Though it's been on my bookshelf for a few years now, I have only just gotten around to reading John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War, a nonfictional look at JRR Tolkien and how his life in and around the first World War impacted his writing. I bought the book while at a local library booksale. I have to admit to being quite a fan of Tolkien, which includes a fondness for The Lord of the Rings but really, birthed in an avid love of The Hobbit. I first read about Bilbo and company as mandatory summer reading for honors freshman English in high school (because my freshman English teacher--and later, my newspaper advisor--was and always will be the best teacher I ever encountered, which is saying quite a lot due to the amount of good teachers I have been taught by other the years). I loved it so much that when I gave birth to a son six years later, the Hobbit was the first chapter book I ever read to him aloud. He was roughly six months old, rocking in a baby swing on the porch.
This might seem excessive, but alas, extensive reading has been a part of my child's life always. His second grade teacher once commented on how he wished other parents would do whatever I do with my kid to make him so adept at reading and the teacher asked me what that was. I mentioned reading to my son throughout his childhood, mostly my homework from three different English degrees (As a habitual speed reader, I can only read every word of something if I read it out loud). In particular, I noted that I read him the entirety of Dante's Inferno when he was two and maybe it was that... But then again, maybe it was Tolkien.
I later invested in the Hobbit Playstation 2 game for him when he was old enough to play it and shelled out the dough to take him to the movie in the theaters. The Lord of the Rings has nothing on the Hobbit. Not in my blog, but I digress.
I have to say, a lot of nonfiction, especially that which is biographical in nature, I just find boring and tedious, but Tolkien and the Great War was rather engaging and its points were well-informed and well-thought-out. That Tolkien should be influenced by the war in which he participated is inevitable. However, it's not the sort of theory that one often hears about Tolkien, partly, I assume, because he is considered a writer of genre ficiton. After all, none dispute the ways in which Hemingway was influenced by war.
War aside, I'm gaining a lot of insight into the life of Tolkien. Pre-20th century writers, particularly British writers, always seem to have their hands in a lot of pots. They study at university when just out of the tweener age (not that tweeners existed back then, but I digress). They know several languages, gain military prowess, travel extensively, and develop early excellence in several subject areas that often relate very little to English. If they were men anyway. Even the women, though, accomplished quite a bit in their proper "sphere:" drawing, writing, calligraphy, clothing design, needlework, gardening, baking, cooking, child care, nursing, and social grace, as well as learning to play a mean pianoforte.
However, writers beyond a certain date in history start to lose this universal knowledge gain (possibly because lower classes began to develop writerly careers and they had no time to devote to expansive, extraneous learning or trips to India). As a general rule, I have found this to be true and so, when a professor expounded on the many talents of Emerson or Pope while I was in school, I took heart in the fact that nobody does that sort of thing in modernism and post-modernism (barring T.S. Eliot's intelligence-touting poetry, which we can all agree was just him being intentionally obtuse) and I didn't need to worry if I never scuba-dived in the Bermuda Triangle, discovered an error in the Theory of Relativity, or became fluent in Japanese.
Not so anymore. Tolkien, a penniless orphan boy raised into adulthood by a clergiman, studied the Classics and philology and began learning the Finnish and Gothic languages in high school. By the end of college, he was already inventing, with proper sound-shift laws, what would become the languages of Middle Earth, not to mention risking life and limb for his country directly upon graduating. Sure, he did this a century ago now, but it still inspires me to learn Gaelic in my free time (rather, my imagined free time) or at least, a few new songs for my acoustic guitar.
I feel inspired to stop lazing about and accomplish something. I want to take a ballet class. I want to enroll in computer programming. I want to write. (This, of course, is the positive side of reading this book, the negative being that nawing feeling of guilt every time I sit down for an hour of Agatha Christie's Poirot on Netflix.)
Overall, it's been an interesting read. I've already gotten this much out of it and I'm only on chapter five.