What Tolkien and Lewis teach us about surviving dark times

by Joel J. Miller

What happens when a whole way of life disintegrates before your eyes? Augustine lived through such a time. The men coming home from World War One did as well. It might feel as if we’re living through such a time right now.

One way to navigate treacherous times is to learn from those who have traversed similar moments before. And a penetrating new book by historian and King’s College professor Joseph Loconte can help us do exactly that.

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War takes us into the wartime lives of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. More importantly, it takes us into their postwar lives as well. How did they cope? How did they rebuild? And how did they help others do the same?

The world torn to pieces

The trauma of the Great War is almost impossible to comprehend. More than sixteen million were killed. That again plus five million more were wounded. And those who recovered physically were often irreparably scarred in other ways. Shell shock, what today we would call PTSD, had longterm effects. Suicide and alcoholism often finished what bullets and bombs could not.

According to one contemporary study of shell-shocked American, “[S]even years after the war less than 40 percent were regarded as functioning normally, and nearly 20 percent were found to be a burden to society.” Of that 20 percent, half were unemployable, and the rest weren’t much better.

Michele Barrett recounts these and other statistics in her 2007 book Casualty Figures, noting that the British government paid over two million pounds a year to prop up those who could no longer prop up themselves.

But the far-reaching crisis of faith may have surpassed all others. For those that endured it, the cataclysm and its aftermath was like the end of the world…


What Tolkien and Lewis teach us about surviving dark times | Joel J. Miller