THE horrors of the trenches were depicted in fiction in JRR Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings, his grandson has revealed.
Speaking to mark the 125th anniversary of the author’s birth this month, Simon Tolkien said the hell of the Great War had informed much of the saga's “grand conception”.
His grandfather fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 but rarely spoke of his ordeal. However, his experience of the senseless waste of life and the destruction of the environment later found an outlet in Tolkien’s bleak description of evil in Middle Earth.
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“The desolate moonscapes of Mordor and Isengard are eerily reminiscent of the No Man’s Land of 1916,” said Simon. He added that the deepening friendship between Sam and Frodo as their quest continues was reminiscent of “the deep bonds between the British soldiers forged in the face of overwhelming adversity. They all share the quality of courage, which is valued above all other virtues in The Lord of the Rings.
“And then, when the war is over, Frodo shares the fate of so many veterans who remain scarred by invisible wounds when they return home, pale shadows of the people that they once were,” added Simon.
DON’T THE GOODIES WIN?
IN The Lord of the Rings, even though the dark lord Sauron is ultimately defeated, there is a sense, says Simon, that the world has been “fundamentally changed”.
“Innocence and magic are disappearing from Middle Earth as the elves leave, departing into the West,” he said. “And I think that my grandfather must have felt the same about Europe in the aftermath of the Great War. How terrible it must have been to fight ‘the war to end all wars’ only to have to send your sons to fight in another war 20 years later.”
Simon Tolkien, also an author, noted the similarities as he wrote his latest book, No Man’s Land, inspired by the experiences of his grandfather during the Great War.
In the past he had felt dwarfed by his grandfather’s reputation, he said, but this changed in the process of writing the book, which is published this month by HarperCollins.
“I wrote about an orphan, Adam, who, like my grandfather, won a scholarship to Oxford and fell in love, but then had to leave his hopes and his beloved behind to go to France, knowing that he would be unlikely to return. Adam is changed forever by his experience just as my grandfather was and, in telling his story, I feel that I have forged a bond with my grandfather and honoured his memory; by following in his footsteps, I can finally come out of his shadow,” Simon said.
WHAT ELSE INFLUENCED TOLKIEN?
JOHN Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) was a major scholar of the English language, specialising in Old and Middle English. Twice Professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the University of Oxford, he also wrote a number of stories including, most famously, The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), which are set in a pre-historic era in an invented version of our world which he called by the Middle English name of Middle Earth. This was inhabited by men and women, elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs (or goblins) and, of course, hobbits. He has not always been feted by the English Literature establishment but his writings are loved by millions of readers worldwide.
One of the best-selling novels ever written, The Lord of the Rings has sold more than 150 million copies with the number of fans increasing after the recent Oscar-winning films directed by Peter Jackson.
It has had a deep impact on popular culture, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s when it developed a cult following. “Gandalf for President!” was a common catchphrase in the United States during the Vietnam War.
The book continues to be referenced on TV programmes including The Big Bang Theory, American Dad and Futurama.
ANY FAMOUS DEVOTEES?
FANS include well-known names like outgoing US President Barack Obama who told schoolkids he had been influenced by Tolkien’s books.
“When I was your age... I’d probably gotten a little too old for the Hardy Boys and that stuff,” he told them. “I think I was getting into The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and stuff like that.
“They weren’t just kind of adventure stories but they were stories that taught me about social problems,” he said. “They taught me about how people interact with each other... about how some people are kind and some people are cruel.”
The current Pope also referenced the books in a sermon back in 2008 when he was still Cardinal Bergoglio, comparing the travails of Frodo and Bilbo to those of Odysseus, Aeneas, and Biblical characters such as Abraham and the Israelites in the wilderness.
Footballers are not usually noted for their love of books but the power of the Rings is so strong that Argentina’s Sergio Agüero had his nickname, Kun Agüero, written in Elvish on his arm. Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid’s Fernando Torres had his name tattooed in Tengwar, a script invented by Tolkien.
Interestingly, Danish Queen Margrethe the Second was so enamoured by the books that they inspired her to create illustrations for The Lord of the Rings which she sent to Tolkien. Under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer, they later featured in a British edition of the book.