A new 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 generation. 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.
©2011 John Garth (P)2011 HarperCollins Publishers Limited
"Very much the best book about JRR Tolkien that has yet been written. Even if you are not a Lord of the Rings fan, I commend this book to you. It is all so interesting in itself, and I have rarely read a book which so intelligently graphed the relation between a writer's inner life and his outward circumstances." (A.N.Wilson, Evening Standard)
John Garth's reading of his book strikes perfect notes in the moving story of Tolkien and the other brilliant young minds who went to war in 1914. The fall of each of his friends resounds and echoes in Tolkien's own heartrending creations. Garth's recounting of the intimate details of how the War experience shaped Tolkien's work is itself a work of painstaking craftsmanship. His reading is remarkably suited to his subject. Superb.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
Many a Tolkien fan knows that Middle Earth was forged by the fires of World War I. Some of the Tolkien scholars out there will even know a great deal about what's in this book. But what will separate this book from others is witnessing how Middle Earth evolves in parallel to Tolkien's life and service during the war. Sometimes that evolution is followed line by line, such is the detail level of this volume. Literary geeks, this book's for you.
Casual fans will likely find this book to be easy to follow, but too in-depth for their tastes. If you're one of the 3% of uber-fans who own, understand, and even recite The Silmarillion, you may be on your way to sharing a drink with the author. I personally fall somewhere in between as someone who appreciates the world and its evolution at all levels, loves the history, but often finds it overwhelming at the same time. That's part of why I love it, precisely because it is challenging and welcoming at the same time. For me, this book offered some incredible insight into the creative process and filled in a number of gaps in what I thought I already knew. Regardless on where you stand in your geekdom, it would be next to impossible to walk away from this book without having learned something new and deeply personal.
This is one of those books, however, where the narration is average, just average, really average. It's not bad, just lifeless, which is often the biggest criticism I have when an author reads the work themselves. Some can do it well, most can't or simply don't. In a way, it actually fits, seeing as how Tolkien's readings of his own work were equally as lifeless. I can say that because I've actually heard a couple of recordings, and it sounded like he couldn't wait to break away from the audience and return to world-building. Back to the point, a narrator that doesn't sound like a first-time news reporter would be a welcome addition to a work like this.
"A deep insight in the creative process of a genius"
Well written, well documented and the narration, by the author (with supposedly no training in this craft) is quite excellent.
During the listening, old pangs of nostalgia felt when I first read Tolkien came up.
Very well done.
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