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Christopher Tolkien, 'Middle-earth's First Scholar,' Dies At 95

Christopher Tolkien, who for decades preserved and extended the beloved literary fantasies of his father, J.R.R. Tolkien, has died at the age of 95. The son's death, announced Thursday by the Tolkien Society, ends a distinguished career devoted to his father's legacy and the world he crafted in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

As the literary executor of the elder Tolkien's estate, Christopher edited and published a trove of works that had been left unfinished at the time of his father's death in 1973 — beginning in 1977 with The Silmarillion, a compendium of creation myths from Middle-earth, and continuing through the publication of the love story Beren and Lúthien in 2017.

But Christopher Tolkien, who grew up in Oxford, U.K., listening to tales of the Bagginses and their adventures, set to work as his father's editor far earlier than that.

"Christopher was an editor from the age of 5, catching inconsistencies in his father's bedtime tales, and was promised tuppence by his father for every mistake he noticed in The Hobbit," HarperCollins UK said in a statement released Thursday.

"As a young man he was typing up manuscripts and drawing maps of Middle-earth and around the time he was commissioned an officer in the [Royal Air Force] in 1945, his father was already calling him 'my chief critic and collaborator.' "

He was also responsible for composing the original map of Middle-earth included with the The Lord of the Rings series when it was first published in the mid-1950s.

"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," Shaun Gunner, chairman of the Tolkien Society, said in a statement released Thursday.

"Millions of people around the world will be forever grateful to Christopher for bringing us The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, The History of Middle-earth series and many others. We have lost a titan and he will be sorely missed."

The organization described the younger Tolkien as "Middle-earth's first scholar."

Yet he was also an accomplished scholar in matters independent of hobbits and orcs. He served as a lecturer in Old English at Oxford, where his father once taught, and in 2017 earned the famed Bodleian Libraries' highest honor for his contributions as a teacher, editor and all-around scholar.

"One of the great privileges of my life was to know Christopher Tolkien," the library's senior executive, Richard Ovenden, said Thursday on Twitter.

"A great scholar & writer, his literary relationship with his father was unique in the world of letters. Like Thorin Oakenshield, he goes 'to the halls of waiting, to sit beside my fathers.' "

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Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.