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Happy Birthday to my "main man" of literature....

Posted on 2007.01.02 at 18:28

Happy Birthday....

to the man whose work has brought so much joy to my life of the imagination:

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

January 3, 1892 ~ September 2, 1973

It's already January 3rd in England, the land Tolkien loved, and for which he wrote his "mythology", so I'll go ahead and post. I'd like to celebrate Tolkien's birthday with a few snapshots....

~ Ronald (no one called him "John", apparently) and Hilary, his younger brother by two years, in 1905, the year after their mother's death.

~ Ronald in 1911, when he and his friends at school started the secret "T.C.B.S. ("Tea Club and Barrovian Society").

~ Ronald as a new officer, and newly married to Edith Mary Bratt, in 1916 (an "older woman" [by three years] with whom he fell in love at 16, was subsquently forbidden to see, and to whom he sent a letter proposing marriage on the day he became 21 -- they were engaged, marrying three years later).

~ Another snapshot from an internet gallery, undated, but which looks to me as if it were taken a bit earlier, before growing the moustache.

~ Edith Bratt, the woman whom Tolkien loved (sorry, there wasn't a date), and who was his inspiration for the character and tale of Lúthien.

More about Edith Tolkien for those interested:

Edith Mary Bratt was born in Gloucester. Her mother Frances Bratt, then aged thirty, probably went to Gloucester from her home in Wolverhampton in order to avoid scandal, because the baby was illegitimate. Frances Bratt's family owned a boot and shoe manufacturing business. Edith's mother never married and the father's name was not mentioned on the birth certificate, though France's family knew who he was. Even if Edith knew her father's name she never passed it on to her own children.

Edith was brought up in Handsworth by her mother and the mother's cousin Jenny Grove. She was a talented musician and could play the piano very well. After her mother's death she was sent to a girls' boarding school that specialized in music. Having left the school she could have become a professional pianist, however, her guardian was not sure about what to do with her future. So he found her a room at Mrs Faulkner's where she, in fact, could hardly practise piano. But it was in this house that she met Ronald Tolkien (J.R.R.T.) in 1908. He and his younger brother Hilary Arthur Reuel Tolkien were moved into the same boarding house.

Despite being his senior by three years (she was 19, Tolkien was 16) by the summer of 1909 they had fallen in love. However, before the end of 1909 the relationship became known to Tolkien's guardian, Father Francis Xavier Morgan, who forbade Tolkien to see Edith.

Tolkien obeyed this instruction to the letter while Father Morgan's guardianship lasted. However on the evening of his twenty-first birthday, Tolkien wrote to Edith (who had since moved to Cheltenham a declaration of his love and asked her to marry him. She replied saying that she was already engaged but had become so because she had believed Tolkien had forgotten her. Within a week, Tolkien had journeyed to Cheltenham where the two met up and beneath a railway viaduct renewed their love; Edith returned her ring and chose to marry Tolkien instead.

~ Excerpted from Wikipedia's entry on Tolkien, and the Tolkien Wiki Community's entry on Edith Bratt. For another good sketch of Tolkien's life, see the bio entry at the Tolkien Society.

~ The first of two family snapshots I found, undated. This one shows Ronald asleep with Christopher behind what I assume is their Oxford house. (I'll bet he didn't like this place when they first moved there: newly built, the grounds were nearly treeless!) Christopher was born in 1924 and Tolkien was brought to Oxford to be the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon in 1925. Christopher, the third of his four children, grew up to be his literary executor, presently still at work on the massive HoME.

~ This photo had no date, either. But only three children are shown (Priscilla the youngest was not born until 1929), and Christopher (whom I am assuming is the child with Tolkien) looks about the same age as he does above. Which of the two other boys was which -- John or Michael -- I don't know, but John was older than Michael by nearly three years.

~ A nice photo of Edith and Ronald in their later years.

~ The picture below is the last-known picture taken of J.R.R.T., standing in front of his favourite tree in the botanical gardens in Oxford, Aug. 9, 1973. Not quite a month later, he had died.


~ Edith died November 29, 1971. Tolkien had the name "Lúthien" engraved on the stone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died not quite two years later, he was buried with her, his name and "Beren" added to the stone.

~ Below are favourite pictures of mine of Tolkien in his "Lord of the Rings" years, that is, when he was an older -- and old -- man. As you will see, he was very fond of "the leaf".

~ I saved my favourite for last. What a good elderly Bilbo living in Rivendell he would have made!


whiteling dashed off a charming little manip in honour of the occasion and posted it in a comment box below. With her permission, I am posting it up here.

