Tolkien lived from 1892 to 1973. He was an Englishman who lived his early childhood in Africa. His father was a banker there, but his mother was never completely happy living away from England. First of all, she was nervous about poisonous snakes. She did not allow Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary to play outdoors, and it’s no wonder. Once in Africa, a tarantula bit her older son. Later, Tolkien channeled his anxiety over the incident into a chapter in his books about a land of scary spiders.
Tolkien’s mother moved the boys back to England and anticipated her husband’s return. In England, she allowed her sons to play in the woods of Sarehole near Birmingham. They ripped and romped and let their imaginations run wild. At home, she taught them about elves, fairies, and other characters that stimulated their imaginations. She home-schooled the boys and taught them about other languages.
Unfortunately, Tolkien’s father died in Africa. The family had to rely on assistance from other family members in England. Before too many years went by, Tolkien’s beloved mother developed diabetes and died. A priest at the nearby Catholic church took over the boys’ education and care. He placed them, eventually, into an orphanage but kept close watch on them. The priest recognized Tolkien’s brilliance and once forbade him to date an orphaned girl named Edith Bratt whom he had met. She was from a nearby group home.
Tolkien obeyed his mentor and focused on his education for several years until he graduated from Exeter College. Then, his own Valentine story began when he went looking for Edith. He found her engaged to another man. Tolkien petitioned her caregivers and won her hand. Their successful marriage produced four children, all of whom grew into productive adults. (A daughter is still living.)
Tolkien served during World War I in 1916 and saw action until he developed a fever that lasted, off and on, the duration of the war. After his military service, Tolkien was busy working first as a lexicographer on part of the Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, his tedious and meticulous work as a dictionary writer must have contributed to his ability to shift from creative fantasy to clever quips about the real world. Later, he worked as a professor at Pembroke College at Oxford University. During that time, he prioritized time with his wife and children. He rearranged his evening tutoring sessions so students would come to his home, and he was known to throw open the doors of his study for the children to approach him anytime they needed his attention. Also, he was a romantic person. One example of this was when he once saw his young wife dancing in a meadow where they had gone to spend the day. He so admired her that he later wrote a story about two lovers. Afterward, he adopted the names of the characters, Beren and Luthien, as pet names for his wife and him and had them engraved upon their tombstones.
I enjoyed reading various library books about Tolkien’s life. Then, I read The Hobbit. Tolkien’s writing style is simple and descriptive. He tells his story enthusiastically while interrupting it to speak directly to the reader. The book is full of humor, suspense, and colorful descriptions. I laughed out loud at his description of how the game of golf was created. “[The king’s head] sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.” Also, I loved the antics of his bumbling little dwarves who reminded me of some of my favorite childhood characters, Larry, Moe, and Curly who were known as The Three Stooges.
We give Valentine’s cards to people who are special in our lives. It seems fitting to me, as a lover of words well used, to send a memorial valentine to this scholarly author whose timeless novel of heroic and magical little people has enchanted generations of children and adults alike.
Happy Valentine’s Day, J.R.R. Tolkien.
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