J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Christopher has dedicated his life to continuing his father’s legacy, editing and completing The Silmarillion and other key works.
At the sprightly age of 93, Christopher Tolkien has decided to retire.
The third son of Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher was born in 1924 and raised on his father’s stories, assisting with the production of Middle-earth maps and, after J.R.R.’s death in 1973, completing the unfinished manuscript for The Silmarillion.
Over the next four decades, Christopher Tolkien spearheaded the completion of several more of his father’s manuscripts, publishing Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth and The Children of Húrin.
When the Peter Jackson movies were released in the 2001-2003 period, Tolkien emerged as a strong critic of the films, and in 2008 he commenced legal proceedings against New Line Cinema for unpaid royalties; a settlement was reached in 2009.
The last J.R.R. Tolkien work which Christopher completed was Beren and Luthien, a strongly personal and semi-autobiographical work. It is fitting that this should be Christopher’s final work before a much-earned retirement.
But what does this mean for the future of the Tolkien ‘franchise,’ such as it pertains to future derivative works?
As you likely know, Amazon has just announced plans to produce a multi-episode Lord of the Rings TV series, along with a potential spinoff. The rights to (certain) characters from Tolkien’s works was reportedly in the $200 million range.
In the age of remakes and reboots, this LotR TV show announcement might not come as a huge surprise to anyone — logically, it was only a matter of time before it was re-adapted in some form — but for the Tolkien franchise as a whole, this deal along with the resignation of Christopher likely ushers in a new and unprecedented era in which rights to Tolkien properties will be relinquished much more freely.
Who knows what Amazon will do with this series; which characters and parts of the story it will focus on, or if it will even be respectful of the original canon? (For all Jackson’s works were an interpretation, they were certainly respectful.) Who knows what other Tolkien-related products are being cooked up in the Hollywood machine?
As pointed out by the much more knowledgeable The One Ring.Net, other holders of the Tolkien Estate have been much more willing to work with studios and negotiate the transference of rights than Christopher. Now that he has stepped down (which reportedly happened on August 31, although no official announcement was made), the Tolkien properties will likely open up to commercialization in a way they never have been before; the upcoming Amazon TV show is only the beginning.
Chances are we will see increased franchising of the world that extends far beyond what has been allowed from the previously well-guarded Estate; we’ll probably see a Middle-earth franchising resembling Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, with rides and movies and TV show spinoffs, perhaps even companion books and comics (years ago, reports already speculated that planning had begun for a Lord of the Rings theme park).
I personally appreciate the way the Tolkien Estate has handled and guarded the seminal works of J.R.R. Tolkien, but we are living in a time where all potential franchises are being bled completely dry. It was inevitable that Middle-earth would eventually be crunched up by the entertainment industry, too.
The good news is that there really is so much material — the Tolkiens have created a mythology akin to that of a real country, and one might rightly compare the upcoming adaptations to the countless artistic interpretations of the Arthurian Legends over the centuries.
Still, one might rightly feel a certain weariness knowing that this is probably not what the Tolkien family want to see happen to J.R.R.’s works. The good news is that we’ll always have the original books to return to, and future generations hopefully will continue to be introduced to the books, too, not just the entertainment products that are derived from them.
For more speculation and reflection on the legacy of Christopher Tolkien, I suggest you head on over to The One Ring and read the announcement post in full.