Priscilla Tolkien, the youngest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s four children, died on February 28 2022. She was 92 years old.
Born June 18 1929, Priscilla was the only daughter of the Professor and his wife Edith. They were already living in Oxford when she was born. At the age of fourteen, Priscilla typed up some of the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings for her father. She studied English at Lady Margaret Hall college in Oxford, who yesterday announced her passing.
Priscilla, like her older brother Christopher, was a champion of her father’s work. She was Vice-President of the Tolkien Society, and together with the oldest of the four children, her brother John, she published in 1992 The Tolkien Family Album. Frodo’s name in early drafts of The Lord of the Rings, Bingo Bolger-Baggins, apparently came from her names for a family of toy bears she had as a child.
As we wait – eagerly or anxiously – for new Middle-earth content in the form of Amazon’s upcoming Rings of Power tv show, we can pass some of the time with new content direct from the Professor himself. On February 26th the Tolkien Estate relaunched their website, releasing previously unseen material from their archives.
The exciting new reveals include draft manuscripts, letters, and even audio and video clips of Tolkien and his son, Christopher. You can read more about this release here; and you can find the Tolkien Estate website here.
You’ve undoubtedly read Vanity Fair article “Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Series Rises: Inside The Rings of Power” by Anthony Breznican and Joanna Robinson.
If you haven’t, go here now and ogle the series of stunning production photos and get some hints as to what’s in store for us. And then, once you have, hurry back and read on because a selection of our staffers have given their candid impressions on the Vanity Fair revelations.
Quick note: Your first article on Vanity Fair is free to read so you can digest everything in full — there’s no catch. But if you like what you read, and want to support good journalism, a yearly sub is only $15.
Great literature stands on its own merits. But there is so much from Tolkien that is not known by the wider audience, many of whom think Middle-earth is just a story about brave little Hobbits who save the world at the end of the Third Age. The bulk of Tolkien’s lesser-known output concerns the First age, with only cursory information ever written for most of the Second.
Amazon purchased rights to create stories in this little-explored Second Age. By necessity, they need to create storylines and characters from whole cloth. I look forward to seeing these new tales play out. My only personal criteria in judging them are these three:
First, will the series get more people to read the pre-Third Age tales by Tolkien? Second, will it increase the desire of the general public to see adaptations of tales from the First Age? Third, will I smile when I watch it, and want more?
Only the completed first season, indeed, only the completed series will answer these questions. Not photos. Not trailers. I wait, with the same nervous but excited anticipation that I had for the early 2000s Rings trilogy.
The collected fragments of JRRT’s imagination pre-LOTR are scattered and changeable to begin with. To me, this means that any work based on these notes can deviate. Despite Christopher’s attempts to document, footnote, and caveat every single scrap of his father’s writing, the one thing Christopher underlines is that it’s clear that not even Tolkien had one solid timeline in mind for his characters. There is no one, true canon, here.
I am willing therefore to hold off on judgement before viewing the Amazon interpretation of his characters and world. The Vanity Fair article and other evidence indicates that we’ll see a compressed Second age story — from Galadriel adrift in the Sundering Sea after Morgoth’s capture ends the First Age (sure, why not?), all the way through 3441 years to the day Isildur cuts the ring from Sauron’s finger.
Galadriel’s timeline in the Second Age differs depending upon whether you take into account the pre-1960s appendices or the post-1960s one, and her timeline obviously differs in various versions of the notes collected by Christopher.
My initial reaction was to wonder where Celeborn and young Celebrían (born in SA 300) are, because they should be by Galadriel’s side at various points in the Second Age. But given the fact that Galadriel’s journey around Middle-earth looks like a confused yarn tangle as she moves from Lindon to Eregion to Imladris to Dol Amroth to Imladris again… OK sure she probably has some time to float around in the Sundering Sea alone to wreak vengeance upon Morgoth’s minions.
Why not? She really isn’t with Celeborn for some of the time in the Second Age, so I will stop being fussed by it.
I am very excited to see how Amazon will handle the Aulendil plot, where handsome “pupil of Aule” Sauron meets Galadriel and attempts to win her trust before he wiggles into Celebrimbor’s good graces and creates the Rings…
And finally, Elves are imaginary, my friends.
