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Old 06-24-2006, 11:03 AM   #1
davem
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Battle of the Somme 90th Anniversary July 1st

As many of us know, the Battle of the Somme (1916) was perhaps the single most formative experience of Tolkien's life, in which he lost two of his three closest friends: Rob Gilson & Geoffrey Bache Smith. It had a profound effect not just on his personal but also on his creative life. This article is from the forthcoming Tolkien Encyclopedia.

Perhaps we should all take a moment this coming Saturday to reflect on the suffering & sacrifice involved & to realise that without that time of horror we would probably not have the works that mean so much to us.

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World War I

The First World War saw Tolkien lay the foundations of Middle-earth. Here, an outline of his creative output between 1914 and 1918, and a discussion of the war's influence on his life's work, must follow a summary of his wartime experiences—as a student, as an army officer in Britain and on the Western Front, and as a war invalid.

The student
Hostilities broke out when Tolkien, 22, had completed the second year of his English degree course at Oxford University. When Britain declared war on Germany, on 4 August, he was on holiday in Cornwall. By October, despite pressure from his aunts and uncles, he had decided to defer enlistment in the armed forces until after his degree. He said later that this was because he did not relish military action; but at the time he told friends that as a young man with a fiancée and little money, he had to prioritize his future academic career.

In October, beginning his final undergraduate year, Tolkien joined the Officer Training Corps. Oxford was now full of soldiers, makeshift military hospitals and war refugees. Friends enlisted in the army, including G.B. Smith and R.Q. Gilson, whom he met up with in December 1914 in a 'Council of London' that saw their clique, the TCBS, acquire a new moral and cultural sense of purpose.

The soldier
Having achieved a first-class degree in June 1915, Tolkien quickly followed Smith into the Lancashire Fusiliers—celebrated for the gruelling Gallipoli landings that April—as a temporary second lieutenant, the lowest rank of commissioned officer. He trained from July 1915 with other officers at Bedford but was disappointed to not be assigned a place in the regiment's 19th Battalion, with which Smith would be going to war. Instead, in August Tolkien was placed with the 13th Battalion, purely a training unit, near Lichfield, Staffordshire, and as winter drew in he moved with it to bleak camps on Cannock Chase. Tolkien was bored by training, oppressed by military discipline and depressed by the war. At the start of 1916, Tolkien began to receive letters from Smith and Gilson describing the horrors of the Western Front. In March, Tolkien returned to Oxford for his official graduation and, in Warwick, married Edith Bratt, who then took lodgings at Great Haywood, near Cannock Chase. He had chosen to specialize in signals, which was a safer occupation than leading a platoon, and which appealed to his interest in codes; but his marks after a specialist course in Yorkshire that spring were average.

Into battle
Embarkation orders arrived on June 2, 1916. Tolkien was sent via Folkestone and Le Havre to Le Touquet, where he received final training and awaited further orders for three weeks. He was despatched to meet his service unit, the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, at the village of Rubempré on June 28 and was at Warloy-Baillon, five miles behind the front line, on July 1 when Britain and its allies launched the vast Somme offensive with immediate and tragic losses (20,000 British soldiers dead and 37,000 wounded on the first day). A few days later at Bouzincourt, a village just above the front line and reeking of death, he briefly met up with Smith. Tolkien stayed there at divisional signals H.Q. while the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers went into action and suffered their worst setback of the battle: the loss of an entire company which had advanced too far. Tolkien himself witnessed what he later described simply as 'the animal horror of active service' when he went into action on July 14-16. He found the signals system in chaos and the battlefield choked with corpses, but his battalion took the surrender of hundreds of German soldiers and the entrenched hilltop of Ovillers-la-Boisselle.

On his return to Bouzincourt, Tolkien learned that Gilson had been killed on the first day of the offensive. The news undermined (perhaps only temporarily) his faith in the purpose of the TCBS and brought him into dispute with Smith and Wiseman, the other two surviving members. New duties as battalion signals officer from July 19 kept him busy amid what he called 'the universal weariness' of war as the unit, uprooting itself every few days, rotated through rest, training and a series of trench duties: July 24-30 opposite Beaumont-Hamel, August 7-10 east of Colincamps, August 24 to September 5 in Thiepval Wood and north of Ovillers, September 27-29 in Thiepval Wood again (where the unit had made a minor attack on a German position), and finally from October 6 south of Regina Trench. The Somme turned to a mire, treacherous to navigate, littered with decaying corpses. With little or no ground gained in the campaign of attrition, demoralisation and shell shock affected many soldiers. During a cold snap and a respite from rain on October 21, Tolkien ran the signals operation from a front-line dugout as his battalion joined others in capturing Regina Trench and many German prisoners.

Almost as soon as the battalion had marched out of the line for a series of congratulatory inspections, Tolkien succumbed to trench fever, a chronically debilitating, potentially fatal condition transmitted by lice in the unhygienic trenches. He reported sick on October 27 at Beauval, and the next day, as his battalion took the train to Ypres, Tolkien was taken to an officers' hospital instead. From October 29 to November 7 he was in another hospital at Le Touquet, on November 8-9 he crossed the English Channel in the hospital ship Asturias, and on November 10 he arrived at Birmingham University's wartime hospital.

The invalid
Tolkien spent the remainder of the war either in hospital, convalescing at home or carrying out safer duties in England. Chronic ill-health almost certainly saved his life, as he was reminded by Edith, by Christopher Wiseman, and by the death of G.B. Smith on the Somme on December 3, 1916.

