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How JRR Tolkien Found Mordor on the Somme

Jack Hays

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This is an intriguing look at the source of Tolkien's imaginative inspiration. Appropriate on the centenary of the Somme offensive.

How J.R.R. Tolkien Found Mordor on the Western Front
Joseph Loconte, NY Times

IN the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.
“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”
The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.
The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.
Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history.
Though the debt is largely overlooked, Tolkien’s supreme literary achievement, “The Lord of the Rings,” owes a great deal to his experience at the Somme. Reaching the front shortly after the offensive began, Tolkien served for four months as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Picardy region of France. . . .
 

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This is an intriguing look at the source of Tolkien's imaginative inspiration. Appropriate on the centenary of the Somme offensive.

How J.R.R. Tolkien Found Mordor on the Western Front
Joseph Loconte, NY Times

IN the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.
“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”
The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.
The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.
Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history.
Though the debt is largely overlooked, Tolkien’s supreme literary achievement, “The Lord of the Rings,” owes a great deal to his experience at the Somme. Reaching the front shortly after the offensive began, Tolkien served for four months as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Picardy region of France. . . .

I'm almost done listening to the Audible book "A World Undone", a history of WWI, and maybe in a few months I'll go ahead and listen to Ernst Junger's "Storm of Steel", considered the definitive record of the experience of German soldiers in the conflict.

That said, for anyone interested in military history, I strongly, strongly recommend Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" podcast - it's one of the most popular podcasts for good reason. His 24-hour-long series on WWI - "Blueprint for Armageddon" - is epic in scale and scope, and open one's eyes as to why it was WWI, not WWII, that was the most influential war in the twentieth century, and why battles like the Somme and Verdun were probably among the very worst battles in all human experience. As a bonus (though they're not free anymore) check out his series on the Mongol conquests, "Wrath of the Khans" - again, epic in scale in scope.
 

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This is an intriguing look at the source of Tolkien's imaginative inspiration. Appropriate on the centenary of the Somme offensive.

How J.R.R. Tolkien Found Mordor on the Western Front
Joseph Loconte, NY Times

IN the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.
“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”
The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.
The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.
Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history.
Though the debt is largely overlooked, Tolkien’s supreme literary achievement, “The Lord of the Rings,” owes a great deal to his experience at the Somme. Reaching the front shortly after the offensive began, Tolkien served for four months as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Picardy region of France. . . .

The Somme was certainly bad enough to give you an inclination of Mordor. But he wasn't the only one of the Inklings that sometimes took a dark view of things.
 

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This is an intriguing look at the source of Tolkien's imaginative inspiration. Appropriate on the centenary of the Somme offensive.

How J.R.R. Tolkien Found Mordor on the Western Front
Joseph Loconte, NY Times

IN the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.
“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”
The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.
The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.
Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history.
Though the debt is largely overlooked, Tolkien’s supreme literary achievement, “The Lord of the Rings,” owes a great deal to his experience at the Somme. Reaching the front shortly after the offensive began, Tolkien served for four months as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Picardy region of France. . . .

I used to Read the complete trilogy every so often. It was they only fantasy I ever got taken with in my life.

The good wife bought me all the CD's and I will watch them over again in a few years.

Thanks for posting this!

"Gimli the dwarf" was my favorite character.
 

Jack Hays

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I used to Read the complete trilogy every so often. It was they only fantasy I ever got taken with in my life.

The good wife bought me all the CD's and I will watch them over again in a few years.

Thanks for posting this!

"Gimli the dwarf" was my favorite character.

My favorites were the Riders of Rohan, whom I imagined as a Nordic-Sioux mash-up.
 

Jack Hays

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I'm almost done listening to the Audible book "A World Undone", a history of WWI, and maybe in a few months I'll go ahead and listen to Ernst Junger's "Storm of Steel", considered the definitive record of the experience of German soldiers in the conflict.

That said, for anyone interested in military history, I strongly, strongly recommend Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" podcast - it's one of the most popular podcasts for good reason. His 24-hour-long series on WWI - "Blueprint for Armageddon" - is epic in scale and scope, and open one's eyes as to why it was WWI, not WWII, that was the most influential war in the twentieth century, and why battles like the Somme and Verdun were probably among the very worst battles in all human experience. As a bonus (though they're not free anymore) check out his series on the Mongol conquests, "Wrath of the Khans" - again, epic in scale in scope.

My favorite poem, written to honor the British professionals who sacrificed themselves to stop the Germans on the Marne in 1914. The mass conscript army came later.

