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

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HarperCollins UK, Apr 28, 2011 - Biography & Autobiography - 416 pages
7 Reviews

A biography exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s wartime experiences and their impact on his life and his writing of The Lord of The Rings.

“To be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than in 1939 ... by 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”

So J.R.R. Tolkien responded to critics who saw The Lord of the Rings as a reaction to the Second World War. Tolkien and the Great War tells for the first time the full story of how he embarked on the creation of Middle-earth in his youth as the world around him was plunged into catastrophe. This biography reveals the horror and heroism that he experienced as a signals officer in the Battle of the Somme and introduces the circle of friends who spurred his mythology to life. It shows how, after two of these brilliant young men were killed, Tolkien pursued the dream they had all shared by launching his epic of good and evil.

John Garth argues that the foundation of tragic experience in the First World War is the key to Middle-earth’s enduring power. Tolkien used his mythic imagination not to escape from reality but to reflect and transform the cataclysm of his generatuion. While his contemporaries surrendered to disillusionment, he kept enchantment alive, reshaping an entire literary tradition into a form that resonates to this day.

This is the first substantially new biography of Tolkien since 1977, meticulously researched and distilled from his personal wartime papers and a multitude of other sources.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - jen.e.moore - LibraryThing

This was an utterly excellent book, following Tolkien's own biography and the development of his mythology with excellent detail and attention to nuance. I expect it's all but incomprehensible to ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - waltzmn - LibraryThing

J. R. R. Tolkien created the most detailed mythology of the twentieth century. But no mythology can exist in isolation; people won't understand it. It must have roots in human experience. There are ... Read full review


NINE Something has gone crack
TEN In a hole in the ground
PART THREE The Lonely Isle
ELEVEN Castles in the air
TWELVE Tol Withernon and Fladweth Amrod
Epilogue A new light
Postscript One who dreams alone

FOUR The shores of Faërie
FIVE Benighted wanderers
SIX Too long in slumber
PART TWO Tears unnumbered
SEVEN Larkspur and Canterburybells
EIGHT A bitter winnowing
Tolkien and The Great War
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About the author (2011)

John Garth is a Tolkien expert who has become acknowledged as the authority on Tolkien’s wartime experiences, having appeared on The South Bank Show, on the Lord of the Rings DVDs and other documentaries about Tolkien. He studied English at Oxford University and spent five years researching and writing this book. He works as a freelance newspaper journalist in Oxford.

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