On December 9, Tolkien went to convalesce at Great Haywood. At the end of February 1917, he was sent to hospital in Harrogate, Yorkshire, for a month. On April 19, he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers' 3rd Battalion, which trained new recruits and guarded the coast of Yorkshire's Holderness peninsula. He was put in charge of a battalion outpost at the village of Roos, and then judged fit for general service in June. A relapse hospitalised him in Hull from August to October. Edith, who had moved several times to be near him, returned to Cheltenham to give birth to their son, John, on November 16. At the end of the dark 'starvation year' of 1917, Tolkien was promoted to lieutenant but posted to the 9th Royal Defence Corps, a coastal unit of men too old or unfit to fight, based at Easington, near the tip of the peninsula.

The 11th Lancashire Fusiliers were wiped out near the River Aisne in May 1918. But Tolkien was far away, back at the Cannock Chase camps, in rural lodgings with Edith and John. At the end of June 1918 he was sent once more to the Hull hospital, with gastritis, and in October he was discharged from a convalescent hospital in Blackpool, Lancashire, unfit for military service and with permission to seek civilian employment. Around the armistice, November 11, 1918, the lexicographer W.A. Craigie gave him a job as a sub-editor on the Oxford English Dictionary. Tolkien was officially demobilised on July 16, 1919, at Fovant, on Salisbury Plain, with a temporary disability pension.

Creative output, 1914-18

The first poem of Tolkien's mythology, 'The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star', arising from a reading of Cynewulf, was written at his aunt's farm in Nottinghamshire in September 1914 while he was under pressure to enlist. Back at Oxford, invigorated by infantry drill, he made progress on an adaptation of the story of Kullervo from the Kalevala. Fired with his own idiosyncratic patriotism, he gave a talk on this 'Finnish national epic' in which he expressed the desire for 'something of the same sort that belonged to the English': an anticipation of his entire creative oeuvre. Inspired by the 'Council of London' with his TCBS friends, Tolkien produced a series of poems in April 1915 ranging from fairy-tale ('Goblin Feet') to epic ('The Shores of Faëry'). He also began constructing a 'fairy' language, Qenya, alongside a complex of mythological conceptions centred on immortal Eldamar beyond the western ocean.

After enlistment, Tolkien continued to write poetry and work on Qenya. Training out in the open and among men from all walks of life in 1915-16, he composed landscape poetry set on this side of the western ocean, such as the ambitious 'Kortirion among the Trees', as well as musings on mortality such as 'Habbanan beneath the Stars'. G.B. Smith carried 'Kortirion' in the trenches 'like a treasure', declared himself 'a wild and whole-hearted admirer' and urged Tolkien to publish before going to war; but a collection, 'The Trumpets of Faërie', was rejected by Sidgwick & Jackson.

Tolkien wrote or revised poetry a little in France, even in the trenches. However, return from the Somme unleashed a flood of creativity. In the Birmingham hospital, Tolkien began the story of 'The Fall of Gondolin' and probably 'The Cottage of Lost Play', the start of a framing narrative for such 'Lost Tales'. He started on a second language, to be spoken by the 'Gnomes' in the ancient Europe of his imagination; Welsh-flavoured, it was the early prototype of Sindarin. The story of the elf-princess Tinúviel and her war-weary lover Beren was inspired by a walk at Roos in spring 1917 when Edith danced among the 'hemlocks' (cow-parsley). Tolkien also began the 'Tale of Turambar', drawing on the story of Kullervo. Meanwhile, at the request of Smith's mother in 1917, he edited his friend's poetry with Wiseman for publication as A Spring Harvest in 1918.

Influence on writing
Tolkien said that his a taste for fairy-stories was 'quickened to full life by war' and that the idea of perpetual conflict between good and evil was a 'conscious reaction' to the popular delusion that the Great War would end all wars. He also wrote that the approaches to Mordor had been coloured by the Somme battlefield landscape and Sam Gamgee was 'a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself'. However, his general reticence, combined with the tendency of early critics to see The Lord of the Rings as an allegory of the Second World War, delayed serious discussion of the First World War's impact until Hugh Brogan tackled it in 1989. John Garth's biographical Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth lays the ground for more informed discussion.

Tolkien might have written nothing of consequence if he had not been impelled by mortal peril (underlined by his TCBS friends). The First World War also furnished key themes, such as mortality and immortality. War probably contributed to his desire to create 'a national epic', and (as an era rich in rumour and new coinages) may have also helped to reveal to him the interdependency of language and mythology. As C.S. Lewis first pointed out, war equipped him with the experience to write The Lord of the Rings. It showed him a world in fear and undergoing cataclysmic change; large-scale military actions; fellowships built and broken; individual heroism and despair; men, trees and villages destroyed with the aid of the machine. In addition, Garth has argued that many 'fantasy' elements in Tolkien's work may be symbolist treatments of wartime experience, with Verlyn Flieger focusing on Tolkien's explorations of dream and exile. Tom Shippey has emphasized Tolkien's place among other witnesses of war in the 20th century who abandoned conventional realism to express their concerns. In a wider literary context, the pattern of Tolkien's 'fairy-stories', in which ordinary people become heroes and experience 'eucatastrophic' resurgences of inspiration against a backdrop of deepening despair, provides a striking contrast to the ironic, disenchanted work of soldiers such as Wilfred Owen whose work is now seen as the epitome of First World War writing.

John Garth
Or let's sit quietly, we three together,
Around a wide-hearth-fire that's glowing red,
Giving no thought to all the stormy weather
That flies above the roof-tree overhead.

And he, the fourth, that lies all silently
In some far distant and untended grave,
Under the shadow of a shattered tree,
Shall leave the company of the hapless brave,

And draw nigh unto us for memory's sake,
Because a look, a word, a deed, a friend,
Are bound with cords that never man may break,
Unto his heart forever to the end.


