Christopher Tolkien died today at the age of 95. A talented writer and formidable scholar in his own right, he was best known as a faithful steward of his father’s literary legacy, protecting it commercially where he could and bringing to light The Silmarillion, the ambitious prehistoric mythology of Middle-Earth J.R.R. began writing on the battlefields of World War I. His father labored for decades to shape it into a publishable condition but died before the world saw it, and without Christopher’s keen mind and loyalty to his father’s work, we never would have.
I am, of course, grieved by the loss, and if I were not worried about some health issues I would light a pipe of tobacco in his honor—in fact I may anyway. However, what really preoccupies my mind is the concern I’ve felt for the last few years, when I realized Christopher Tolkien’s death was likely imminent. His passing is like watching the last of the elves set sail for the West. I cannot help but feel that something has been irretrievably lost. There was a spirit among English-speaking men which equipped them produce works like The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Phantastes, or, going further back, Paradise Lost and The Faerie Queene. I do not know where that spirit is today. I do not even rightly know if Christopher Tolkien possessed it himself—but he at least understood his father well enough to honor it. My worry is that we have exhausted our cultural capacity to produce grand works of transcendent beauty and nobility, narratives of both epic narrative and moral sweep possessing power which can point our love to higher things. In our era of noise, plastic, and forgetfulness, I have to wonder if it possible to either create or receive a work such as these.
Godspeed, Christopher Tolkien.
(For readers aware of the overly long project I myself have been engaged in these last few years, I am emphatically not hinting that I am capable of creating such a work. I lack the capacity. The Tolkiens and C.S. Lewis were men of immense erudition and learning, individuals who likely could exhaust the entire span of my knowledge of art and literature in an afternoon’s discussion. They were notable professors trained in the literature of the Western civilization; I have two and a half years in undergraduate studies in a field of negative value to the overall human project. If my project ever does come to light, its worth will be minor and fleeting.)