Tolkien learned much about his faith under Father Francis and developed his keen sense of charity, mercy and forgiveness. He read many of the lives of the Saints and received excellent teaching on Scripture and Doctrine.
The sorrow of his mother's death remained with him for the rest of his life and his faith became a deep source of spiritual and emotional consolation.
Tolkien understood the impact of the sacrifice from his mother in passing on the faith to him, Later he wrote;
"When I think of my mother's death, worn out with persecution, poverty, and largely consequent, disease, in the effort to hand on to us small boys the Faith, ... and remember the tiny bedroom... where she died alone, too ill for viaticum, I find it very hard when my children stray away [from the Church]." [Letters p.353-354] [Viaticum = Eucharist]
"My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it was not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the Faith."
[Tolkien: A Biography p.39]
"...grateful for having been brought up [since I was eight] in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know; and that I owe to my mother, who clung to her conversion and died young, largely through the hardships of poverty resulting from it."[Letters p.172]
The loss of his mother left him with a profound sense of fear and instability and this sense of nostalgia and sorrow is clearly evident in his writing. But his faith is what supported him and his writing always contained a deeper hope and joy; and a belief that the darkness is only a passing thing.
Though Tolkien suffered loss in his life, hope always dwelled in his heart that in the end; "...all tears will be wiped away." [Rev 21:4]
In his schooling Tolkien excelled especially in the philological disciplines and was able to speak Latin and Greek fluently at the age of 15. Between 1906 and 1911 he privately taught himself Old Norse, Old English and Gothic and also started inventing languages and writing poems.
In 1910 Tolkien won a scholarship at Exeter College in Oxford. He started studying classic languages but soon changed to English Philology and Old Norse. His studies were paid for by Father Francis.
By the charity of Father Francis, Tolkien and his brother found themselves residing close to the Oratory [their aunt was less than loving towards the boys]. It was 1908, Tolkien was 17 and he was soon to meet his future wife. He met a young girl, Edith, living downstairs at the same residence. She also was an orphan and they became close friends, eventually falling in love. They kept their courtship secret. [Go here to read about Tolkien's time at Birmingham Oratory]
Father Francis soon learned of the relationship with Edith and upset at the deception forbade Tolkien from seeing the young woman until he was 21 at which time he could make his own choices. Tolkien and his brother were moved down the road to another residence.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien carried a deep appreciation and love towards Father Francis, and felt he owed a lot to the Priest. For a time Tolkien obeyed his guardians request and promised not to continue seeing Edith; but he suffered and recorded his feelings in his diary;
"Depressed and as much in dark as ever... God help me. Feel weak and weary."
[Tolkien: A Biography p.50]
Eventually he faltered and the two meet secretly once more. But Edith had accepted the request of Father Francis and decided to move to Cheltenham to be with a friend.
Once again news of their meetings came to the Priest and once again he made his worries for his 'adopted' son clear; he would cut off his university studies if he continued to lie and disobey. They were not to see each other again until Tolkien was 21, he could then choose what he wanted. Tolkien's diary entries displayed his thoughts once more;
"God help me. Saw Edith at midday but would not be her. I owe all to Fr F. and so must obey ... Last night prayed I would see E. by accident. Prayer answered. Saw her at 12.55 at the Prince of Wales. Told her I could not write and arranged to see her off on Thursday fortnight." [Tolkien: A Biography p.51]
[Fr.F = Father Francis, read more about him here]
In the 3 years of study that came, Tolkien never again disobeyed Father Francis's request and remained without contact from Edith. Not once did he write nor attempt to see her. Later he wrote of this time;
"I had to choose between disobeying and grieving [or deceiving] a guardian who had been a father to me, more than most real fathers and 'dropping' the love-affair until I was twenty -one. I don't regret my decision, though it was very hard on my lover. But that was not my fault. She was perfectly free and under no vow to me, and I should have no just complaint...if she had got married to someone else. For nearly three years I did not see or write to my lover.
It was extremely hard, painful and bitter, especially at first... but I don't think anything else would have justified marriage on the basis of a boy's affair; and probably nothing else would have hardened the will enough to give such an affair permanence [however genuine a case of true love]." [Letters p.53]
One can see here the seeds of Aragorn and Arwens' heroic love [and also that of Beren and Luthien from the Silmarillion]. Tolkien was told by his foster-father he could only continue his relationship with Edith when he was ready and had passed into manhood [21yrs]; in the same way Aragorn, is also told by his Elven foster-father, Elrond that he can only have Arwen when he is ready.
