The works of John Ronald Ruel Tolkien are read all over the world. His hobbits, gnomes and other fantastic characters have changed the face of world literature and culture. But what do we know about the greatest love in his life?
“He was an extraordinary child who showed amazing talents. He loved myths and legends, playing chess, drawing dragons, and by the age of nine he had invented several languages, ”says family therapist Jason Whiting, author of a book on relationships. “Everyone knows that he was gifted, but few people know what an incorrigible romantic Tolkien was. His book Beren and Lúthien was published in 2017, decades after the author’s death, but tells a story close to his heart. ” It’s about a story of love and self-sacrifice, inspired by Tolkien’s passion for his wife Edith.
Friendship that grew into love
Tolkien grew up in England in the early 1900s under difficult circumstances, losing his father and mother in the midst of his teenage years. Taken under the care of a Catholic priest, Father Francis, young Ronald was lonely and showed a penchant for contemplation and reflection. At the age of 16, he and his brother moved to a small apartment. In the same house lived a girl who changed Ronald’s whole life.
Edith Brett was already 19 years old by that time. She had light gray eyes and musical ability. Ronald fell in love and managed to arouse mutual interest in Edith. The story of the girl’s friendship with the Tolkien brothers began. Whiting describes how Ronald would open the window and use a rope to lower the basket down while Edith loaded it with snacks, feeding the orphans. “This rapid emptying of groceries must have intrigued Mrs. Faulkner, the girl’s guardian, since Edith was slim and petite, and her height was only 152 centimeters.”
English “Romeo and Juliet”
Edith and Ronald spent more and more time together. They knew how to make each other laugh and fool around like children – for example, meeting in a teahouse on the roof of a house in Birmingham, they threw sugar cubes into the hats of passers-by.
Their interaction seriously worried Francis’s vigilant father and Mrs. Faulkner, whom the couple nicknamed “this old lady.” The Moral Guardians considered the relationship inappropriate and were upset that Ronald was skipping school. Inventive lovers came up with a conventional whistle, which served as call signs to urge people to chat through the windows at night.
Of course, the prohibitions and barriers did not stop them, they just had to make efforts for conspiracy. One weekend Ronald and Edith made an appointment in the village. And although they took precautions and even returned separately, someone from their acquaintances noticed them and reported to Father Francis. And since around the same time, Tolkien did not pass the entrance exams to Oxford, his guardian categorically insisted on breaking up with Edith and that the young man finally focus on his studies.
The guardian was categorical: Ronald should not have contacted Edith in the next three years
However, it was impossible to separate the couple, and they planned a date again, secretly met, got on a train and fled to another city, where they went to a jewelry store for gifts for each other’s birthdays – the girl turned 21, Ronald turned 18. But this time too there was a witness to their meeting, and again Father Francis found out about everything. This time he was adamant: Ronald should not have contacted Edith for the next three years, until his twenty-first birthday. For young lovers, this was a real blow.
Tolkien was depressed, but obediently obeyed the orders of his guardian. Over the next three years, he passed his college exams and settled in Oxford, playing rugby and studying Gothic, Anglo-Saxon and Welsh. However, immersed in student life, he did not forget about his Edith.
On the eve of his twenty-first birthday, Ronald sat up in bed and looked at his watch. As soon as midnight came, he began to write a letter to Edith, declaring his love and offering to marry him. Several days of anxious expectation passed. Tolkien received a response with the dire news that his Edith was engaged to a “more promising young man.” By the standards of that time, she was getting old – she was almost 24 years old – and it was time to get married. In addition, the girl assumed that Ronald had simply forgotten about her in three years.
Tolkien jumped on the first train to Cheltenham. Edith met him at the station and they walked along the viaduct. His passion melted the girl’s heart, and she agreed to break off the engagement with the “promising” groom and marry a strange student who showed an interest in “Beowulf” and linguistics.
“Shining light …”
According to biographers, their marriage was filled with joy and laughter. The Tolkien couple had four children. Once a story happened to the lovers that left a deep mark on Ronald’s soul and passed through all his works as a motif.
Together with his wife, they walked through the forest and found a picturesque meadow with a swamp overgrown with white flowers. Edith began to dance in the sun, and Ronald’s breath caught in his throat. As he told this story to his son many years later, Tolkien recalled: “In those days her hair was like a raven’s wing, her skin glowed, her eyes brighter than you remember, and she could sing and dance.”
This event inspired the writer to compose a story about Beren and Lúthien, a mortal man and elf. Here are the lines from the book “The Silmarillion”: “But, wandering in the height of summer through the forests of Neldoreth, he met Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian, when at evening, at the rising of the moon, she danced on the unfading grass of the coastal meadows of Esgalduin. Then the memory of the suffering he had endured left him, and he was fascinated, for Lúthien was the fairest of the Children of Ilúvatar. Her robe was blue, like a clear sky, and her eyes were dark like a starry night, her cloak was strewn with golden flowers, her hair was black like night shadows. Her beauty was like the light playing on the leaves of the trees, the singing of clear waters, the stars rising above the misty land, and in her face was a shining light.
Edith died at the age of 82, Tolkien engraved “Lúthien” next to her name on her tombstone
When Tolkien presented the Lord of the Rings manuscript to the publisher, the publisher questioned the wisdom of including any romantic elements in the narrative. In particular, the young writer was told that the story of Aragorn and Arwen, similar to that of Beren and Lúthien, was “unnecessary and superficial.” The publisher believed that the book about people, magic and battles did not need any romantic scenes.
However, Tolkien stood his ground, citing the inspiring power of love. In a letter to publisher Rayner Unwin, he argued for including the theme of Aragorn and Arwen: “I still find it very important because it is an allegory of hope. I hope you leave this scene. ” His passion took over again, and thus Tolkien preserved his novel in history.
Edith died in 1971 at the age of 82, and Tolkien engraved “Lúthien” on her headstone next to her. He died twenty-one months later and was buried with her, and “Beren” was added to his name.
Passion and self-denial
“The strong bond between Tolkien and his beloved Edith demonstrates the depth of emotion that humans can reach,” adds Jason Whiting.
However, although the relationship ignites with passion, they continue to live at the cost of great effort and sacrifice. Tolkien figured this out as he reflected on why his marriage remained so strong. He reasoned this way: “Almost all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes in the sense that almost certainly both partners could have found more suitable spouses. But a real soul mate is who you choose, whom you marry. “
Tolkien knew that true love is not achieved with a flash of enthusiastic desire.
Despite his passionate nature, the writer understood that relationships require work: “No man, no matter how sincerely he loved his chosen one as a bride and no matter how loyal to her as a wife, could remain so all his life without a deliberate and conscious strong-willed decisions, without mental and physical self-denial ”.
“Tolkien knew that true love is not achieved with a flash of enthusiastic desire,” Whiting writes. – She needs regular care and attention to detail. For example, Ronald and Edith loved to show attention to each other and give small gifts. In adulthood, they spent a lot of time talking about children and grandchildren. Their relationship was built on passion and friendship that fueled this love from the beginning of courtship to the very end of life. “
About the expert: Jason Whiting is a family therapist, professor of psychology, and author of True Love. Amazing ways to self-deceive in relationships. “