The Somme inspired Tolkiens Lord..)

Discussion in 'Films, Music and All Things Artsy' started by spike7451, Jul 3, 2006.

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  1. spike7451

    spike7451 RIP

    Interesting reading in that the Somme inspired Tolkien's Lord of the Rings;

    Tolkien had just graduated from Oxford with a first class degree in literature when he saw his first active service at the Somme. From July 1916 until he was invalided out with trench fever at the end of October, he experienced the full relentless ghastliness of day after day of trench life under fire - the discomfort, the cold, the mud, the lice, the fear, the unspeakable horrors witnessed.

    He had taken comfort from the fact that he was fighting alongside his three oldest and dearest friends from his school-days - a quartet of gifted would-be-poets who hoped to become outstanding literary men. But by November, two of those friends were dead.

    Watching some of the battle scenes in the film,you can almost see a simularity of the troops going over the top.
  2. I have read similar comments elsewhere but that was a long time ago and I cannot recall where I read them.

    I read Lord of the Rings long before I knew about the Somme, at least in detail, and putting the two together makes absolute sense. I will try and find the reference - but in slow time.

  3. It's a subject that's been thoroughly delved into, usually by scholars. A discussion of it from a military perspective might be interesting
  4. I must admit I didn't realise the place the first WWI and in particular the Somme holds in the British mind , until I started to read a few of the websites and blogs emanating out of the UK. I would think in the US ,the American Civil war occupies a similar place though I think we draw different lessons from the different wars. Though Maybe Tolkien drew a more similar lesson from WWI.
  5. IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
    And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
    If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    ' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
    if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
    And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

    rudyard kipling wrote this poem to inpire more men to join up when he thought the first world war was going to happen, he was a a great supporter of vetrains of the boer war and sadly lost his only son during the somme.
  6. Kiplings son was killed at Loos in 1915 on his first day in action. He was listed among the missing until his body was identified only a couple of years ago.
  7. Tolkien wrote most of LOTR during WW2, sending each new chapter to his son, who was serving overseas, for critical comment/ initial responses. Tolkien always denied that the books were allegorical, but it's clear from other comments he made that his own experiences on the W Front had a huge influence on what/ how he wrote. For example, he wrote home from France on the horror of seeing the faces of hundreds of dead soldiers staring upwards as he picked his way through No Man's Land; a clear analogue of the "Dead Marshes" chapter in LOTR.

    "Hobbits" in their manner, customs, attitudes etc are clearly representations of the rural midlanders amongst whom he spent his formative years, and with whom he went to war as an infantry officer. Tolkien was explicit about this, and when all is said & done, LOTR is really a book about males going to war: Frodo ("Mister Frodo") = officer with special task; Sam = loyal "batman", "gallowglass" even! Pippin, Merry etc = solid, dependable "poor bloody infantry"; salt of the earth; little people caught up in great events way beyond their ken who, when tested, prove brave & resourceful beyond expectations etc..

    It's pushing things to assert, as some have done, that LOTR is simply an allegory of the "great wars" (1914-45) of the C20th: "evil powers" rising to the East, weapons of ultimate power (nukes?! - NO - Tolkien, like 99.999% of population wouldn't have known about these at the time of writing), struggles between darkness & light etc etc.. Nonsense IMO, and, apart from anything else, Tolkien had his own distinct & arcane interests (eg "Northerness", English identity, recreation of the Anglo-Saxon myth cycles suppressed by the Norman Conquest etc!) to pursue in writing these books. When Tolkien talked about the "Great War" he was referring to the events of the Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England, circa 1066-87, and the destruction/ suppression of English culture/ identity that was a concomitant of this. Strange but true.

    Nevertheless, like any writer, Tolkien was a product of his time & place/ life experiences, and he never denied that his war experiences were a major formative influence on what he wrote - hard to see how it could have been otherwise. Mustn't read TOO much into it though!
  8. wow I really didn't know that, my old english teacher always told me the story of how he supported the call for young men to join the WW1 effort and then had a re think when his son died and I never bothered to follow it up, just asuming it was true, :oops: apologies

  9. I am sure you are right. So many people enjoyed Tolkien, people read themselves into his world. This is a slightly different take on hobbits from a NRO obituary written at his Death.

  10. Tsk. Spoil our fun, why don't you? I guess you're trying to tell us that The Two Towers isn't some sort of premonition, and that when Aragorn calls on the "Men of the West" to go smite the eastern hordes, he wasn't talking about a clash of civilisations, and that this speech by Sam is not a call to maintain our optimistic, civilising mission?

  11. untallguy

    untallguy Old-Salt Reviewer Book Reviewer

    I do remember reading an interview with Tolkien (can't remember where) where he freely admitted that the character of Sam was based on his batman in WWI - very much along the lines of "...loyal, utterly fearless, dedicated to my safety and a great friend...". Sounds like fair description of both Sam Gamgees and an outstanding man.
  12. This is indeed the case and the reason why Samwise is the real hero of the story, although Frodo is the dominant character. It was Tolkein's belief that his batman was responsible for getting him through such an awful experience. Richard Holmes refers to it in Tommy, alas I don't have my copy at work with me for references and such.
  13. I couldn't agree more.

    sexism alert

    Sam's loyalty, friendship and support of Frodo - in furtherance of the mission and out of "mateship" - is an essentially blokeish and very military thing. When commentators, especially female ones,* describe their relationship as involving other aspects of mutual love, they are missing the point so badly it makes me fume.

    * I mean you, Germaine.
  14. REPLY:

    Not at all Doc - you're absolutely right, of course. It's a classic statement of the "ethic of the unyielding will" (see Tolkien, JRR, "Beowulf: The Monsters & The Critics", 1936) - perfect because the situation is hopeless, and yet the good man refuses to yield to the encroaching forces of darkness - he finds "...a potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage."

    If you're interested, the best expression of this are the words of Byrhtwold in the C10th Anglo-Saxon poem "The Battle of Maldon" as he prepares to die fighting in the face of hopeless odds:

    "Mind must be harder, spirit must be bolder,
    And heart the greater, as our might grows less." [ lines 312-13] [source: "A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse", ed R Hamer,1970, ISBN - 0 571 08765 5].

    My Anglo-Saxon tutor always said "You never know when 'this bollo*!s' might come in useful!". Damn him, he was right!