Welcome, dear readers, as always.
As I’ve said before, although I don’t write fan fiction, I think that it’s a very useful thing. If it’s well done, it can be an imaginative, even ingenious, addition to what an author has already devised. If it’s not so well done, it’s certainly not harmful, and, in any case, trying to imitate the work of an admired creator can be a great way to learn how you want to write.
So, you’re asking, is this the prelude to my first fan fiction? Well, yes and no. Recently, I’ve been watching a really engrossing tv series from 1979 titled Danger UXB.
In it, we follow the adventures of Second Lieutenant (with later promotions, Captain) Brian Ash, played extremely well by Anthony Andrews,
who is in charge of a small unit of soldiers
whose job is to defuse and remove bombs dropped by the German air force and which, for various reasons, haven’t exploded (UXB stands for “unexploded bomb”).
This series is based upon various real life experiences of those whose actual job it was to do this, from 1940 to 1945, and there are hair-raising moments, as the real bombs could cause devastating damage, both to people and their surroundings.
At this same time, of course, Tolkien
was teaching at Pembroke College, Oxford,
and serving as an air raid warden,
as well as working on The Lord of the Rings.
There was a gap, however, in this work, from December, 1938 to August, 1939, and this was a significant time just before the war to come. In March, 1938, Hitler had sent his army into Austria, adding that to “Greater Germany”.
On September 30th, 1938, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy had signed the Munich Pact,
which allowed Hitler to gobble up the Sudetenland, a border territory between Czechoslovakia and Germany.
This was part of the policy of “Appeasement”, the mistaken idea that giving Hitler (and Mussolini) what they demanded would keep Europe out of another terrible war. When the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, returned home, he was actually convinced that this was going to stop the German dictator from further demands, proclaiming to people on his doorstep at 10 Downing Street, “It is peace for our time.”
Then, in March, 1939, Hitler’s army invaded the Czech Republic, after Slovakia had broken ties with it.
In April, Mussolini’s troops invaded Albania.
So much for appeasement.
Although JRRT always claimed that his work, if it contained any contemporary influence, would be that of the Great War, Hitler’s constant demands always remind me of this moment from the last chapter of Book 5 of The Return of the King, “The Black Gate Opens”, in which the Mouth of Sauron (I can easily see him in full Nazi uniform) lists the terms his master offers the West:
“The Rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies shall withdraw at once beyond the Anduin, first taking oaths never again to assail Sauron the Great in arms, open or secret. All lands east of the Anduin shall be Sauron’s for ever, solely. West of the Anduin as far as the Misty Mountains and the Gap of Rohan shall be tributary to Mordor, and men there shall bear no weapons, but shall have leave to govern their own affairs. But they shall help to rebuild Isengard which they have wantonly destroyed, and that shall be Sauron’s, and there his lieutenant shall dwell: not Saruman, but one more worthy of trust.”
Although, as far as I can presently ascertain, Tolkien never explains the gap in his creativity, it gave me a “what if” moment.
Suppose, in that period from December, 1938 to August, 1939, JRRT was not in Oxford, but, instead, was off on a “There and Back Again” adventure of his own, something which then inspired him to return to his book with new purpose and energy. Tolkien won’t go alone, however, but be assisted by his old sergeant
(This is actually Sergeant AE Lovejoy of the East Surrey Regiment.)
from his days as 2nd Lieutenant,
who has been employed (at Tolkien’s earnest recommendation), as the porter—the gatekeeper, an important staff post—of Pembroke College.
(This is, in fact, a portrait by Louise Riley-Smith of two modern-day porters at Cambridge from The Tab, a youth news service.)
Notice a certain similarity to another heroic pair?
But what about the rest of the—shall I say it?—fellowship?
Well, Tolkien would need an elderly counselor, wouldn’t he? Someone with the ability to communicate and deal with all sorts of others—perhaps Joseph Wright,
who had been one of JRRT’s tutors at Oxford and among whose specialties was the Germanic languages. If this adventure were to take the fellowship to the Third Reich—perhaps the closest thing to Mordor in the Europe of 1939–Wright, who had studied there, might be a very useful guide. In our world, Wright had been born in 1855 and died in 1930, but, just how old is Gandalf, really?
Younger companions? A couple of larky undergraduates of Pembroke would fit that bill easily.
Dwarves and elves would have been in short supply at Oxford in 1939, but, since a specialty of dwarves was engineering, perhaps Tolkien had a friend in the Royal Engineers during the war
and an elf we’ve met was a crack shot with a bow—perhaps Tolkien and his engineer had had a mutual friend who was a sniper?
What about a ranger? This is an older man, with lots of practical experience and might have been—perhaps still is– a member of Military Intelligence.
And, finally we might add a warrior from a country threatened by another—so, that would suggest someone French, like a number of the others, a veteran of the Great War, come as a guest lecturer to Oxford.
But aren’t we leaving someone out?
We are, indeed—and what we want is someone a bit shifty, with a knowledge of where the fellowship—or at least a part of it—will go, but with his own agenda—a double-agent.
Now, with all of these in place, all we need is a goal. Are they going somewhere to obtain something? Or to take it back? And where are they going to go? If Hitler is Sauron-to-be,
then Mussolini is a natural for Saruman
and, although Germany lacks active volcanos, there are several in Italy.,,
To be continued?
As ever, thanks for reading,
be careful of picking up rings which may cause later difficulties,
and know that, as always, there’s
Part of my inspiration for this posting was a really interesting paper given by Franco Manni and Simone Bonechi at a conference in Birmingham in 2005. Here’s the LINK: https://valarguild.org/varda/Tolkien/encyc/articles/t/Tolkien/TolkienandWW2.htm