Personal Life

by Steven Needham

This chapter is a free excerpt from Biography On J. R. R. Tolkien.

J. R. R. Tolkien met Edith Bratt, the woman that he would marry in 1909. When they met, he was sixteen years old and she was nineteen, and his guardian refused to let the young couple see one another, fearing their young love would intefere with Tolkien’s schoolwork. Tolkien reconnected with Edith as an adult in 1914, when World War One was declared, and this time he had to part with her again to serve his country. In Brief Biography of J.R.R Tolkien, Tejvan R. Pettinger writes, "It is a testament to his belief in faithfulness and honesty, that he was willing to wait several years to meet his wife; such sentiments of nobility appear frequently in his writings; for example, the magnificent love story of Beren and Luthien."


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J. R. R. Tolkien met Edith Bratt, the woman that he would marry in 1909. When they met, he was sixteen years old and she was nineteen, and his guardian refused to let the young couple see one another, fearing their young love would intefere with Tolkien’s schoolwork. Tolkien reconnected with Edith as an adult in 1914, when World War One was declared, and this time he had to part with her again to serve his country. In Brief Biography of J.R.R Tolkien, Tejvan R. Pettinger writes, "It is a testament to his belief in faithfulness and honesty, that he was willing to wait several years to meet his wife; such sentiments of nobility appear frequently in his writings; for example, the magnificent love story of Beren and Luthien."

In 1916, Edith and Tolkien were married in Warwick, and the bride converted to her husband's Catholic religion. Their married bliss was short lived, however, as Tolkien was soon forced to leave England in order to fight in France. Tolkien apparently saw action in France and was changed forever by the experience. When he returned to England with post-traumatic stress disorder, Edith helped nurse him back to physical and emotional health.

In 1917, Tolkien and his wife welcomed the birth of their first son, John. With a young family to provide for, Tolkien sought employment and found it when he worked on the "W" section of the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1920, the family continued to grow with the addition of a second son, Michael, the same year that Tolkien found a position as an Appointed Reader in English at Leeds University. The family added another son, Christopher, in 1924, and Tolkien was promoted to being a professor of English at Leeds University. In 1929, Tolkien and his wife had their fourth child, a daughter named Priscilla.

In 1926, J. R. R. Tolkien met another famous writer, C. S. Lewis, with whom he developed a close and lasting friendship. While at Oxford, Tolkien helped form a social group called "The Inklings" with other like-minded professors and writers. In his biographical sketch of J. R. R. Tolkien, David Doughan wrote of the group, "Other prominent members included . . . Messrs Coghill and Dyson, as well as Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and above all C. S. Lewis, who became one of Tolkien's closest friends, and for whose return to Christianity Tolkien was at least partly responsible."

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis' friendship was mutually beneficial, as the two men influenced one another's work. As Ethan Gilsdorf wrote in “J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A Literary Friendship and Rivalry," Tolkien and Lewis were wary of one another when they first met at Oxford, "But the colleagues soon discovered they shared a like-minded interest in languages, poetry, myth and storytelling. They both avoided contemporary culture, neither had a car nor would drive one, and both largely ignored politics and the news. And in their fledgling efforts as novelists, they served as each others first readers." Interestingly, Tolkien's firm belief in Catholicism seems to have influenced C. S. Lewis’s reexamination of his affiliation with the Christian faith as well.

On September 2, 1973, J. R. R. Tolkien died at the age of eighty-one. He was buried with his beloved wife in the Catholic section of a cemetery at Oxford.

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