Tolkien and the Great War

For you Tolkien-ophiles:

I’m currently reading Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. It’s stellar.

Below is an excerpt; a glimpse of an act of creative genius in its nonage:

At Phoenix Farm, on 24 September 1914, [Tolkien] began, with startling éclat:

Éarendel sprang up from the Ocean’s cup

In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim;

From the door of Night as a ray of light

Leapt over the twilight brim,

And launching his bark like a silver spark

From the golden-fading sand

Down the sunlit breath of Day’s fiery Death

He sped from Westerland

I will probably be posting on other passages from this book as I read it. It’s a very enjoyable and fascinating read.

10 thoughts on “Tolkien and the Great War

  1. I’m only about 100 pages in, but I’m pretty sure (well, very sure) that’s not the thesis. You know Tolkein despised allegory 🙂

    The book explores these critical years in Tolkien’s life and the parallel tracks of his interest in languages and development of his own set of languages (Qenya, for instance) and his involvement and experiences in World War I.

    It’s fascinating, because he started out to create a language but, because as a philologist he knew that languages are affected by external events, he began creating a history to go with his language. And we all know the amazing and epic result of that work! It’s also amazing to think how young he was at the time (he wrote the Earendel verse above when he was 22).

    Another neat aspect is that he had three friends he was particularly close to, and they formed a little society called the TCBS (can’t remember what that stands for). They loved getting together for what we Thinklings would call “Moots” (the referred to them often as “Councils” – they had, for instance, a great Council of London once), and these were great times of deep discussion, humor, etc. They also shared their writings and poetry with each other.

    Regarding how the war shaped Tolkien’s mythology, allegory isn’t the right term. But the sadness, carnage, heroism, images, aftermath, etc all play a part in shaping his view of Middle Earth and its struggles.

    It’s a great book; very well written and researched.

  2. Most of their poetry-sharing was done via the mail (at least thus far in the book – I’m up to 1916) and, yes, they critiqued eachother. I think there were only two of them that wrote a lot of poetry – and Tolkien was the most prolific, I believe.

    And these guys believed that they would change the world for the better. I’m very intrigued by that group of friends from Tolkien’s youth (the TCBS) and will probably be posting on that some more. At least two of them died in the war.

  3. Tolkien-ophile? That’s me. I used to think I was a Middle Earth expatriate, but I’ve come to realize that Narnia is really my homeland. I look forward to hearing more of your impressions on the book, should you choose to post them. Peace.

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