If you were to look at my interests, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and military history would be near the top of my list. Therefore, I was quite pleased to come across A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War by Joseph Loconte.
Many people know that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have some things in common. Both taught at Oxford, both were Christians, both were part of a literary group called the Inklings and both are known for writing fantasy literature, loved by children and adults alike. What many people do not know is that they both fought in the First World War.
What impact did that conflict have on Lewis and Tolkien? There are definitely nods to Tolkien’s experience in the trenches in his descriptions of Mordor. But there is so much more. Living a century after the events, many do not realize the intellectual shift that took place with this war. Before the war, there was great optimism that human skill and ingenuity could create a heaven on earth. World War One demonstrated that the same knowledge and technology could also create a hell on earth. People, especially in Europe, were confronted unprecedented slaughter.
In this very readable book, Loconte places the war in its cultural and intellectual context. He describes Lewis and Tolkien’s experience in the war but also how a world war shaped their thought world. Lewis and Tolkien reacted to what they had experienced but also what the world had experienced.
A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War should be required reading for anyone interested in Lewis and Tolkien. This is one of the most interesting books that I have read so far this year.