Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Faithful Custodian of His Father's Legacy

Today's bummer news concerns the death of Christopher Tolkien at the age of 95. Young Tolkien was the custodian of his father's literary estate and the creator of the Middle Earth Phenomenon out of his father's copious notes. I'm a Tolkien fan, but I'm not a completist by any stretch of the imagination, so I 'tapped out' after The Silmarillion, when all of the interminable 'Unfinished Tales' and 'Whole Middle Earth Catalog' volumes started hitting the shelves. By then, the Good Professor's prose had prepared me to read the Eddas and Kalevala, which is what I believe the Good Professor intended. Still, the massive body of work Christopher Tolkien assembled from his father's copious notes is the perfect model for anyone interested in fantasy worldbuilding, dubbed subcreation (PDF) by the Good Professor, down to the various languages he invented for the inhabitants of his world. Almost as much as his father, Christopher Tolkien was responsible for the creation of Middle Earth, even down to drawing the left-justified fantasy map (WARNING: TV Tropes, serious timesink danger) which has passed into cliche status.

I was tickled pink to read that Christopher Tolkien wasn't a fan of Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' movies, dismissing them as juvenile puncho-puncho-run-run: “They gutted the book, making it an action movie for 15-25 year-olds, and it looks like The Hobbit will be the same.” My take on the movies is that they looked fair but felt foul, and that Peter Jackson's real intention was to make a big budget remake of Hawk the Slayer.

Christopher Tolkien was a faithful custodian of his father's legacy, and the intellectual property which, perhaps not for the better, codified the 'Epic Fantasy Industrial Complex' for a myriad of lesser writers. While collating and editing his father's notes, he managed to release the contradictory writings which demonstrated how his father's 'canon' was shaped and re-shaped. Mythology is a messy business, even when written by Just One Guy. The hunger which the reading public received the body of work which went ever ever on is a testimony to the power of that creation, and the need for escapism in a world as callous as ours. Christopher Tolkien lived well, he served his family well, and he served the reading public well... without him, would his father's legacy have achieved such eminence?

1 comment:

emjayay said...

I tried one of those books when I was in college and everyone was reading them. Didn't work for me at the time. If I want to give 'em another try where should I start?