Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth

Tolkien in 1914The best book about Tolkien that has yet been written’ — A.N. Wilson

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award winner

◼︎ What the readers and critics say

◼︎ Website extras

◼︎ Editions and translations (with bookstore links)

The only substantially new biography of Tolkien since 1977, Tolkien and the Great War reveals how Middle-earth was created in the crucible of world conflict by a brilliant, passionate and wildly imaginative young man. Drawing on the unpublished letters of Tolkien and his closest friends, John Garth tells a deeply moving story. Middle-earth, he shows, is no escapist fantasy but an eloquent counterblow against the disenchantment that has haunted us since the First World War.


Tolkien at Exeter College, by John GarthYou might also like Tolkien at Exeter College, the insightful and richly illustrated new addition to the story told in Tolkien and the Great War. ‘Simply stashed with information and ideas that will be new to many aficionados’ — Kevin Crossley-Holland, author of The Norse Myths, the Arthur trilogy, and much else. Buy here...

Responses to Tolkien and the Great War

What the readers say

An incredibly touching portrait of four friends and the suffering that was inflicted on men of a certain historical moment by one of historys most senseless wars. This biography will give you a very good sense of both this man and this moment as well as giving you a new angle from which to see his fiction. I am not usually an avid reader of biography, but I couldnt put this down. Rebecca

Amazing! A must read for any Tolkien fan! It will really blow your mind and kinda break your heart. Steve Owens

A necessary book ... a thoughtful, sensitive, well-written consideration of the WWI generation, and how the pre-War world and the War itself formed Tolkien and his fellowship of four friends. It is the best kind of cultural–literary criticism... Moira Russell

Shows a gregariousness and power in Tolkien's personality that isnt very apparent in previous work like Carpenters biography or even Letters by Tolkien.’ David Eden

Brilliant, absorbing, and detailed … A must read for anyone interested in the background of the man behind Middle-earth. Sarah

An incredible work, that almost makes me wish I had stayed an English major all those years ago … A worthwhile read for those interested in the Great War, Middle Earth, or the general effect of war on literature. Aaron

A deeply moving book, well-written, detailed, it cogently draws out the threads of the influence of Tolkien's wartime experiences on his writings. Sandi

One of the most important and thoroughly researched works on the early Tolkien. I highly recommend this and especially hearing John Garth read it. A must for any lover of Tolkien. Andrew Higgins

A wonderful, thought provoking work for those in love with Lord of the Rings. Padraic

All these and more at Good Reads...

What the critics say

• ‘Very much the best book about J.R.R. Tolkien that has yet been written ... Even if you are not a Lord of the Rings fan, I commend this ... I have rarely read a book which so intelligently graphed the relation between a writer’s inner life and his outward circumstances.
- A.N. Wilson, Evening Standard, 2003.

‘Garths masterpiece – it really is one...
Daily Telegraph, 2006.

‘A highly intelligent book … Garth displays impressive skills both as researcher and writer. - Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph. Read more...

‘Journalist Garth combines a newsman’s nose for a good story with a scholar’s scrupulous attention to detail ... Brilliantly argued. - Daily Mail. Read more...

‘Powerful, persuasive and deeply moving, sending one back to read with fresh eyes of that band of brothers, the Fellowship of the Ring. Christopher Hart, Daily Telegraph. Read more...

‘A study of this kind requires its author to wear many hats: archival researcher, military historian, literary critic, ancient philologist. Garth diligently fulfills all of these responsibilities. The Lion and the Unicorn. Read more via Project Muse...

Supplementary writings

My 2014 monograph Tolkien at Exeter College: How an Oxford undergraduate created Middle-earth brings new research to bear on Tolkien's life from 1911 to 1915 and includes many images, including several previously unseen pictures by or of Tolkien. Buy here...

More information about a key figure in Tolkien and the Great War is published in Robert Quilter Gilson, T.C.B.S.: A brief life in letters, Tolkien Studies 8. An incident which would have appeared in the book if I had known about it at the time is described in J.R.R. Tolkien and the boy who didn’t believe in fairies, Tolkien Studies 7. Readers with access to Project Muse can read these two articles here and here.

Website extras

War in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, 1916

Tolkien's earliest mythology:
Middle-earth as it stood in 1916

Chronology of Tolkien in the Battle of the Somme

Tolkien and the Great War cited in the Oxford English Dictionary

Corrections and clarifications


Editions in seven languages (to buy, click image)

John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War (HarperCollins 2011)

UK: HarperCollins 2011

Garth –

Poland: Zysk 2020

John Garth, Tolkien y la Gran Guerra (Minotauro)

Spain: Minotauro 2014

John Garth, Tolkien und der Erste Weltkrieg (Klett Cotta)

Germany: Klett-Cotta 2014

John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War (Houghton Mifflin)

USA: HMCo 2003

John Garth, Tolkien e la Grande Guerra (Marietti)

Italy: Marietti 2007

John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War (HarperCollins 2003)

HarperCollins hbk, 2003*

John Garth, Tolkien et la Grande Guerre (Bourgois)

France: Bourgois 2014

John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War (Wenhui)

China: Wenhui 2008*

* HarperCollins 2003 and 2004 editions out of print. Wenhui edition unavailable.



The Worlds of
J.R.R. Tolkien

UK hardback
John Garth – The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien

US hardback
John Garth – The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien

To buy in French, Russian, Czech, Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Hungarian, German, or another language
see links here

Tolkien and
the Great War

UK paperback/ebook
John Garth Writer Tolkien And The Great War

US paperback/ebook
Tolkien and the Great War HMH

Audiobook read by
John Garth

Amazon UK, Audible UK,
Audible US

To buy in Italian, German, French, Spanish or Polish,
see links here

Tolkien at
Exeter College

Garth, Tolkien at Exeter College

© John Garth 2006