I know that Tolkien is greatly influenced by folklore of many cultures and WWI directly. However, I wonder if there are any specific examples that show influence from WWII?

The best conjecture so far I have obtained from web is possible influence of Hitler in the creation of Saruman, especially on Saruman's speech to the Uruk Hai. Although this passes as a very possible inspiration, to the best of my knowledge, Tolkien did refute any influence of WWII in LOTR.

Any interview with Tolkien should be considered as primary proof, however I am willing to accept criticism of historians, literature professors and academicians in any related field. Lastly, your own conjectures if justified properly are welcome as well.

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    Tolkien has been pretty clear that LotR wasn't (intentionally) influenced by WWII. He's said this many times including in the actual forward that's printed in the book.
    – ibid
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 21:37
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    @ibid Actually I now read the foreword in the second edition. Yeah, this question is pretty much answered now. "The crucial chapter, "The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in the war that began in 1939 or its sequels modified it."
    – user65648
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 21:51
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    @C.Koca No worries. There's also an entire book devoted to this topic: 'Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth' by John Garth. Also, Tom Shippey's 'Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien' contains several of Shippey's articles and essays on this topic, too.
    – wcullen
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 22:29
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    John Garth's 'Tolkien and the Great War' is actually about dispelling the problems around critics who tied LotR too closely to WWII; so, a lot of the conversation in the book is a discussion about both wars. Garth also addresses the problems with Tolkien's often vehement dismissal of the comparison and influence of WWII--which, Garth (and Shippey) hold were not always accurate.
    – wcullen
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 23:03
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    @wcullen Now that the question's been reopened, would you be interested in writing up an answer? Looks like you've got the knowledge and resources to make a good one :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 9:05

3 Answers 3



As stated very clearly by Tolkien himself in the Foreword to his epic, The Lord of the Rings there was none.

As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, "The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in the war that began in 1939 or its sequels modified it.

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.
The Lord of the Rings - Foreword to the Second Edition

Tolkien made it abundantly clear that if Word War II would've had an effect on the tale it would've had a largely different plot line and characters would've had different motives, stating clearly that regardless of the War that began in 1939 the plot would've taken a similar path as, "Its sources are things long before in mind or in some cases already written".

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    Would the downvotes care to explain why they downvoted? I guess it’s because I “didn’t cite ibid.” and I will happily reference his comment, but the foreword containing this information is common knowledge as it’s been in the foreword for almost 50 years
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 10:55
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    Have another +1. I'm very familiar with that excerpt of course. But although that's true and although he was very against deliberate and conscious allegory he of course does not there are influences; and since the question (title at least) mentions influence I will say that The Dead Marshes was inspired by his experience in the Battle of Somme. Can you imagine it though. >1million deaths in that battle alone. Imagine if HE died. And it makes one wonder how many other wonderful creations or inventions might have been lost. Terrible thing, war...
    – Pryftan
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 12:38
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    @Pryftan Bringing up the battle of the Somme triggers the debate about the dupe, as that was WWI not WWII. While he has admitted to WWI creeping into his works. he refuses to accept that WWII changed his works from his original intentions. (For the WWI comment see Foreword to the First Edition, in books published between 1954 and 1965)
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 12:41
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user65648
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 13:35
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    @Edlothiad To address your first comment: although I didn't downvote this answer, I almost did (before rereading the final paragraph of the question) because it simply provides a quote from Tolkien about "the intention of the author", without any justification for why we should take this quote at face value.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 16:01

The Nazgûl riding on hideous winged creatures

From the outset of WW2 Britain was the target of the Blitz - mass air attacks against industrial targets, towns and cities by the Third Reich's air force, the Luftwaffe.

Tolkien himself witnessed the bombing of Coventry (a city fifty miles north of Oxford). He was a part-time air-raid warden and member of the Firewatching Service1 and while I won't go that far as to compare the winged Nazgûl to the Luftwaffe and the Eagles to the British RAF, (in which his son, Michael fought as an anti-aircraft gunner) It is very probable that Tolkien was influenced by the terror of the night air raids and required blackouts.

