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The grim battles and fire-breathing beasts of JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit were inspired by the author’s real-life experiences fighting in the Somme during World War I.

The author killed two close friends in battle and fought on a field filled with rotting corpses in one of the deadliest battles in human history.

The English writer JRR Tolkien (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, 1892 – 1973) in his study at Merton College, Oxford. Source: Getty Images

A million people were injured or killed in the Somme during the summer and fall of 1916.

The vast battles of Tolkien’s books and much of the grim images of Middle-earth were inspired by his experiences of World War I, says John Garth, author of the Tolkien and the Great War biography.

Garth said in an interview with the Mirror: “I think he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in part because he was trying to exorcise the trauma he went through. It was part of the healing process. “

Tolkien’s Hobbit sold 100 million copies after its release on, September 21, 1937, inspiring countless imitators and a series of blockbuster films.

War memorial with tombstones

The Thiepval Memorial to the Fallen from the Somme Battlefields, a war memorial to the British who died in WWI. Source: Getty Images

Tolkien had described to his children the experience of being attacked with poison gas and said his experience in the trenches was an “animal horror.”

Garth said: “He rarely talked about war. It’s a classic of so many veterans who couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about it. He had had the worst experience one could expect to have. “

Tolkien was sent to the Somme at the age of 24, as a signals officer.

He wrote at the time: “The junior officers were being killed a dozen per minute. Separating from my wife was like death.

Black and white photo of soldiers marching in World War I

World War I, 1916. English soldiers on the Somme. Source: Photo 12 / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Tolkien survived in part because he arrived in the Somme a few days after the start of the battle and therefore missed the fights with the heaviest casualties.

On the first day, when the soldiers were ordered to attack the German trenches, there were 57,470 British casualties of which 19,240 were killed.

Among the dead was Tolkien’s friend Lieutenant Robert Gilson, who saw his commander shot dead in no man’s land and was ordered to take his place.

A photo of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  (New Line / Warner Bros.)

The battle scenes and grim images from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books were inspired by his experiences in the trenches (Photo: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) Source: New Line / Warner Bros.

He was killed by a shell explosion while charging into the German lines.

Tolkien fell ill with “trench fever” contracted by lice in his uniform and was sent back to Britain to recover.

The disease probably saved his life: he never returned to combat and returned to his old academic life at Oxford.

As he recovered, he wrote stories featuring “gnomes” and other mythical creatures.

He had also written fantastic tales in the trenches, “by candlelight in bell tents, even in shelters under shell fire,” the author said in an interview.

He later admitted that some of the landscapes of his fantasy world, like the Dead Marshes, filled with corpses, “owe something to northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”

Author Joseph Loconte, who wrote, “A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War,” says Tolkien’s humble and heroic world-changing hobbits show Tolkien believed in the ability of the individual to resist evil, even in the worst of times.

Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings: “Such is often the stock price that moves the wheels of the world. The little hands do them because they have to, while the eyes of the big ones are elsewhere.

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