In an interview with The Guardian, the Canadian fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay has talked about what it was like to help Christopher Tolkien edit The Silmarillion during 1974-1975.
Kay came to work with Christopher Tolkien through the family connections of Christopher’s first wife. As a 26 year old he spent a year in Oxford working with Christopher, and occasionally Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter, reading Tolkien’s manuscripts and bringing them together to form what was published in 1977 as The Silmarillion.
It was “quietly exhilarating” for him for the process was almost entirely secret, and he declined to talk about the details of the editing process itself in the interview.
Kay does describe, however, what he learned from the process, emphasising that it takes considerable time and effort for great works to emerge fully formed.
I learned a lot about false starts in writing. I mean that in a really serious way. His [Tolkien’s] false starts. You learn that the great works have disastrous botched chapters, that the great writers recognise that they didn’t work. So I was looking at drafts of The Lord of the Rings and rough starts for The Silmarillion and came to realise they don’t spring full-blown, utterly, completely formed in brilliance. They get there with writing and rewriting and drudgery and mistakes, and eventually if you put in the hours and the patience, something good might happen. That was a very, very early lesson for me, looking at the Tolkien materials. That it’s not instantly magnificent. That it’s laboriously so, but it gets there. That was a huge, huge, still important lesson.
Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society’s digital operations, including this website.