Sad news on the Middle-Earth front this week: Christopher Tolkien resigned as the director of the Tolkien estate. It's not news that has anything to do with My Little Pony, no, but it means a lot to me: I've made no secret of my love for the writing of JRR Tolkien over the years I've been reviewing, and this news represents a seismic event in terms of coming impact on how those writings are marketed, licensed, and otherwise handled.
Head below the break for a few of my thoughts on the matter, if such things interest you. If not, pony stuff will be back on Monday, same time, same place.
So: Christopher Tolkien is no longer the handling the Tolkien estate. In fact, he stepped down months ago, but the news just became public. What does this mean?
It will probably be a while before the full fallout from this is apparent, but it's easy to predict what will happen next: Christopher has long been an advocate for "legacy preservation" over "maximum profit," especially since getting burned on the movie rights (where studio lawyers were able to turn film rights to a LotR into the Hobbit movies, those video games where Shelob is a pornstar-looking piece of eye candy who's secretly the savior of Middle Earth, etc.). With him gone, expect to see a lot more selling out in the Estate's near future.
In fact, it may have already happened. News that Amazon had secured rights to a LotR TV series had just bubbled up; apparently, this deal was struck after Christopher's resignation. When reports about the series first went public, many people were surprised; Christopher was and has been extraordinarily cautious with licensing such things, and it was therefor presumed by many (myself included) that the deal involved some pretty dramatic guarantees of faithfulness to the source material. But given what we know now, a more likely explanation is that the one man capable of saying "no" to $250,000,000 on principle was finally gone. Given that the show doesn't even have a script yet, it's too early to go total doom and gloom about it... but it hardly instills much hope when you realize that the reason this deal was apparently only struck because Christopher was out of the picture.
It's a sad moment, and the passing of an era. Christopher Tolkien has provided a stunning example of how to preserve and respect an author's legacy, and even without the spectre of an incoming "Lord of the Rings Expanded Universe" or somesuch to fret over, it would be hard not to regret the thought of the Estate passing from such dedicated, caring hands. From works like The Silmarillion and Beren and Luthien, which he edited from decades worth of often-illegible, often-incompatible notes into fully readable stories, to his wonderful Histories of Middle-Earth series, which lovingly transcribes and annotates the long and winding history of his father's writing through various revisions and wholesale concept shifts, Christopher has never failed to make available the things Tolkien fans most wanted, all without doing anything that might "ruin" his father's legacy, or to overstep his own position as a curator.
Of course, it should go without saying that I don't mind people trying to expand a upon a world which intrigues them, given the nature of this blog; I do object to the idea of making those things "official material" that fans are expected to accept without question. I dread the idea that Middle-Earth might suffer the same fate as Dune, and this brings that fate one step close to reality. We will almost certainly see a lot more "official" Middle-Earth stuff before too long, and at least a little of it will probably be good... but most of it will most assuredly miss the whole point of LotR, and of Tolkien's writing generally. Most of it will most assuredly revel in action setpieces, glorify gratuitous violence, treat the peoples and qualities Tolkien most revered as fodder bumbling comic relief to be mocked rather than celebrated, and otherwise fail on every possible level to be more than an insult to its source material.
The standards for all things Middle-Earth-related are about to change, and almost certainly not for the better. But even if the worst comes to pass, it's worth celebrating the decades of devotion which these writings have had from Christopher Tolkien. His presence will be missed, but his contributions will surely outlast him. Would that every great author had a posthumous guardian half as dedicated.