Christopher Tolkien

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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)
Children3: Adam, Rachel and Simon

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (21 November 1924 – 16 January 2020) was an English and naturalised French academic editor.[1] The son of author and academic J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien edited much of his father's posthumously published work, including The Silmarillion and the 12-volume (plus one volume of indices) series The History of Middle-Earth. Tolkien also drew the original maps for his father's The Lord of the Rings.

Outside his father's unfinished works, Christopher Tolkien edited three tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (with Nevill Coghill) and his father's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Early life and education[edit]

Tolkien was born in Leeds, England, the third of four children and youngest son of John Ronald Reuel and Edith Mary Tolkien (née Bratt). He was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford, and later at The Oratory School.[2]

He entered the Royal Air Force in mid-1943 and was sent to South Africa for flight training, completing the elementary flying course at 7 Air School, Kroonstad, and the service flying course at 25 Air School, Standerton. He was commissioned into the general duties branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 27 January 1945 as a pilot officer on probation (emergency) and was given the service number 193121.[3] He briefly served as an RAF pilot before transferring to the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on 28 June 1945.[4] His commission was confirmed and he was promoted to flying officer (war substantive) on 27 July 1945.[5][6]

After the war, he studied English at Trinity College, Oxford, taking his B.A. in 1949 and his B.Litt. a few years later.[7]


Tolkien had long been part of the critical audience for his father's fiction, first as a child listening to tales of Bilbo Baggins (which were published as The Hobbit), and then as a teenager and young adult offering much feedback on The Lord of the Rings during its 15-year gestation. He had the task of interpreting his father's sometimes self-contradictory maps of Middle-earth in order to produce the versions used in the books, and he re-drew the main map in the late 1970s to clarify the lettering and correct some errors and omissions. Tolkien was invited by his father to join the Inklings when he was 21 years old, making him the youngest member of the informal literary discussion society that included C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Warren Lewis, Lord David Cecil, and Nevill Coghill.[8]

He published The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise: "Translated from the Icelandic with Introduction, Notes and Appendices by Christopher Tolkien" in 1960.[9] Later, Tolkien followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a lecturer and tutor in English Language at New College, Oxford, from 1964 to 1975.[7]

In 2016, he was given the Bodley Medal, an award that recognises outstanding contributions to literature, culture, science, and communication.[10]

Editorial work[edit]

His father wrote a great deal of material connected to the Middle-earth legendarium that was not published in his lifetime. J. R. R. Tolkien had originally intended to publish The Silmarillion along with The Lord of the Rings, and parts of it were in a finished state when he died in 1973, but the project was incomplete. Tolkien once referred to his son as his "chief critic and collaborator", and named him his literary executor in his will. The younger Tolkien 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 end of the same draft. In the years following, Tolkien worked on the manuscripts and was able to produce an edition of The Silmarillion for publication in 1977 (a very young Guy Gavriel Kay served as his assistant for part of this time).[11]

The Silmarillion was followed by Unfinished Tales in 1980, and The History of Middle-earth in 12 volumes between 1983 and 1996. Most of the original source-texts have been made public from which The Silmarillion was constructed. In April 2007, Tolkien published The Children of Húrin, whose story his father had brought to a relatively complete stage between 1951 and 1957 before abandoning it. 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. Beren and Lúthien is an editorial work and was published as a stand-alone book in 2017.[12]

The next year, The Fall of Gondolin was published, also as an editorial work.[13] The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin make up the three "Great Tales" of the Elder Days which J. R. R. Tolkien considered to be the biggest stories of the First Age.[14]

HarperCollins published other J. R. R. Tolkien work edited by Christopher that is not connected 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[15] in May 2013, and by Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary in May 2014.[16][17]

Tolkien 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.[18]

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.[19] 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."[20] In 2008, he commenced legal proceedings against New Line Cinema, which he claimed owed his family £80 million in unpaid royalties.[21] In September 2009, he and New Line reached an undisclosed settlement, and he withdrew his legal objection to The Hobbit films.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Tolkien was married twice. He had two sons and one daughter.

