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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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Now Tolkien began work on a new language, based on
Finnish-his "mad hobby," as he called it. He felt that the
language needed a history to support it: a language can't
exist without the people who speak it. Tolkien decided that
this language was spoken by a race of elves who had
already appeared in the poetry he was writing. This poetry
was to form the basis of the vast mythology Tolkien wrote
about a land called Middle-earth. just as his languages were
based on actual languages, his mythology incorporated
elements of the myths and legends that Tolkien admired.

Around this time, World War I began, and England
declared war on Germany. Tolkien entered the British army
as an officer. Before going off to war, he married his
childhood sweetheart, Edith Bratt. Like Tolkien, whose
mother died when he was 12, Edith was an orphan. They
had fallen in love when he was 16 and she was 19. Their
guardians, however, had found out about the romance and
had forbidden the lovers to meet until Tolkien turned 21,
when he would legally be an adult. He incorporated this
long separation into The Lord of the Rings, in the romance
between Aragorn and Arwen.



Tolkien was sent to France, where he took part in the 1916
Battle of the Somme, a costly battle for the Allied forces.
The slaughter there of thousands of young British soldiers
left a lasting impression on Tolkien. In addition, the land
had been desolated by trench warfare and the use of heavy
artillery. His description of the desolation around Mordor
has often been cited for its resemblance to the war-torn
landscapes in Europe. Many of his colleagues who had
been through the war saw its influence on Tolkien in scenes
where he describes not only the horror of war, but also the
sense of close comradeship and the quiet joys of little
things. Those who survived the Battle of the Somme faced
death from an unexpected quarter in the following months.
Influenza and trench fever swept the ranks, affecting
soldiers and officers alike. Tolkien contracted a particularly
bad case of trench fever and was shipped back to England
in late 1916. He spent his long recovery working on his
mythology. The war ended in late 1918. Tolkien had
survived, only to find that all but one of his close friends
had died. To someone who valued friendship so highly, this
was a great blow.

Tolkien once said that at the heart of his books is the
realization of the inevitability of death. At the age of 24, he
had already faced not only the widespread death of the war,
but also the personal losses of his parents and friends.

Tolkien slowly returned to academic life. He moved
through a series of university positions, culminating in his
election to a professorship at Oxford. He published several
scholarly works that won respect in his field, including a
landmark lecture on Beowulf, the famous Old English epic
poem.

But he began to feel increasingly alienated from the world
about him. Postwar England was rapidly changing with the
growth of technology and industry. The way of life he
loved so much and had risked his life to defend in war was
disappearing. He watched sadly as trees were cut down and
countryside was taken over by city, all in the name of
progress.

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