~ Whiteling's Smoke Rings:

~ Mechtild


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shirebound at 2007-01-03 01:37 (UTC) (Link)
What a good elderly Bilbo living in Rivendell he would have made!

I agree! What a lovely tribute, Mechtild. And one of my goals in life is to visit that grave.
mechtild at 2007-01-03 01:40 (UTC) (Link)
one of my goals in life is to visit that grave.

Me, too, Shirebound. I also badly want to see that mill where he and Hilary used to play, just dripping with Shire-ness, they say.
(Anonymous) at 2007-01-03 02:16 (UTC) (Link)
Edith was so beautiful wasn't she? And I Love that last picture of the Professor. A perfect Bilbo indeed.
mechtild at 2007-01-03 03:40 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, she was, Anonymous. ;) I wonder if her picture influenced PJ in the choice of Liv Tyler for Arwen? The dark-and-light, the very soft features, and the deep, expressive eyes.
Hobbity forever
periantari at 2007-01-03 02:43 (UTC) (Link)
awesome tribute, Mechtild! I remember tomorrow (3 hours more in EST US ;) is his birthday and besides toasting him on the site that TORN links to i must think of doing something public too-- your pics are an awesome selection! ♥ Tolkien ♥
::memories this post::

I might crosspost this--hope you won't mind. :) ::cheers to the Prof::
mechtild at 2007-01-03 03:44 (UTC) (Link)
It's a great day to celebrate, ey, Periantari? I am so grateful that he shared his gifts--that C. S. Lewis kept after him to finish and publish LotR, and I'g grateful to the Muse that guided him to conceive and create his world in the first place.
(Anonymous) at 2007-01-03 03:07 (UTC) (Link)
How beautiful the face of youth,
translucent innocence,

delicate, fragile,
like the sigh'd breath of wind upon moon-silver leaves....

How beautiful the face of age,
the nib of time telling,
with grave truth,
the tale entire:

Joy and sorrow,

knowledge and naïveté,

wisdom and folly.




Thank you, Professor, for sharing your love with us.

mechtild at 2007-01-03 03:48 (UTC) (Link)
Your post has both wisdom and beauty. Joy and sorrow, youth and age--"the tale entire"--all play out within his world and life. All those things, along with love.

"And.... Love."

And love and love and love!
shelbyshire at 2007-01-03 03:49 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, Mechtild, he looks to be the perfect vision of Bilbo in Rivendell. That description has me smiling. I was just thinking to myself that it's still only the 2nd today because I don't want to miss raising a toast to him at 9 PM tomorrow. I'll be opening the bottle of Winter Red, the Little Penguin out of South Eastern Australia, that I got from my sister for Christmas. Yup, it has a penguin on the label. Can't imagine why she thought of me when she saw that!

*raises a glass to the Professor*
mechtild at 2007-01-03 03:54 (UTC) (Link)
Yup, it has a penguin on the label. Can't imagine why she thought of me when she saw that!

Hmmm, nor can I.... *snickers*

You're raising a glass tomorrow evening? That sounds like a great idea. I believe I will, too.
primula_baggins at 2007-01-03 04:26 (UTC) (Link)
This was a lovely tribute. I'd never seen most of these photos and they are precious. Edith was such a beauty! No wonder he was smitten with her.

Happy birthday Ronald!
mechtild at 2007-01-03 13:49 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, Primula, thanks for bringing your comments here - especially with that icon. How I love images of that scene!
aredhelebenesse at 2007-01-03 06:28 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you very much for this beautiful short bio and all the lovely pictures!
I think the professor makes a wonderful Bilbo Baggins, though he's actually rather Eru Iluvatar.
All the same, it's said we should lift our glasses (pots, horns) at 9 pm local time and propose a toast to the professor. So this has still a bit time.

Estelanui - Francesca
estelanui at 2007-01-03 07:23 (UTC) (Link)
Happy Birthday Professor, in the Eternal Land where you are now!

Thank you for this trubute Mechtild!
I didn't know the two photos with the children. What incredible tales they have listened. What wonderfull hothouse in their Dad head!
In some way I feel myself as one of his child.
mechtild at 2007-01-03 13:50 (UTC) (Link)
Well, we are the children of his imagination. Just like we can sit with Sam's descendants, in our imaginations, and also be Frodo's heirs. But it does sound as though he was a loving dad who enjoyed his children, in spite of a life full of demands that left little time for writing his world, except in the night after they were all asleep.
stillscarlet at 2007-01-03 08:06 (UTC) (Link)
9pm January 3rd has *just* passed here, so I raised my glass to JRRT, that wonderful man. It's a sparkling rosé, which is appropriate for the silly season, and I hope the creator of tra-la-la-lallying elves won't mind. Bless him.
mechtild at 2007-01-03 13:53 (UTC) (Link)
"Tra la la, la la la, la la la lally/Tollers his troth did plight in an alley."

