A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918

By Tirrell, Jeffrey | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2018 | Go to article overview

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918


Tirrell, Jeffrey, Anglican and Episcopal History


A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918. By Joseph Loconte. (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015, Pp. ix, 234. $24.99.)

When Joseph Loconte's book A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War came across my desk it immediately caught my attention. Like all great historians, Loconte has the uncanny ability to take material that could be daunting and dry and make it both accessible and relevant. His words paint images in a way very reminiscent of both C. S. Lewis andj. R. R. Tolkien, two Oxford scholars who found great popular success through their writings. Thus, when he examines the writings of these two Inklings in the context of the larger Western hopelessness after World War I, he does so in a way that draws the reader into that time and makes her appreciate the unique contributions that the two of them gave to the world.

The main thrust of the book is that "Tolkien and Lewis [were able] to reintroduce into the popular imagination a Christian vision of hope in a world tortured by doubt and disillusionment" (xiv-xv). Loconte rightly points out that both Tolkien and Lewis were keenly aware of the stark reality between the beauty, tranquility, and calm of natural country space, and the sooty, crowded mechanical noisiness of the urban and war-torn environments. This awareness finds its way into their writings: in the Lord of the Rings (London: Allen & Unwin, 1954) Tolkien contrasts the serenity of Bag End and its peaceful way of life with Saruman's domain which is full of industrial destruction and darkness; and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1950) Lewis presents the elegant simplicity of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver's humble, warm home with the opulence and coldness of the White Witch's palace. The industrialization, mechanization, and the Scientism that supported them were understood to bring prosperity and "progress," ushering in a new and better world. "The Myth of Progress," as Loconte calls it, "was proclaimed from nearly every sector of society" (13) before the outbreak of World War I. But the rising interest in eugenics, racial purity and technology that combined with the political tensions that led to World War I (and, subsequently, World War II as well) afterwards fostered a deep distrust in Lewis and Tolkien regarding the capacity of technology and progress to improve the human condition. …

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