J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the world’s most celebrated fantasy writers, was inspired by time spent on the bloodsoaked battlefield. John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War reports.
A world away from subtle, magnificent Smaug of The Hobbit, Tolkien’s first dragons are surreal hybrids of beast and machine. They lumber against the elf-city of Gondolin, spouting fire and clanking, with orctroops hidden inside.
This was in the first Middle-earth story, begun by 2nd Lieut J.R.R. Tolkien in hospital straight after the Battle of the Somme, where Britain’s own secret weapon, the tank, had just been rolled out.
War had caught him at 22, marking the end of the world as his generation knew it. Planning marriage and an academic career, Tolkien resisted enlisting and stayed at Oxford, reading English and indulging his hobby of inventing languages.
Yet war awoke a taste for fairy story, which reflected the extremes of light and darkness he saw around him. It dawned on him that a mythology could breathe life into an invented language, so he created the Elves and began devising Middle-earth.
After winning first-class honours, Tolkien dashed into the Army in July 1915, training in Staffordshire and studying signals in Yorkshire. He married in March 1916 and in June was ordered to France. “It was like a death,” he said.
Bootnote: You may recall we reported another of John’s articles — Tolkien and the boy who didn’t believe in fairies — around a week ago. John had dedicated it to his cousin’s four-year-old boy Charlie, who has cerebral palsy. John writes his thanks to everyone who Voted Charlie:
You’ll be delighted to hear that Charlie, my cousin’s little boy with cerebral palsy, has won the £5,000 charity vote attached to my “Tolkien and the boy who didn’t believe in fairies” article. I’d like to thank you and readers of TheOneRing.net for your support with this –- in memory of Charlie’s grandfather, the man who introduced me to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. It was a race to the finish line and every vote counted. It means Charlie will get funding for 100 hours of physiotherapy to help him make the most of the dorsal rhizotomy operation he’s just had. He’s a fighter, and it seems this may put him on his feet at last.
The webpage will still be dedicated to Charlie, who is going to need muscle-strengthening equipment and eventually an electric wheelchair, among other things for which his parents will have to raise the funds. I will maintain a link for donations via the registered UK charity Tree of Hope.