From a poem by GB Smith on the death of Rob Gilson.

Smith was killed not long after.
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Old 06-24-2006, 01:34 PM   #2
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I have often thought of the horror of the trenches and how lucky we are that we will never have to face it, and that Tolkien survived it. I have many DVDs and books on the subject. I sit and watch those faces pass by, wondering what they could have done to enrich our world, I do not wish to upset anyone, yet I am glad that Tolkien survived The Great War by being invalided. The Somme is a battle honour for my Regiment, as it is for many regiments that survived that horror, but not the politicians knife. The Lancashire Fusileers were my local Regiment, they no longer exist, having been amalgamated with other regiments, diluting the standards, traditions and customs that many young men were proud of, and many died upholding them, these words Tolkien as a young officer of the regiment would understand

Omnia audax, the motto of The 20th of Foot, Daring in all things

And does'nt Tolkuhn mean Foolhardy.

I will raise a glass of port to my old regiment on the 1st of July, and drink to the memory old all who died that day

And I will play The Green Fields of France (No mans land) by The Men They Could'nt Hang
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Old 06-24-2006, 03:25 PM   #3
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Davem,

Thank you for the post. I would not otherwise have remembered this.

I found a site put up by the Imperial War Museum that includes recollections about the battle. Click here for a brief article on Tolkien's service and a photo of the revolver he carried.
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Old 06-24-2006, 04:13 PM   #4
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Davem, my thanks for posting up a history lesson more profound than any I've ever received in a classroom.
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Old 06-24-2006, 04:30 PM   #5
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Quote:
In a wider literary context, the pattern of Tolkien's 'fairy-stories', in which ordinary people become heroes and experience 'eucatastrophic' resurgences of inspiration against a backdrop of deepening despair, provides a striking contrast to the ironic, disenchanted work of soldiers such as Wilfred Owen whose work is now seen as the epitome of First World War writing.
I can not quite express how deeply greatful I am to Tolkien for focusing on this theme. Not because they are more pleasant to think on, but because it is too easy to overlook in them in the midst of overwhelming despair! Thank you for sharing it, davem
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Old 06-26-2006, 05:23 AM   #6
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Pipe Remember regardless

It should be borne in mind that when you remember the Somme you are remembering somewhere in the region of a million men of both sides who died in a sordid, muddy stalemate that dragged on for five months. By the end of the first day, British and Empire casualties alone totalled 19,240 dead and 38,230 wounded. I know that Bêthberry will thank me for mentioning the First Newfoundlanders, one of only two non-British units in the British sector, who entered the field with a Battalion strength of 801 and the following morning had 68 men fit for duty, the worst Battalion casualties of the day. The Tyneside Irish Brigade (34th Division) advanced more than a mile under heavy fire and were practically annihilated. Such is the butcher's bill for one day of a four-year war.

Our main interest, I suppose, is the British 29th Division ("The Incomparable Division"), which comprised the 86th, 87th and 88th Brigades. It was to the 86th Brigade that the First Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers was assigned. The 29th Division order of battle included the 16th Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment, which was excusively recruited from public (read extremely prestigious private) schools, but also such famous names as the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Royal Fusiliers, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and the South Wales Borderers (formerly the 24th Foot, who defended Rorke's Drift). The division was to maintain the British flank, but like much of the British assault its attack was a failure. In fact it was the French XX Corps who made the only obvious gains, and the British units alongside them were the beneficiaries of their attack. The determination of the attackers can be seen in the fact that nine Victoria Crosses were later awarded for individual actions on that day, six of them posthumously. The most ever awarded for a single action was 20, for the Crimean battle of Great Redan in 1855.

By the end of the war, the Entente lines along the Somme had advanced by ten kilometres, at the cost of more than six-hundred thousand casualties. German casualties are generally estimated at around five-hundred thousand. Effectively for the sake of the distance from one side of London to the other an entire generation ceased to exist. Since volunteer Brigades, who selected only the best applicants, were used extensively, the loss of talent and promise is disproportionately high. Had the Lancashire Fusiliers been assigned to the Bapaume sector, or had his battalion been among the leaders of the advance, it is highly likely that J.R.R. Tolkien, or probably 2nd Lt. J. Tolkien, would have made no greater name in print than to appear in the Times Roll of Honour, but perhaps greater men died there who never had a chance to make their mark.

In these jingoistic times it's worth remembering that Britain in 1914 was nearing the end of a century of domestic peace, with burgeoning nationalist pride in the strength of her armed forces and a growing mistrust of foreigners. A massive mutual deterrant, delicate checks and balances and complicated diplomatic ties completely failed in the face of imperialistic paranoia and self-interest to prevent a war that ended not in peace, but in a twenty-year cease fire. We are lucky that the likes of Tolkien, Lewis, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and others survived, but a gifted poet in Wilfred Owen and a comic author who betters Wodehouse in H.H. Munro were cut off with their careers unfinished, and they are only two names among many. We should remember how near we came not to having the works we discuss here, but it's more important to remember what was actually lost and why. Obviously those who survived gave much thought to it, some to the difference between the ideal and reality of war, others, like Tolkien, considering the very nature of good and evil. Many arguments for pacifism and international co-operation were born in the aftermath, and even the seed of the United Nations was sown as the pieces were gathered up. That such world-shattering events should be tied up with the history of Middle-earth seems hardly surprising, and it's inevitable that when intelligent and sensitive people try to reason out a great horror something remarkable must happen. What ought to be surprising is that less in Tolkien's line did come out of it, and that we are so quick to forget the events themselves. I am reasonably sure that Tolkien never did, and he was only present at the front for a very short space.
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Old 07-01-2006, 04:51 AM   #7
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Lest we forget.

