“Most Married Man”
When Tolkien set out to create his mythological Elvish race, he drew inspiration from a muse dear to his heart. Edith Bratt (pictured here at age 19 when she first met Tolkien) shared the same grief—both had lost their mothers in their teens. The two met in a boarding home, promptly became fast friends, and fell in love.
The Return of the King tells of the human Aragorn and the Elven Arwen pledging their love for one another in the forest of Lothlorien (drawn here by Tolkien). The scene echoed in Tolkien’s life: After the young Edith danced for him once in a woodland glade, he began calling her “Luthien” and himself “Beren.” These were the names of another Elven-human couple in his legendarium. They adorn Edith and Ronald Tolkien’s gravestones.
But when Tolkien’s guardian Father Francis Morgan discovered the romance, he split up the couple, forbidding Tolkien to speak to Edith until he turned twenty-one. Tolkien agreed, and he endured the separation for nearly three years, during which Edith became engaged to another man. Tolkien later wrote that while the whole affair was painful and bitter, “nothing else would have hardened the will enough” to give their love such permanence. He wrote to Edith as soon as his twenty-first birthday arrived, and convinced her to break off the engagement. They married three years later in 1916, just before Tolkien left to fight in France.
Following his short stint in World War I, Tolkien returned to England to finish out his military duties and reunite with Edith. He showered his young wife with love and devotion, admiring “her long dark hair, fair face, starry eyes, and beautiful voice.” His adoration would continue into his years at Oxford, where he refused customary rooms at Pembroke College in order to spend more time with his family. His friend C. S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor until late in life, once complained that Tolkien was “the most married man he knew.”
By Steven Gertz
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #78 in 2003]
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