The article confirms that Amazon does not have any rights to the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Histories of Middle-earth, or any other works outside of the Lord of the Rings and its appendices and the Hobbit. So they are crafting a coherent story from what essentially is a bunch of outlines, brief references, etc. The only way to do that is to create non-canon characters to interact with canon characters in order to move the story forward. The Tolkien Estate has said that Historic events that are known can’t be changed, but the showrunners will be able to decide for themselves how much or how little time they spend on some events over others.
I’m not as concerned about the time compression, because I don’t believe they are compressing the whole of the Second Age. After all, the story is called The Rings of Power, so the story should just be focusing on Sauron, in disguise, shopping the notion of collaborating to make magical rings, being denied here and accepted there, the creation of those rings and possibly the distribution of them, ending with the creation of the One Ring. This event does not encompass the entirety of the Second Age, so less compression than you think, and most likely fewer grand Second Age stories even being told, unless a character actually chooses to talk about something we don’t really see.
I still can’t figure out that first still image we saw a few months back, except that it is probably in a flashback, and that the image is from Galadriel’s point of view, looking at her brother, the city and the Two Trees. Heck, if she’s been shipwrecked and in the water, what better way to get some prologue style flashbacks into the existing story.
I love the diversity in the casting and I’m especially looking forward to seeing more of the Dwarven princess. I was never expecting a beard because my head-canon from 30+ years of reading before the movies never pictured a female dwarf with a beard. It’s fascinating to see this is a deal-breaker for so many. Same for short hair on elves.
I remember all the uproar when the Lord of the Rings movies first came out, that they were not “faithful” to the books. Interesting to see this repeated by movie-firsters, who now deplore that the Rings of Power isn’t “faithful” to the original movies.
I was interested to read that the show plans to compress the hundreds of years of the Second Age. I’m OK with that because there is not enough of Tolkien’s content to pull together a coherent story. I appreciate the point made in the article that the multiple cast changes would be confusing.
I see a similar attention to detail in the pictures released so far that made the original movies so believable. Of course, the costumes, swords, jewelry, etc that we’ve seen so far are different; I still very much like what I have seen so far.
Overall, I’m very intrigued and look forward to more reveals.
I’m really interested to see how the new characters develop. I’m also quite happy to see the greater diversity amongst the various peoples of Middle-earth. This is because, right from the very first time I read The Lord of the Rings, over 40 years ago, I always assumed that’s what the peoples of Middle-earth were like, with just as much diversity as our world has.
I can’t help wondering about the time compression. I can understand the difficulty of trying to show over 3000 years of Middle-earth history, and facing having so many characters dying from old age, but it’s intriguing to figure out how this compression of time is going to work without it becoming a bit messy.
Curious as to where Celeborn is, whilst Galadriel is off hunting orcs. Maybe he became a stay-at-home dad to Celebrían.
I really don’t have a problem with short hair on elves. Tolkien never actually specifies that all of the Eldar have long hair. Someone on Facebook was claiming that Glorfindel’s hair streaming behind him, as he rode his horse, was proof that all elves have really long hair. Well, when I went riding in my teens mine used to do that too, and my hair was only shoulder length at the time.
I can’t wait to see Khazad-dûm in all its glory.
I do still have some reservations about the show, but I’m willing to wait until I’ve actually watched it before I make any judgements. The same as I did with the Peter Jackson movies.
I’ll start with the diversity we saw in the images. I personally loved what I saw. Based on what I’ve read of Tolkien over the years these characters could easily fit into the books. So for me I think that Amazon is doing solid with this. If folks want to get mad then get mad that they made Elrond a blonde. Otherwise getting your knickers in a twist over invented characters and not already established ones seems like a giant waste of energy.
I also love the detailing we see in these photos. If looks like it’s going to be a world that’s actually lived in. The armor looks fantastic as well as the weapons. I’m hoping this means that our friends at Weta Workshop are doing the work. That means these seasons should have some quality items on screen in this regard. This is also good for cos-players as they’ll have some quality items they can work to create.
