February 23, 2019

The Steward of Middle-Earth

“In 1975, Christopher Tolkien left his fellowship at New College, Oxford, to edit his late father’s massive legendarium. The prospect was daunting. The 50-year-old medievalist found himself confronted with 70 boxes of unpublished work. Thousands of pages of notes and fragments and poems, some dating back more than six decades, were stuffed haphazardly into the boxes. Handwritten texts were hurriedly scrawled in pencil and annotated with a jumble of notes and corrections. One early story was drafted in a high school exercise book.

A large portion of the archive concerned the history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional world, Middle-earth. The notes contained a broader picture of a universe only hinted at in Tolkien’s two bestselling novels, The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). Tolkien had intended to bring that picture to light in a lengthy, solemn history going back to creation itself, but he died before completing a final, coherent version.

Christopher took it upon himself to edit that book, which was published in 1977 as The Silmarillion. He then turned to another project drawn from his father’s papers, then another—ultimately publishing poetry, academic works, fiction, and a 12-volume history of the creation of Middle-earth. The Fall of Gondolin, published in August, is the 25th posthumous book Christopher Tolkien has produced from his father’s archives.”

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