Friday, July 14, 2023

Charles E. Noad

One of my oldest friends, and the longest-lasting of my British friends, has passed on. Charles was a mainstay of the Tolkien Society, the UK-based organization, and an absolute monument for Tolkien studies for all that he didn't write very much. Besides doing bibliographical work for the TS, his most valuable contribution was as proofreader for most of the posthumous Tolkien volumes, in the History of Middle-earth series and elsewhere. At this his ability to catch glitches was unsurpassed. He could quite literally tell whether a period (the full stop at the end of a sentence) was in italics or not. As a support to Christopher Tolkien, the editor of these volumes, he was more than invaluable.

One piece he did write was an essay "On the Construction of the Silmarillion," which appeared in the festschrift for CT, Tolkien's Legendarium, ed. Flieger & Hostetter. It was a fascinating and well-researched and -argued speculation on what Tolkien would likely have put in The Silmarillion had he ever finished it: a more heterogeneous volume than the one actually published under that title. It immediately preceded my own contribution, and I was pleased to be adjacent to the other contributor whom, at the time, I knew the best.

Charles and I had met on my first trip to Britain, in 1979. That's 44 years ago now: amazing. We had some long talks, at first in a corner of the hotel of the World Science Fiction Convention, and later in London, at pubs and in his flat, which I got to visit for the only time. Even then it was packed with books; what it must have been like 44 years later - he was still at the same place in west London - I can't imagine.

We worked out a treaty, similar to ones he made with several other American Tolkienists in those days when international purchases were difficult to make unaided. He would purchase my annual membership in the Tolkien Society, and I would work off the balance by buying and shipping to him American publications that he wanted: not just Tolkien ones; he had a deep interest in the history of the space program and would seek out rare books and magazines in that area. That interested me also so we'd talk about that too.

He also provided other things to me: one project he undertook during my first visit was to make me photocopies of all of Tolkien's fugitive early published poetry. I still keep those in my files, with his carefully penned bibliographic citations on the backs.

Charles looked dignified, with a neatly trimmed beard, and he was very soft-spoken. It was best to meet with him in a quiet place. One quiet place we sometimes met was the back room where the Inklings met of the Bird and Baby, their pub in Oxford, the first beeline if we were meeting in the town for some event. John Rateliff writes that Charles was the only person he ever bought a beer for, and the same might be true for me.

On some of my last trips to England, just before the pandemic, he organized meetings for me with himself and a few friends at Penderel's Oak, the central London pub where the local Tolkien group often met. I arrived at the first with a padded envelope filled with half a dozen copies of the Newsweek special issue on Tolkien, which I'd picked up at my local grocer's: one for Charles, the rest for him to distribute to other British TS members who might be interested.

The son of a friend came round to take Charles to a hospital visit on Thursday, but found him deceased. Heart attack, probably: Charles had been having heart trouble recently. That's all I know: I'm sure details will be forthcoming, probably on the TS website. A great loss, a great loss.

1 comment:

  1. I am sorry to hear this news. My condolences to his family and all the many people who loved him.