Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tolkien And The Great War - John Garth

Tolkien And The Great War
John Garth
Houghton Mifflin
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0618331298

One of a growing number of biographies of the author J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien And The Great War focuses on the years of the First World War (1914-1918).

According to the dust-jacket flap, this book "is the first substantially new biography of Tolkien since 1977" (the latter would be the Humphrey Carpenter volume). However, it's not the last. There's the Ring of Words (Tolkien's years at the OED) and the books by Hammond and Scull.

It's one thing to have read the Letters and Humphrey Carpenter's bio on what Tolkien went through during the War, but the way John Garth does it, by looking at Tolkien's battallion as well as those of his friends from the TCBS really brings what Tolkien experienced home to you.

Tokien And The Great War is not just about Tolkien, but also about his three friends from the TCBS, Rob Gilson, G.B. Smith and Christopher Wiseman.

It's not just the movements of the war that Garth goes over, but also he examines Tolkien's early writings: his poetry and the Book of Lost Tales and demonstrates how they were affected by the War.

There were two negatives to the book, one of which is probably just a flaw in my copy. The blue ink on the dust-jacket is like old-fashioned newsprint. It smears onto my fingers. This was the first book I've had to remove the dust-jacket to read. However, I haven't heard about anything like this happening to anyone else, so I suspect it was just my copy.

The second flaw in my mind is the way the end-notes were set up, and here I'm comparing the book to Shippey's Road To Middle-Earth. Unlike the latter book Tolkien and the Great War doesn't use any note numbers. The notes are simply at the end of the book and listed by page number. It made it a lot harder to find the notes, to the point where I finally didn't even bother.

Overall, however, I found the book to be a very engaging read and I think I learned quite a bit about those years which were so formative to Tolkien and his writing.

Other Reviews:
Bookspot Central: Tolkien and the Great War
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