Since we’ve been talking about romance, here’s Tolkien’s take on the subject. He actually wrote an astoundingly long letter on the marriage to his son, in typical Tolkien style:
“But… only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were ‘destined’ for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life (yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is more nearly achieved by ‘failure’ and suffering). In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will …”
- Letter to Michael Tolkien (March 1941)
He goes on to say,
“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”
There’s got to be some truth to that – we read romance because we want a glimpse of true love, yet this true love seems impossible to achieve because we all have flaws (and whoever we get involved with has flaws too). Tolkien’s conclusion is that true love involves commitment, and doing your best by the other as well as you can.
The full version of the letter is very interesting. He actually goes on to relate his whole tumultuous love affair with Edith Mary Bratt (for Tolkien fans out there, the rumour is he based the characters of Arwen and Luthien on her).