A new biography exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s wartime experiences and their impact on his life and his writing of The Lord of The Rings.
“To be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than in 1939 … by 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.” So J.R.R. Tolkien responded to critics who saw The Lord of the Rings as a reaction to the Second World War.
Tolkien and the Great War tells for the first time the full story of how he embarked on the creation of Middle-earth in his youth as the world around him was plunged into catastrophe. This biography reveals the horror and heroism that he experienced as a signals officer in the Battle of the Somme and introduces the circle of friends who spurred his mythology to life. It shows how, after two of these brilliant young men were killed, Tolkien pursued the dream they had all shared by launching his epic of good and evil.
John Garth argues that the foundation of tragic experience in the First World War is the key to Middle-earth’s enduring power. Tolkien used his mythic imagination not to escape from reality but to reflect and transform the cataclysm of his generation. While his contemporaries surrendered to disillusionment, he kept enchantment alive, reshaping an entire literary tradition into a form that resonates to this day.
This is the first substantially new biography of Tolkien since 1977, meticulously researched and distilled from his personal wartime papers and a multitude of other sources.
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A triumphant work on Tolkien's literary beginnings
John Garth spent years researching Tolkien's early years with his friends, a little circle of young scholars calling themselves the TCBS, and working his way through their letters to each other, often written in the trenches of France, as they discussed the state of this mad world they were living in, as well as sending each other poetry they were writing. The result of this digging into the beloved Fantasy author's history is this book, which chronicles Tolkien's life, the early development of his legendarium (which later turned into the Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings), his relationship to his friends and Edith Bratt, and the remarkable bond of friendship that only death in the trenches could tear apart. Anyone who feels deeply touched by Tolkien's writing will feel deeply touched by this book, as it's a necessary part of how Middle-earth was born.
I read this book years ago when it first came out; the audiobook, if possible, felt even more immediate and immersive. Read by the author himself, it's wonderful to listen to.