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/soldiers%20cemy.htm

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Old 07-01-2006, 06:12 AM   #8
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Thanks for the mention of the First Newfoundlanders, Squatter. At that time, Newfoundland was still a colony of Britain--it did not join the Canadian Confederation until 1949. Although July 1--once called Dominion Day and now Canada Day--is the offical day celebrating Confederation, Newfoundland still observes July 1 as a day of mourning and commemoration of the July 1 offensive at Beaumont Hamel. The first battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment lost two thirds of its men in one hour of shelling from German artillery. On a per capita basis, Newfoundland had the highest casualty rate of all the Allies. The repercussions of that loss, some say, cost Newfoundland its hopes of becoming an independent nation on its own.

At Notre Dame Cathedral I saw plaques commemorating the sacrifice of soldiers from both Newfoundland and Canada for World War I and World War II. I couldn't find anything at St. Paul's about any Canadian contributions, but there is a huge memorial to the American participation, which to me was bitterly ironic as the Americans were last in, so to speak (although this memorial is I think more for WWII). Canada was automatically included with Briain's declaration of war for WWI; however, the exact form of participation was decided by Canadians and the Canadian government. By the end of war the effort of her soldiers at Ypres, Regina Trench, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and Mons won for Canada international status as an independent nation. Canada had a separate signature on the Verseilles Treaty. Nearly one out of every ten Canadians who fought did not return. A nation of eight million people had sent 619,636 men and women to the battles and 66,655 gave their lives.

The Somme accounts for 24,029 of those lost.

Newfoundland's contribution is told in David Macfarlane's new book, The Danger Tree, of which I have read just excerpts. Five of Macfarlane's great uncles went to war. Two were wounded. Three were killed. Almost every family on the Rock suffered similarly.

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Old 07-03-2006, 08:38 AM   #9
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Interesting article on the BBC site today about Tolkien & The Somme.
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Old 07-03-2006, 09:44 AM   #10
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Quote:
a walk at Roos in spring 1917 when Edith danced among the 'hemlocks' (cow-parsley).
COW-PARSLEY.....????

Weeds along the edge of a field? Not in the deep shadow of towering evergreens? (I always did wonder in what way towering evergreens could form "umbels.")

My image of Tinuviel's dance is forever changed.
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Old 07-03-2006, 01:15 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bêthberry

At Notre Dame Cathedral I saw plaques commemorating the sacrifice of soldiers from both Newfoundland and Canada for World War I and World War II. I couldn't find anything at St. Paul's about any Canadian contributions, but there is a huge memorial to the American participation, which to me was bitterly ironic as the Americans were last in, so to speak (although this memorial is I think more for WWII). Canada was automatically included with Briain's declaration of war

.
I watched the televised services with my dad (who served in WW2, for some of the time attached to the Vandoos who he credits with turning him into a proper soldier) - and he made sure I knew about the Canadians
(New Foundanders especially) . I am afraid the lack of recogniton then is proabably a legacy of colonialism but there is a memorial to the Canadian Soldiers who were stationed in the New Forest (where I live) in WW2 and the only immaculate part of the churchyard at Brockenhurst is the anzac section and special services are held each year for them. We don't forget them though neitherplace is as grand as St Pauls.

Mark this might help. Hemlock is Anglo saxon for border plant - and it isn't so bad. Very English.....

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/hemloc18.html
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Old 07-03-2006, 01:20 PM   #12
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In fact it probably never happened at all in the way its described. If it was November then little if anything would be growing near the North Sea coast of Yorkshire, especially at Roos which is a bit windswept.

Cow Parsley would have been the most likely plant in such an area, and it would also be the prettiest as the only big plants like that are the toxic and pernicious Giant Hogweeds but these wouldn't have been very widespread weeds at all at that time. But even Cow Parsley is most definitely not in season in Yorkshire in November!

Personally I always imagined the hemlocks to be Giant Hogweed, but that's probably due to growing up with my dad who had a fascination for all kinds of giant weeds (like his 8-12 foot Scarisbrick Thistles).

Just to further shatter illusions, Roos is now quite a popular area for caravan parks.
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Old 07-03-2006, 01:39 PM   #13
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The 'dancing among the Hemlocks' was probably (as suggested by Christina Scull - see the essay Real World Myth in Secondary World by Richard C West in 'Tolkien the Medievalist') a 'conflating of events from different times'. Again we possibly have an example of Tolkien 'seeing through enchanted eyes' as Garth put it. West & Scull place the time of the 'dancing' in November 1917.

THIS IS FASCINATING!

A response to the BBC article Lalwende linked to a couple of posts back;

Quote:
Many years ago I corresponded with Tolkien's son, a schoolmaster like myself. He said the Dark Riders in his novel were based on a real recurring nightmare from the Forst World War. Tolkien, riding a good cavlary horse, had somehow got lost behind the German lines,and, imagining he was behind his own trenches, rode towards a group of mounted cavalrymen standing in the shade of a coppice.

It was only when he drew nearer he realised his mistake for they German Ulhans, noted for their atrocities and taking no prisoners. When they saw him they set off in pursuit with their lances levelled at him. He swung his horse round and galloped off hotly pursued by the Germans. They had faster steeds but Tolkien's horse was a big-boned hunter.

They got near enough for him to see their skull and crossbone helmet badges. Fortunately for Tolkien (and us, his readers)he raced towards some old trenches which his horse, used to hunting, took in its stride. The Uhlans' horses weren't up to it and they reined in leaving Tolkien to get away to his own side.