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

A.E. Housman
 

Glen Contrarian

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My favorite poem, written to honor the British professionals who sacrificed themselves to stop the Germans on the Marne in 1914. The mass conscript army came later.

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

A.E. Housman

The "Miracle on the Marne" - made possible by mistakes of coordination between the German generals, one of whom inadvertently opened his right flank to a newly-formed French army put together to defend Paris. The Brits were crucial to the war - it simply could not have been won without them, and later in the war their forces were greater even than those of France...but the victory of the Battle of the Marne does belong mostly to the French, and to General (and later Marshal) Joffre.
 

Jack Hays

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The "Miracle on the Marne" - made possible by mistakes of coordination between the German generals, one of whom inadvertently opened his right flank to a newly-formed French army put together to defend Paris. The Brits were crucial to the war - it simply could not have been won without them, and later in the war their forces were greater even than those of France...but the victory of the Battle of the Marne does belong mostly to the French, and to General (and later Marshal) Joffre.

There's no point in quibbling about who gets credit, but as the poem implies, the British professional army units were almost completely wiped out.
 

Jack Hays

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The Somme, 1916

By JOSEPH LOCONTE

At 7 a.m. on July 1, 1916, the British Army unleashed a hellish assault against German positions on the Western Front in France, along the River Somme. The roar was so loud that it was heard in London, nearly 200 miles away. The barrage​—​about 3,500 shells a minute​—​was designed to obliterate the deepest dugouts and severely compromise German artillery and machine-gun power. Crossing No Man's Land, that dreadful death zone stretching between opposing enemy trenches, would be a song.
Thus, at 7:30 a.m., nearly a hundred thousand British troops​—​to the sound of whistles, drums, and bagpipes​—​climbed out of their trenches and attacked. Like other great battles, this one was supposed to break the back of the German Army and hasten the end of the war. But the Germans had endured the pounding and were waiting, guns poised, for the British infantry. "We didn't have to aim," said a German machine-gunner. "We just fired into them." Before the day was over, 19,240 British soldiers lay dead, nearly twice that number wounded. Most were killed in the first hour of the attack, many within the first minutes.
July 1, 1916, marks the deadliest single day in British military history. Sir Frank Fox, a regimental historian, summarized the scene this way: "In that field of fire nothing could live." The Battle of the Somme would rage on, inconclusively, until November 18, dragging over a million men into its vortex of suffering and death. . . . .
 

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I used to Read the complete trilogy every so often. It was they only fantasy I ever got taken with in my life.

The good wife bought me all the CD's and I will watch them over again in a few years.

Thanks for posting this!

"Gimli the dwarf" was my favorite character.

I think mine was Samwise Gamgee, followed by Galadriel...and, tragically, Gollum. And Gimli's crush on Galadriel was a wonderful combination of subtle humor and a love that was impossible, unthinkable, forever out of reach.

The movies were very good...but they simply didn't hold a candle to the books.

I was happy, though, to see Peter Jackson do justice to the world-building, particularly the several races - dwarves (the Tolkien spelling, not the English spelling of 'dwarfs'), elves, orcs, hobbits, and especially the Ents. When I first saw Jurassic Park's CGI, I thought to myself that finally, LOTR might be properly adapted for the big screen...but I was so worried that whoever directed it would wind up with the somewhat goofy representations like what we saw in Bakshi's 1978 animated movie. It was good for its time...but Jackson did a superior job with the world-building. And how the heck did somebody as drop-dead gorgeous as Liv Tyler come from Steve Tyler????

images (2).jpg
 

Jack Hays

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The "Miracle on the Marne" - made possible by mistakes of coordination between the German generals, one of whom inadvertently opened his right flank to a newly-formed French army put together to defend Paris. The Brits were crucial to the war - it simply could not have been won without them, and later in the war their forces were greater even than those of France...but the victory of the Battle of the Marne does belong mostly to the French, and to General (and later Marshal) Joffre.

And the aged General Gallieni, Commandant of Paris, who mobilized the Paris taxis to transport troops to the fight.
 

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I think mine was Samwise Gamgee, followed by Galadriel...and, tragically, Gollum. And Gimli's crush on Galadriel was a wonderful combination of subtle humor and a love that was impossible, unthinkable, forever out of reach.

The movies were very good...but they simply didn't hold a candle to the books.