One of the big things I think is the time compression. I’ve already seen some folks complaining about this. Why? In order to hit the marks for this you were going to have to have this happen. Otherwise this show would have to last well beyond my lifetime. So as long as proper care is taken this should workout and give us something folks can enjoy.
I’m a movie-firster. So based on some of what we’re seeing changes to Elrond and some looks to weapons some haven’t seen yet. This doesn’t appear to be set in the same sandbox as the Peter Jackson films. For me that is a massive disappointment. Why? I find those films to be about as perfect as you can find. They translated the text rather beautifully I find (after having read the books multiple times now). If Amazon didn’t take a page out of the Disney/Marvel playbook and connect everything a-la the MCU, they’ve missed a big chance. PJ already showed you how you could turn out a kick-ass product that is respectful of Tolkien and makes folks happy. Will this show still be good? Maybe. Will I still enjoy it? Maybe. That still doesn’t mean I won’t be disappointed and feel like this was a massive missed opportunity.
Staffer Nancy “Mithril” Steinman
One thing I realize about The Rings of Power is that the show has only the barest of outlines to work with. The Lord of the Rings “Appendix B: The Second Age” is only twelve-and-a-half pages long. These pages hit highlight points only, leaping across huge gaps in time. The sole note about Galadriel is half a sentence long, yet the Second Age lasts 3,441 years, and she is in Middle-earth that entire time. With this information and a few poems, the showrunners have to create “50 hours of television” per J.D. Payne.
Even if The Silmarillion were available to Amazon, only two chapters are relevant to the Second Age. Mentions of named characters contain little insight into their daily lives or emotions. How can new material not be invented to fill in the gaps? How many viewers would continue to tune in for multiple seasons of a show that has no depth or breadth?
The posters and released photos reveal nuanced characters and costumes with wonderful details, so I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt that they will be able to do the same with story. On a side note, I’m pleased to see that most of the costumes don’t have long, draping sleeves. Although Ngila Dickson’s designs for Peter Jackson’s films are gorgeous, after wearing those sleeves for cosplay, I know how impractical they are and always wondered how the actors (and characters) managed.
I’m excited for one possible aspect of the expansion of the story I think the Vanity Fair article indicates -– we will get to see life in the lands to the south of Gondor. The captions under the photos of Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) give a clue. They say Bronwyn lives in the “Southland” in the village of Tirharad (“harad” translates as “south” in Sindarin, and “tir”, “to look or guard”). To me, this means we will get to see Harad from a perspective other than that of a land filled with stereotyped “evil” Haradrim warriors. Harad is a vast land that would have been populated with all kinds of people, and in the Second Age, the Númenóreans mixed with this culture, for both benevolent and selfish purposes.
For myself, I am hopeful that the stories we want to hear will be told, even if the timeline is compressed, and even if they are not exactly as Tolkien might have written them.
It is exciting to FINALLY have a real look at what we’ve been talking about for two years!!
The thing I am most excited about IS the diversity in these characters. Representation matters SO much and seeing such a range brought to Tolkien’s world brings me a great deal of joy. No-one should be offended by seeing a wide array of skin tones, period. A great deal of the initial reaction online deeply disappointed me. Tolkien’s work at it’s core represents UNITY and people coming together from all corners of Middle-earth for the greater good. Inclusion IS the greater good and I’m thrilled to see Amazon doing an apparent good job at that.
The image of Galadriel in the armor I absolutely love, I’m sorry but I do. Ignore how the background looks/color grading/etc. Just her in the armor was exciting to see. We KNOW that Amazon is not strapped to only the materials they have approval to use and that they will be creating new characters, stories and even directions/roles for characters that already exist. I don’t see a negative to making Galadriel have a bad ass warrior queen reality.
Artistic license and creative freedom needs to be allowed. There is no way to make every single person happy, even with the best of intentions. We saw that with PJ’s Middle-earth and we will definitely see it with Amazon. Everyone needs to a deep breath before the plunge (see what I did there?) and reserve judgment until actually seeing an episode. I have a lot of thoughts regarding the images we have been shown, but without more information? I’m keeping my opinions to myself until I understand the breadth of the direction they are taking with this series: both visually and with the stories being told (canon or not).
