Today I learned that Christopher Tolkien died.
He was the son of the renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien who many consider the father of modern fantasy. It’s strange because I feel like the world that both father and son built is such an epic legacy, both on the pages and outside of it, that his death feels like the end of an era.
So I thought it would be fitting to talk a little bit about one of my favorite places, and I think one of theirs: Middle Earth.
I think my first introduction to the world was when I watched Rankin and Bass’ The Hobbit when I was very young. I loved the animation style, the warmth of the characters, and I adored the songs. It’s still a film that I can go back and watch again and again. Of course I had to hunt down the book too and I read that front to back, loving Mirkwood, Thranduil, and Smaug the most.
Fast forward to high school in 9th grade where we were assigned The Hobbit to read for class. I was thrilled! Not only did we cover the book but we also touched on The Lord of the Rings series. It sounded fun, but it didn’t have a dragon in it, and that made me less likely to try it. I was really into dragons as a kid. And every time I tried to read it, the bickering of the hobbits in Hobbiton and the general air of elitism made me reluctant to continue. I knew the series was supposed to be good, but was it worth it?
It wasn’t until I sat down and watched the teaser trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring that I was hooked.
It had adventure, fantasy, romance, and incredible monsters too. I remember the whole theater going silent when it came on. Then they announced in the teaser when each of the films would be releasing – unheard of then, and still is now.
As a freshman college student, I was hooked. I ended up reading The Fellowship of the Ring after being blown away by the movie, and read The Two Towers and Return of the King before each of their films came out. This became my favorite fandom for the better part of a decade, and my house is still filled with statues and memorabilia from the series.
At bookstores, whole bookcases were dedicated to different collections of the trilogy, movie books, symbolism from the film, toys, etc. I remember seeing books by Christopher Tolkien mixed in too, and naively dismissed the books as him trying to capitalize on his father’s works. What I didn’t know was that he had taken all of the careful research and notes that his father had made and continued the stories where his father could not. I didn’t realize that he strove to match his father’s style in each additional release, and that these books were written specifically for the fans to help get his father’s work out there for them. The series and the fandom originally came out in 1954-1955, and I was a newcomer who didn’t have all the information. Of course, there were no cell phones back then or even reliable internet. Information like that was buried deep in forums or probably in one of the many magazines that featured the series.
J.R.R. Tolkien sparked a love of fantasy in me that today I try to share with others through my books. His son tried to honor his father’s legacy and continue the world as best he could. He protected the integrity of Middle Earth and the Tolkien Estate that he managed was known for having high standards for any adaptations of the books. In fact, it was well known that after The Hobbit trilogy, they famously determined that no more film adaptations were to be made. Now a brand new series is set to film soon for Amazon.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank both father and son for helping to keep this beautiful tapestry of a world alive, and for sharing it with the rest of us. Middle Earth will always be an inspiration to many, and will have a special place in my heart.