The early twentieth century saw an upheaval of normal life in Europe because of the Great War and the changing political and social systems. In the midst of this time, JRR Tolkien found himself transformed from a young student at Oxford to a soldier in the British army as war broke out across the continent. This war affected his life deeply, whether indirectly while he was at Oxford or through his time in the trenches in direct combat. As a dedicated academic, however, Tolkien never abandoned his passion for languages and mythology but used his experiences to bolster his own writings and creative pursuits.
One of the largest influences on Tolkien’s life was through his experiences at Oxford. There, he met his closest friends who would stay with him throughout his life, classes that encouraged his interest in languages and mythology, and professors who challenged the way he viewed the world. Despite his interested in his studies, however, Tolkien tended to put more effort into his own projects: developing his own languages, divining the changes these imagined languages would have over centuries, and medieval literature . Shortly after joining Oxford, Tolkien found a group of colleagues who shared his same interests. They met often to discuss their research and writings, allowing Tolkien a creative outlet to pursue his own work.
Tolkien’s group of fellow students at Oxford University led to two results. Firstly, in addition to ignoring what they deemed as modern literature, they also were able to avoid current events. Hidden in Oxford, the students could engross themselves in the medieval poetry they admired without venturing out beyond the academic world. This privileged position meant that they had no need to bother with modern issues much longer than the rest of Britain once the Great War began to become a reality. Secondly, this extensive time and companionship with only men is clearly seen in the relationships in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, never exposed to colleagues who were women, only formed strong ties with other men in the academics that dominated his life. Throughout Tolkien’s trilogy, a reader finds few strong female characters, but a great emphasis on lasting male companionship. Examples such as Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, Sam and Frodo, and Merry and Pippin demonstrate friendships that were not stopped by borders or any challenge of life. Moreover, Tolkien’s friends were primarily occupied with talking, drinking, smoking, and walking—all characteristic activities of the hobbits of Middle Earth. Even before he was seriously developing the trilogy that would create a new genre of literature, he gathered experiences that would be models for his created world.
Once the Great War began, Tolkien described it as a “collapse of all my world.” Even Oxford, the place he had always depended on to stay safely hidden in his studies, had been breached. Refugees flooded in to use the space, quickly draining of...