January 3, 2016

Tolkien's Only Baby Picture

On this day 124 years ago in 1882 in the little town of Bloemfontein, South Africa, one of the world's greatest authors was born.  And, since this is a Tolkien blog I'm sure you know who I'm talking about.

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that one of England's greatest authors was South African, but that is in fact the case.  Though, Tolkien would only live there for less than four years. After the death of his father a few years later Tolkien's mother took him and his younger brother to England. There in the quiet, serene English countryside the seeds for his stories were planted. Later, in the late 1910s during the tragic and horrific war, those seeds began to blossom and the fruits continued to ripen for the rest of his life. I'm talking about his Middle-earth mythology of course - those timeless classics like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that have become so beloved by millions of readers around the world. There is so much about Tolkien that we could say and be grateful for, his stories, artwork, contributions to the study of medieval Europe, etc. As a matter of fact, we Tolkien fans do say a lot! All year long in fact! But on this day, January 3rd, Tolkienists make a special time at 9 o'clock pm to simply propose a toast to the Professor. You don't need a fancy dinner or extravagant decorations, music or recitations.  Just afford a moment or two reflect on his life, take a sip, and say, to the Professor!

More information from the Tolkien Society about the 2016 Tolkien Birthday Toast: 

In the meantime, in addition to celebrating the Professor's birthday tonight with a toast, below is the only known picture of Tolkien as a baby.  Taken in November, 1892, the Christmas card features the Tolkien family in the garden of their house in Bloemfontein, South Africa.  

From left to right, Arthur Tolkien, a native servant, Mabel Tolkien, Isaak (also a servant in the Tolkien house - the same one who 'kidnapped' baby Tolkien for a day to show his family a white baby), J.R.R. Tolkien's nurse, and Ronald himself at 10 months old.  

The text on the card was written by Mabel herself and keen Tolkienists will mark its similarities to Tolkien's own style in the Father Christmas Letters. It's another example of his mother's deep and lasting impact on his life.  She not only influenced his handwriting, but his love for language, nature, and most importantly, his deep devotion to the Catholic faith as well. Her death in 1904 when Tolkien was only 12 cemented everything she taught him and marked a major turning point in his life.  It also makes this picture all the more special because not only it is the only known picture of Tolkien as a baby, but it is also the only known picture of his mother.    

And, just for fun, here are some of my other favorite Tolkien photographs...

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