A Hobbit A Wardrobe and a Great War, by Joseph Loconte

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I recently completed this thought-provoking book by Joseph Loconte. A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War was a moving exploration of how battling in World War I helped to form the faith, worldview and writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. With its broad overview of the War, many excerpts from letters and diaries of actual soldiers and an intermingling of quotes from the works of Tolkien and Lewis, I found a fascinating and moving account of two philosophical, intellectual men and their struggle to make sense of a world gone mad. I was particularly moved by mention of Tolkien writing battle accounts while in the thick of the action, and how those accounts later gave the sense of darkness and authenticity to the emotionally-stirring and heart-wrenching heaviness and seeming hopelessness to the war scenes in The Lord of the Rings.

“What are the basic elements of this vision? As soldiers in the Great War, Tolkien and Lewis endured a human cataclysm that laid a foundation for their mythic imagination. It thrust upon them as young men the experience of combat, suffering, and death that would remain with every war veteran of their generation.” Joseph Loconte, page 144.

“We shouldn’t be here at all [said Sam], if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo; adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually–their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.” Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

“Here is a truth that Tolkien must have learned during the Great War, an “adventure” he did not seek out, but one that came to him, unwanted. They had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. This freedom to either fulfill or evade the Calling on one’s life is central to Tolkien’s work–and to his understanding of the human condition.” Loconte, page153

I found this gem of a book to be a sobering and fascinating study into how great adversity can forge or break a character, and of how valiantly people often battle to find light in darkness. I recommend this book to those who have an interest in faith, history, and literature.

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