He was terrified and the cruel faces of those Uhlans and their badges haunted him in nightmares for a long time afterwards. Years later, when he was writing his novel, the Dark Riders were the result of that terrifying chase.
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Never seen that anywhere else.

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Old 07-04-2006, 06:16 AM   #14
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As a result of some current non-Tolkien reading (yes it happes sometimes!) , I did wonder if the army of the dead might have been inspired by "The Angel of Mons".

And I had quite forgotten that Tolkien would have ridden .. never think of him as being really involved with horses because he describes Glorfindel's horse as white.
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Old 07-04-2006, 07:07 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Mithalwen
I watched the televised services with my dad (who served in WW2, for some of the time attached to the Vandoos who he credits with turning him into a proper soldier) - and he made sure I knew about the Canadians
(New Foundanders especially) . I am afraid the lack of recogniton then is proabably a legacy of colonialism but there is a memorial to the Canadian Soldiers who were stationed in the New Forest (where I live) in WW2 and the only immaculate part of the churchyard at Brockenhurst is the anzac section and special services are held each year for them. We don't forget them though neitherplace is as grand as St Pauls.
Ah, the 22nd. Interesting regiment!

Those interested in reading novels about the time might take a peak at Jane Urquhart's The Underpainter and The Stone Carvers.

I wonder about that entry. Were horses used by signal officers? Here's what the Wikipedia has on German uhlans:

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Originally Posted by Wiki
World War I
German Uhlans

In 1914 the Imperial German Army included nineteen Uhlan regiments, three of which were Guard regiments. The senior of these was Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexander III. von Rusland which was first raised in 1745. All German Uhlan regiments wore Polish style czapkas and tunics with plastron fronts, both in coloured parade uniforms and the field grey service dress introduced in 1910. Because German hussar, dragoon and cuirassier regiments carried also carried lances in 1914 there was a tendency among their French and British opponents to describe all German cavalry as "uhlans". After seeing mounted action during the early weeks of World War I the Uhlan regiments were either dismounted to serve as "cavalry rifles" in the trenches of the Western Front, or transferred to the Eastern Front where more primitive conditions made it possible for horse cavalry to still play a useful role. All nineteen German Uhlan regiments were disbanded in 1918-19.
Would this mean they were not used at the Somme?

Also, I have never met a (Canadian) veteran from WWI or WWII who talks about German soldiers in those terms.
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Old 07-04-2006, 08:22 AM   #16
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I remember Squatter mentioning that as an officer Tolkien had a personal servant, to look after his horse and his tack, and his other items; and that Sam's character (and relationship to Frodo) was probably heavily based n this. ....Squatter?

The whole narrative, to me, has the aura of a dream. I can't imagine even a superb hunter making it through the trenches unharmed. But perhaps I have the wrong mental image of the situation.
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Old 07-04-2006, 08:38 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithalwen
And I had quite forgotten that Tolkien would have ridden .. never think of him as being really involved with horses because he describes Glorfindel's horse as white.
Do you mean because an englishman would have used the term "grey"? Riding a horse in the line of duty doesn't require that he had been immersed in the equestrian culture.

Asfaloth and Frodo had a few different ideas as to what should be done, and perhaps Tolkien's situation had been similar. I doubt Tolkien had followed the hounds. When the hunter cleared the old trenches, I wonder if Tolkien took a fistful of mane, just as Frodo did.
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Old 07-04-2006, 09:39 AM   #18
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Here are some interesting sites describing the use of horses in WW1:

Horses in WW1

The Forgotten Army

It seems that, while cavalry were still considered the superior military units at the outset of the war, this very quickly changed with the onset of trench warfare, and that cavalry charges were rare after the charge at Mons in August 1914. Throughout the remainder of the war, horses were used mainly for transport. I doubt that they were commonly used on the Western Front for reconnaissance purposes, since trenches, barbed wire and craters would have rendered this difficult, although it's possible I suppose. I couldn't see any mention of that in the articles linked to above though.

I did, however, find the following piece, which indicates that Australian troops used light horse brigades for reconnaissance purposes:

THE 3RD LIGHT HORSE BRIGADE SCOUT GROUP WW1
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Old 07-04-2006, 01:00 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mark12_30
Do you mean because an englishman would have used the term "grey"? Riding a horse in the line of duty doesn't require that he had been immersed in the equestrian culture.

Asfaloth and Frodo had a few different ideas as to what should be done, and perhaps Tolkien's situation had been similar. I doubt Tolkien had followed the hounds. When the hunter cleared the old trenches, I wonder if Tolkien took a fistful of mane, just as Frodo did.

Could be .. but I was very immersed in equestrian culture at the time I first read the books and it jarred as a very basic error from such a perfectionist! However of course it is easy to forget that when Tolkien was young horses were still very much a method of transport.

I don't think a good hunter would have had much problem with the old trenches as far as simple width goes... the quality is in coping with whatever it is faced with and with the rider - although a jump across something is much easier to sit than up and over.... showjumpers generally regard water jumps as easier obstacles...
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Old 07-04-2006, 01:48 PM   #20
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I'm sure Tolkien was aware of the Grey=White thing. My own suspicion is that 'White' was used for its symbolic value. In the Mythology White is 'purer' than Grey (Gandalf/Saruman thing).
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Old 07-04-2006, 02:05 PM   #21
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Taht is a possibility that occurred much later especially since the horses of Eomer's Eored are greys . I think only Asfaloth the elf-horse and Shadowfax are white as is Gandalf's horse inthe Hobbit if I remember correctly.

