As we sit on the centennial of the Great War, WWI, we find ourselves in a moment of cultural reflection. It really was a brutal conflict: 35-40 million casualties, followed by the Spanish flu and its 50-100 million deaths. The war resulted in a few inches of gained ground, a defeated country whose children were more than ready to follow someone like Hitler, entire systems of mechanized and globalized warfare, and a generation of lost artists, writers, inventors, physicians, teachers, lovers, and friends.
Yet, it was also out of this war that some of the greatest of these great lights formed the century that birthed our own. In particular, in the period of WWI, Tolkien’s Middle Earth legendarium found its earliest readers and its deepest imaginative roots.
For J.R.R. Tolkien, the Great War was a powerful period of formation and loss. Early in the war he completed his degree before heading to the Somme. The war saw the shattering of his fellowship of writers formed at King Edward’s School, the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS). Two of his dearest friends died at the hands of the enemy, and Tolkien struggled in the years after the war with Shell Shock (PTSD).
Some time ago I posted a film called “Tolkien’s Road“–a fun indie project that fictionalizes Tolkien’s post-war distress and weaves it into the writing of his legendarium. I find compelling John Garth’s treatment in Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth (2003). I have also queued up to read for the first time A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (2015). Meanwhile, I am working on a story that Lewis wrote as a teenager waiting for war. There is certainly an interest in discovering to what degree WWI formed the mythopoeic authors that we love.
Another resource has emerged that I think readers will enjoy. Produced and directed in 2014 by Elliot Weaver & Zander Weaver, alum of Tolkien’s King Edward’s School, Tolkien’s Great War is a half hour documentary that captures J.R.R. Tolkien’s experiences during the First World War. In interviews with people like John Garth, you will see intimate details of Tolkien’s experience, including the formation of the TCBS, the letters Tolkien exchanged with his wife and friends, and the struggles that Tolkien faced in integrating his experience with his writing.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/110810980″>Tolkien’s Great War</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/ellianderpics”>Elliander Pictures</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Thanks to David Llewellyn Dodds for discovering the piece. For more information, visit kes.org.uk/great-war-exhibition.