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Christopher Tolkien
Tolkien in 2019
Tolkien in 2019
BornChristopher John Reuel Tolkien
(1924-11-21)21 November 1924
Leeds, England
Died16 January 2020(2020-01-16) (aged 95)
Draguignan, France
  • Editor
  • illustrator
  • academic
Alma materTrinity College, Oxford (BA, BLitt)
Notable awardsBodley Medal (2016)
Faith Faulconbridge
(m. 1951; div. 1967)

(m. 1967)

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (21 November 1924 – 16 January 2020) was an English and naturalised French academic editor. The son of the author and academic J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher edited 24 volumes of his father's posthumously published work, including The Silmarillion and the 12-volume series The History of Middle-Earth, a task that took 45 years. He also drew the original maps for his father's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings.

Outside his father's unfinished works, Christopher edited three tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (with Nevill Coghill) and his father's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tolkien scholars have remarked that he used his skill as a philologist, demonstrated in his editing of those medieval works, to research, collate, edit, and comment on his father's Middle-earth writings exactly as if they were real-world legends. The effect is both to frame his father's works and to insert himself as a narrator. They have further noted that his additions to The Silmarillion, such as to fill in gaps, and his composition of the text in his own literary style, place him as an author as well as an editor of that book.

Early life and education[edit]

Christopher Tolkien was born on 21 November 1924 in Leeds, England,[1][2] the third of four children and the youngest son of J. R. R. and Edith Tolkien (née Bratt).[3] He was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford, and later at the Roman Catholic Oratory School near Reading.[4]

He won a place to study English at Trinity College, Oxford, still aged 17, but after a year and a half there he received his call-up papers for military service. He joined the Royal Air Force in July 1943 and at the start of 1944 was sent to South Africa for flight training. He gained his "wings" as a fighter pilot and was commissioned in January 1945. He was given a posting back in England in February 1945, at Market Drayton in Shropshire. In June 1945 he switched to the Fleet Air Arm. While still in the service, he resumed his degree in April 1946; he was demobilised at the end of that year. He took his B.A. in 1948, and his B.Litt. in 1953 under the philologist Gabriel Turville-Petre.[5]


Tolkien was for a long time part of the critical audience for his father's fiction, first as a child listening to tales of Bilbo Baggins (published as The Hobbit), and then as a teenager and young adult offering feedback on The Lord of the Rings throughout its 15-year gestation.[5] He also redrew his father's working maps for inclusion in The Lord of the Rings.[6] His father invited him to join the Inklings, a literary discussion group, when Christopher was 21 years old. His father called this "a quite unprecedented honour".[5] He became a lecturer in English language at St Catherine's Society, Oxford in 1954.[5]

Away from his father's writings, he published The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise: "Translated from the Icelandic with Introduction, Notes and Appendices by Christopher Tolkien" in 1960.[7] Later, he followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a lecturer and tutor in English language at New College, Oxford in 1963.[5][8]

In 1967 his father named him as his literary executor, and more specifically as his co-author of The Silmarillion. After his father's death in 1973, he took a large quantity of legendarium manuscripts to his Oxfordshire home, where he converted a barn into a workspace. He and the young Guy Gavriel Kay started work on the documents, discovering by 1975 how complex the task was likely to be. In September 1975 he resigned from New College to work exclusively on editing his father's writings. He moved to France and continued this task for 45 years.[5] In all, he edited and published 24 volumes of his father's writings, most of them to do with the Middle-earth legendarium.[9]

In 2016 Christopher won a Bodley Medal, an award that recognises outstanding contributions to literature, culture, science, and communication.[10]

He served as chairman of the Tolkien Estate, the entity formed to handle the business side of his father's literary legacy, and as a trustee of the Tolkien Charitable Trust. He resigned as director of the estate in 2017.[11]

Editorial work[edit]

The challenge of the legendarium[edit]

Diagram of the documents comprising Tolkien's Legendarium, as interpreted very strictly, strictly, or more broadlyThe HobbitThe Lord of the RingsThe SilmarillionUnfinished TalesThe Annotated HobbitThe History of The HobbitThe History of The Lord of the RingsThe Lost Road and Other WritingsThe Notion Club PapersJ. R. R. Tolkien's explorations of time travelThe Book of Lost TalesThe Lays of BeleriandThe Shaping of Middle-earthThe Shaping of Middle-earthMorgoth's RingThe War of the JewelsThe History of Middle-earthNon-narrative elements in The Lord of the RingsLanguages constructed by J. R. R. TolkienTolkien's artworkTolkien's scriptsPoetry in The Lord of the Ringscommons:File:Tolkien's Legendarium.svg
Navigable diagram of Tolkien's legendarium. Most of it is in The History of Middle-earth, a 12-volume account of how J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. It combines Christopher's editorial comments with his father's drafts, many of which were handwritten, sometimes partly-erased and often hard to decipher.[12]

