Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth
The Threshold of Middle-earth

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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.


About John Garth

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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.
Published June 11, 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 432 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, War, Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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Garth's fine study should have a major audience among serious students of Tolkien, modern fantasy and the influence of war on literary creation.

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Garth makes it clear in his introduction that his book’s focus ends in the late 1910’s and he only intimates connections between Tolkien’s war experiences and the full body of work in a separate, rather short Postscript.

Sep 22 2005 | Read Full Review of Tolkien and the Great War: Th...

Project MUSE

Tolkien: A Biography (1977) was authorized by the Tolkien Estate and remains the standard account of Tolkien's entire life.

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Project MUSE

Though The Silmarillion can never have the status of national epic for England that the Aeneid had for Rome, Tolkien does, in this view, take his place in a long series of patriotic artists who, preserving "the ancient pietas towards the past," and "using the materials … preserved from a day alre...

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