Welcome, dear readers, as always.
This was meant to be the next in our slow-motion review of Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker, but the news of Christopher Tolkien’s death on January 15th made us stop to think of and to be thankful for him.
Tolkien had celebrated a birthday in November and, whereas he had not, like Bilbo, who, at 131, had managed to outlive the Old Took (Gerontius, who died at 130), still, at 95, had long surpassed Frodo, who traveled to the Grey Havens at 53. (Picture by one of our favorite Tolkien illustrators, Ted Nasmith.)
Bilbo’s long life had allowed him to compile and edit not only his diary of his days on the expedition to the Lonely Mountain with the dwarves (There and Back Again), but also “many loose leaves of notes”, which he left for Frodo, along with three volumes of “Translations from the Elvish”. (For more on all of this, see “Note on the Shire Records” in the Prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring.)
Like Bilbo, Christopher Tolkien had also been a compiler and editor during his long life, as well as the first reader for much of his father’s work while he was serving in the RAF (Royal Air Force), much of the time in South Africa, during World War 2 and the original cartographer for that same work, collaborating with his father.
After JRRT’s death in 1973, Tolkien went on to edit and publish what sometimes appear to be countless of his father’s unpublished manuscripts, allowing us to see into the complex creative process which gave us not only the material around The Lord of the Rings, but so much more of the history of Middle-earth in general.
Beyond those, there were other works, some of them quite early, including Beren and Luthien, the first draft of which JRRT had written in 1917.
In that story, Luthien, after Beren’s death, having died and gone to the Halls of Mandos (also called the Halls of Awaiting, where men and elves went after death) on Valinor,
sings a song which is so powerful that it persuades Mandos to restore both her and Beren to life. To JRRT, Luthien was his wife, Edith,
and, although he laments to Christopher, after her death:
“But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.” (Letters, 420)
we hope that something of the power of that song will take Christopher to his own Valinor, with our thanks for the riches he has left with us.
Thanks, as ever, for reading, and