His father wrote a great deal of material in the Middle-earth legendarium that remained unpublished in his lifetime. He had originally intended to publish The Silmarillion alongside The Lord of the Rings in the 1950s, but it was rejected by his publisher. Parts of it were in a finished state when he died in 1973, but the project was incomplete. Tolkien once called his son his "chief critic and collaborator", and named him his literary executor. Christopher organised the masses of his father's unpublished writings, some of them written on odd scraps of paper half a century earlier. Much of the material was handwritten; frequently a fair draft was written over a half-erased first draft, and names of characters routinely changed between the beginning and the end of the same draft.[12] He explained:

By the time of my father's death the amount of writing in existence on the subject of the Three Ages was huge in quantity (since it extended over a lifetime), disordered, more full of beginnings than of ends, and varying in content from heroic verse in the ancient English alliterative metre to severe historical analysis of his own extremely difficult languages: a vast repository and labyrinth of story, of poetry, of philosophy, and of philology ... To bring it into publishable form was a task at once utterly absorbing and alarming in its responsibility toward something that is unique.[5]

From The Silmarillion to The History of Middle-earth[edit]

Christopher and Kay produced a single-volume edition of The Silmarillion for publication in 1977.[12] Its success led to the publication of Unfinished Tales in 1980, and then to the far larger project of The History of Middle-earth in 12 volumes between 1983 and 1996. Most of the original source-texts that Christopher used to construct The Silmarillion were published in this way. Charles Noad comments that the 12-volume History had done something that a putative single-volume edition of The Silmarillion with embedded commentary could not have achieved: it had changed people's perspective on Tolkien's Middle-earth writings, from being centred on The Lord of the Rings to what it had always been in Tolkien's mind: Silmarillion-centred.[13] Noad adds that "The whole series of The History of Middle-earth is a tremendous achievement and makes a worthy and enduring testament to one man's creative endeavours and to another's explicatory devotion. It reveals far more about Tolkien's invented world than any of his readers in pre-Silmarillion days could ever have imagined or hoped for."[14]

"Great Tales" of the "Elder Days"[edit]

In April 2007, he published The Children of Húrin, whose story his father had brought to a relatively complete stage between 1951 and 1957, but then abandoned. This was one of his father's earliest stories, its first version dating back to 1918; several versions are published in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth. The Children of Húrin is a synthesis of these and other sources. It, along with Beren and Lúthien, published in 2017,[15] and The Fall of Gondolin, published in 2018,[16] constituted what J. R. R. Tolkien called the three "Great Tales" of the "Elder Days".[17]

Medieval works[edit]

Christopher edited some works by his father that were unconnected to the Middle-earth legendarium. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún appeared in May 2009, a verse retelling of the Norse Völsung cycle, followed by The Fall of Arthur in May 2013,[18] and by Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary in May 2014.[19][20]


Editor or author[edit]

Vincent Ferré comments that early in the process of editing his father's unpublished writings, "the real nature of Christopher Tolkien's work was a matter of debate, before a more simplistic consensus began to prevail."[21] Christopher Tolkien explained in The Silmarillion's foreword in 1977 "I set myself therefore to work out a single text, selecting and arranging in such a way as seemed to me to produce the most coherent and internally self-consistent narrative."[21] In Ferré's opinion, "This choice remains one of his [most] distinctive marks on the book", noting that J. R. R. Tolkien had foreseen in a 1963 letter that the presentation of the stories "will need a lot of work ... the legends have to be worked over ... and made consistent ... and they have to be given some progressive shape."[21][22]

In 1981, the scholar of literature Randel Helms, taking that statement as definitive of Christopher Tolkien's editorial, indeed authorial, intentions:[21] stated in terms that "The Silmarillion in the shape that we have it [a single-volume narrative] is the invention of the son not the father".[23]

