John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic best known for his high fantasy works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While Tolkien may be a literary genius, he did have a quirky side. What sort of mischief did he and his wife get into when they first met?
When J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife and muse Edith first met, they passed the time by throwing sugarlumps into the hats of passers-by from a teashop balcony.
The Tragic Life of JRR Tolkien and Edith Bratt
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, also known as Ronald, and his younger brother, Hilary, grew up in South Africa until their father died when Ronald was three years old. Their mother raised them in Birmingham, England, after that. However, when Ronald was 12 and his brother was 10, she died, leaving the orphan boys in the care of a priest, Father Francis Xavier Morgan.
Edith Bratt’s childhood was equally tragic. Edith was the illegitimate daughter of a governess who died when she was 14 years old. After graduating, Bratt studied music in boarding school and then moved to a boarding house in Birmingham. (Source: Refinery 29)
How Did Edith Bratt and JRR Tolkien Met?
When Ronald was 16 and Edith was 19, the Tolkien boys moved into the same boarding house run by Mrs. Faulkner. All three orphans became friends, and biographers claim Ronald and Edith fell in love the following year. They would smuggle food into Edith’s room for picnics, talk to each other from their windows, his room was right above hers, sit on a tea shop balcony, and play a game of throwing sugar lumps onto the hats of passers-by.
And our goodnights when sometimes you were in your little white nightgown, and our absurd long window talks; and how we watched the sun come up over town through the mist and Big Ben toll hour after hour, and the moths almost used to frighten you away and our whistle-call and our cycle-rides and the fire talks and the three great kisses.Humphrey Carpenter, Author J.R.R Tolkien: A Biography
(Source: Refinery 29)
The Forbidden Sugarplum Sweethearts
Unfortunately, Father Francis the Orphan Guardian disapproved of this young love. He didn’t like Edith, who wasn’t Catholic, and thought she was distracting Tolkien from studying for his Oxford entrance exams.
When Ronald did not receive a high enough score for a scholarship on his first attempt, Father Francis forced the boy to end his romance. The priest eventually decided that his ward could not even write to Edith until 21. (Source: Refinery 29)
The Sugarplum Reunion
After three agonizing years of waiting, Tolkien received his scholarship to Exeter College in Oxford. Finally, on his 21st birthday in 1913, he wrote to Edith. She had given up on him and was engaged to a school friend’s brother at the time but agreed to meet Tolkien a few days later.
They walked and talked all day; by evening, she had accepted his proposal and given the ring back to the other guy. She even agreed to convert to Catholicism for him, and they married three years later, in 1916. (Source: Refinery 29)