Another day, another review. This time however, the book in question is not of a fictional origin, instead its The Paperback Pilgrims very first non-fiction book review. Today’s review is going to focus on A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 by Joseph Loconte. While I’ve read both Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings ‘trilogy’ and Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe series, I knew very little about the personal lives of two of the 20th centuries greatest authors. Did I learn a thing or two about Tolkien and Lewis? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.
From the Western Front trenches of the First World War to the academic hallways of Oxford University, Loconte follows the lives of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis from birth to literary success. As the First World War changed everything from politics to religion, Loconte focuses on how each of the writers, separate and together, managed to hold on to faith, friendship, and the idea of heroics during the First World War.
For only containing 200 pages of actual information on Tolkien and Lewis, this book definitely delivers.
It was interesting to find out about each of the writers military services, and with this year marking the centennial of the Battle of the Somme, one of the largest battle on the Western Front, it made history come full circle.
I found Tolkien’s wartime experiences more fleshed out in this book than Lewis’, and what surprised me is that even with serving in the Great War, Tolkien still supported his son’s service in the Second World War.
One passage that will stick with me long after this book fades from memory is Loconte’s description of the Dead Marshes in LOTR as they correlated to the Battle of the Somme. The fact that we, as readers, believe that Tolkien’s work is that of fiction, only to be reminded that certain idea’s are based on fact, really changed my view of LOTR, and made me what to go back and read them again with this new knowledge.
The other passage that really made me think was the reveal of Lewis’ trench training. Sent Oxford on April 16, 1917, Lewis describes that while in for trench warfare on the campus, provisions were put in to really simulate war. Among theses were dugout, shell holes, and graves, the latter of which Lewis described as ‘This last touch of realistic scenery seems rather superfluous.’ Given that a lot of the war scenes describe many dead not having graves, I tend to agree with Lewis.
One of the flaws that kept me from giving this book 5 stars was how disorganized it was. Within the chapters, Loconte would flip from the trenches to the years after the war and back again. I am someone who appreciates linearity in non-fiction works, and due to the lack there of in A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War, it suffered a tad.
Overall Rating: out 4 of 5 stars.