The love story plot line… I will say my initial reaction is that I’m not too keen on this. I hated it in the Hobbit, but we shall see.
My introduction to Tolkien’s work was through the storytelling of Peter Jackson, the lens of Andrew Lesnie and the talents of every artisan and artist who worked on the film trilogy. I read the books immediately after seeing Fellowship in theaters with my mom (who worked so hard to convince an 11-year-old Potterhead that I would love The Lord of the Rings even more. She was right). When I read the books, I saw Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth. That is what I have seen every re-read since. It will be very hard for me to “see” this series as of the same world that I have been obsessed with for 20 years if it doesn’t look close enough to PJ’s version… but IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE SAME (I keep telling myself and the world). Different CAN be good. We won’t know until we see it. There can be a place for BOTH in a fan’s heart.
I am cautiously optimistic at this point. I need to see a trailer to form a more informed opinion, but I hear that’s happening soon? 🙂
In the first part of this interview we met Julia Golding, founder of Project Northmoor and the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Here we find out more about the Centre and the teachings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Don’t miss a first look at Julia’s video tour of the barrow of Wayland’s Smithy, which may have been one of the inspirations for the Barrow Downs east of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings. She also takes us to the famous White Horse Hill. (Link at end of article.)
Mithril: I recently completed the first class offered by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Along with truly fun and productive lectures and assignments, the course had some fantastic tutors and guest speakers, and I am now part of a community of writers inspired by Tolkien. We even have an online Inklings group the Centre created for us. Was it always your intent to grow the experience into a community? How do you see it evolving?
Julia: I wish I could claim I had a master plan, but actually it has been more an organic growing experience. Our headline thought was this project is about encouraging the next generation of fantasy creatives, using Oxford and the Inklings as examples to inspire us. The idea to create a space for a community of writers came from reading Diana Pavlac Glyer’s book on the Inklings, Bandersnatch. Diana was one of our guest speakers. Her book unpacks how the Inklings supported each other as writers, and also why it eventually folded as a group. I thought after reading this that it would be natural to see if our first students wanted to stay together to continue their journey, using the Inklings example. They clearly can’t meet every week at Magdalen in C.S. Lewis’s rooms as Tolkien and friends did, but they can meet together in their online group. Once the space was set up, I stepped back to let the students become their own thing.
“A palace with a thousand and one entrances, J.R.R. Tolkien’s world can be explored through a thousand and one doorways … doors and corridors leading into often unexplored aspects of his universe.” – tolkienestate.com
If you’ve never visited the Tolkien Estate website, you’re in for a wonderful treat – one of seemingly endless discovery and learning about everything Tolkien. If you’re one of the lucky ones who have already discovered this gem of a site, it’s time to revisit it!
As we prepare to hang up our stockings on Christmas Eve, hoping for a visit from a certain gentleman dressed in red, let’s take a closer look at a wonderful, festive book for Tolkien fans of all ages.
Released in time for the 2020 holiday season, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has followed the path of its British cousin Harper Collins in publishing a striking new edition of the Letters from Father Christmas. Hitting the American market in late October, this oversized hardback beauty boasts 208 pages of colorful Christmas chronicles first designed to enchant Tolkien’s growing family with seasonal tales from the North Pole. This is the first three-digit milestone for the Tolkien corpus: as a “Centenary Edition”, the publication date marks the 100th anniversary of the first letter from Father Christmas reaching three-year old John Frances Reuel Tolkien in December 1920. These letters would continue over the next 23 years, welcoming Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla into the society of Father Christmas, the Great (Polar) Bear and his two sidekick nephews, Paksu and Valkotukka, and an elvish secretary, as they cope with everything from goblins to general clumsiness.
This latest (and more affordable) edition, like the slipcase “Deluxe Edition” published in 2019 by Harper Collins, contains transcriptions and facsimile pictures of the entire collection of “F.C.” letters, along with their assorted envelopes and stamps so characteristic of Tolkien’s meticulous attention to detail. It also includes an introduction from the book’s editor and Tolkien’s daughter-in-law, Baillie Tolkien, who married Christopher in 1967. Also included is a personal note from the Professor himself, reproduced for the first time.