Also it stregthens the contrast between the black horses of the Nazgul. Thier darkness and Glorfindel's white light... which Frodo also will acquire ..according to Gandalf in the next chapter.
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Old 07-04-2006, 05:35 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithalwen
I don't think a good hunter would have had much problem with the old trenches as far as simple width goes.
"Simple width" of an intact trench... or a bombed-out one? A bombed-out trench is more like a broad and structureless gash in the land, draped with barbed wire, shrapnel, and dead bodies. Definitely not something I'd want to cheerfully jump a horse over. Maybe that's why the "black riders" didn't follow Tolkien's 'lead'...

As I said, the whole story strikes me as dreamlike. If it wasn't a dream (originally!) then I imagine it took place very far from the actual battle "lines". I can't imagine any horse surviving "up and over the top", for the same reason few men survived it.

That's one reason I was hoping Squatter would chime in. Meanwhile I'll take a peek at that "Horses in WW1" link.
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Old 07-05-2006, 06:30 AM   #23
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I was thinking of intact ones. A bomb crater would be not something you could jump across - possibly scramble in and out of, but again not impossible for a really good hunter used to thick coverts as well as open fields.

However .. it isn't clear that this was an actual event, I too think a dream is more likely.
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Old 07-05-2006, 06:45 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Mithalwen
However .. it isn't clear that this was an actual event, I too think a dream is more likely.
Possibly - but the correspondent does say: 'Fortunately for Tolkien (and us, his readers)he raced towards some old trenches which his horse, used to hunting, took in its stride.'

If it was simply a dream, why would his escape be 'fortunate'? The implication seems to be that it was a real event. And why would he be haunted for years after by a bad dream?.

Of course, the correspondent could have made the whole thing up.
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Old 07-05-2006, 06:56 AM   #25
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I too think a dream is more likely.
The entry does say that the story is a "recurring nightmare" of Tolkien's at its outset, though it gets confusing later when the author adds a "fortunately for Tolkien..." which suggests that the prof was in real danger. Though I'm no Squatter, I'd deem it extremely unlikely that this tale describes events that really happened.

EDIT: Cross-posted with davem. This story is so outrageous that I'm sure it would have been mentioned before in legitimate sources if it had actually occurred. I'd say the chances of "accidentally" ending up behind enemy lines on horseback in 1916 were extremely small.
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Old 07-05-2006, 07:40 AM   #26
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The Reverend John Waddington-Feather is an author - found a bunch of his books on Amazon. UK.

I've also found an email address for him & have mailed him asking for more info. I'll let you know if I get a response.
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Old 07-05-2006, 08:16 AM   #27
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Who would this "schoolmaster son" be? Christopher is more commonly and correctly I would think referred to as an academic or scholar. Michael was a priest. Of what occupation is John Tolkien, son?
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Old 07-05-2006, 08:23 AM   #28
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Perhaps what is 'fortunate' is that Tolkien escaped in his nightmare, leaving him a very jarring and memorable precident for Frodo's ride? If he had not escaped in dream, we might very well not have Frodo's ride across the ford.

On a note that interests me, it is fascinating to learn that things J.R.R. wrote were based on recurring nightmares. littlemanpoet and I recently discussed dreams in brief and the idea arose that what you remember of your dreams is limited to that which your conscious mind can handle. If what Tolkien was able to remember [not to mention have the courage to face in his waking world through writing] was something as horrific as being caught up in an easily fatal chase with terror-inspiring riders, it makes me wonder what sorts of unsurfaced dreams might have inspired other aspects of his work. I'd be interested to get a look into the man's dreams, given that the topic and its relation to what people do fascinates me.
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Old 07-05-2006, 11:11 AM   #29
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I've just had a response from Rev'd Waddington-Feather. I've asked him if he's happy for me to reproduce it here & if he ok's it I will.

Apparently it was Michael Tolkien who corresponded with him. Some other bits about The Hobbit are included in the email.

Seems its genuine after all.
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Old 07-05-2006, 11:50 AM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bêthberry
Who would this "schoolmaster son" be? Christopher is more commonly and correctly I would think referred to as an academic or scholar. Michael was a priest. Of what occupation is John Tolkien, son?
Actually, 'twas John who was the priest.

Michael, being Catholic, would have looked rather funny with a son named Michael George if he were a priest.

But don't mind me... I'm being pedantic.

And, since Davem says that Michael was the one who corresponded with the author, then it seems likely that he was the "schoolmaster son".
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Old 07-05-2006, 02:56 PM   #31
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Having just received permission from the author, here is the email:

Quote:
David

Yes, I am the Fr. Waddington-Feather who put that note on the BBC website. I met Michael Tolkien many years ago at an Assistant Masters' Association annual conference. We were area delegates and he, I believe, taught at Stoneyhurst School in Lancashire.

He was much older than I and had been in an ack-ack unit during the war. I still have his letters somwhere. He also told me his father introduced Mirkwood into The Hobbit because he, Michael, was afraid of spiders and The Hobbit began life as bedtime stories to Tolkien's children. Controlled fear always adds spice to a story for kids. I know, I had three of my own.

I have another link with Tolkien. Before he went to Oxford, he was Professor of English at Leeds just before I went there, but he left his mark very much on the English Language and Medieval Literature Dept. which I was in. My own children's novels owe something to his style, especially Legends of Americada, written for the American market.

However, my mentor as far as writing goes was J.B Priestley whom I corresponded with through the Yorkshire Dialect Society, when I was secretary, then met when he was an old man in the 1980s. He gave me much good advice. I'm now a vice-president of the J.B.Priestley Society and was its first chairman ten years ago.

I'm beginning to ramble on like the old man I am now. Finally, by all means reproduce my short BBC e-mail (warts and all) as you wish. I attach my own booklist.

