Today marks 100 years since the Battle of the Somme began. Most people just know it as one of the many battles during World War I (if they know it off the top of their heads at all). Perhaps they even know that it’s the bloodiest day of battle in the British Army’s history and one of the bloodiest in military history. However, it’s also a day, and more accurately a battle, that shaped one of my favorite authors: JRR Tolkien.
While Tolkien’s service during WWI was short, this is what he faced. A stalemate in the trenches that lasted until November 1st. A battle that resulted in more than 1.5 million deaths on both sides.
One of Tolkien’s good friends, Robert Gilson, was there the first day of this battle and died leading his men. Another of his friends, Geoffrey Bache Smith, died as the battle came to a close. Only one close friend, Christopher Wiseman, survived. Tolkien fought until the end of October, when he had to leave due to trench fever.
Our experiences influence our writing, and I’ve read several great articles throughout the years on how Tolkien’s military service and the loss of all but one of his close friends affected him. Middle-earth’s history is riddled with its own wars. In each, the heroes demonstrate courage, heroism, and sacrifice: things he would have seen every day as they fought.
Want to read more from the Tolkien Society and see two short documentaries (one on Tolkien and one on his friend, Robert Gilson)? Click here.
For more on the Battle of the Somme in general, click here.
Do you know of any experiences that shaped your favorite author? What experiences shape your writing?