J.R.R. Tolkien is best known for his two fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's The Hobbit, or There and Back Again was first copyrighted in 1938. Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings was originally published in three volumes of two books each. The first two volumes were "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" first copyrighted in 1954. The third volume was "The Return of the King" first copyrighted in 1955.
When The Lord of the Rings (hereafter referred to by the popular abbreviation LotR) was first published, there was a popular notion that the book was in some way meant as an allegory for the Second World War, the Cold War, or the state of affairs in England after the Second World War. In the Foreword to the second edition of LotR (1966), Tolkien wrote "The real war does not resemble the legendary war either in its process or its conclusion."(1) In Tolkien's Foreword to the 1973 Ballantine edition (and included in many subsequent editions) he wrote a more substantial disclaimer of that idea. Tolkien informs his readers "The crucial chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels." Tolkien continues and reminds the readers "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."(2) Those close friends, specifically Geoffrey Smith and R.Q. Gilson had been lost in the First World War. They were killed during the Battle of the Somme - an absolute horror which Tolkien had participated in (as second lieutenant, 11thLancashire Fusiliers(3)) for six months, until 'Trench fever' took him back to England. (4)
Tolkien did not in his Forward discuss the possibility of his narrative being rooted in the World War I, and from the context one might have inferred that Tolkien would disclaim the possibility as he specifically states "... I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence." and "...the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous. It is also false, though naturally attractive, when the lives of an author and critic have overlapped, to suppose that the movements of thought or the events of times common to both were necessarily the most powerful influences."(5) In further argument against "biographical reductionism"(6), Tolkien stated, "I object to the contemporary trend in criticism, with its excessive interest in the details of the lives of authors and artists. They only distract attention for the author's work . . . and end, as one now often sees, in becoming the main interest."(7)
firstname.lastname@example.org | 10 December 1998