Christopher Tolkien, the son of the writer J.R.R. Tolkien who guarded his legacy and edited posthumous works like “The Silmarillion,” died Wednesday in France at age 95.
His death was confirmed by Daniel Klass, Tolkien’s brother-in-law.
Long after his father died in 1973, Tolkien worked to keep the stories that he created in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” — the spiders of Mirkwood, the Eye of Mordor, the elves of Rivendell and thousands of pages of others — alive for readers. As literary executor for the Tolkien estate, he compiled and edited much of his father’s work, including “The Silmarillion” and the collection “The History of Middle-earth.”
He is also credited with creating the 1954 map of Middle-earth, the land in which the sprawling stories were set, that is now held by the British Library.
Like his father, an Oxford linguist, Tolkien spent much of his life devoted to, and utterly surrounded by, books. Both men were scholars of Old and Middle English and both lectured at Oxford, but while the elder Tolkien was a specialist in Chaucer and Anglo-Saxon sagas, the younger editor was an authority, above all, on the reams of writing that his father produced.
“He has been treating this extraordinary archive as if it had been discovered in a sealed tomb,” the Houghton Mifflin editor Austin Olney said after meeting Tolkien at his home in England around 1980. By then, Tolkien had published “The Silmarillion” to almost a million hardcover copies, and had several more books about to emerge from the vaults.
For decades, Tolkien continued finding new work to exhume — and annotate — most recently a romance written as epic poems in 2017 and “The Fall of Gondolin” in 2018.
Though the tales of Middle-earth waxed and waned in popularity, they were all but cemented in popular culture in the 2000s, with film adaptations that garnered Academy Awards and hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. The movies were not the first adaptations, but they helped bring the stories to a new audience. And their success has in part inspired a forthcoming series on Amazon — the rights to which reportedly cost $200 million.
But even as Tolkien burnished his father’s legacy and brought it into the 21st century, he could be intensely protective of it. In 2012, the Tolkien estate filed an $80 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. over the digital merchandising of products from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” The suit accused the company of causing harm to Tolkien’s legacy, and was eventually settled on undisclosed terms.
Last year, the Tolkien estate disavowed a film based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s life and experience in World War I, saying the family did “not approve of, authorize or participate” in the project. (The younger Tolkien served with the Royal Air Force in World War II and was stationed in South Africa, according to the Tolkien Society.)
Christopher Tolkien was born in Leeds, England, on Nov. 21, 1924.
Later in life, Tolkien had become a French citizen and lived a private life with his second wife, Baillie Tolkien, in the southeastern part of the country at the foothills of the Alps.
He is also survived by his sister Priscilla and his three children, Simon, Adam and Rachel.
Speaking by phone on Thursday, Klass said he always admired his work-ethic and to “A person of his substance and his character will leave a huge hole in a lot of peoples lives.