Tolkien likely began these letters as a whimsical family flourish, designed to make Christmastime a bit more magical for his children. But as with most of his projects, the tale grew in the telling. The letters began with a simple note of less than 100 words to his firstborn, accompanied by an iconic Father Christmas “self-portrait” and picture of his house.
Over the years, these evolved into occasional notes to each of his children, much lengthier epistles, occasional poetry, a more extensive cast of recurring characters, and assorted annual calamities to be overcome: from a plumbing disaster, to a broken North Pole, to reindeer on the loose, to an unexpected visit from the Man in the Moon. Occasionally, there is even a faint early echo from Middle-earth, with the appearance of elven aid “Ilbereth”, a single vowel away from his more famous star-kindling forebear; extensive new languages and calligraphy for multiple races, and a great (polar) bear fighting off goblin hordes in ways that would make Beorn proud.
The art of The Father Christmas Letters proves to be the most engaging element of the books, including meticulous hand drawn stamps and envelope decorations, spidery handwriting in Tolkien’s favorite black and red mix (nearly illegible in some cases), and above all the host of water color illustrations that surely captivated the imagination and speculation of Ronald and Edith’s young family, even as they continue to do for us (especially for any who have had a chance to see some of the originals under glass at recent exhibitions in Oxford, New York, or Paris).
This combination of text and illustration is a likely contributor to the Letters’ complicated publishing history. They first appeared three years after Tolkien’s death with a greatly abridged 1976 edition that focuses on pictures (not always reproduced in their complete form), partial texts, and only token reproductions of the original and elaborate written and decorated letters.
Even in this premier edition, there are hints from Baillee Tolkien that we were only getting a sampling of a richer treasure. Further editions followed, largely keeping to a similarly abridged approach.
It was not until 1993 that Tolkien scholars began to appreciate the full extent and complexity of what was still missing from the Father Christmas saga; and inquiring minds wanted to know more.
The first response was a delightful new edition published by Houghton Mifflin in 1995, introducing a novel approach: ten letters enclosed in actual envelopes, sprinkled with recaps and illustration highlights. While still not exhaustive, this latest installment began to recreate some of the delight of actually receiving and opening these annual updates. The book also included three previously unpublished pictures.
Finally, in 1999, we received a new “revised and enlarged” version, with the complete set of more than 30 letters and all of Tolkien’s pictures, some with a lesser quality color reproduction. For the truly deep-pocketed, there was also an opportunity to add to their Easton Press library of well-bound leather books. These were particularly fine editions for those who love distractingly enlarged details as page decorations.
Now that the complete set of letters was finally available to the public, we could enter the era of anniversary editions. The first on the scene came after five more years, in 2004, with fewer pages and illustrations, but at least fewer marginal distractions. The 2009 edition – or 10th anniversary of the complete set – proved that the 1999 version was only mostly complete, adding several omitted pages from letters in 1937 and 1941. An updated version of the same edition in 2012 provided 39 new images covering all but a few pages of the actual letters, and much improved reproductions.
For the truly dedicated enthusiast, the upgraded Collector’s Edition of the Bodleian’s exhibit catalogue, Tolkien, Maker of Middle-earth, includes a facsimile version of the Christmas 1936 letter and its accompanying explanatory picture.
Tolkien’s family tradition ended on a bittersweet note in a 1943 letter (“a grim year”) to a 14-year-old Priscilla. Father Christmas muses, “After this I shall have to say ‘goodbye’, more or less: I mean, I shall not forget you. We always keep the old numbers of our old friends, and their letters; and later we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children.” The 2020 Centenary Edition ofThe Father Christmas Letters offers just that kind of opportunity: to reminisce, to return, to find great hope and cheer in small things, and to consider how we might pass this joy to future generations. Merry Christmas!
Editor Note: Throughout the month, and as part of our Tolkien Advent Calendar celebration, we are featuring news and resources for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, his worlds and works. Today’s official advent calendar is below!