Christopher Tolkien, son and protector of ‘Lord of the Rings’ creator, dies

A 1965 Ballantine paperback edition of "The Hobbit."
The Tolkien Library, which is a resource for collectors as well as an online store, is selling this 1965 Ballantine paperback of “The Hobbit” for $125.
(The Tolkien Library)

Christopher Tolkien, who played a major role protecting and expanding the legacy of his father’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and other works, has died in south France, where he and his wife had lived quietly for years.

The Tolkien Society and publisher HarperCollins UK confirmed Tolkien’s death. The Centre Hospitalier de la Dracenie, a hospital near Cannes, said the son of author J.R.R. Tolkien died there Thursday. He was 95.

Tolkien’s life work was closely identified with that of his father. He helped edit and publish much of the science fiction and fantasy writer’s work after J.R.R. Tolkien died in 1973.

Among the books the younger Tolkien worked on were “The Silmarillion,” “The Children Of Hurin” and other texts that flesh out the complex world his father created.

He also drew the original maps that adorned the three Lord of the Rings books — “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” — when they were published in the 1950s.


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
(Haywood Magee / Getty Images)

Tolkien Society chairman Shaun Gunner said “millions of people around the world will be forever grateful to Christopher for bringing us” so many of his father’s literary works.

“Christopher’s commitment to his father’s works have seen dozens of publications released, and his own work as an academic in Oxford demonstrates his ability and skill as a scholar,” he said. “We have lost a titan and he will be sorely missed.”

J.R.R. Tolkien scholar Dimitra Fimi said Christopher Tolkien helped the public understand his father’s works.

“Tolkien studies would never be what it is today without Christopher Tolkien’s contribution,” she said. “From editing ‘The Silmarillion’ to the mammoth task of giving us ‘The History Of Middle-earth’ series, he revealed his father’s grand vision of a rich and complex mythology.”

Tolkien was born Nov. 21, 1924, in Leeds, England, and grew up in Oxford. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He later became a lecturer in old and middle English at the University of Oxford.

Frodo (Elijah Wood) reaching for the One Ring in a scene from a "Lord of the Rings" film.
“They gutted the book,” Christopher Tolkien said of the film adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings,” starring Elijah Wood.
(New Line Cinema)

When his father died in 1973, he became the executor of the Tolkien Estate, though his work as editor of his father’s work far exceeded simply overseeing the estate.

He was less than enthused by Hollywood’s treatment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “They gutted the book, making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds,” he told Le Monde in 2012.

The newspaper for the Var region in southern France, Var Matin, said Tolkien and his wife, Baillie, had lived quietly on the edge of the village of Aups since 1975.

A Times staff writer contributed to this story.