Christopher Tolkien disagreed, stating in the foreword to the 1983 The Book of Lost Tales, that the outcome of his work had been "to add a further dimension of obscurity to The Silmarillion, ... about the age of the work ... and about the degree of editorial intrusion and manipulation (or even invention), is a stumbling-block and a source of much misapprehension."[24] In the same foreword, while rebuffing Helms but without explaining why Helms's opinion was wrong,[21] Christopher Tolkien admitted that the wisdom of publishing The Silmarillion with (unlike The Lord of the Rings) no frame story, "no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be", was "certainly debatable". He added "This I now think to have been an error."[24] He noted, too, that the philologist and Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey, in his book The Road to Middle-earth, was "clearly reluctant to see [The Silmarillion] as other than a 'late' work, even the latest work of its author", i.e. that its text owes as much to Christopher Tolkien as to his father.[24][a]

Ferré records that, much later, in 2021, Christopher Tolkien admitted "I had had to invent some passages",[26] that he had had a dream that his father was anxiously searching for something, and that he had "realized in horror that it was The Silmarillion."[26] In Ferré's view, he should be thought of as "a writer in his own right, and not only as an 'editor' of his father's manuscripts". He gives two reasons for this: that The Silmarillion reveals his own writing style and "the choices he made in 'constructing'" the narrative; and that he had to devise parts of the story, both to fill gaps and when "threads were impossible to weave together".[21]

Christopher Tolkien's editing of the 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth, using his skill as a philologist, created an editorial frame for his father's legendarium, and for the books derived from it. Ferré comments that this presented his father's writings as historical, a real set of legends from the past, in just the same way that his editing of The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays presented his father's essays as scholarly work.[21]

Reaction to filmed versions[edit]

In 2001 Christopher Tolkien expressed doubts over The Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, questioning the viability of a film interpretation that retained the essence of the work, but stressed that this was just his opinion.[27] In a 2012 interview with Le Monde, he criticised the films, saying: "They gutted the book, making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds."[28] In 2008 he commenced legal proceedings against New Line Cinema, which he claimed owed his family £80 million in unpaid royalties.[29] In September 2009, he and New Line reached an undisclosed settlement, and he withdrew his legal objection to The Hobbit films.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Tolkien was married twice. He had two sons and one daughter. His first marriage in 1951 was to the sculptor Faith Lucy Tilly Tolkien (née Faulconbridge) (1928–2017). They separated in 1964, and divorced in 1967.[31][32] Her work is featured in the National Portrait Gallery.[33] Their son Simon Mario Reuel Tolkien is a barrister and novelist.[31]

He married Baillie Klass in 1967; they had two children, Adam and Rachel. In 1975 they moved to the south of France,[34] where she edited her father-in-law's The Father Christmas Letters for posthumous publication.[35][36]

In the wake of a dispute surrounding the making of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, he is said to have disapproved of the views of his son Simon.[37][38] He felt that The Lord of the Rings was "peculiarly unsuitable for transformation into visual dramatic form", whilst his son became involved as an advisor with the series. They later reconciled, and Simon dedicated one of his novels to his father.[39][40]

Tolkien died on 16 January 2020, at the age of 95, in Draguignan, Var, France.[12][41][1][3]


As author or translator
  • Tolkien, Christopher (1953–1957). "The Battle of the Goths and the Huns". Saga-Book (PDF). Vol. 14. pp. 141–63. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  • "Introduction" to Gabriel Turville-Petre, Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (Viking Society for Northern Research, 1956, corrected reprint 1976), pp. xi-xx.
  • The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (PDF). Translated by ———. 1960. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022., from the Icelandic Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks
As editor


  1. ^ Shippey writes, for instance, that The Silmarillion was "[J. R. R. Tolkien's] last and boldest defiance of all the practitioners of 'lit.'."[25]


