age of 95. Christopher's older brothers, John and Michael, predeceased him; his younger sister Priscilla survives him, as well as his children and grandchildren. Of his siblings, Christopher was by far the most involved in father's writing, having edited around twenty volumes of his father's unpublished manuscripts. He was the best positioned to do so, having become an academic at Oxford like this father.

Christopher was heavily involved in Middle-Earth throughout his life, from hearing the Bilbo stories that became The Hobbit as a child to drawing the beautiful maps for the Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien passed away in 1973, and the first posthumous product was The Silmarillion (with the help of Guy Gavriel Kay) in 15 September 1977, just a few months after both Holmes Basic D&D and the Tolkien-derivative The Sword of Shannara, and the same fall that the animated Hobbit was released. This was all part of the late '70s cultural stew that lead up to the early '80s fantasy/sword & sorcery fad, which included D&D's first round of wide-spread popularity (we are in the second round now).

Christopher was around 55 when the Silmarillion came out and it kicked off a publishing era that did not end until the Fall of Gondolin in August 2018, when he was nearly 94! In a way this work was a continuation of his participation in the Inklings, the literary club at Oxford that would listen to and critique each other's writings. Christopher participated in this with his father, and I read somewhere in the past few days that Christopher was the last surviving Inkling. Thus, his passing truly marks the end of an age - the last ship setting sail into the West.

I have a shelf or two full of his books myself, including the entire HOME series (History of Middle-Earth). AI've noted previously, my blog series on the Holmes Manuscript owes something to his style of text analysis.

The other night I started re-watching the Tolkien biopic - I saw it in the theatre when it was released - and it is just as enjoyable on second viewing. I need to dig out and listen to my J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection that includes Christopher reading selections from the Silmarillion. Above I've posted a link to a clip of Christopher reading from the ending of The Lord of the Rings.

Namárië, Christopher.


  1. Thanks for writing about this. It's interesting to see that his scholarship influenced your own study of Holmes.

    (Minor correction: The date of his death was January 16, 2020, according to Wikipedia and this Guardian obituary.)

    1. Thanks for the correction and for the link to the Guardian obituary!

  2. I was also saddened to learn of Christopher Tolkien's passing.

    I enjoyed "The Silmarillion" when I read it (only in 2005) and was surprised to learn of Guy Kay's involvement. I'm happy that Christopher had a chance to re-issue the three "great tales" in recent years, completing a century-long period of refinement. I'm looking forward to reading them.

  3. What a legacy though! It's the elder Tolkien that gets the credit for the Middle Earth stories, but we wouldn't have the likes of The Silmarillion, or The Children of Hurin, or The Fall of Gondolin (which I'm nearly through) without his work. There are worse ways to honor and show love for your father than dedicating your life to the marvelous world and beautiful stories he created.

    Sad that he's passed (though 95 ain't a short amount of time on this planet)...but what a legacy he left! What a body of work!