J.R.R. Tolkien and Edith Bratt
In honor of Valentines Day I thought I’d make a post about the real-life love story of J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith Bratt.
They met when Tolkien was 16 and Edith 19, both orphans, and living in the same boarding house. They spent time together in a teashop balcony, dropping lumps of sugar into the hats of people walking below. During the summer of 1909 they fell in love.
But Edith was Anglican, and Tolkien a Catholic, and his guardian (a Catholic priest) forbade Tolkien to see Edith again until he was a legal adult at 21. Tolkien obeyed, but sent Edith a letter on the night of his 21st birthday, asking her to marry him. Edith replied that she was already engaged, having thought that he’d forgotten her. Tolkien immediately traveled to the town she was living in. Edith met him at the train, and by the end of the day she’d returned her engagement ring and agreed to marry Tolkien.
Edith converted to Catholicism (though religion remained the one sore spot between them), and the couple had several kids. Tolkien served in WWI, and the separation caused them both a lot of pain. Letters from the front line were censored, so Tolkien and Edith devised a secret code. Edith could decipher Tolkien’s letters, and thereby keep track of his movements on a map of the front.
When Tolkien returned from war, they lived for a time at Roos in Yorkshire. Taking a walk one day, Edith began dancing in a clearing of blooming hemlock. It was at this moment that Tolkien first started creating the story of Beren and Luthien.
Edith died in 1971. Tolkien, in a letter to his son Christopher, discussed Edith’s part as the inspiration for Luthien. In mentioning her death, Tolkien confesses: “But the story has gone crooked, and I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.”
Tolkien died 22 months after Edith. Their headstone reads Edith Mary Tolkien: Luthien, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien: Beren.
SOURCES: Edith Tolkien’s Wikipedia page, which cites Carpenter Humphrey’s Tolkien biography as well as The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.