A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War by Joseph Leconte appealed to all aspects of my many interests. It is a biography, a history book, a review of a childhood favorite, a delving into a lifelong obsession, and a peek into religion. Not only does it provide a history of the Great War and a detailed look into life in the trenches, but it also tells the story of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and their friendship founded on their mutual love of poetry and experiences during World War I. A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War follows the war experiences of these two men as they faced Hell on Earth, and how these experiences shaped their lives and literature.
Tolkien had been a life-long Catholic before the war. Despite witnessing horrifying scenes no human should ever see and living a nightmare, he emerged from the war with strengthened faith. When all of his peers and colleagues had lost their religion, he had found a way to reinforce his. Lewis had been an agnostic atheist before the war. In the same way Tolkien’s faith was fortified, Lewis’s atheism was solidified after surviving the horrors of the battlefield. The book goes on to tell the tale of how Tolkien and Lewis first met and became friends. Furthermore, it accounts for the deep conversations between the two about mythology and storytelling that eventually led to Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.
The book does a splendid job capturing the imagination of the reader. The material is well researched, and the narrative flows easily. I have always felt a connection to the works of J.R.R .Tolkien, and to a lesser extent, C.S. Lewis. The epic stories of these men filled my childhood imagination and fueled many imaginary play sessions. To this day, Middle Earth (or rather New Zealand, I guess…thanks, Peter Jackson) is a place my mind wanders to in the deepest of daydreams.
This book also found me in a time of spiritual wandering. Like Tolkien, I have been a life-long Catholic. I finished this book a day before the Lenten season began, and it reminded me that the light of God can reach you in the darkest of times. Faith is something that I occasionally take for granted; it has always been there for me. I was born in it, stayed with it, and confirmed myself to it once I was of age to make my own decisions in the church. God has never lacked in my life, so my spiritual struggle is to delve deeper, learn more, and appreciate the good things I have. This book identifies the more obvious Christian parallels in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Chronicles of Narnia series, but it also pulls deeper connections that I had never thought about such as parallels to characters, the importance of descriptions, and hidden themes.
Once finishing A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War, I immediately downloaded the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring for my next audiobook journey. I’m excited to re-enter Middle Earth with the mindset to look for the scars of war healed by faith.
Whether or not you are religious, I would recommend this book if you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the Chronicles of Narnia series. The behind the scenes inspiration, philosophy, and trivia found in A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War makes the books and films that much more enjoyable. Happy listening, folks!
Cover image photo credit: brandonvogt.com