Hear Christopher Tolkien (RIP) Read the Work of His Father J.R.R. Tolkien, Which He Tirelessly Worked to Preserve

J.R.R. Tolkien is respon­si­ble for the exis­tence of Mid­dle-earth, the rich­ly real­ized fic­tion­al set­ting of the Lord of the Rings nov­els. But he also did his bit for the exis­tence of the much less fic­tion­al Christo­pher Tolkien, his third son as well as, in J.R.R.‘s own words, his “chief crit­ic and col­lab­o­ra­tor.” Christo­pher spent much of his life return­ing the favor, ded­i­cat­ing him­self to the orga­ni­za­tion, preser­va­tion, and pub­li­ca­tion of his father’s notes on Mid­dle-earth­’s elab­o­rate geog­ra­phy, his­to­ry, and mythol­o­gy until his own death this past Wednes­day at the age of 95.

Most fans of Tolkien père came to know the work of Tolkien fils through The Sil­mar­il­lion, the col­lec­tion of the for­mer’s pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished mythopoe­ic writ­ings on Mid­dle-Earth and the uni­verse that con­tains it. That book came out in 1977, four years after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death, and for a time there­after, write The New York Times’ Katharine Q. Seelye and Alan Yuhas, “Tolkien fans and schol­ars won­dered how much of The Sil­mar­il­lion was the work of the father and how much was the work of the son.”

In response, “Christo­pher pro­duced the 12-vol­ume The His­to­ry of Mid­dle-Earth (1996), a com­pi­la­tion of drafts, frag­ments, rewrites, mar­gin­al notes and oth­er writ­ings culled from 70 box­es of unpub­lished mate­r­i­al.”

Christo­pher Tolkien did­n’t just take over J.R.R. Tolkien’s duties as the stew­ard of Mid­dle-earth; he more or less grew up in the place, and even pro­vid­ed com­ments, at his father’s request, on the work that would become The Lord of the Rings. The pow­er of J.R.R. Tolkien’s sto­ry­telling, one often hears, owes in part to the writer’s thor­ough ground­ing in lit­er­ary and lin­guis­tic sub­jects like Eng­lish and Ger­man­ic philol­o­gy, hero­ic verse, Old Norse, Old Ice­landic, and medieval Welsh. Christo­pher Tolkien, in turn, made him­self into what Seelye and Yhuas call “an author­i­ty, above all, on the reams of writ­ing that his father pro­duced.” You can hear Christo­pher Tolkien read author­i­ta­tive­ly from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien in the videos pre­sent­ed here.

The first three clips from the top come two vinyl LPs released in 1977 and 1988 by Caed­mon Records (the pro­to-audio­book label that also put out Edgar Allan Poe read by Vin­cent Price and Basil Rath­bone as well as Hem­ing­way and Faulkn­er read by Hem­ing­way and Faulkn­er). All of their selec­tions come from The Sil­mar­il­lion, the Tolkien text that would nev­er have seen the light of day if not for Christo­pher’s efforts (and those of Guy Gavriel Kay, who would lat­er become a fan­ta­sy nov­el­ist him­self). But as a trib­ute to the man’s life so rig­or­ous­ly devot­ed to a body of work that has fas­ci­nat­ed so many, what could be more suit­able than the video above, his read­ing of the very end of the final book in the Lord of the Rings tril­o­gy, The Return of the King. Christo­pher Tolkien kept his father’s flame alive, and thanks to his work that flame will sur­vive him — and gen­er­a­tions of Tolkien read­ers to come.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear J.R.R. Tolkien Read from The Lord of the Rings and The Hob­bit in Vin­tage Record­ings from the Ear­ly 1950s

110 Draw­ings and Paint­ings by J.R.R. Tolkien: Of Mid­dle-Earth and Beyond

Map of Mid­dle-Earth Anno­tat­ed by Tolkien Found in a Copy of Lord of the Rings

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.