I’ve been waiting to visit this one for ages. North of Oxford, in a busy suburb, is a smallish graveyard called Wolvercote Cemetery. It’s an unlikely final resting place for arguably one of the most influential fantasy writers who ever lived but nevertheless this is where you’ll find J.R.R. Tolkien, and his wife Edith.
There are two other names on the gravestone – Beren underneath Tolkien and Luthien underneath Edith. These were the names he gave to them both based on his own fantasy tales. And the couple’s courtship and romance was in many ways quite the love story itself.
They met when Tolkien was 16 and Edith 19. Both were orphans and developed a connection, that was unfortunately frowned upon by Tolkien’s guardian. Edith being both older than him and a Protestant whilst Tolkien was Catholic. So he was forbidden from contacting Edith until he was 21, and he stuck this rule, finally writing to her on the eve of his 21st birthday. But by this stage she, thinking Tolkien no longer cared for her, was engaged to another man. Tolkien’s letter was followed a face-to-face meeting, after which Edith agreed to marry him and broke off her other engagement. She also converted to Catholicism and was forced to leave her lodgings.
This is where Beren and Luthien come in. These characters appear in “The Silmarillion”, a collection of myths and legends set in Middle Earth. Luthien is an immortal elf, Beren a mortal man, and like Arwen and Aragon in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Luthien gives up her immortality to marry Beren. Edith inspired Tolkien to write this tale, which echoes what she sacrificed to marry him.
When you get to the cemetery there are signs that help guide you to where the couple are now buried. It’s a clean, bright grey-white grave so not hard to miss. There were some flowers there when we visited, and other dormant plants, but on a cold April afternoon, it wasn’t overflowing with colour just yet. Still I’m happy I finally got to visit the final resting place of an author whose stories I’ve loved since I was a child. If you’re a fantasy fan, it’s well worth a trip.
What do you think? Have you ever visited this grave? Please share your thoughts in the comments.