Tolkien’s Wars and Middle-earth

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

Who were the T.C.B.S? How did they influence Tolkien? How did World War I impact Tolkien?

A century after Tolkien began crafting his legendarium, it’s time to ask what it had to do with the cataclysmic changes of his times. What did he do in the First World War, and how did it change him? What became of his first “fellowship” of friends? How does the trench experience infuse The Lord of the Rings and other works, and how does all this relate to his other passions – myth and fairy-tale, the medieval, and the invention of languages? What about the Second World War, and Tolkien’s famous denial of allegorical reference to it? Throughout, biographer John Garth will draw from the on-going research that produced his award-winning book Tolkien and the Great War – much of it previously unseen. You’ll never look at Tolkien and Middle-earth in the same way again.

Course Schedule

Tolkien’s Wars includes two 90-minute pre-recorded lectures per week with one 90-minute discussion session as assigned. Please remember to update your availability and time zone in the Goldberry registration system.

Week 1 – Tolkien’s Life and Legendarium

  • JRR Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

Week 2 – Don’t Mention the War: Tolkien and Biographical Interpretation

  • The Letters of JRR Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter (selections)
  • Foreword to the 2nd edition of The Lord of the Rings (in all current editions)

Week 3 – Who was Tolkien up to 1914?

  • Poems:
    • ‘Wood-sunshine’ and ‘Lo! Young We Are’ (in Carpenter’s Biography)
    • ‘From Iffley’ (in Garth, Tolkien and the Great War)
    • ‘You and Me and the Cottage of Lost Play’ (in The Book of Lost Tales, part one)
    • ‘A Secret Vice’ (in The Monsters and the Critics)

Week 4 – The Birth of Middle-earth

  • The Story of Kullervo (published August, or in Tolkien Studies 7), including essay on the Kalevala
  • Poems:
    • ‘The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star’ (in The Book of Lost Tales, part two)
    • ‘The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon’, ‘Tinfang Warble’, ‘Goblin Feet’, ‘Kôr’, (in The Book of Lost Tales, part one)
    • ‘The Horns of Ulmo’ (in The Shaping of Middle-earth)
  • Selections
    • from She by H Rider Haggard
    • from The Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow
    • from the Kalevala, translated by W.H. Kirby

Week 5 – The Breaking of the Fellowship: The T.C.B.S., the Army and the Somme

  • Poems:
    • ‘The Happy Mariners’, ‘The Town of Dreams and the City of Present Sorrow’, ‘The Song of Eriol’ (in The Book of Lost Tales, part two)
    • ‘The Shores of Faëry’, ‘A Song of Aryador’, ‘Habbanan under the Stars’, ‘Kortirion among the Trees’ (first version) (in The Book of Lost Tales, part one)
    • ‘The Lonely Isle’ and ‘An Evening in Tavrobel’ (in Tolkien and the Great War)
    • Selected poems from Geoffrey Bache Smith, A Spring Harvest (at

Week 6 – Goodbye to All That: War Writing and Disenchantment

  • Selections from
    • The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
    • Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
    • Undertones of War by Edmund Blunden
    • Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon
  • Selected poems by Wilfred Owen, Graves and Sassoon

Week 7 – Quickened to Full Life by War: The Mythopoeic Response

  • ‘On Fairy-stories’ (The Monsters and the Critics)
  • Selections from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
  • ‘Tolkien’s Great War’ by Hugh Brogan (Children and Their Books, edited Opie)

Week 8 – A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight: The Book of Lost Tales

  • ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ (Book of Lost Tales, part two)
  • ‘The Cottage of Lost Play’ (Book of Lost Tales, part one)
  • ‘The Tale of Tinúviel’, ‘Turambar and the Foalókë’) (Book of Lost Tales, part two)

Week 9 – A Messenger, a Tarrier: Writing Between the Wars

  • Poems:
    • ‘The Sea-bell’, ‘The Mewlips’, and relevant notes and early versions (The Adventures of Tom Bombadil);
    • ‘Oilima Markirya’ (‘A Secret Vice’, The Monsters and the Critics)
  • The Lays of Beleriand (selections)
  • The Lay of Sigurd and Gudrún (selections)
  • Roverandom (selections)

Week 10 – Turning Points: The Hobbit and Other Writings

  • ‘The Lost Road’ (The Lost Road and Other Writings)
  • The Hobbit (selections)

Week 11 – The Return of the Shadow: The Lord of the Rings

  • The Lord of the Rings, Books I-III

Week 12 – Undertones of War: The Lord of the Rings

  • The Lord of the Rings, Books IV-VI

Required Texts

The links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish.

* Please be familiar with these works prior to the start of class.

Suggested Texts

* Required selections from the Suggested Texts and additional required reading will be made available to registered students in the final syllabus.

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Fall 2023Dr. Sara Brown
Summer 2020Dr. Gabriel Schenk & Kris Swank
Fall 2017Kris Swank
Fall 2015Sørina Higgins, Liam Daley
Tolkien's Wars and Middle-earth

This course explores the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and the impact his experiences had on his work, with a particular focus on the World War I and World War II time periods.

START: August 28, 2023

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5312