I’m going to take a chance and presume that all of you have heard of the Oxford Don J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), the poet, philologist and author of classic high fantasy novels, whose works The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit have had a massive influence on popular culture, especially through Sir Peter Jackson’s movie versions. We’ve even had a lecture about Tolkien and World War 1 at the Kansas Historical Society recently.
Like most British men of his generation, the Tolkien served in the Great War. On July 15th, 1915 he took up his commission in the 13th (Reserve) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, then spent eleven months in training in Staffordshire before deploying to France in early June 1916 as a signals officer with the 11th (Service) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. On July 3rd, 1916, 11/LF participated in the futile assault on Thiepval Ridge. They slogged through the battles known as Bazentin Ridge (July 14th -17th), Pozieres (July 23rd – August 7th) and Ancre Heights (October 1st – November 11th). On October 27th Tolkien came down with trench fever. Evacuated to England on November 8th, he was never again pronounced fit to return to full duty, a very unusual outcome for the disease.
There has been quite a lot of speculation lately about the influence of Tolkien’s war experience on his fantasy writing. Here are links to two articles on the subject, one written by Tolkien’s grandson for the BBC and the other by Joseph Loconte, a distinguished academic and author of a New York Times bestseller A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War (2015).
In 2016 two of Sir Peter Jackson’s associates began work in a ‘biopic’ about the relationship between The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s wartime experience. You can read more about this project here.
Their film is now finished and you can view a trailer here. It’s set to open in theaters in the U.K. in early May.