His first marriage in 1951 was to sculptor Faith Lucy Tilly Tolkien (née Faulconbridge) (1928–2017). After their separation in 1964, they divorced in 1967.[23][24] Her work is featured in the National Portrait gallery.[25] Their son is barrister and novelist Simon Mario Reuel Tolkien.[23]

Christopher Tolkien and Baillie Tolkien (née Klass) married in 1967. In 1975, they moved to the French countryside where she edited her father-in-law's The Father Christmas Letters for posthumous publication. They had two children, Adam Reuel Tolkien and Rachel Clare Reuel Tolkien.

In the wake of a dispute surrounding the making of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Christopher is said to have disapproved of the views of his son Simon.[26][27] Christopher 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, with Simon dedicating one of his novels to his father.[28][29]

Christopher Tolkien died on 16 January 2020, at the age of 95, in Draguignan, Var, France.[11][30][31][32]


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 G. 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. ^ In his later years Mr. Tolkien became a French citizen..., NYTimes Christopher Tolkien, Keeper of His Father’s Legacy, Dies at 95, 16 Jan, 2020
  2. ^ Drout, Michael D. C. (2007). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Taylor & Francis. p. 663. ISBN 978-0415969420. Archived from the original on 29 September 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  3. ^ "No. 36989". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 March 1945. pp. 1492–1494.
  4. ^ "No. 37327". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 October 1945. pp. 5275–5276.
  5. ^ "No. 37237". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 August 1945. p. 4282.
  6. ^ "No. 37264". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 September 1945. p. 4575.
  7. ^ a b "Tolkien, Christopher Reuel". Routledge. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  8. ^ Diana, Glyer (2007). The Company They Keep. Kent, OH: Kent State UP. ISBN 978-0-87338-890-0.
  9. ^ Tolkien, Christopher (1960) The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise; translated from the Icelandic with introduction, notes and appendices. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd. ASIN: B000V9BAO0
  10. ^ Onwuemezi, Natasha (31 October 2016). "Christopher Tolkien awarded the Bodley Medal". Archived from the original on 4 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  11. ^ a b Seelye, Katharine Q.; Yuhas, Alan (16 January 2020). "Christopher Tolkien, Keeper of His Father's Legacy, Dies at 95". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ Helen, Daniel (30 August 2018). "The Fall of Gondolin published". Tolkien Society. Archived from the original on 8 December 2019. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "The Fall of Arthur – J.R.R. Tolkien". HarperCollins. Archived from the original on 11 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  16. ^ Alison Flood (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.
  17. ^ Ken Raymond (30 May 2014). "Tolkien's 'Beowulf' battles critics". The Oklahoman. Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "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.
  20. ^ Raphaëlle Rérolle (5 July 2012). "Tolkien, l'anneau de la discorde". Le Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  21. ^ "Hobbit movies meet dire foe in son of Tolkien" Archived 15 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine. The Sunday Times. 25 May 2008.
  22. ^ "Legal path clear for Hobbit movie" Archived 11 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine. BBC News. 8 September 2009.
  23. ^ a b "Faith Tolkien Obituary (2017) - London Bridge, City of London - The Times". Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  24. ^ "In Memoriam". Tolkien Studies. 15 (1): 3–4. 2018. doi:10.1353/tks.2018.0002. ISSN 1547-3163.
  25. ^ "Faith Lucy Tilly Tolkien - National Portrait Gallery". Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  26. ^ BBC News (7 December 2001). "Tolkien's son denies rift". Archived from the original on 7 March 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "'Being Tolkien's grandson blocked my writing ...'". the Guardian. 24 November 2012. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  30. ^ "'First Middle-earth scholar' Christopher Tolkien dies". BBC News. 16 January 2020. Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  31. ^ 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". Var-Matin (in French). Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  32. ^ 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.

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