Tribute to JRR Tolkien: son of war, father of fantasy

Of Alaric Lazarus

On September 2, 1973, JRR Tolkien, philologist, linguist, academic, writer and noble father of the fantasy genre, of which “The Hobbit” published in 1937 will forever be the eternal progenitor, died in Bournemouth at the age of eighty-two. .

A progenitor from which Tolkien will branch out the numerous milestones that tell the epic of the middle earth through the different eras: from the trilogy of the Lord of the rings to the Silmarillion passing through the sons of Húrin, the adventures of the histrionic Tom Bombadil, The Lost Tales , The fall of Gondolin and the celebrated Beren and Lúthien. The last work cited, despite its posthumous publication, is the key to understanding the profound intimacy, personalism and spirituality that permeate every Tolkenian work. On the common grave that the philologist shares with his wife Edith in Oxford (in the Wolvercote cemetery) dominate the elven names of the two protagonists of a story of an overwhelming and complex passion, animated by the obstructionism of Lúthien’s family (which was equal to that of Edith’s family towards Tolkien) and from a burning feeling that unites the two lovers. Beren and Lúthien are therefore the mirror image and fantastic of Tolkien and Edith with her dancing for him in a flourishing clearing, united in life and in the afterlife as if to challenge and overcome the boundaries of time and the finitude of human nature, the same challenge that will unite the heir to the throne Aragorn and the elven princess Arwen as the darkness advances and the hosts of Mordor seek the one ring.

Tolkien was an outstanding scholar, close friend and inspiration in literature and faith even to CW Lewis, the celebrated author of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Tolkien was able to find his own way to Oxford in English language and literature after a period spent among the Greek and Latin classics.

Starting from the vast knowledge of its author, there are many cultural contaminations in the philologist’s fantasy works from which his protagonists are born. Gandalf is an Odinic character, modeled on the epic of the ancient bearded wizard and wanderer well cemented in Norse and Norse mythology (the Finnish Väinämöinen is very reminiscent of the Tolkenian sorcerer for features and peculiarities) and as in the Götterdämmerung (the fall of the gods) his coming and his role as deus ex machina are functional to the last, desperate attempt of the factions of good to arrest Sauron and the end of a world of peace and prosperity that the middle earth has contemplated for years.

Tolkien was also a proud poet and medievalist and the echoes of what many mistakenly call the Dark Ages are tangible in many of his writings: from the ancient references to the Breton cycle and Chanson de Roland in the most humane and fickle of his heroes, Boromir, up to the heroism of Aragorn emblem of the thaumaturge king and of ancient warriors whose inspiration has its roots in the Anglo-Saxon epic (Beowulf in primis).

But to influence Tolkien will not be only the culture, the reading and the infinite love of the young Edith. To permeate every aspect of Tolken’s works there will always be her: the War.

When in 1915 the land of his majesty moves hostility towards the Central Empires, becoming involved in the First World War, Tolkien spontaneously decides to enlist. In those days participating in the war effort of one’s homeland was a source of pride, refraining from doing it, on the contrary, of shame and cowardice.

After completing his studies, he will experience a year of training in the Lancashire Fusiliers infantry regiment, where he will be enlisted as a second lieutenant.

In his correspondence with Edith all Tolkien’s deep bitterness towards the men who fight or are about to fight in the war theater will emerge, men who for the writer can hardly still call themselves human beings.

In June 1916 Tolkien’s regiment will be sent to France where the young man will experience the horror of the trenches, the war of attrition and position, the exhausting waiting, the illnesses, the fear of never seeing his loved ones again, the fire, the death.

From the battle of the Somme which lasted five months, and which cost the lives of over a million soldiers among the allies of the Anglo-Americans and the Kaiser’s army, Tolkien will be irremediably marked, a wound destined never to heal again like the one inflicted. to Frodo dai Nazgul and which is reflected in the political ideas of the author who, during the Second World War, will speak out strongly against all forms of totalitarianism and authoritarianism prevailing in Europe.

From the months at the front will derive the inspiration to tell some of the most iconic but also brutal moments of his fantasy production: the alternating phases of attack and defense wait, in the darkness of the trenches, during the First World War can be found in the sieges and in the desperate resistances of Minas Tirith, of the last alliance between men and elves in the Deep of Helm, or of the city of Gondolin.

The fire of arms is the same that animates the demon Balrog and the path of Frodo, Gollum and the faithful Sam (defined by Tolkien as the perfect prototype of “Tommy” that is the British simple soldier) recalls the scenario of the Somme war theater: barren , filthy, arid and dirty with the shed blood of those who fought for honor and loyalty to their country.

Tolkien lost two close friends in the Battle of the Somme, Robert Quilter Gilson and Geoffrey Bache Smith who together with Christopher Wiseman formed the Tea Club and Barrovian Society with John with the aim of changing the world through the power of art, music and culture.

Smith’s mother published the poems written by her son following his death. The collection, called “A Spring Harvest”, is an exceptional stylistic exercise and would have portended a bright future for the young poet. Tolkien wanted to sign the preface, paying his friend a last and worthy greeting.

With Wiseman, contacts became increasingly cold and sporadic. Despite this, John named his third son Christopher, in the name of the ancient friendship that bound them. Cristopher passed away in 2020 and contributed to the publication of all the posthumous works of his father and for over 50 years he kept alive the myth and memory of the greatest author in the history of British literature. A myth destined to last forever through his masterpieces, inspired by spirituality and positivity but also by raw realism.

The father of fantasy, the son of the brutality of war.

Tribute to JRR Tolkien: son of war, father of fantasy – Future Nation