What followed were years of separation for Aragorn and Arwen, where their love is proven, and is in some way, a romanticised reflection of Tolkien's own trial of love for Edith.
Tolkien's love of mediaeval literature fed him with a highly romantic idea of love and life. Charles Mosley [who studied Tolkien] once wrote;
"Of course nobody is unaffected by what one reads. If you spend your day reading books and poems from a world where women are honoured, put on a pedestal -worshipped even - where the chief male virtues are courage, and honesty, and honour and generosity, you will in the end come to think in those terms [and may suffer no harm]." [M&M p.31]
Coupled with Tolkien's foundation of Christian virtue and characteristics, it is not hard to see why he obeyed Father Francis's edict, and in fact took it as a way of virtue, sanctification and indeed even providence to prove their love through fire.
Mosley also writes,
"These are the values, unfashionable, perhaps inconceivable, now, held by many in Tolkien's generation, and by not a few in later ones. They are the values that lie at the heart of the fictions of Middle-earth." [M&M p.32]
Tolkien studied at Oxford and was a good student, though not fantastic. This was mainly due to some apathy and laziness on Tolkien's part. He majored in Classics but was more interested in creating his own languages than actually attending his philosophy classes. He took classes in 'Old Norse, festivity and classical philology'. Neglecting his lectures in Greek and Latin, Tolkien turned his energies to his invented languages.
Of his time in study he later wrote,
"Certainly I have never been nourished by English literature ... for the simple reason that I have never found much there in which to rest my heart [or heart and head together]." [Letters p. 172]
When the 3 years of exile from Edith was up and Tolkien was 21, he immediately wrote to her and after a few other details were ironed out, they resumed their relationship.
In 1915 Tolkien graduated with exceptional marks and received First Class Honour's from Oxford College. After his graduation, he was drafted into the army, but before setting out for France in July 1916, he married Edith on March the 22nd.
The following months Tolkien spent fighting in the Battle of the Somme where allied forces lost twenty thousand men on the first day. Almost all of his old school friends were killed during the war; but Tolkien miraculously survived the battle, was sent home and hospitalized in November 1916 because of trench fever.
While convalescing from the War he started work on the oldest parts of his Middle-earth stories which later formed the historical background of his two major works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These background stories, that he called the Book of Lost Tales, would later be published as the Silmarillion.
It was primarily an outlet for him to express his passion for languages, particularly his own invented ones.
From the horrors Tolkien witnessed in the war, one can see the how this shaped the themes of war and conflict in the Lord of the Rings. Humphrey Carpenter in his biography talks of the "animal horror of war" that Tolkien witnessed and how it shaped his psyche. [Tolkien: A Biography p.91]
Tolkien tried to have certain writings of the Book of Lost Tales [started during WWI] published but was turned down.
In November 1917 his first son, John, was born. Professional Life:
After the war he started working as a junior staff member for the Oxford English Dictionary.
In 1920, Tolkien worked as a Reader in English Language at Leeds University and in 1924 he was appointed professor at Leeds University.
In the following years Tolkien worked on several projects, among them a translation of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and a 'Middle-English Dictionary'.
In 1925 he started lecturing at Oxford University. He would remain there for the rest of his professional career.
During this time his other children were born: Michael in 1920, Christopher in 1924 and Priscilla in 1929.
From his interest in Old Norse, Tolkien formed a group at Oxford who were interested in Icelandic myths and sagas. They called it the CoalBiters, which is an anglicized version of an old Norse word Kolbitar, which referred to those who huddle so close to the fire in winter that they 'bite the coals'.
It was in this group that Tolkien met C.S. Lewis and their friendship would become very strong. Tolkien would have an enormous effect of Lewis and vice versa. In fact, in a conversation that lasted until 4 am in the morning Tolkien and Chesterton [another well known Christian writer and Oxford Academic] helped in Lewis' conversion to Christianity.
They would later form a literary society called The Inklings and would influence each other's works over the next decades. Tolkien would read poems, stories and chapters of the Hobbit, Book of Lost Tales and Lord of the Rings to his Inkling-colleagues as he progressed. C.S. Lewis was instrumental in providing Tolkien with support and encouragement in his writings.
Tolkien: "Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, and intellectual - a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher - a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord." [M&M p.60, The Inklings, Carpenter p.52]
Of his early setbacks in trying to have his writings published Tolkien later wrote,
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