Tolkien, Lewis, and the Lessons of World War I
By Desmond Berg
via the Sovereign Nations web site
Editor's Note: On the heels of the enormously successful World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, by director Peter Jackson, FOX Searchlight Pictures has released the first trailer for their J.R.R. Tolkien biography, seen above. The new film will explore how the horrors of World War I that Tolkien witnessed were eventually channeled into "a fantastical adventure story about good and evil, destiny and prophecy", which we know as his Lord of the Rings trilogy. In a recent article on the Sovereign Nations web site, author Desmond Berg looks at the effects of the Great War on Tolkien and his lifelong friend author C.S. Lewis, and how "both used the experience of war to shape their Christian imaginations" and produce fantastic works of literature.
In the spring of 431 b.c., Athens and Sparta went to war. Their dispute soon enveloped the entire Greek world. Thucydides, an eyewitness to the fighting, wrote that it would be “more momentous than any previous conflict.”
He was right. Dragging on for 27 years, the Peloponnesian War anticipated the suffering and deprivation associated with modern conflicts: the atrocities, refugees, disease, starvation, and slaughter. The war destroyed what remained of Greek democracy and left the Greek city-states vulnerable to demagogues and foreign invasion.
A hundred years ago, on November 11, 1918, another war begun by two European states—a local squabble that escalated into global conflict—came to an end. Struggling to describe its scope and destructive power, the combatants called it the Great War. Like its Greek counterpart, the war ravaged soldiers and civilians.
Over the course of four years, roughly 20 million people were killed, another 21 million wounded. National economies were ruined; empires collapsed. The war to “make the world safe for democracy” left European democracy in tatters.
And more than that: The core commitments of Western civilization—to reason, truth, virtue, and freedom—were thrown into doubt. T. S. Eliot saw the postwar world as a wasteland of human weariness. “I think we are in rats’ alley,” he wrote, “where the dead men lost their bones.” Many rejected faith in God and embraced materialistic alternatives: communism, fascism, totalitarianism, scientism, and eugenics.
Yet two extraordinary authors—soldiers who survived the horror of the trenches—rebelled against the spirit of the age. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who met at Oxford in 1926 and formed a lifelong friendship, both used the experience of war to shape their Christian imaginations. In works such as The Lord of the Rings, The Space Trilogy, and The Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien and Lewis rejected the substitute religions of their day and assailed utopian schemes to perfect humanity. Like no other authors of their age, they used the language of myth to restore the concept of the epic hero who battles against the forces of darkness and the will to power.
Read the entire article on the Sovereign Nations web site here:
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