Spoiler alert; the book became a hit. But probably anyone who watches Tolkein knew that already.

I remember reading about this film when it was being made, but missed it in theatres. Thank you Lufthansa for showing it when Air Canada didn’t. (I should note, Lufthansa had no Canadian movies available. Sometimes hard choices have to be made.)

War is hell, and the first World War was perhaps more hellish than any before it. The war shaped the life of a young Oxford philology student who later became a professor who wrote a bit of fantasy on the side. Much beloved fantasy, as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings became two of the most-loved novels of the 20th century.

Tolkien explores the formative years of J.R.R. Tolkien, providing a glimpse into relationships and events that powered his writing. At the centre is his own “fellowship” and how they fared in the crucible of war.

The tale has been told before, but never like this. Tolkien himself has been the subject of a number of biographies. I read Humphrey Carpenter’s take on the man back in 1977, and also his look at The Inklings, the influential group of writers Tolkien belonged to.

The story has been told in book form previously by John Garth in his Tolkein and the Great War. Amazon has been trying to get me to purchase that one ever since I bought Joseph Loconte’s A Hobbit A Wardrobe and a Great War, which explores the same territory, expanded to show the impact of the war on the writings of C.S. Lewis.

If you are a Tolkein fan you may not find much new here. And I will admit to being a fan. I read The Lord of the Rings as an 11-year-old back in the sixties, and have probably read it a dozen times or more since. Should I ever do a doctorate in English (unlikely), I would probably choose that novel as the basis for my thesis.

Tolkein is a story well-told, or at least that is how it seemed to me, fighting exhaustion at 30,000 feet. The foreshadowing of the novels is well done. I wonder though how effective that would be for those who have,’t read the book. Though probably everyone has seen Peter Jackson’s movies.

This is a story from a different age, one where brotherhood meant perhaps more than it does today. It is a story of love and comradeship – with a traditional boy/girl story thrown into the mix. It is an insightful look at a literary icon.

As a war movie it accurately conveys the horror of trench warfare and the carnage of the First World War. It is not a pretty picture.

Maybe I don’t spend enough time watching movies, because I didn’t recognize any of the actors, except for Lily Collins and Colm Meaney. I’ve never seen the man not dressed in a Star Fleet uniform before. Once I got over the idea that he wasn’t Chief Miles O’Brien, I kind of warmed to him and his character. It was like seeing an old friend after a 20-year absence.

What I found frustrating was the gaps. Only a bit of Tolkien’s story is told here. Fair enough. There is war and quest and an Elvish princess; what more could you ask for?

There are no Inkling in this move, though there is an passing reference to the pub where they met regularly. C.S. Lewis is not in the film – maybe that relationship should be a movie on its own.

Neither is Tolkien’s Christian faith explored, though it was key to his persona and his writing. I guess the filmmakers didn’t want to go there. Or there wasn’t enough time so they narrowed the scope.

Tolkein is a story well told that shows just how inhumane the First World War was – and how, despite that, some humans could rise above the carnage to show humanity at its best.

I’m sure it will be on Netflix soon. You should check it out.



  1. I did. you are right.

  2. Good column, however I try to tell people that making any comparison to “hell” is never accurate. “War” is hell. No it isn’t. Hell is much worse. Look it up.

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