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Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  6,593 ratings  ·  184 reviews
Revealing the horror and heroism the creator of Middle-earth experienced as a young man, Tolkien and the Great War also introduces the close friends who spurred the modern world's greatest mythology into life. It shows how the deaths of two comrades compelled Tolkien to pursue the dream they had shared, and argues that Tolkien transformed the cataclysm of his generation wh ...more
Paperback, 398 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 2003)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  6,593 ratings  ·  184 reviews

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2.5 – 3 stars

_Tolkien and the Great War_ is an obviously well-researched book that goes into explicit (at times I must admit tedious) detail on J. R. R. Tolkien’s involvement in World War I and its possible impact on his then-current and later writings. We begin by observing Tolkien’s earliest close friendships formed at St. King Edward’s Grammar School under the auspices of the “TCBS” (an acronym for Tea Club, Barrovian Society) where the core group of Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Robert Gilso
BAM The Bibliomaniac
DOES ANYONE REALIZE HOW CLOSE WE WERE TO LOSING TOLKIEN?!?!?? Can you imagine a world without his Hobbits, his elves, his orcs?
The man is a genius, not just a literary genius, but an absolute linguistic pedant. I finished this book simply fascinated and now I want to learn Norse, Welsh, Latin, and Greek. Not only have I gained a better understanding of the warfront during WWI, but I also appreciate the gifts Tolkien gave to us more than ever. I will cherish this book. A perfect audio read becau
Moira Russell
This is a necessary book - worth reading not just for the inside dope on Tolkien's mythology (which frankly I'm not that interested in, but the book was compelling anyway). This book is also a thoughtful, sensitive, well-written consideration of the WWI generation, and how the pre-War world and the War itself formed Tolkien and his fellowship of four friends. It is the best kind of cultural-literary criticism, especially when Garth talks about how the accepted narrative of WWI became the pessimi ...more
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: wwi
Not a bad read, composition was quite good. Character development was meh. Very tenuous connection however between WW1 and Tolkien’s writing. In fact Tolkien had formed most of his ‘Silmarillion’ background by the time he left university and stated he did no writing during WW1 as it was a hard thing to do as an officer in the trenches. There is no doubt that war has an impact on anyone’s world view but I don’t think this book shed much light in that regard.

I did appreciate the background on Tolk
Apr 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book was something quite different from what I expected. Going in I expected a book focused on J.R.R. Tolkien almost exclusively, with discussions of the hells of the Western Front in WWI and then a deeper discussion of the themes of loss or nature and industrialization play out in The Lord of the Rings. I was looking forward to that analysis of the 'coming of the machine age' that Peter Jackson had played up so beautifully in the movie version of The Two Towers.

Instead, Garth treats us to
Tim O'Neill
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
When Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings came at the top of a string of "best/favourite books of the twentieth century" lists in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was predictable harrumphing from some guardians of literary taste. People like Germaine Greer sneered loudly that the hoi polloi simply couldn't be trusted with this sort of thing, though her comments made it clear she had only a vague idea why she was so certain Tolkien's stuff was "tosh". She seemed to think he was a Nazi sympathiser ( ...more
Ashley Marie
A bit dry in spots, and where it took its time early on, things felt rushed by the end. The postscript is sheer brilliance, however, to the point that it gained a fourth star all on its own. Read very well by the author.
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve got chills tbh
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't speak highly enough of this book. The amount of detailed biographical research alone would make it invaluable to anyone interested in Tolkien (or, for that matter, in the experience of the generation of university students who fought in World War I). I only wish we had two or three more volumes coming from him, to cover the rest of Tolkien's life, a deep-dive utilizing the research tools and resources of the twenty-first-century, ala what Mark Lewisohn is doing for the Beatles (ETA: YE G ...more
Mar 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spring2010
One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead.
— J.R.R. Tolkien, forward to The Lord of the Rings

World War I represented everything Tolkien hated: the destruction of nature, the deadly application of technology, the abuse and corrupt
Why it took me so long to read this I cannot say. It had been on the back burner for me, and only really pushed to the forefront as I am seeing the author at a conference in a few weeks. To say that this book spoke to me in a way that only a small handful of books have done would be an understatement. I have long been fascinated both by Tolkien and military history, so it was a natural pairing. But beyond that, you cannot read this book without feeling a sense of the utter tragedy of youth and p ...more
Neil R. Coulter
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read Tolkien and the Great War as part of a group read with the Tolkien group on Goodreads, and I'm so glad I did. I've read a lot of books about Tolkien, and this is one of the very best. Garth delves into the biographical details of Tolkien's youth and young adulthood, looking especially at Tolkien's friendship with three other schoolmates: G. B. Smith, Rob Gilson, and Christopher Wiseman. Together, these four formed the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS), a brotherhood dedicated to rekin ...more
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I actually really enjoyed this book. Other books about Tolkien seem to skip over the time he spent in WWI. They talk briefly about it and then move on.
This book was based all around the time he spent in the army and it's effect on his writing. It seemed very logical for his war experiences to be portrayed in his writing some way, so I agree with the author. Also I was happy that they went not only into detail about Tolkien's war experience, but also Rob Gilson's, G.B. Smith's and Christopher Wi
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-books
See a partial review here: ...more
Edoardo Albert
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are three essential works for anyone interested in going deeper into Tolkien’s writing and thought: Humphrey Carpenter’s biography, Tom Shippey’s philological appreciation, JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century, and John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War. While Tolkien, famously and justly, abhorred the mining of an author’s life for the coal seam of his literary material, Garth’s study of Tolkien’s war, and that of the other three members of the youthful coterie that had gathered around him, ...more
Edward Clay-Croome
Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth is a broad-ranging biography of the creator of Middle-earth. Despite its title, the book covers J. R. R. Tolkien’s entire life. It starts with his time at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, where he became steeped in languages and met the three friends with whom he formed the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (or TCBS), a tight-knit club with world-changing literary ambitions. The four members of the TCBS are the focus throughout the account of the First Wor ...more
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
After seeing the Tolkien movie and having read a biography some years ago, I decided to try this, as it was the basis for the movie and of course gives you the non Hollywood gloss over. Still a very reviting and at times sad story of Tolkien's school friends.
WWI was a true hell and is portrayed here.
Ellen Trautner
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tolkien
This is the book (I think) the movie "Tolkien" mostly draws from. This focuses mostly on Tolkien's school years and developing the friendship of the TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), which at the core was him and three other boys. They all wanted to change the world through their art--poetry, music, writing, language. Even after they went to different universities they stayed in close contact, and then the war began. Two of them enlisted right away, but Tolkien resisted because he really wa ...more
Laurel Hicks
Besides showing how Tolkien’s war experiences and the fellowship of young scholars of whom Tolkien was a part helped shape The Lord of the Rings, John Garth gives a superb analysis of Tolkien's place in literature. The best part is the Epilogue.

