Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme and his descriptions of battle scenes in Lord Of The Rings were influenced by his war experiences.

The epic tale of Good vs Evil continues to be the cornerstone of fantasy novels to this day, writes Elena Koshy.

HE often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river. Its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” (Frodo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring, Three Is Company)

And so Frodo Baggins steps out into a world where good and evil come together in an epic standoff which forms the backbone of a timeless tale in the world of elves, trolls, orcs, wizards, hobbits and dwarves.

As we celebrate the death anniversary of JRR Tolkien, one of the most prolific authors of our time and father of modern fantasy this month, we’re reminded of the legacy that he left behind — a parallel universe where good triumphs over evil in a sweeping saga encompassing love, courage and friendship, setting a benchmark for all fantasy novels to follow.

English scholar and linguist John Ronald Reuel Tolkien created an alternate world called Middle Earth, the epicentre where the greatest battle of all times would take place, mirroring his experience during World War I during the Battle of the Somme, in France. The Oxford academic then was the second lieutenant serving in the British Expeditionary Force when he was drafted to Somme in 1916.

LORD OF THE WAR

The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles in the First World War. Fought between July 1 and Nov 1, 1916 near the Somme River in France, it was also one of the bloodiest military battles in history. Unbeknownst to many, The Lord Of The Rings owed a great deal to his experience at the Somme.

In the midst of intense enemy fire and “the fearful cries of men who’d been hit,” (as shared by Tolkien to British historian Martin Gilbert), the young linguist began writing the first drafts of his epic trilogy. It was his experience in a bloody war zone that lent weight to the descriptions of battle scenes in his book which has been regarded as one of the greatest pieces of literature of all times.

LORD OF THE BESTSELLERS

With over 150 million copies sold worldwide for Lord Of The Rings and around 100 million copies sold for The Hobbit and The Silmarillion (also featured on the bestseller list), the popularity of Tolkien’s work is undeniable.

Notable luminaries from George Lucas to Led Zeppelin have been known to derive inspiration from his iconic books. Today, Tolkien’s saga is best known through Peter Jackson’s multi-billion dollar grossing movies.

What has taken over a decade of his life, crafting out a story and meticulous cataloguing the history, language and geography of his invented world, has now garnered such a huge following around the globe.

In the midst of all the impressive details that make his books a gateway to a whole new universe, Tolkien’s stories resonate with everyone. The universal all-embracing tale of humble hobbits overcoming the Dark Lord reminiscent of the perennial David vs Goliath tale is something that most people can identify with.

At the end of the book, as Middle Earth begins to heal, a seed planted by the hobbit Samwise Gamgee sprouts and grows. “In the Party field a beautiful young sapling leaped up; it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.”

In a world besieged by cataclysmic events and where the magic has faded, Tolkien has indeed done some planting himself. Like the mallorn, Tolkien’s enduring classics have been transformed into an enduring tree, spreading its branches to all parts of the world influencing and gaining new admirers to cherish and appreciate his works.

Ode to Tolkien’s Tomes


Pauline Pang, 44, Homemaker.

“It discusses so many themes that are relevant to us: Death, immortality, fate, free will and religious beliefs. The trilogy is essentially about a journey, the main journey being one made by Frodo to Mordor to return the Ring. However, along the way, there are many other journeys made by others, like Aragorn across Middle Earth to save his people and the elves’ journey to their land of immortality. There’s a sense of continuous journeys emblematic of the journey of life we lead.” Pauline Pang, 44, Homemaker


Alice Yong, 50, Editorial Content Developer.

“I love The Lord Of The Rings because it’s such an epic story of good versus evil. What makes JRR Tolkien’s tomes such an astounding read is the fantastical universe he conjured up; a mythical realm filled with a diverse cast of characters complete with their own language, poems and songs. To think that he had penned it all down back in 1937 was mind-blowing!” Alice Yong, 50, Editorial Content Developer.


Lydia Shamini Sundramutty, 40, Teacher at Help International School.

“I was introduced to the book when I was 15. I fell in love with the characters in the book, the setting of the story, the plot and the language used to bring the story to life. There’s plenty to learn from the story: Perseverance, love and loyalty. This book reminds you that while not all is fair, you still do what you have to do and our inner conflict to still do what is right when wrong seems acceptable, is real and difficult.” Lydia Shamini Sundramutty, 40, Teacher at Help International School.


Amliy Shahzreen, 34, Assistant Manager, Ikea.

“The Lord Of The Rings story appeals to me because the story opens a fantastic world beyond our imagination and where characters come alive. I laughed, cried and rooted for the two hobbits as they battled insurmountable hurdles just to do the right thing. The beauty of his book lies in the fact that his heroes are flawed and their struggle to overcome evil to ultimately triumph, sometimes even at a great price.” Amliy Shahzreen, 34, Assistant Manager, Ikea.


VJ Veerasamy, 42, Manager, Group Corporate Communications, OSK Holdings Bhd.

“Tolkien is a master of words. I’ve read the book eight times, once every year until the arrival of my children. For nature lovers, you’d love the way Tolkien describes his love for the natural world of trees, birds and streams. Every page is an adventure.” VJ Veerasamy, 42, Manager, Group Corporate Communications, OSK Holdings Bhd.

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