Although we said in our last that we were going to pursue further the subject of that post, recently, we’ve been readers of John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War (2003—he has a new book we’re about to order– Tolkien at Exeter College. If this interests you, you should also check out his impressive website at http://www.johngarth.co.uk) and, thinking about JRRT’s time in the trenches brought us to the Morannon:
“Upon the west of Mordor marched the gloomy range of Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow, and upon the north the broke peaks and barren ridges of Ered Lithui, grey as ash. But as these ranges approached one another, being indeed parts of one great wall about the mournful plains of Lithlad and of Gorgoroth, and the bitter inland sea of Nurnen amidmost, they swung out long arms northward; and between these arms there was a deep defile. This was Cirith Gorgor, the Haunted Pass, the entrance to the land of the Enemy. High cliffs lowered upon either side, and thrust forward from its mouth were two sheer hills, black-boned and bare. Upon them stood the Teeth of Mordor, two towers strong and tall…Stony-faced they were, with dark window-holes staring north and east and west, and each window was full of sleepless eyes.”
Although JRRT didn’t come to the Western Front until after the battle of Loos in September-October, 1915, that description reminded us of this:
This is the so-called “Tower Bridge” (actually the top structure of mine elevators), the most striking landmark of the long-drawn-out struggle by the British to push the Germans back from their defensive line. It was common for British soldiers to name local French and Belgian features after things from home. Hence, this
reminded them of this:
The battlefield, however, also has more features similar to JRRT’s description of this bleak and ashy world in the artificial tailings (refuse heaps) from the coal mines which dotted the region.
And, in the midst of this are Sam, Frodo, and Gollum:
“…lay now peering over the edge of a rocky hollow beneath the outstretched shadow of the northernmost buttress of Ephel Duath.”
The area between British and German lines were pockmarked with holes blown in the earth by artillery shells,
sometimes thousands of them, and soldiers advancing would use them as temporary shelters.
which could then be used as the basis of new trench systems.
And, between those trench systems, was the area called “No Man’s Land “, in which whole villages and even forests could disappear into nothing but cellar holes and stumps:
which look rather like the devastation described at the crossroads
“Presently, not far ahead, looming up like a black wall, they saw a belt of trees. As they drew nearer they became aware that these were of vast size, very ancient it seemed, and still towering high, though their tops were gaunt and broken, as if tempest and lightning-blast had swept across them, but had failed to kill them or to shake their fathomless roots.”
JRRT strenuously objected to the idea that he was literally converting his thoughts and feelings and experiences in the two World Wars into Middle Earth prose, but he did say something about what he had seen:
“Personally I do not think that either war (and of course not the atomic bomb) had any influence upon either the plot or the manner of its unfolding. Perhaps in landscape. The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme…”
How could an intelligent, observant young man could live among such scenes and absorb them without finding some use for them—perhaps even as a kind of exorcism of the horrors he would rather not remember?
As ever, thanks for reading!