My good wishes,

John Waddington-Feather
Now, its been pointed out to me that Micheal was not averse to 'embellishing the facts', so its still possible that it didn't happen exactly as reported. However, against that, we have to take into account that this was an incident told by a man to his friend, & a man of the cloth at that.

I suppose we'll never know for certain whether the incident happened or not. I lean towards it having a grain of truth, but having, perhaps, grown in the telling.
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Old 07-05-2006, 03:05 PM   #32
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Michael was the schoolmaster. His grandson Boyd Baker (soi disant Royd Tolkien) talked about it in the interviews following his film wextra appearance.
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Old 07-05-2006, 04:10 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Formendacil
Actually, 'twas John who was the priest.

Michael, being Catholic, would have looked rather funny with a son named Michael George if he were a priest.

But don't mind me... I'm being pedantic.
Not necessarily. There is nothing in the Roman rites of holy orders that prohits widowers from being called and studying and finally taking vows which their children could witness.

But don't mind me ... I'm being pedantic.

Pity this didn't come to light while Michael was alive to accept further eager questions. Would Christopher--not that he is an absolute authority--know anything about this? Priscilla?

davem, you've mentioned in the past that Priscilla is friendly with the Tolkien Society. Would you ever be able to bring this question to her at an Oxenmoot or what is it that the TS calls their fall meetings?

This is also an example of the kind of thing which I've suggested could well be missing in the popular Carpenter biography. Did Carpenter ever speak with Tolkien's children, or only with Tolkien and Christopher?--not to disparage Carpenter now, mind.
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Old 07-05-2006, 04:23 PM   #34
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davem, you've mentioned in the past that Priscilla is friendly with the Tolkien Society. Would you ever be able to bring this question to her at an Oxenmoot or what is it that the TS calls their fall meetings?

This is also an example of the kind of thing which I've suggested could well be missing in the popular Carpenter biography. Did Carpenter ever speak with Tolkien's children, or only with Tolkien and Christopher?--not to disparage Carpenter now, mind.
Don't think I'd get the chance to have a word It would be interesting to get confirmation though.

There's no mention of the incident in The Tolkien Family Album (written by Priscilla & John).

All there is is the following:

Quote:
In later years he would occasionally talk of being at the Front: of the horrors of the first German gas attack, of the utter exhaustion & ominous quiet after a bombardment, of the whining scream of the shells, & the endless marching, always on foot, through a devastted landscape, sometimes carrying the men's equipment as well as his own to encourage them to keep going.
(It also mentions the fact that Edith was listed as Next of Kin for Hilary as well as Ronald, & that she kept a large map of France on the wall & could guage fairly well where Ronald was at any time.)
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Old 07-06-2006, 05:14 AM   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mark12_30
I remember Squatter mentioning that as an officer Tolkien had a personal servant, to look after his horse and his tack, and his other items; and that Sam's character (and relationship to Frodo) was probably heavily based n this. ....Squatter?

The whole narrative, to me, has the aura of a dream. I can't imagine even a superb hunter making it through the trenches unharmed. But perhaps I have the wrong mental image of the situation.
Tolkien was an officer in an infantry, not a cavalry regiment. Fusilier regiments are named for the light muskets that they carried in an earlier era, which were not issued to cavalry. Although the infantry did use horses, it was for portage, pulling carts and carrying baggage. Stationed in the reserve trenches as Signals Officer, Tolkien would have been concerned with semaphore, morse code, field telephones and runners, even, at a pinch, carrier pigeons, which were the staple forms of communication on the Western Front. He was unlikely to have had a horse or, for that matter, any tack as part of his combat duties.

It was customary at the time of the First War for a British officer to be assigned a private or NCO to act as his batman, or personal servant. This man would be responsible for looking after the officer's uniform and equipment, cooking his meals and cleaning his quarters. This is a survival from the days of gentleman soldiers and personal valets, a world which the First World War helped to hasten to its end. In cavalry regiments, non-commissioned ranks would act as grooms and stable hands, as in the Royal Flying Corps (merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force in 1918), which was largely composed of cavalrymen at its inception, they acted as fitters, riggers, armourers and mechanics.

Tolkien's 'dream', if indeed he ever did dream it, is just that: pure fantasy. Possibly he had ridden a horse as part of his military training, but he had never ridden in a cavalry action and may never have seen live, mounted Uhlans. In fact the last British cavalry charge took place during the Boer War (1899-1902). This is a classic pursuit dream, in which the dreamer is chased by something terrifying, yet is somehow prevented from escaping at speed. The same helplessness would be felt in the dream of the overwhelming wave that reportedly troubled Tolkien, so I'm inclined to accept that the dream at least could have been experienced.

The battlefields of the Western Front were completely impossible ground for horses: their legs sank up to the knees in mud, the ground was broken, dotted about with irregular holes of all sizes and strewn with sharp wreckage. A cavalry chase would only occur behind the lines on one side or another, where the battlefields gave way to ordinary French countryside. I'm not even sure whether the Uhlans had skull-and-crossbones hat badges. The skull and bones (with the motto "Or Glory") was and is the badge of the Duke of Cambridge's Own 17th Lancers (now the Queen's Royal Lancers). Dreams are invariably not true to life.

It's a fascinating piece of correspondance that you've quoted, davem. It's always interesting to hear stories like that, however embellished they may have been in the transmission. It certainly seems the sort of dream that a certain type of man might have experienced on the Western Front and I'm grateful that you've shared it.

Quote:
Though I'm no Squatter, I'd deem it extremely unlikely that this tale describes events that really happened.
I'm no Underhill, but I agree (see above).
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Old 07-06-2006, 07:17 AM   #36
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Fr W-F seems clear that it was an actual incident, but that may have been down to the way Michael Tolkien phrased it in correspondence. The Rev'd informed me that he intends to place the letters in his archive at Bradford University, so it may be possible to get a look at them one day.

