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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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lame_pegasus at 2007-01-03 21:31 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Mechtild - what a beautiful post!
mechtild at 2007-01-03 23:22 (UTC) (Link)
You are welcome!
(Anonymous) at 2007-01-04 04:59 (UTC) (Link)

thank you----------

so much for your lovely tribute!

tonight, for the first time, I celebrated "The Professor's" birthday, quietly- alone at home (inspired by the birthday tribute on the Tolkien Society site-). the joy in the books has warmed me since childhood- how much more it warms the heart to think of all of you/us- fellow Tolkien-philes- out there! in the wide, not-quite-Middle-Earth we live in..

greetings to all! from NYC..
mechtild at 2007-01-04 14:12 (UTC) (Link)

Re: thank you----------

Greetings to you, from the Upper Midwest! Thanks for posting a second, Anonymous. I would love to have toasted with you in NYC. (I loved living there back in the late 70's and 80's.)
The One Mari
marigold6 at 2007-01-04 07:36 (UTC) (Link)
What a lovely tribute to the Professor, Mechtild. Edith was such a beauty - how could he not fall in love with her - and it's obvious what a loving father he was. And if it were not for the love of his world and the amazing characters that inhabit it, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to celebrate him with wonderful people like you. *hobbity hugs*
mechtild at 2007-01-04 14:14 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Marigold. Yeah, we're so lucky to have been around when he had published, when the films were made, when the fandom blossomed enough for even THIS clueless person to take notice and mosey on over to join in. Cheers!
maewyn_2 at 2007-01-04 13:16 (UTC) (Link)
I'm late, as usual! That was a lovely tribute to an amazing man.

As others have pointed out, none of us would be here, if not for him. He knew not what he started, all those years ago!
mechtild at 2007-01-04 14:20 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, Maewyn, we really owe him. But when I say "owe him", I really should say "owe all the contributing factors". It really was so iffy that the thing would ever have been finished or submitted to a publisher who would say yes (the first said no). And that it made it to film at all, much less the films that were made! Yikes! I've been reading Brian Sibley's new book on Peter Jackson the film-maker and once again, when I stand back from it, it's another story of how serendipitous life is and the way it works out for this or that person, this or that project. When you read about Jackson, starting off making films on the weekends with his mates, using up all his paycheck while he lived at home with an incredibly supportive pair of parents, that he got where he got was the result of his own tremendous enthusiasm and "Kiwi 'we can do it'! attitude", of course, but also because of the coming together of people and events far beyond his control in film after film. Kind of like Frodo getting the Ring to Mt. Doom. He gave his all to do it, but hundreds, thousands of others - friend and enemy - were doing things all along that helped get it there, too. Reading the parts about how LotR came to be is rather terrifying. To think of the film or films it might have been in the hands of other directors, or in Pete's hands but cow-towing to the requirements of other producers! - or no film at all!

Maybe I'll post something about the book when I've finished. It's been a very fun, informative read.
maewyn_2 at 2007-01-05 14:17 (UTC) (Link)
I received that book for Christmas! It's the next book I'll be reading after I finish the one I have now.

I've been looking forward to reading it, and after your condensed review above, even more so!
mechtild at 2007-01-05 15:12 (UTC) (Link)
It's really, really good, Maewyn. There are some typos and missing words, meaning Sibley's publisher could have proofed it better, but it's really full of good info. and Sibley can keep a handle on the story (as shown by his excellent adaptation of LotR for BBC). But I'm serious when I tell people they might not enjoy it because LotR and its actors - while important - are not the centre of the book, and it's a BIG book. (Did you notice how heavy it is? It weighs a half pound more than a volume of HoME with the same number of pages. It must be the paper, sort of like magazine paper.)
Smaug's Mommy
smaugs_mommy at 2007-01-05 08:48 (UTC) (Link)
*happy squeeing*
Followed a link by Periantari, and I'm glad I did. There are some many lovely pictures of hobbity Tolkien and his beautiful wife and children that I had never seen before. Thank you for sharing them with us. It's so nice to see him smile, at least on the pictures where he is older already.
mechtild at 2007-01-05 15:10 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Smaug's Mommy. I am sure he smiled when he was young, too. But it was the fashion to look serious in a photograph, just the opposite of now. I had never seen those family pictures, either. They were on a site I found Googling Tolkien images; I don't know where the site owner got them from; they weren't credited. They sure are great, though. I'll bet there are scads that Christopher is sitting on.
Estë   (or ST for short)
este_tangletoes at 2007-01-07 19:19 (UTC) (Link)
Hi there Mechling!

I’m back in business again after being without internet for a few days.

This post was a pure delight, just the thing to come back to and commence my enjoyment at LJ.

Looking at the old photos of the Professor with the children made me squee a little. Just think this might have been the same moment in time that The Hobbit was being read to them.

I love the photo of Edith as a young woman. And my grateful hugs to you for the extra information about her. I remember, vaguely, reading that Tolkien wrote or said about her whilst describing their early courtship ‘…and she can dance!’

Thank you this goes into memories with a capital M :-)
mechtild at 2007-01-07 19:35 (UTC) (Link)
Este, I'm so glad to hear your computer transition went smoothly. Welcome back!

Yeah, I wish there were more family snaps available. Who knows how these were got? Probably not authorized. Maybe when Christopher dies he'll have left word to let more of the personal material (including family photos) concerning Tolkien and their family out to scholars. And, via scholars, in books published for general readers like us.
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