Tolkien and the Great War

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Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth
Publication Information
AuthorJohn Garth
PublisherHarperCollins (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
ReleasedOctober 2003
FormatHardcover; paperback

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth is a biography book by John Garth, first published in 2003. This book looks into J.R.R. Tolkien's early life, examining more specifically the influence of the Great War on Tolkien and his writings.

The book was warmly welcomed by Tolkien scholars as filling in an important gap in biographical coverage. Christian scholars too admired the book, though Ralph C. Wood thought that it underplayed the importance of Tolkien's Christianity. The book was called "plodding" by Tolkien's biographer, Humphrey Carpenter,[1] but praised by other commentators.

The book won the 2004 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies.

The book contains reprints of passages from early poetry by Tolkien, among them the full text of the poem "The Lonely Isle", originally published in Leeds University Verse 1914-24 in 1924. There are also numerous quotes from unpublished correspondence between Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, R.Q. Gilson, and G.B. Smith.


  • Preface
  • Part One: The immortal four
    • Prologue
    • 1. Before
    • 2. A young man with too much imagination
    • 3. The Council of London
    • 4. The Shores of Faërie
    • 5. Benighted wanderers
    • 6. Too long in slumber
  • Part Two: Tears unnumbered
    • 7. Larkspur and Canterbury-bells
    • 8. A bitter winnowing
    • 9. "Something has gone crack"
    • 10. In a hole in the ground
  • Part Three: The Lonely Isle
    • 11. Castles in the air
    • 12. Tol Withernon and Fladweth Amrod
    • Epilogue: "A new light"
  • Postscript: "One who dreams alone"
  • Notes

From the publisher

Acclaimed as ‘the best book about Tolkien’, this award-winning biography explores J.R.R. Tolkien’s wartime experiences and their impact on his life and his writing of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.

“To be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than in 1939 … by 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”

So J.R.R. Tolkien responded to critics who saw The Lord of the Rings as a reaction to the Second World War. Tolkien and the Great War tells for the first time the full story of how he embarked on the creation of Middle-earth in his youth as the world around him was plunged into catastrophe. This biography reveals the horror and heroism that he experienced as a signals officer in the Battle of the Somme and introduces the circle of friends who spurred his mythology to life. It shows how, after two of these brilliant young men were killed, Tolkien pursued the dream they had all shared by launching his epic of good and evil.

John Garth argues that the foundation of tragic experience in the First World War is the key to Middle-earth’s enduring power. Tolkien used his mythic imagination not to escape from reality but to reflect and transform the cataclysm of his generation. While his contemporaries surrendered to disillusionment, he kept enchantment alive, reshaping an entire literary tradition into a form that resonates to this day.

This is the first substantially new biography of Tolkien since 1977, meticulously researched and distilled from his personal wartime papers and a multitude of other sources.

Publication history and gallery

2003 hardcover
2003 hardcover  
2004 paperback
2004 paperback  
2004 paperback
?th impression
2004 paperback
?th impression  

See also

External links

A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
On Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil · The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth · The Fall of Númenor
Not on Arda Short stories
and others
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · Letters from Father Christmas ·
Mr. Bliss · Roverandom · Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · The Old English Exodus · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Letters & poems The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien · The Collected Poems of J.R.R. Tolkien
academic works
A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse
Books by other authors
Books on Arda The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Maps of Middle-earth
Tolkien biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Scholarly books The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer · Tolkien's Library · Tolkien on Chaucer, 1913-1959
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
Other works by Tolkien
Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
Collections of artwork
and manuscripts
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
The Art of The Hobbit · The Art of The Lord of the Rings · Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth ·
Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
This list is only a selection, for a fuller bibliography of Tolkien see here or here. See also a timeline and an index.
  1. Humphrey Carpenter reviews "Tolkien and the Great War" archived on (accessed 23 April 2024)