Probably that's why we see Gondor surrounded by darkness and targeted from the air by evil beings, the Ringwraiths, which now acquired wings:

...winged terror, the Nazgûl. He shuddered, and hope seemed to wither. And even at that moment the sun for a second faltered and was obscured, as though a dark wing had passed across it. Almost beyond hearing he thought he caught, high and far up in the heavens, a cry: faint, but heart-quelling, cruel and cold. He blanched and cowered against the wall. 'What was that?' asked Beregond. 'You also felt something?' 'Yes,' muttered Pippin. 'It is the sign of our fall, and the shadow of doom, a Fell Rider of the air.' 'Yes, the shadow of doom,' said Beregond. 'I fear that Minas Tirith shall fall. Night comes. The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away.' ~The Return of the King: Minas Tirith

After all, air raids are scary. Hearing the alarm for the first time, especially if you caught out of shelter in the dark can be an unforgettable experience. That's why I think they were a contributing factor of Tolkien describing so masterfully and emphatically the nazgul attacks.

German Heikel bombers fly to attack Britain, Battle of Britain, 1940
German two-engined Heinkel III bombers fly to attack - Battle of Britain, 1940

no matter which side you are on, air raids are terrifying:

German air raid warning poster, circa 1943
THE ENEMY SEES YOUR LIGHT! GO DARK! - German air raid warning poster about 1943

On the influence of WW2 in general:

Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey describes The Lord of the Rings as:

a war-book, also a post-war book, framed by and responding to the crisis of Western civilization, 1914–1945 (and beyond)**~The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot, Jay Richards, Jonathan Witt

In the article The Complexity of Tolkien's Attitude Towards the Second World War various experts cited expressing similar opinions, among them Edmund Fuller, novelist, historian and literary critic:

It has for me an allegorical relation to the struggle of Western Christendom against forces embodied, successively but overlapping, in Nazism and Communism. The work was conceived and carried forward when the darkest shadow of modern history was cast over the West and, for a crucial part of the time, over England in particular.

Tolkien himself denied that the LoTR made any reference to the Second World War. In the preface to LOTR’S Second Edition he presents two arguments :

  1. The crucial chapter, "The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in the war that began in 1939 or its sequels modified it.

  2. The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied."~The Lord of the Rings - Foreword to the Second Edition

Let's start with the second argument. This is the weaker of the two, and when I read it, I wondered why JRRT even bothered to make it. Tolkien essentially points out that LoTR is not an one-to-one recount of the events of WW2- the Allies would have used any tool or technology available to win the war, and their victory was followed by an occupation of the defeated enemy. But the thing is, the existence of allegorical or satirical novels or animal fables which are intentional one-to-one account of the events they portray doesn’t prove the opposite: That is, if a novel is not a completely faithful recount of some evens, then it is not inspired by those events. After all, artistic freedom is a thing, and the writer is luckily not bound by international treaties and alliances so he can write whatever solution to the conflict he pleases for his own story. Obviously “the ring made me do it” is not a valid excuse in the real world but in a secondary universe the author can toss the externalized source of all problems in the form of jewelry into a fiery volcano so everyone could live happily and without temptation.

Unlike novels such as Orwell's Animal Farm which was an allegory and satire of the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union2, JRRT's work is in no way a conscious effort to write such a novel about WW2. That doesn’t mean we can’t look for parallels, yet Tolkien seems to discourage the reader from doing so, by essentially stating that the chapter which set up the trilogy was written ‘long before 1939’ that is, before the start of WW2. This argument would have been very convincing, if up until 1939 the nations had lived together in harmony with no warning signs whatsoever, and the Fire Nation Third Reich’s attack on Poland and the subsequent entry of the Britain (and France) into the war was a big surprise for everyone in Britain, and not, say, a result of a continuously escalating conflict featured in the headlines of newspapers worldwide since the rise of the Nazi party to power (1932-3), which soon followed by Hitler leaving the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations (1933) Hitler rearming Germany (1933-1935) Hitler supporting Mussolini in the Abyssinian crisis (1935) Hitler sending troops to Rhineland (1936) Hitler annexing Sudetenland then Czechoslovakia and Austria (1938) to mention just a few events.

Nowadays we calm ourselves that nuclear proliferation and the powers’ capability of second strike makes the threat of a global war less likely, as ‘there can be no winners in a nuclear war’ but in the mid-to late 1930s that was not the case and the citizens of Britain were well aware of the threatening possibility of another great war breaking out fought with conventional weapons, and were scared shitless understandably concerned by this perspective, and regardless if they put their faith in the success of Chamberlain’s Appeasement Policy or were convinced that said policy was a trainwreck waiting to happen, people generally were aware that the political situation was extremely fragile.

Let’s look at some political cartoons of the 1930s of the then very famous cartoonist David Low, who was so popular with the general public that media magnate Lord Beaverbrook, employed him to work at the Evening Standard. Low produced four cartoons a week and these were syndicated to 170 journals worldwide.

