Saturday, May 29, 2004

I'm currently reading...
a very interesting book...Tolkien and the Great War, by John Garth. It's a detailed biographical look at the Professor's early life, concentrating on the time he spent as a soldier in WWI and the periods immediately preceding and following that time. The prologue deals with a innocent pursuit- the rugby game he and other recent alums of King Edward's School,following school tradtion,played against the current school squad in 1913. After the recounting of this bit of hard-fought fun, the last three paragraphs hit this reader particularly hard.
"There is dinner with old friends tonight, and the TCBS (ed. the circle of Tolkien's close friends) is not prone to take anything too seriously. These are happy days, and no less happy for being largely taken for granted. On leaving King Edward's in 1911, Tolkien wrote nostalgically in the school Chronicle : ' 'Twas a good road, a little rough, it may be, in places, but they say it is rougher further on...'

No one has forseen just how rough the coming years will be, or to what slaughter this generation is walking. Even now, at the close of 1913, despite growing signs that war impends for this 'over-civilized' world, the time and manner of its unfolding are unforseeable. Before four years have passed, the conflagration will have left four of Tolkien's fifteen-strong team wounded and four more dead- including T.K. Barnsley, G.B. Smith, and Rob Gilson.

Of every eight men mobilized in Britain during the First World War, one was killed. The losses from Tolkien's team were more than double that, but they bear comparison with the proportion of deaths among King Edward's Old Boys and among former public school boys across Great Britain-about one in five. And they match the figures for Oxbridge-educated servicemen of their age, the vast majority of whom became junior officers and had to lead operations and assaults. It has become unfashionable to give credit to Oxford and Cambridge, and to social elites in general; but it remains true that the Great War cut a deeper swathe through Tolkien's peers than among any other social group in Britain. Contemporaries spoke of the Lost Generation. 'By 1918', Tolkien wrote half a century later in his preface to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings ,'all but one of my close friends were dead.' "


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