TOLKIEN IN THE GREAT WAR: The Threshold of Middle-earth

John Garth, Author . Houghton Mifflin $26 (398p) ISBN 978-0-618-33129-1

This dense but informative study addresses the long-standing controversy over how J.R.R. Tolkien's WWI experience influenced his literary creations. A London journalist, Garth is a student of both Tolkien and the Great War. He writes that when war broke out, Tolkien was active in an Oxford literary society known as the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS), along with three of his closest friends. Finishing his degree before joining up, Tolkien served as a signal officer in the nightmarish Battle of the Somme in 1916, where two of those friends were killed. The ordeal on the Somme led to trench fever, which sent him home for the rest of the war and probably saved his life. It also influenced a body of Northern European–flavored mythology he had been inventing and exploring in both prose and verse before the war, toward its evolution into The Book of Lost Tales and in due course Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion . This book could not pretend to be aimed at other than the serious student of Tolkien, and readers will benefit from a broad knowledge of his work (as well as a more than casual knowledge of WWI). But it also argues persuasively that Tolkien did not create his mythos to escape from or romanticize the war. Rather, the war gave dimensions to a mythos he was already industriously exploring. Garth's fine study should have a major audience among serious students of Tolkien, modern fantasy and the influence of war on literary creation. (Nov. 12)

Reviewed on: 10/13/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 398 pages - 978-0-618-57481-0
Hardcover - 398 pages - 978-0-00-711952-3
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-00-711953-0
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-544-26372-7
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