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J.R.R. Tolkien and the Great War

J.R.R. Tolkien was a veteran of the 1st World War, something that I’d never examined all that closely, and for this week at the Kirkus Reviews blog, we’re examining the impact of his time on the front lines. I found the story of Tolkien and his three close friends to be the most emotional and heartbreaking episode of his life. Interestingly, this piece comes shortly after Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day elsewhere), commemorating the end of WWI.

Read J.R.R. Tolkien and the Great War.

And we’re not done with Tolkien yet, so stay tuned through December!

About Andrew Liptak (180 Articles)
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He is a 2014 graduate of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and has written for such places as Armchair General, io9, Kirkus Reviews, Lightspeed Magazine, and others. His first book, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction is now out from Apex Publications, and his next, The Future Machine: The Writers, Editors and Readers who Build Science Fiction is forthcoming from Jurassic London in 2015. He can be found over at and at @AndrewLiptak on Twitter.

11 Comments on J.R.R. Tolkien and the Great War

  1. Wrong cover, but that’s okay. I met John Garth a couple of times (my talk was at the same time as his, guess which one of us had a full house) and he’s a fantastic scholar on Tolkien.

    It’s very interesting to examine Tolkien in the same light at other authors who were who affected by WWI like Hemingway. If you ignore that Tolkien’s work has a fantastical setting, it has a great deal of similarities with the works of his contemporaries with regard to lost innocence and the injustice of war on a personal level.

    I highly recommend Tolkien and the Great War.

    • Andrew Liptak // November 16, 2012 at 8:48 am //

      Indeed – that was one of the sources that I used for this piece. I didn’t read it all the way through, but I found what I did read to be incredibly helpful.

  2. I’ve always been fascinated about the links between Tolkien’s experience in the Great War and his fiction, and I think viewing the Lord of the Rings in that light provides a lot of insight into it. There’s so many connections between elements of the story and other Great War fiction. In addition to Garth’s work, I’d recommend Janet Brennan Croft’s book “War and the works of JRR Tolkien” which is very interesting in this regard.

  3. Michael O. // November 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm //

    I’m confused – did you read Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth for this article? If so, you should credit him as a/the source. His name and book don’t appear anywhere in your article.

    If not, you should read his book – it’s one of the best works of literary criticism & biography I’ve read. And you should credit wherever you got the information – you have at least two unsourced quotations in there.

    • Fwiw, Andrew cites sources on his own blog.

    • Andrew Liptak // November 16, 2012 at 8:51 am //

      Yep – that was one of a couple of sources: the biggest help for me was a hefty reference chronology, which helped me place him. When I started this column, sources were something that we decided not to put in (part of the format, I guess): I run a corresponding post on my own site that lists the sources that I use for each post.

      • Michael O. // November 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm //

        I can understand not wanting to have lengthy lists of sources after every article, but it should still be clear where readers can access it, and of course also out of respect for those authors.

        • Andrew Liptak // November 16, 2012 at 6:45 pm //

          It was something I looked into when I started. Unfortunately, the source list on my site is the best I can do for now.

  4. I always got a sense that both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were trauma-narratives about the First World War. The repetitive plot device of a new army unexpectedly swooping in to save the day on the battlefield seems like a trauma-response: endlessly replaying the traumatic event to make it “come out right this time.” Perhaps that’s what’s behind Tolkien’s idea of the “eucatastrophe” (the unexpected turn of events that saves the hero from certain doom).

    • Andrew Liptak // November 16, 2012 at 8:52 am //

      Hm, I’ve never heard the term Trama-narrative, but I don’t think that I’d call either of them that: they were certainly influenced by Tolkien’s experience, but there were seeds of the worlds and stories prior to his combat experience.

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