I was happy, though, to see Peter Jackson do justice to the world-building, particularly the several races - dwarves (the Tolkien spelling, not the English spelling of 'dwarfs'), elves, orcs, hobbits, and especially the Ents. When I first saw Jurassic Park's CGI, I thought to myself that finally, LOTR might be properly adapted for the big screen...but I was so worried that whoever directed it would wind up with the somewhat goofy representations like what we saw in Bakshi's 1978 animated movie. It was good for its time...but Jackson did a superior job with the world-building. And how the heck did somebody as drop-dead gorgeous as Liv Tyler come from Steve Tyler????

View attachment 67203557

You are right. I thought that the movies were about as close as you can get to the writings, but when you go back to the books, it is easy to pick out little items that could have been added to the films. But then again, that was a seriously complicated film to produce.

I give Jackson a 10/10 on this one.


Liv was awesome as usual!
 

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There's no point in quibbling about who gets credit, but as the poem implies, the British professional army units were almost completely wiped out.

Ah, but you know I'll quibble till the cows come home!

But however much I quibble about the credit, no one can ever take away one whit of the credit that belongs to the "Old Contemptibles", who were at the time the most professional army on the planet...and who - along with the doomed heroes of the Belgian forts who refused to yield against overwhelming odds and so slowed down the German Army to a snails pace when it counted most - must be credited with slowing down Germany's "Schlieffen Plan" just enough that it had to fail.
 

Jack Hays

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I think mine was Samwise Gamgee, followed by Galadriel...and, tragically, Gollum. And Gimli's crush on Galadriel was a wonderful combination of subtle humor and a love that was impossible, unthinkable, forever out of reach.

The movies were very good...but they simply didn't hold a candle to the books.

I was happy, though, to see Peter Jackson do justice to the world-building, particularly the several races - dwarves (the Tolkien spelling, not the English spelling of 'dwarfs'), elves, orcs, hobbits, and especially the Ents. When I first saw Jurassic Park's CGI, I thought to myself that finally, LOTR might be properly adapted for the big screen...but I was so worried that whoever directed it would wind up with the somewhat goofy representations like what we saw in Bakshi's 1978 animated movie. It was good for its time...but Jackson did a superior job with the world-building. And how the heck did somebody as drop-dead gorgeous as Liv Tyler come from Steve Tyler????

View attachment 67203557

It was the Elrond side of her family.
 

Jack Hays

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You are right. I thought that the movies were about as close as you can get to the writings, but when you go back to the books, it is easy to pick out little items that could have been added to the films. But then again, that was a seriously complicated film to produce.

I give Jackson a 10/10 on this one.


Liv was awesome as usual!

I think mine was Samwise Gamgee, followed by Galadriel...and, tragically, Gollum. And Gimli's crush on Galadriel was a wonderful combination of subtle humor and a love that was impossible, unthinkable, forever out of reach.

The movies were very good...but they simply didn't hold a candle to the books.

I was happy, though, to see Peter Jackson do justice to the world-building, particularly the several races - dwarves (the Tolkien spelling, not the English spelling of 'dwarfs'), elves, orcs, hobbits, and especially the Ents. When I first saw Jurassic Park's CGI, I thought to myself that finally, LOTR might be properly adapted for the big screen...but I was so worried that whoever directed it would wind up with the somewhat goofy representations like what we saw in Bakshi's 1978 animated movie. It was good for its time...but Jackson did a superior job with the world-building. And how the heck did somebody as drop-dead gorgeous as Liv Tyler come from Steve Tyler????

View attachment 67203557

I missed Tom Bombadil and (especially) Goldberry.
 

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This is an intriguing look at the source of Tolkien's imaginative inspiration. Appropriate on the centenary of the Somme offensive.

There are many, many things in LoTR indicating something like that.
The Shire representing rural Britain and it's folk. The strange old uncle who had his own adventures before Frodo's time, and also his own burdens to carry, as Frodo eventually comes to realize. The distaste for industrialized warfare. The nature of evil and how it can infect even the noblest of souls. Coming home to discover the very darkness you thought vanquished on the battlefield. World War 1 truly was a death of innocence.

I found the saddest one to be the end of the book, where Frodo with wounds that will not heal finally decides to "leave" to join long-gone friends.
But also the final line is IMHO one of the best in litterature describing how one person puts it all behind him and eventually gets on with his life. Simply "Well, I'm back!"
 

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I was in New Zealand doing some work not to long ago and had some down time so besides watching an All Blacks game we also went to see Hobiton. It's a couple hour drive from Auckland but I think for any LOTR fans it would be well worth it. Really neat to see and you can have a few beers in the green dragon. Not a big fan of the books or movies but still really cool
 
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