J.R.R. Tolkien was a romantic. When he met his future wife, Edith, at the age of 16, he was instantly smitten with her and immediately began an informal courtship, taking her to local tea houses on a regular basis. When the priest who acted as Tolkien’s guardian found out about his romance, however, he forbade him from having contact with Edith until the age of 21, so as not to distract from his studies. Tolkien reluctantly obeyed. For five long years, he waited for the one he knew was his soul mate. On the evening of his 21st birthday, he wrote a letter to Edith, declaring his love and asking for her hand in marriage. A week later, they were engaged to be married.
Throughout his life, Tolkien wrote love poems to his wife, and in his letters to friends, he writes glowingly about her. But perhaps his most famous and enduring tribute to his beloved bride was weaving his romance with her into the mythology of Middle Earth in the story of Beren and Luthien. A more moving tribute would be hard to find. He wrote to his son, Christopher:
I never called Edith Luthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance.
Even in death, Tolkien would not leave his Edith. He is buried next to her under a single gravestone inscribed with the names Beren and Luthien. To use the popular phrase, Tolkien was very much “in love” with this wife.
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