So, I've been thinking back over Christopher Tolkien's extraordinary achievements and wondering which was the most exceptional.
A strong case can be made for the 1977 SILMARILLION. In retrospect, now that all the component pieces of that work have seen the light in the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series we can see just how difficult his task was, and how comprehensively he mastered it. Special mention shd be made of one of the few passages of that work which we know Christopher himself wrote, rather than extracted from some manuscript of his father: the death of Thingol down in the dark beneath Menegroth, looking at the light of the Silmaril. Had Christopher not told us so, I don't think any of us cd have guessed that this deeply evocative and memorable scene was written by CT rather than JRRT himself.
And then of course there's THE HISTORY OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS (HME. VI, VII, VIII, IXa, & XII), the part of his massive manuscript publication project that I suspect is for many people the most deeply interesting, offering as it does a scrupulously detailed behind the scenes look at a great author creating his greatest work.
A personal favorite of mine is THE SAGA OF KING HEIDREKS THE WISE. This was the first book of Christopher's I ever came across (in the library at Southern State College), the first saga I ever read (and hence my introduction to that whole world of Icelandic myth and legend). It's also a model of clarity and editorial restraint.
And finally there's a volume I cd wish for that we're never likely to see: SELECTED LETTERS of CT. I think he must have been the greatest letter writer I've ever known -- always to the point, occasionally cutting, with a special kind of deftness whereby just the right word seemed to appear just when he needed it. The only writer I can think to compare him to stylistically wd be P. G. Wodehouse, with the wit but not the whimsey.
So those wd be my choices, but thanks to Christopher's being so prolific and diligent there are plenty more to choose from.*
current reading: THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW
*THE FALL OF ARTHUR, anyone?
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