Stepping Stones to Glory, 1936

The stepping stones of glory - caricature by David Low

The cartoon features Hitler marching towards his goal (‘Boss of the Universe’) along a carpet laid across the backs of the ‘spineless leaders of democracy’. The cartoon was a response to Hitler sending troops into the Rhineland, a demilitarised zone under the Treaty of Versailles. Britain at that time was pursuing her policy of appeasement, so there were no repercussions.

Peace Gesture, 1936

Peace Gesture, caricature by David Low

Nazi Tourist Line

Nazi Tourist Line - Caricature by David Low

You Have Been Warned, 1938

enter image description here

As early as in 1933–4 most British MPs were aware that Germany was secretly rearming and thus becoming an increasing threat. In March 1934 Churchill said:

Germany is arming fast and no one is going to stop her. That seems quite clear. No one proposes a preventive war to stop Germany breaking the Treaty of Versailles. She is going to arm; she is doing it; she has been doing it. I have no knowledge of the details, but it is well known that those very gifted people with their science and with their factories … are capable of developing with great rapidity the most powerful Air Force for all purposes, offensive and defensive, within a very short period of time. I dread the day when the means of threatening the heart of the British Empire should pass into the hands of the present rulers of Germany. *~The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill

Sir John Simon, the Foreign Secretary, admitted that:

German civil aviation is now the first in Europe. Germany already has in effect a fleet of 600 military aeroplanes and facilities for its very rapid expansion. She can already mobilise an army three times as great as that authorised by the Treaty.

and after a few tumultuous years despite all the diplomatic efforts by 1939 it was crystal clear that the League of Nations, (the predecessor to the United Nations) which was created to prevent devastating wars like WW1, completely failed in its purpose to act as an arbitrator in settling conflicts between nations, Britain was building up his air force and strengthening its navy and was desperate enough to seek an alliance with the hated commies Soviet Union. The interwar period, and especially the 1930s were a very troubling time with impassioned and vociferous public debate and criticism of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy. People lived under the shadow of the threat Nazi Germany presented, and it was in this political climate that Tolkien set out to write a sequel to the well received Hobbit, which was published in 1937:

Since The Hobbit was a success, a sequel was called for; and the remote Elvish Legends were turned down. A publisher's reader said they were too full of the kind of Celtic beauty that maddened Anglo-Saxons in a large dose. Very likely quite right. ~Letter 163 to W.H. Auden(1955)

It is curious, that in the chapter Shadows of the Past, the earliest chapter which sets up the story, Frodo laments that they live in probing times:

“But last night I told you of Sauron the Great, the Dark Lord. The rumours that you have heard are true; he has indeed arisen again and left his hold in Mirkwood and returned to his ancient fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor. That name even you hobbits have heard of, like a shadow on the borders of old stories. Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.” “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.~The Fellowship of the Ring- Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past (emphasis mine)


But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given, us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance.~ibid(emphasis mine)

Therefore it is not surprising that according to the opinion of various Tolkien scholars and literary critics JRRT was strongly affected (and how could he not) by his traumatic WW1 experiences, by the public debate on the political situation in the interwar period and by WW2 itself while planning and writing the LoTR triology. Many critics attribute the widespread success of the trilogy to its portrayal of a fight of good versus evil, the just war, not unlike how WW2 was portrayed by the British newspapers.

While I prefer more the Death of the Author approach, I should note that different ones are also perfectly valid, such as the readers asking questions on what inspired the author, submerging themselves into the era the author lived white creating the work, reading correspondence with contemporaries, digging up newspapers, caricatures and propaganda posters, reading books about the period. It is also a worthwhile experience.

1. Colin Duriez- J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend - Tolkien's Second War

2. Animal Farm - Wikipedia

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    So you want baseless speculation even when the author himself has denied it all?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 13:02
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    "He likely suffered from PTSD..." There's some more baseless claims. Write whatever you want, Word of God is Word of God. Tolkien's words of final whether he's got the mental ability of Stephen Hawking or Forrest Gump. Tolkien's technophobia came long before the arms race.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 13:09
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    @Edlothiad So shall we disregard everything except what Van Gogh himself said regarding his paintings? Or disregard all critics about Mozart and accept only what he said? Influences and inspirations tags are borderline on literature SE. You could either advocate on removal of similar tags from this SE, which would be consistent, or accept the special methods required for these tags.
    – user65648
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 13:10
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    @Morrigan --- I don't think it's an issue of thoughts being unpopular. Tolkien wrote that LotR was not influenced by WWII. To argue otherwise, you need some strong evidence. The fact that some things were airborne in LotR, and some different things were airborne in WWII is not sufficient, in my opinion. Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 13:23
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    @Randal'Thor --- The answer contains a number of statements about Tolkien's experiences in the second world war. It does not contain any evidence that suggests these experiences influenced his writing. Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 20:58

