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J.R.R. Tolkien's inspiration for Lúthien: the “gallant” Edith Bratt


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Tolkien research has recently seen a surge of articles looking both at the female characters in Tolkien's writings and at the women in Tolkien's life. Using previously unexplored sources, these essays expand, elaborate, and elucidate the meager details provided by Humphrey Carpenter's biography about J.R.R. Tolkien's wife, Edith Bratt. With the advent of Nicole duPlessis' article, “On the Shoulders of Humphrey Carpenter: Reconsidering Biographical Representation and Scholarly Perception of Edith Tolkien,” and the premier of the movie, Tolkien, the biography of Edith Bratt and the historical context in which she lived warrants a careful review. The new facts uncovered in the present paper shed a surprising new light on Tolkien's artwork and writings. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that his wife, Edith, was his Lúthien, the peerless Elvish princess of The Silmarillion (L 420). The authors' evidence shows that the official Carpenter biography, by minimizing and hiding the impact and meaning of Edith in Tolkien's life and works, left only a ghost of the 'gallant' Edith (as Tolkien himself described her). On the contrary, Edith Bratt triumphed over the stigma of her background and snatched love and happiness from the iron jaws of rigid class consciousness and social strictures in a life with Ronald Tolkien. She created the security and stability that Ronald Tolkien needed to write. Hers is a very Victorian story of 'luck and pluck'. Edith was the spark that ignited Ronald's passion and fueled his art. The redaction of the meaning and importance of her vitality and her co-creation with Ronald Tolkien in the 'official' biography makes Tolkien's transformation of her into the brave and gay Lúthien puzzling, if not senseless, to the reader. The present essays remedy this impoverished understanding.