Book Review: Tolkien and the Peril of War


by Robert S. Blackham

Stroud, UK: History Press / Chicago: Independent Publishers' Group, 2013. Pp. 160. Illus., maps, biblio., index. $19.95. ISBN: 0752457802

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

Despite his fame as a fantasist and the image of a rather reclusive academic, like most Europeans of his times, Tolkien did his bit during Great War.  Tolkien scholar Blackham takes a look at the author’s family background and early years.  He then covers the early part of the war, a time that saw Tolkien graduate from Oxford with first-class honors and marry.  As he recounts Tolkien’s early life, Blackham gives the reader a very good idea of what academic and social life was like for a middle class Briton of the time, including an interesting reminder of the very strong religious divisions still prevalent.  Shortly after completing his degree, in 1915, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers.  We get some idea of what it was like for a young man undergoing military training at the time, first in a pre-war school cadet corps, and then upon entering the army as a volunteer.  Blackham follows Tolkien into the trenches and into battle, particularly during the storming of the famed Schwaben RedoubtTolkien’s time at the front was cut short by trench fever, which caused him to spend the rest of the war on limited duty, but was nevertheless as harrowing as anyone’s. 

Naturally, literary critics, buffs, amateur psychologists, and others have asked whether these experiences affected Tolkien’s writings.  Blackham doesn’t attempt to give a firm answer, which is probably wise.  What Blackham does do is point out where one can see parallels between Tolkien’s experiences and passages in his writings. 

All in all, Tolkien and the Perils of War will prove an interesting read for both Tolkien fans and anyone interested in soldiering. 

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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