War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien

by Janet Brennan Croft


Examines the role of war in Tolkien's life and works

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Cover image for War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien

June 2004


Pages 192
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics The Arts/General

Having participated in the First World War, and having seen two of his sons serve in the Second, Tolkien was concerned with many of the same themes that interested other writers in the post-war period. The rhythm of war flows through his writings, but his own interpretation of the themes, symbols, and motifs of war, however, were influenced by his religious views and his interest in fantasy, which add another layer of meaning and a sense of timelessness to his writing. Croft explores the different aspect of Tolkien's relationship with war both in his life and in his work from the early Book of Lost Tales to his last story Smith of Wootten Major, and concentrating on his greatest and most well-known works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This timely addition to the critical literature on Tolkien sheds new light on the author's life and works.

Tolkien, one of the world's most beloved authors, was a World War I signaling officer who survived the Battle of the Somme, and two of his sons served during World War II. Such experiences and events lead Tolkien to a complex attitude toward war and military leadership, the themes of which find their way into his most important writings. His fiction, criticism, and letters demonstrate a range of attitudes that would change over the course of his life. In the end, his philosophy on human nature and evil, and the inevitability of conflict, would appear to be pragmatic and rational, if regretful and pessimistic. Still, Croft is able to uncover a strain of hopefulness, as befitted his Catholicism, about the ultimate fate of the human soul. She concludes that his personal life and values informed his reading and his writing and the way in which he interpreted his own experiences. This valuable consideration of war in the life of Tolkien is essential reading for all readers interested in deepening their understanding of this great writer.

Table of Contents

AcknowledgementsIntroductionThe Great War and Tolkien's MemoryWorld War I Themes in The Hobbit and The Lord of the RingsWorld War II: "The Young Parish and the Old Linger, Withering"Military Leaders and Leadership"The Dull Backwaters of the Art of Killing": Training, Tactics, Strategy, and Battlefield Communication"War Must Be, While We Defend Our Lives": Philosophy, Pathology and ConclusionsWorks CitedIndexAbout the Author



[C]roft demonstrates that to lodge Tolkien's writings squarely in the genre of war literature is to overlook the complexity and ambiguity in his depictions of the epic struggle between good and evil....Croft makes a convincing case for Tolkien's complex and highly inconsistent perspectives on war. Close readings, a comparison with Jackson's films, biographical background, and studies of working drafts bolster Croft's conclusions....Clearly written and extensively researched, this informative book makes an important contribution to Tolkien studies. Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.—Choice

[C]roft's book is a welcome addition to the debate on the interface between Tolkien's art and the modern world, enlarging our view of the influence of his war experiences, and reminding us that therein lies a major factor in his contemporary appeal.—Tolkien Studies

War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien presents a comprehensive and successful attempt by Janet Croft to investigate the influence of the two World Wars on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien as well as his attitudes to war.—Inklings

[S]cholarly and perceptive.—Times Literary Supplement


2005 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies

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