I, personally, can spot loads of World War Two references, at least in the movie version. (I'm afraid I've yet to make time to read the novels.) I'll put down a few examples below:

At the moment of Saruman's attack King Theoden of the Rohan is in a trance under a spell cast by Grima Wormtongue, it is several days before he comes out of it and becomes a capable leader again. This is strongly reminiscent of the way Josef Stalin spent about 3 days in a mental breakdown when Hitler first launched Operation Barbarossa.

The parallels of WW2 on the eastern front as compared to the Rohan continue further. Look at the battle around Helm's Deep; this starts as a siege of the city, a city which still has a full population in it just like Stalingrad. The siege of Helm's Deep then develops into a double encirclement with the uruk-hai forces surrounded from the outside by forces allied to the Rohan. Stalingrad is famed for "the kessel", a pocket of surrounded Wehrmacht troops caught between the Russians in Stalingrad and the Russians who surrounded their outsides.

After the Helm's Deep double encirclement Gandalf mutters "The battle for Helm's deep is over, the battle for middle Earth is about to begin". Does this not sound remarkably like Churchill's June 18th 1940 speech "The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin"? This is ofcourse rather out of chronological order in LOTR, whereas in world war 2 the battles of France and Britain had reached, respectively, defeat with occupation for the north and a vichy puppet government, and a stalemate with only occasional engagements, long before Hitler even began Operation Barbarossa.

Further to the Gandalf-Churchill parallel, Gandalf finds Saruman betraying him which could relate to the way in which Lord Halifax wanted to capitulate to Hitler. Also Gandalf resist the temptation of the one ring, he then and struggles on to take what seems the harder course of action but is in reality the only one which offers hope. Perhaps a reference to Churchill, in the pre-war and phony war years, resiting the temptation to believe Hitler's "easy option" "peace" offers and see the necessity of fighting on?

The rising of the Ents towards the end of the second film includes scenes where dams are smashed and water pours into and destroys saruman's uruk-hai "factories", this may be a reference to the Dambusters raid by Guy Gibson which managed to cause some very severe temporary damage to the German industrial heartlands.

In the first film, at the end, Frodo and Sam taking the boat along across the lake may be a reference to the events of Dunkirk where Britain withdrew across the English Channel with a (large but not complete) proportion of its forces ( and saving some French troops too). Most equipment was left behind, the only reason Britain could get any soldiers out was Hitler's Order to pause the panzer advance. In LOTR the uruk-hai attacking the fellowship are hindered by their order to "leave the halflings alive", nonetheless members of the fellowship are lost, as is much of their equipment (Legolas, "we travel light"), and they are left demoralised and in disarray.

The eye atop Sauron's tower may represent radar. Now you say, "Radar was an allied thing". The Germans however also had it, what is more much of their radar kit was superior to the allied equipment, there are anecdotes of German officers laughing at allied radar equipment they encountered. But Germany failed to use radar to its maximum extent, in LOTR sauron isn't making the best possible use of his eye and that amongst other things costs him the war.

And it cannot be forgotten about the Eagles at the very end to "grab the glory and make it look easy", maybe an attempt by Tolkien to have a joke at the expense of the USA for the late 1941 time of their entry in WW2, or perhaps their entry into WW1 at the end of 1917.

These are things I have observed, they might be coincidental, but they might also have been deliberate.

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    While you may see these personally, it's pretty clear that Tolkien did not intend them, which is what the question was about. Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 3:07
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    @DJClayworth No: the question is about whether there was any influence, and it welcomes answers based on any kind of evidence, not just authorial intent.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 19:41
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    I don't think 'any kind of evidence' includes 'this is what I think' Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 20:03
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    @DJClayworth Indeed, but this answer isn't just an opinion: it includes a lot of evidence for the comparisons made.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 20:13
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    Nothing above the "I think these things are similar". I can easily point out lots of ways in which the supposed similarities are different. it's also worth saying that the vast majority of these are only in the movie version. Certainly Gandalf never channels Churchill in the books. I think all this shows, if anything, is that Peter Jackson used some WWII motifs. Anyway, my downvote remains. Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 20:18

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