So, sometimes I forget it's a new world we live in. I default back to the days when Tolkien was considered a fringe figure: inexplicably popular but typecast as a fad whose day would soon pass. * Now that he's now well-established as a major twentieth century writer, he's become so much a part of our culture that his name constantly shows up in what would once have been surprising places.
Cast in point: I picked up the latest issue of MHQ: THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY (Autumn 2014), attracted by its cover article, which claims that T. E. Lawrence's "Arab Revolt" was of negligible military value, mainly a propaganda stunt that eventually bought into its own publicity, with unfortunate results. He similarly dismisses the 'French Resistence' as largely mythical, a face-saving exercise. All this and more (sabotage in Burma, struggles against Rommel) leads up to his main point, where he attributes the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu as due to their belief that they could defeat the Viet Mihn on the cheap, recruiting locals to form guerrilla groups as a counter-insurgency. It's an interesting piece, and all too relevant, whose argument I'll have to mull over -- food for thought.
In any case, having been intrigued by one piece in a journal I wouldn't otherwise have picked up, I thought I might as well skim the rest of the contents to see if anything else interesting showed up. Which is when I came across the photo of J. R. R. Tolkien (p. 15), heading up a short (two-page) article "Men of Letters, Men of War", with a paragraph each highlighting the military experience and literary accomplishments of nine authors who served** in World War I: C. S. Lewis, JRRT, Ernest Hemingway, Rbt Graves, Wilfred Owen (the greatest of the WWI poets, and the only other among these figures whose photo is included), Siegfried Sassoon, Erich Marie Remarque (for his classic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (whose war record I didn't know about), and Winston Churchill (whom it claims spent a few months in Flanders following the Gallipoli disaster he'd masterminded).
What really made me marvel when I read this was the thought: Since when does Hemingway come THIRD in a list of famous modern authors who served in the War? Back when I was in grad school, he would have automatically come in first on any such list (probably closely followed by a mention of Orwell's volunteering in the Spanish Civil War). Has Tolkien's, and Lewis's, fame really grown so great that it eclipses a figure like Hemingway, universally considered one of the three or four major American twentieth century novelists? That's hard for me to get my mind around: as I said, if true, it'd be a whole new world.
And now to read on, though I really doubt there'll be any more surprises herein to match that one.
*Which over time evolved into Soon-ish. Then Eventually. And finally Surely Any Day Now. It's a narrative that goes back more than fifty years now, and to which former Deconstructionist Harold Bloom still clings
**I originally wrote 'fought', but Hemingway of course famously served as an ambulance driver, arguably a higher calling.
A Week In Books
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