  1. ^ a b "'First Middle-earth scholar' Christopher Tolkien dies". BBC News. 16 January 2020. Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  2. ^ "Christopher Tolkien, keeper of his father's legacy, dies at 95". The New York Times. 16 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b Slawson, Nicola (16 January 2020). "JRR Tolkien's son Christopher dies aged 95". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 17 January 2020. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  4. ^ Honegger, Thomas (2007). "Tolkien, Christopher Reuel". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Taylor & Francis. pp. 663–665. ISBN 978-0-4159-6942-0.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g McIlwaine, Catherine. "Introduction" in Ovenden & McIlwaine 2022, pp. 7–10, 14–22
  6. ^ Campbell, Alice (2013) [2007]. "Maps". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge. pp. 405–408. ISBN 978-0-415-86511-1.
  7. ^ Tolkien, Christopher (1960). The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise; translated from the Icelandic with introduction, notes and appendices. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons. OCLC 1116195085.
  8. ^ "Tolkien, Christopher Reuel". Routledge. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  9. ^ Ovenden & McIlwaine 2022, pp. 26–27 "Timeline"
  10. ^ Onwuemezi, Natasha (31 October 2016). "Christopher Tolkien awarded the Bodley Medal". www.thebookseller.com. Archived from the original on 4 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  11. ^ Hall, Jacob (15 November 2017). "Christopher Tolkien Resigns From the Tolkien Estate – Does This Mean More 'Lord of the Rings' Movies and Shows?". /Film. Archived from the original on 19 January 2018. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d Seelye, Katharine Q.; Yuhas, Alan (16 January 2020). "Christopher Tolkien, Keeper of His Father's Legacy, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  13. ^ Noad, Charles (1994). "[Untitled Review of The War of the Jewels]". Mallorn (31): 50–54. JSTOR 45320384.
  14. ^ Noad, Charles E. (1996). "[Untitled Review]". Mallorn (34): 33–41. JSTOR 45321696.
  15. ^ "JRR Tolkien book Beren and Lúthien published after 100 years". BBC. 1 June 2017. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  16. ^ Helen, Daniel (30 August 2018). "The Fall of Gondolin published". Tolkien Society. Archived from the original on 8 December 2019. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  17. ^ Helen, Daniel (10 April 2018). "The Fall of Gondolin to be published". Tolkien Society. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  18. ^ "The Fall of Arthur – J.R.R. Tolkien". HarperCollins. Archived from the original on 11 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  19. ^ Flood, Alison (19 March 2014). "JRR Tolkien translation of Beowulf to be published after 90-year wait". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 19 January 2015. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  20. ^ Raymond, Ken (30 May 2014). "Tolkien's 'Beowulf' battles critics". NewsOk.com. The Oklahoman. Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ferré, Vincent. "The Son Behind the Father: Christopher Tolkien as a Writer", in Ovenden & McIlwaine 2022, pp. 53–69
  22. ^ Carpenter 2023, #247 to Colonel Worksett, 20 September 1963
  23. ^ Helms, Randel (1981). Tolkien and the Silmarils. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-395-29469-7.
  24. ^ a b c Tolkien 1983, pp. 5–7 "Foreword"
  25. ^ Shippey 2005, p. 307.
  26. ^ a b Rérolle, Raphaëlle (7 July 2012). "My Father's 'Eviscerated' Work - Son Of Hobbit Scribe J.R.R. Tolkien Finally Speaks Out". Worldcrunch.
  27. ^ "Middle-earth & J.R.R. Tolkien Blog". Middle-earth & J.R.R. Tolkien Blog. Archived from the original on 25 June 2010. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  28. ^ Raphaëlle Rérolle (5 July 2012). "Tolkien, l'anneau de la discorde". Le Monde.fr. Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  29. ^ "Hobbit movies meet dire foe in son of Tolkien". The Sunday Times. 25 May 2008. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  30. ^ "Legal path clear for Hobbit movie". BBC News. 8 September 2009. Archived from the original on 11 September 2009.
  31. ^ a b "Faith Tolkien Obituary (2017) - London Bridge, City of London - The Times". www.legacy.com. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  32. ^ "In Memoriam". Tolkien Studies. 15 (1): 3–4. 2018. doi:10.1353/tks.2018.0002. ISSN 1547-3163.
  33. ^ "Faith Lucy Tilly Tolkien". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  34. ^ "Christopher Tolkien, 1924 – 2020". The J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. Retrieved 3 June 2024.
  35. ^ "Grand tours: Who travels the world in a single night?". The Independent on Sunday. 22 December 2002. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  36. ^ "Baillie Tolkien 'Letters from Father Christmas'". The Tolkien Estate. Retrieved 3 June 2024.
  37. ^ BBC News (7 December 2001). "Tolkien's son denies rift". Archived from the original on 7 March 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  38. ^ Thomas, David (24 February 2003). "J R R Tolkien's grandson 'cut off from literary inheritance'". Sunday Telegraph. Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  39. ^ Hough, Andrew (18 November 2012). "Simon Tolkien: J R R Tolkien's grandson admits Lord of the Rings trauma". Sunday Telegraph. Archived from the original on 27 December 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  40. ^ "'Being Tolkien's grandson blocked my writing ...'". The Guardian. 24 November 2012. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  41. ^ Amalric, Laurent (16 January 2020). "Christopher, le fils de J.R.R. Tolkien, s'est éteint dans le Var à l'âge de 95 ans" [Christopher, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, dies in Var at the age of 95]. Var-Matin (in French). Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2020.


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