O.K., under the train tracks (see addition with more material on Edith, not that everyone doesn't know it, but I wanted it in print somewhere in my L.J.).

*raises glass with you -- in your lovely new kitchen*
lily_the_hobbit at 2007-01-03 09:19 (UTC) (Link)
What a wonderful tribute. Which website did you take the pictures from? I only know some of them from the Biography. I especially love the pictures with his family. He must have adored his children - especially when considering that the Letters from Father Christmas and the Hobbit (? not quite sure about that - it's a long time since I have read the Biography) were in fact written for them.
mechtild at 2007-01-04 14:09 (UTC) (Link)
I found the family pics quite by accident on Google Images. When I saw the old photo of him and Hilary in 1905, I clicked it open and got this site, which had the family photos. There are a few more I didn't post.
whiteling at 2007-01-03 10:14 (UTC) (Link)
That was a marvellous tribute with great pictures, Mechtild. Yes, the Professor has given so much joy to so many people. *Here's to the hobbity Professor*

Allow me to add a little photo manip, nothing new, but I think, it shows the comfortable feeling Tolkien had for his characters - and vice versa.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
mechtild at 2007-01-03 13:55 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, that's so GREAT, Whiteling! May I save it? May I add it above?
majblomma2000 at 2007-01-03 13:24 (UTC) (Link)
What a wonderful post!! I have read some biographies of his life but I haven't seen many pictures. I am so taken with the story between him and Edith, to fall in love and then be forbidden to meet her, she converts to be with him and they spend their entire lives together, loving each other every day. It is so touching to see thir love story and see it reflect in the story of Beren and Lúthien. And he most certainly look like a Bilbo and I think he might not agree with you but deep down he would have been hapy to know that. *saving to memories*
mechtild at 2007-01-03 13:58 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Majblomma. I just added an excerpt (indented, in smaller type) telling more about Edith's antecedents and their engagement, just so I'd have it printed out in my LJ for future reference. I, too, find it a terribly romanctic story, how they came to start talking to each other from each other's windows at the boarding house and all that. I know that things weren't always smooth-sailing between them, but they seemed committed for the long haul.
melyanna_65 at 2007-01-03 14:11 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute to this special man.

It's so strange how his words have changed our lives. We wouldn't be here writing and commenting if he wasn't for Professor Tolkien, bless him!

And yes, he was a perfect hobbit, a true Bilbo Baggins!

*hobbity hugs*
mechtild at 2007-01-03 14:17 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, he is the reason we all are here. Cheers to the Professor! *clinks glasses with you*
golden_berry at 2007-01-03 16:11 (UTC) (Link)
What a nice tribute to our beloved Professor! Edith was a beauty, and those EYES--intense, smoldering, dark. I would love to visit the Tolkien gravesite and his favorite haunts, someday.
mechtild at 2007-01-03 23:19 (UTC) (Link)
I would love to visit the Tolkien gravesite and his favorite haunts, someday.


Me, too, Goldenberry.
not_alone at 2007-01-03 16:49 (UTC) (Link)
This is such a beautiful tribute to the Professor, Mechtild:) You know, when I read comments from people saying how much they long to visit his grave, or Sarehole Mill where he played, etc., I feel quite guilty because I actually live in his Middle Earth and I'm sure I don't always appreciate this as much as I should. When we first married, we lived in the road right next to Wake Green Road where he lived for many years. When my husband passed his driving test, the first place we decided to drive to was Sarehole Mill, though in those days I had no idea just how significant this would become. We have only been to the annual Tolkien event held at the Mill once - I think I will remedy that this year. We may also take a trip to Oxford to visit the grave. Oh yes, someone else will be in Oxford this year, won't he? How I would love to take him by the hand and say "Come with me, we're going to visit the resting place of someone who transformed both our lives". Thank you for posting these wonderful pics - I find the one of him sleeping with his son quite moving:)
mechtild at 2007-01-03 23:22 (UTC) (Link)
We have only been to the annual Tolkien event held at the Mill once - I think I will remedy that this year. We may also take a trip to Oxford to visit the grave.

If you do, Not Alone, please give a little report. By the way, above Brummie (aka Earth's Daughter) also confessed to not paying as much attention to seeing the Tolkien sights as she might.

Oh yes, someone else will be in Oxford this year, won't he? How I would love to take him by the hand and say "Come with me, we're going to visit the resting place of someone who transformed both our lives".

That would be very cool, really. I'll bet he would find the experience valuable.
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