Joseph Loconte’s book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War is advertised to be an account of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in the First World War. So it was with great eagerness that I started to read it.
Unfortunately, I have to report it is no such thing. Readers of this blog will know this is not a negative blog, so this is more of a warning concerning truth in advertising.
Loconte is obviously an educated man who has done a good amount of research. His chapters are quick essays on important and somewhat overlooked aspects of societal trends before and during the war. He reveals how eugenics was popular among intellectuals in America and Britain, as well as in Germany, and the influence Darwin’s family had on it. He describes in detail how liberal theologians tended to identify the kingdom of God with their own nations, whether Britain, France, Germany, etc.
What is frustrating is he tends to describe an important movement or trend in society, then state that it must have had a great influence on Tolkien or Lewis. He may use no quotations, or a quotation from one of them that kind of has to do with the subject, or a quotation that has nothing to do with it. And he sometimes describes The Lord of the Rings incorrectly.
Back to this not being a negative blog. If you want a series of essays on those societal trends, with occasional quotations from Tolkien or Lewis, or other thoughtful people, this book can be eye-opening.
What really killed it for me was when Loconte started to have some good quotations from Tolkien, then he revealed he was getting them from some weighty tome out there called Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. I stopped reading Loconte’s book halfway through. Maybe I’ll get that other book.