Editor and Scholar Christopher Tolkien awarded Bodley Medal

3 November 2016

Son of JRR Tolkien awarded Bodleian honour for bringing his father's literary legacy to the public

The Bodleian Libraries has presented the Bodley Medal, the Libraries' highest honour, to Christopher Tolkien, son of renowned author JRR Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien is a scholar and editor who has spent the last 40 years editing his father's posthumously published work, ensuring that his father's rich literary legacy can be read by all.

Image of Christopher TolkienJRR Tolkien may be best known today as author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but he was chiefly known in his lifetime as a scholar of language and literature, holding some of the most prestigious Professorships at the University of Oxford, and producing major scholarship in his field. Christopher Tolkien edited his father's unpublished translation of the great Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf in 2014, fulfilling a major desideratum from scholars and lovers of Tolkien's imaginative literature alike.

Tolkien also wrote a great deal of poetry and prose connected to his fantasy world Middle-earth that was not published during his lifetime. Christopher Tolkien has edited scores of his father's manuscripts including The Silmarillion, a collection of Tolkien works that tell the story of the First Age of Middle-earth, and written a 12-volume series of books called The History of Middle-earth describing the evolution of a unique imagined world. The latest example of his editorial work is Beren and Lúthien, a Middle-earth romance between a man and an elf. The book was announced this month and will be published in May 2017.

Christopher Tolkien's editorial work on his father's manuscripts is underpinned by his academic career at the University of Oxford. He studied English at Trinity College and earned a B. Litt in Old Norse Literature. He went on to become a Fellow and Tutor in English Language at New College and a University Lecturer in Early English Language and Literature, and served in these roles from 1964-1975.

The Bodley Medal is awarded by the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the worlds in which the Bodleian is active including literature, culture, science and communication. Past honorees include classicist Prof Mary Beard, physicist Prof Stephen Hawking, theatre and film director Sir Nicholas Hytner, novelist Hilary Mantel, writer and actor Alan Bennett and inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Image of the book cover of BeowulfRichard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian

Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian said: 'Christopher Tolkien's contribution as a scholar and editor has been immense. Without his dedication and commitment, his father's works would not have reached such a broad public audience and without his erudition and scholarship JRR Tolkien's work would not have been presented so fully and with such authority.'

Christopher Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien said: 'Although I have never looked for anything remotely of such a kind, I find it especially welcome to receive the Bodley Medal in that it affirms the unique significance of my father's creation and accords a worthy place in the Republic of Letters to Tolkien scholarship. It gives me particular pleasure that the award comes from and is conceived by the Bodleian, where a great part of my father's manuscripts lie and where I have happy memories of the great library itself.'

The Bodleian Libraries houses the largest collection of original Tolkien manuscripts and drawings in the world. The Tolkien Archive has been kept at the Bodleian since 1979. The latest addition to the archive is a rare map of Middle-earth annotated by JRR Tolkien, which was acquired in May 2016. The Bodleian is currently developing a major Tolkien exhibition, which will open at the Weston Library in 2018.

Image credits

Christopher Tolkien, credit: François Deladerrière / © The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016
Beowulf book cover, credit: © HarperCollins Publishers Limited 2014

Back to top