Christopher Tolkien is the only surviving son of J.R.R. Tolkien, and is most well known for his stewardship of his father’s estate, and the editing of his father’s works.
Christopher John Reuel Tolkien was born November 21, 1924 in England, while his father held the post of Reader of English at Leeds University. Christopher was the third child of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and his wife Edith Mary Bratt.
J.R.R. Tolkien had begun telling stories for his children from when they were quite young; his letters from “Father Christmas” began arriving when his eldest son John was three years old. Christopher Tolkien grew up with his father’s stories forming an integral part of his life. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” was published when Christopher was 13 years old. The posthumously published Roverandom was written for Christopher’s brother Michael, and would have been told in the Tolkien household many times.
"Christopher was always much concerned with the consistency of the story and on one occasion ... interrupted: 'Last time, you said Bilbo's front door was blue, and you said Thorin had a golden tassel on this hood, but you've just said that Bilbo's front door was green, and the tassel on Thorin's hood was silver';
at which point Ronald exclaimed 'Damn the boy!' and strode across the room to make a note."1
As a young man, Christopher was much involved in his father’s writing of “The Lord of the Rings”. He had always kept track of the various threads of the stories, and interpreted his father’s maps of Middle-earth, eventually creating the one published with the book in the 1970s.
Christopher served during the Second World War in the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm. Later, like his father, Christopher became a lecturer in English at Oxford University.
Christopher Tolkien has married twice. His first wife, Faith, was the mother of his only son Simon. They divorced when Simon was five years old, and some three years later Christopher married his second wife, Baillie, with whom he now lives in France.
After J.R.R. Tolkien’s death, Christopher became the literary executor of his estate. There were masses of notes left on his father’s death – drafts for the ongoing project of “The Silmarillion”, often notes jotted in pencil half a century earlier.
With the assistance of author Guy Gavriel Kay, Christopher began ordering his father’s notes for The Silmarillion with a view to publication. J.R.R. Tolkien had never intended to publish the book in such an unpolished form, as several inaccuracies and contradictions remain. However, Christopher felt that the book would be of such value to Tolkien enthusiasts that such problems could be overlooked.
After the publication of the Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien began on others of his father’s notes: resulting in “Unfinished Tales” and the massive “History of Middle-earth”.
Christopher Tolkien has jealously guarded the Tolkien legacy for over 30 years. Anxious not to allow his father’s work to be cheapened or belittled, the copyright on all aspects of the works has been fiercely protected. Though J.R.R. Tolkien sold the film rights to The Lord of the Rings in 1969, Christopher has long insisted that the books are not suited to movie interpretation, and was vehemently opposed to the recently released New Line Cinema trilogy.
His championship of his father’s work has led him to shun his only child, Simon. When Simon Tolkien expressed his support for the movie trilogy, Christopher Tolkien effectively disowned him, barring him from the board of the Tolkien Company, despite the fact that Christopher’s second wife Baillie and nephew Michael were a part of the organization.
Simon Tolkien said in an interview: “He communicates with me now through his lawyer, so I have to live on the basis that he will never speak to me again as long as he lives. He will never see my children. He will never have anything to do with me."
Christopher Tolkien’s attitude has offended many people. Author Michael Perry fought the Tolkien Estate in a U.S. court for a year to be able to publish his book length chronology of The Lord of the Rings: “Untangling Tolkien”. Director Peter Jackson’s plans for a museum in Wellington, New Zealand displaying the props and sets used in the movies have stalled because of Christopher Tolkien’s refusal. Access to Tolkien’s notes on the languages of Arda is extremely limited.
On the other hand, without Christopher’s life work with his father’s legacy, we would not have access to the majority of the work on Middle-earth. No-one can deny that he has the right to control the use of J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary estate, and his dedication to his task is praiseworthy.
notes that J.R.R. Tolkien would send chapters of "The Lord of the Rings
" to Christopher to read while he was serving in WWII
. Also that Tolkien was attempting to get "The Silmarillion
" into publishable form when he died, as Allen and Unwin
wished to publish it. Thanks, yclept
1The Tolkien Family Album, Priscilla and John Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992, p. 58.