Author of the Century – The Early Years

By | Jan 3, 2011

Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien was not the “Author of the 20th Century”, but his Lord of the Rings is considered by many as the “book of the century” and has influence many of the writers of the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st. January 3rd is his birthday. He was born in 1892 in in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His father, Arthur Reuel Tolkien, was assigned a post at the British bank there and his wife Mabel had join him.

Two years later a younger brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel, was born. Mabel and her two sons had returned to England to visit with family when Arthur died unexpectedly of rheumatic fever in 1896. His mother would die in 1904 leaving the two boys orphaned under the guardianship of Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory.

Ronald, the name he went in his youth, first met Edith Mary Bratt, the girl who would be his wife for over 55 years, when he was 16. She was three years older than he. They soon fell in love, but Father Francis Morgan, feeling that Edith was a distraction to Tolkien’s studies forbid him from contacting her until he reached the age of 21. Shortly after his 21st birthday, he asked her to marry him. At first she refused since she had agreed to marry another and felt that Tolkien had lost interest in her. But soon she changed her mind and agreed to marry him. Although they became engaged in 1913 it wasn’t until March 22, 1916 that they married.

As with many Europeans who lived in the 1910’s, the Great War, also known as World World I, impacted his life greatly. In 1915 he was sent to France to fight in the trenches and by the end of the War all but one of his closest friends had died.

During his time in France he developed Trench Fever, a disease carried by the lice which were common in the dugouts. In late 1916 he was sent back to England to recover. It was during this time of recovery that he began work on what he called the Book of Lost Tales. This was the the start of his creation of the Mythology that would become Middle-earth and lead to the writing of the Lord of the Rings.

One of the first Lost Tales was the story of meeting of Beren and Lúthien. One of the inspiration for the story came from an afternoon while he was in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, when Edith began to dance for him. He considered Edith as “my Lúthien”.


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