The Somme (3)

I’m giving away a copy of Joe Sacco’s The Great War, what NPR called a “panorama of devastation,” an accordian-fold book, 24 feet long, about day one of The Battle of the Somme. Scroll down to enter.

One of those who survived that horrific first assault, and who endured the prolonged ghastliness of the months of fighting that followed, was the young JRR Tolkien.250px-Tolkien_1916

He was sent to France in June 1916, just in time for the Somme. “It was like a death,” he said.

Tolkien spent just a few months at the Front before trench fever sent him home again, weakening him too much to return. He always denied that Lord of the Rings was about the War, but it’s hard to overlook his experiences with the “animal horror” of industrialized death in the mud-soaked trenches with his Dead Marshes, fire-spouting dragons, and dark, death-emitting land of Mordor.Paul Nash, The Menin Road

English Poet Laureate John Masefield (who later lived on Boar’s Hill near Oxford, where he raised bees) was a driver with the American Ambulance Field Service during the Somme. He describes one trip to the Front:

The noise of the engine stifles the noise of the shells, but above the engines one shell’s noise is heard; the screech of its rush comes very near, there is a flash ahead, a burst, and the patter of falling fragments. Long afterward, perhaps six seconds afterward, a tiny piece of shell drops upon the ambulance. Another shell bursts behind the car, and another on the road in front; the car goes round the new shell-hole and passes on.

(From Eyewitness to History.)

* *The-Great-War-by-Joe-Sacco-book

Joe Sacco’s The Great War is a modern Bayeux Tapestry on paper, a detailed panorama of the first day of the Somme battle. To enter my drawing for Joe Sacco’s gorgeous and moving The Great Warpop over here before midnight Monday.


  1. Liz Ryan on July 4, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Is that Tolkien’s artwork? It reminds me of an adult version of the use of line & mass in the Hobbit, but also of someone else’s work. Cannot quite pin it down.

    • Liz Ryan on July 4, 2016 at 8:09 am

      Oops, just clicked on it & saw the note of author. Sorry. But it does also remind me of Tolkien’s style, too.

      • Laurie King on July 4, 2016 at 9:10 am

        It does somewhat, I agree!

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