I have previously mentioned that Lord of The Rings is my absolute favorite story. Not only that, but I also think that it is the best story. Yes, I’ve read many books in different genres, and I have adored a large number of them. But LOTR will always have a very special place in my heart. And I don’t think it’s just my opinion. Many people believe in the unparalleled genius of Tolkien and are ready to argue it. Even if you are not a fan of the genre, the intricacy of the world-building, the depth of the character development, and the pure epic of the plot are indisputable. Then there is also the background that most people are not interested in researching. I did, and I think it makes the story even better. So, let me give you the story behind the story.
It all started with an unassuming little book, which you might have heard of. The Hobbit is a fantastic piece of literature, and I consider it an integral part of the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Yes, it’s not part of the trilogy, of course, but in my mind, the whole thing is more of a quartet. The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo and his adventures as a professional burglar. He embarks on an epic journey to help some dwarfs retrieve the treasure that belongs to them. I will not give you a synopsis of the plot because you can always Google that. Or watch the movie adaptations. Or better yet, read the book. Don’t even dare reading TLOR without having read The Hobbit first. So after that little tome, Tolkien’s publishers wanted more. Honestly, who wouldn’t? So he agreed to write a sequel to the book, and that is how we are now blessed with the existence of The Lord of The Rings. But that’s not the main point of the story.
What I want to emphasize is what influenced the books, and that is The Great War that Tolkien lived through. WWI had the most active artists, writers, and musicians, in comparison to any other war in history. Naturally, what they produced was highly influenced by the goings on around them. Tolkien’s LOTR remains one of the most highly regarded such works to this day. But then there is also his friend CS Lewis, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. The two authors shared a legendary friendship, based on their mutual love of myth and legend, firmly believing in their power to influence society. It is often said that if it wasn’t for that friendship, we might have never experienced the great works of literature that the two authors produced. The two argued about Christianity, imagination and writing meaningful stories. Rumor has it that it was the LOTR that helped Lewis learn how to properly express his views on Christianity through a fictional tale.
But just look at all the ways in which WWI influenced the LOTR story. You have a person (or hobbit) who loves his home, has virtues and wants nothing but his peaceful life back. He has to face impossible odds to defeat an enemy that is much stronger and more skilled. WWI was when tanks were first used on a battlefield and in LOTR the reader gets to experience that though the Oliphaunts (“grey-clad moving hills”). The type of industrial progress of the time produced dangerous machines and weapons, similarly to Saruman cutting down the trees and burning them in the name of advancements. The screams of the Nazgul is also said to be reminiscent of the battlefields of WWI with the sounds of the sounds of artillery shells flying through the air. “Even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and of crawling, and of death,” Tolkien claimed about the Ringwraiths’ cries.
Also, the character of Sam Gamgee, who Tolkien said reminded him of the “Tommies” of WWI. The average soldier who came from the agricultural background and obviously did not belong on a battlefield. People with Tolkien’s social standing were usually made officers. Those officers were often assigned a soldier to cater to them and their needs (cooking, washing their uniform, etc.). Those soldiers often came from a presumably lower social class and were known to form strong relationships with their officer. They were known as batsmen. The author admitted that he was incredibly impacted by the strength of the bond between the officer and the batsman and it was what influenced the creation of Sam and his relationship with Frodo. “My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself.”
Frodo was the unlikely hero. The one that no one thought could do it. But with the help of his friends, he does end up succeeding. And isn’t that what people hope for in times of war. We know that no one person can win a war, but a group of brave men could make the difference. It’s ultimately a story of comradery, optimism, heroism, darkness and light. And it’s epic.