“For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence … and the end of faith.”
An extraordinary and deep exploration of how the Great War, which we call World War One, impacted the lives and works of two of the twentieth century’s greatest writings of epic fantasy. “All the horrors of all the ages were brought together and not only armies by whole populations were thrust into the midst of them,” Winston Churchill. Not unflawed, the work nevertheless demands the attention of readers and writers alike. Moderns don’t know where they came from historically or literarily; this book partly fills the gap, especially for those who delve into speculative fiction of all sorts.
“The power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.” C. S. Lewis
Quibbles: The many misrepresentation of Lewis and Tolkien works is adequately covered elsewhere. Loconte should know his primary audience would be Tolkien and Lewis fans, who would detect even small mistakes. While these quibbles don’t negate his main thesis, they undermine the integrity of his work. Hopefully the corrections will be made in the second edition. A “professor” should have higher standards.
The brutal, crowded faces around us, that is in their toil have grown
Into the faces of devils–yea, even as my own. (C. S. Lewis, “Death in Battle”)
A century later, we hardly understand–we can’t–with what shock and horror the Great War impacted European culture. It brought to an end–almost murdered–an era of progressive idealism which began with the Enlightenment two centuries earlier. It crushed great empires and undercut the intellectual optimism since.
“The utter stupid waste of war, not only material but moral and spiritual, is so staggering to those who have to endure it, But so short is human memory … in only 30 years there will be few or no people with that direct experience which alone goes really to the heart.” J. R. R. Tolkien
It killed a generation of hopeful young men and left those survivors shell shocked and numb–brain dead. And yet a few young intellectuals survived, though wounded, and rebuilt a literary life which stands in stark contrast to the nihilism and pessimism of their fellows. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis maintained or regained their faith in God, themselves and the ultimate victory of Good over Evil. Not escapists, they never denied the horror and hopelessness of the struggle, but they also affirmed the hope of help from outside–hope beyond hope.
“Imagination might be as good a guide to reality as rational argument.”
Others mileage may vary. I am already a student of the works and philosophy of both Tolkien and Lewis. For those who aren’t, I suggest a light diet of The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Avoid Lord of the Rings or Lewis’ space trilogy at first. (The movies of Middle Earth or Narnia don’t count.)
“Their mythic imagination only partly accounts for their influence. It is their moral imagination that exerts a unique power. That every person is caught up in an epic contest between Light and Darkness.”
As with few other books, my first reaction upon completely this work is to turn back to the first page and start reading it again.
“Any legends cast as a supposed history of this world must reckon with the tragic reality of human frailty. Middle Earth embodies a world struggling with the consequences of its fall from Grace.” J. R. R. Tolkien