Of course, Tolkien was profoundly affected by his dreams, so its possible that this was the recurrence of a nightmare he had during the war.

Certainly, I'd discount the possibility that Michael made the story up - as it doesn't refelct too well on his father if it was a real incident. For a signals officer to get lost & find himself lost behind enemy lines is not good, & to have him running for his life is hardly something that makes him look 'heroic'.

Of course, the British still had mounted troops at the time of the Somme as far as I'm aware, & its just possible that Tolkien was riding - he'd had experience training horses - & that the Germans may also have had some mounted patrols (if not actual 'Uhlans'). In other words, the incident is not a logical impossibility, just highly improbable.

Whatever, the 'experience' (dream or otherwise) seems to have 'happened'. Its not the sort of thing a son would just pull out of thin air - I suspect an invented tale would have presented his father in a more heroic light.
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Old 07-06-2006, 08:19 AM   #37
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I don't doubt the probability that Tolkien senior had the dream described, or one very like it. I'm just trying to hedge my bets since we don't have his word for it. As for the dream describing real events, I was trying to demonstrate just how unlikely it was that J.R.R. Tolkien could have found himself in such a real-life situation. The character of his regiment, his own duties and the location of his battalion all point to this being a dream the details of which are built of waking impressions. The 17th Lancers cap badge is very distinctive, and could have been seen in a depot, training or simply a manual of regimental insignia, not to mention that the death's head is a natural symbol for death itself. German elite cavalry were perfectly logical figures of terror for a British infantryman of the First World War (had Tolkien been fighting under Wellington, they would probably have been French Chasseurs), and the basic nature of the dream tallies with what we know of Tolkien: his tendency to feel overwhelmed by circumstances and to feel that he was not equal to the challenges he faced. Even the temptation to fly from death is natural, given the situation. I was just trying to avoid drawing too many conclusions from a third-hand account remembered after so many years. There are shades of inaccuracy beyond simply making something up, which is how legends are created.

Naturally no disrespect intended to Rev. Waddington-Feather, just the apprentice academic flashing an evidential fin.
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Old 07-06-2006, 08:52 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by The Squatter of Amon Rûdh
Although the infantry did use horses, it was for portage, pulling carts and carrying baggage. Stationed in the reserve trenches as Signals Officer, Tolkien would have been concerned with semaphore, morse code, field telephones and runners, even, at a pinch, carrier pigeons, which were the staple forms of communication on the Western Front. He was unlikely to have had a horse or, for that matter, any tack as part of his combat duties.
Hmmmm-- no horse for combat; but with all that stuff to lug around (carrier pigeons, telephones, rolls of wiring?) perhaps he had regular access to a pack horse.
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Old 07-06-2006, 08:56 AM   #39
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Not sure how far we can get in the discussion. As I understand it it is a second- rather than a third-hand account, given in a letter by Michael to the Rev'd. It is quite likely a dream in origin. Family reminiscences can never really be proven. Tolkien did tend to draw from his experiences, whether of dream (the Atlantis dream) or reality, & use them as raw material for his creative pursuits. As I said, it is an odd thing to make up - especially as he was not speaking to an interviewer, or a stranger, but writing to a friend.

Certainly there are many things we will never know about Tolkien's wartime experiences. It may even be the case that Tolkien himself confused a nightmare with reality & himself believed it really happened & told Michael so.

Whatever, its an interesting piece of Tolkieniana at the least. I accept it as coming from Michael, as the Rev'd has a reputation to uphold & has no reason to invent it. Maybe when (if?) the diaries are published we will get more information on what actually happened.

If the letter from Michael states clearly that it actually happened & gives more background we will be able to re-assess at that time. Till then, in the words of the reporter in The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, 'When the Legend becomes fact, print the Legend'??
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Old 07-06-2006, 09:24 AM   #40
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Quote:
Hmmmm-- no horse for combat; but with all that stuff to lug around (carrier pigeons, telephones, rolls of wiring?) perhaps he had regular access to a pack horse.
I think you'll find that the telephones and telegraph had been installed by sappers before the Lancashires went into the line and were a permanent fixture of the trench network. Carrier pigeons were an emergency measure: the battalion wouldn't have carried many, and may not have carried any at all. Equipment of that nature would in any case have been carried along with the general battalion stores, and it's unlikely that one subaltern would have had access to a personal horse. As I said, infantry tended to use pack horses and wagons for transporting heavy goods, not for riding, and pack-horses don't usually make good mounts. There's as much wish-fulfillment in dreaming of riding a horse when stuck in the most immobile war of recent times as there would be in dreaming one were waking up at home.

Davem: in terms of the psychological conclusions it's a third-hand account: J.R.R. Tolkien to Michael Tolkien to Rev. Waddington-Feather, with no indication of the passage of time between transmissions. What I've said about waking impressions was intended to point out how the subconscious mind might draw symbols from the milieu of the Western Front, later replaying them in sleep as the dream described by your source. I wouldn't suggest that Tolkien would have done anything so pointless as to make up a dream, but the memory can play tricks, and we don't know how long after the experience he told it to his son, and thus how far back Michael Tolkien was remembering. I don't think that anyone is actually inventing anything, I'm just not so sure how much could have been misremembered. Nonetheless, as you say, a fascinating piece of Tolkieniana. I wonder how often Michael Tolkien discussed dreams with his father, since we now have his descriptions of two of them.
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Last edited by The Squatter of Amon Rûdh : 07-06-2006 at 09:28 AM. Reason: Grammar
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