“Just when the old ways of telling were being misused by the military propagandists and rejected by the trench writers, Tolkien envisioned ‘The Book of Lost Tales’, a sequence of stories salvaged from the wreck of history. That he saw the value in traditi
Benjamin Phillips
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-books
A very good examination of Prof. Tolkien’s time up to and in the Great War and how it impacted his philology and writing endeavors. Would recommend.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to E.F.B. by: Mary
Note: I decided to pair the physical copy of this book with the audio version and found reading and listening at the same time was very helpful in keeping my focus and helping me progress through this book without getting slowed down or distracted. The author of the book actually narrates the audiobook, which is something I always really enjoy.

An excellent read for this Tolkien fan! Thanks again for recommending and gifting it to me, Mary! :) <3

This being non-fiction, and me not reading non-fict
This isn't a complete biography of Tolkien but instead a detailed account of the careers of Tolkien and his three closest friends, collectively "the TCBSites" during WWI which goes on to discuss how the war affected Tolkien's creative output, making a convincing case that it is here, rather than in WWII we should look for the influence of real events on Lord of the Rings and other works by the most influential figure in 20th Century fantasy literature. Tolkien's childhood and school days are rec ...more
Talbot Hook
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
2014: This book is really the first I've read that has bothered to cover this period of Tolkien's life in such depth, and it is terribly sad. Aside from the well-documented loss of innocence and waste of life so present in the works of the period's major poets, it chronicles the history of the TCBS, and the ultimate annihilation of their collective aspirations and mutual feelings. How very depressing that is.

2018: Answering the unbidden call to read this again (perhaps it was a necessary way to
Adam Balshan
4 stars [Biography]
Exact rating: 3.75
#5 in its genre, out of 29

Writing: 3.5 stars
Garth writes well, and in a pleasing register, but does not quite ascend into profundity.

Use: 3.5 stars
Even a reader who cares nothing for Inklings fantasy will find literary quality in much poetry. And if one cares nothing for poetry, the book is thirdly a compelling memoir of WWI.

Truth: 4 stars
Rare truth is found in analyses of war and existentialism, desolation and romance, and in Tolkien's arc from a baccalaurea
Jan 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own-read
A good book, but not one that flowed particularly well (at least for me).
I'll be honest: I find Tolkien's writing to be difficult at times, and this book felt like it was written by Tolkien's literary brother. I read the book in fits and starts because it often felt like I was reading a textbook.
Despite this, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I found it to be a thorough and informative look at Tolkien and the experiences that molded him and his mythology. And for history buffs, it offered a glimps
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent. Although I come from a class of reader who actively avoids the biographies of beloved authors, nevertheless I feel that this book has enriched my understanding of Tolkien for the better. I feel like I was given a rare glimpse into a group of friends whose idealism was tragically shattered. Their story, and Tolkien's story, moved me.
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really found this book very interesting. He ties events going on in the war and his friendships to themes and ideas being developed in Tolkien's imaginative world. There are some really powerful ideas to think about.
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Tolkien as an artist.
I probably have in-mind something more like 4.75 stars. This is a phenomenal history, a heck of a book.
Feb 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Admirers of JRRT and his world, language specialists,
This is an intensely poignant book of two genres: English fiction literature of the first half of the twentieth century (including J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillon”); and World War 1 non-fiction. On the back cover A.N. Wilson is quoted: “I have rarely read a book which so intelligently graphed the relation between a writer’s inner life and his outward circumstances”. That nails it; and a very unusual fascinating combination it makes, too.

We are often told that war ma
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J.R.R. Tolkien: Group Read July-September 2015: Tolkien and the Great War 18 82 Nov 07, 2015 02:06PM  

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“To put the last point another way, writers such as Graves, Sassoon, and Owen saw the Great War as the disease, but Tolkien saw it as merely the symptom.” 3 likes
“Tolkien came to regard the tale of Beren and Tinuviel as 'the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, "the wheels of the world", are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak'. Such a worldview is inherent in the fairy-tale (and Christian) idea of the happy ending in which the dispossessed are restored to joy; but perhaps Tolkien was also struck by the way it had been borne out in the Great War, when ordinary people stepped out of ordinary lives to carry the fate of nations.” 2 likes
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