John Garth

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth

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How the First World War influenced the author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy: “Very much the best book about J.R.R. Tolkien that has yet been written.” —A. N. Wilson
As Europe plunged into World War I, J. R. R. Tolkien was a student at Oxford and part of a cohort of literary-minded friends who had wide-ranging conversations in their Tea Club and Barrovian Society. After finishing his degree, Tolkien experienced the horrors of the Great War as a signal officer in the Battle of the Somme, where two of those school friends died. All the while, he was hard at work on an original mythology that would become the basis of his literary masterpiece, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In this biographical study, drawn in part from Tolkien’s personal wartime papers, John Garth traces the development of the author’s work during this critical period. He shows how the deaths of two comrades compelled Tolkien to pursue the dream they had shared, and argues that the young man used his imagination not to escape from reality—but to transform the cataclysm of his generation. While Tolkien’s contemporaries surrendered to disillusionment, he kept enchantment alive, reshaping an entire literary tradition into a form that resonates to this day.
“Garth’s fine study should have a major audience among serious students of Tolkien.” —Publishers Weekly
“A highly intelligent book . . . Garth displays impressive skills both as researcher and writer.” —Max Hastings, author of The Secret War
“Somewhere, I think, Tolkien is nodding in appreciation.” —San Jose Mercury News
“A labour of love in which journalist Garth combines a newsman’s nose for a good story with a scholar’s scrupulous attention to detail . . . Brilliantly argued.” —Daily Mail (UK)
“Gripping from start to finish and offers important new insights.” —Library Journal
“Insight into how a writer turned academia into art, how deeply friendship supports and wounds us, and how the death and disillusionment that characterized World War I inspired Tolkien’s lush saga.” —Detroit Free Press
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509 printed pages
Original publication
2013

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