Our Own Dear John Ronald: Father and Son

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892 – 1973) and Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (1924 – 2020)

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christopher

Christopher Tolkien passed on last week, almost 47 years after his father J.R.R Tolkien.  The two appear to have had much in common.

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left to right: Priscilla Anne, Michael Hilary, John Francis, John Ronald, and Christopher John Tolkien

By the late nineteen-thirties all this work on THE SILMARILLION had resulted in a large body of manuscript, much of it in an exquisite hand.  (…)  Within the family the most frequent listener to the stories was Tolkien’s third son, Christopher.  The boy, wrote Tolkien in his diary, had grown into ‘a nervy, irritable, cross-grained, self-tormenting, cheeky person.  Yet there is something intensely lovable about him, to me at any rate, from the very similarity between us.’  On many evenings in the early nineteen-thirties Christopher, huddled for warmth by the study stove, would listen motionless while his father told him (in impromptu fashion, rather than reading aloud) about the elvish wars against the black power, and of how Beren and Lúthien made their perilous journey to the very heart of Morgoth’s iron stronghold.  These were not mere stories: they were legends that came alive as his father spoke, vivid accounts of a grim world where foul orcs and a sinister Necromancer guarded the way, and a dreadful red-eyed wolf tore the elvish companions of Beren to pieces one by one; but a world also where the three great elvish jewels, the Silmarilli, shone with a strange and powerful light, a world where against all odds the quest could be victorious.

Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

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left to right: Christopher, Priscilla, Michael, Edith, and John Ronald Tolkien

I believe that we need good tale-tellers now, as much as we did when the oral tradition was the only way that they were passed on; that the active transmission of stories plays a vital role in the development of the brain. (…)  The most beautiful aspect of this shared story-telling (…) is that the collaboration and engagement between teller and audience means that they are embarking on a journey together, which can lead to the most unexpected and wondrous of places.

Alan Lee: Afterword in Tales From the Perilous Realm

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left to right: Edith, Christopher, Priscilla, John and John Ronald Tolkien

I will say no more now.  But I should like ere long to have a long talk with YOU.  For if as seem probable I shall never write any ordered biography – it is against my nature, which expresses itself about things deepest felt in tales and myths – someone close in heart to me should know something of things that records do not record.”

J.R.R. Tolkien to Christopher Tolkien in a letter dated 11 July 1972

Apparently Christopher Tolkien went about editing and publishing his father’s autobiography all these years, and what a special autobiography it is.  But now what?

He sat down under a very beautiful distant tree – a variation of the Great Tree, but quite individual, or it would be with a little more attention – and he considered where to begin work, and where to end it, and how much time was required.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle

I have a good idea where father and son are now sitting, together again after almost half a century.  Surely they have much to talk about.

Leaf-by-Niggle-graphic

 

 

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