Book Review: No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien (Three Stars)


Book Review: No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien

(Three Stars)

“They’re the salt of the earth and we are being told to send them over the top to walk across no man’s land with their packs on their backs. It breaks my heart, or what’s left of it.”

Horror and humanity collide. A window into life in London, Yorkshire, and the trenches a hundred years ago. Tolkien writes like an amalgam of his grandfather and Charles Dickens, but his characters don’t engage the reader. The protagonist offers insights to his situation and feelings, but sounds too modern.

“It’s like I looked at the sun too long and what I’ve seen has burnt away the meaning of everything. It’s left me hollow inside.”

Lingered too long in building his world and protagonist. Dickensian detailed descriptions of events tangential to the story. The character of Seaton Scardale seems hagiographic of Tolkien’s grandfather, wounded at the battle of the Somme, though J. R. R. Tolkien’s background paralleled protagonist more closely.

“No [morphine]. The pain is better and this is really not an event I want to miss.”

Poignant thoughts about the nature of war and what it’s like to the men who actually fight it. With World War One fading into legend, Tolkien brings us back to how difficult men in the ditches found fighting the twentieth century’s first mechanized wars while the generals clung to tactics dating back to eighteenth century.

“Without laughter none of them would have survived the trenches.”

Quibbles: Some awkward sentence structure: “… turned away in disgust and walked quickly away.” The Brodie helmets issued British soldiers in World War One were anything but “tight-fitting steel helmets.” Perhaps Tolkien referred to their lack of padding on the crown, which caused the steel shell to rest directly, if loosely on the soldier’s head.

“The guns win in the end and they always will. Not us, not the Germans–the guns.”