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Thread: Tolkien and WWI

  1. #1
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    Tolkien and WWI

    Today the band Sabaton publishes their new song "Fields of Verdun". They have a video going with this that explains the historic context of the battle, you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOTgizE36To

    One thing that struck me immediately was the French motto for the battle: "On ne passe pas!" - "they shall not pass!" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They_shall_not_pass

    As a Britsih soldier, he probably wasn't present at Verdun personally, but I am quite certain he had this in his mind when he wrote that famous Balrog/Gandalf scene.

    Do any of the Tolkien experts here have any sources that would support my theory?
    in my thoughts and in my dreams they´re always in my mind
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  2. #2
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    I'm certainly no Tolkien expert, but I have read a fair bit about his life and times, including the excellent biography Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme, and was not involved in the Battle of Verdun in any way, nor were any of his close friends to the best of my knowledge.

    This does not of course rule out the possibility that Tolkien had heard of that motto, and perhaps 'borrowed' the words for Gandalf's admonishment of Durin's Bane at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Tolkien occasionally gave clues to what certain things in the books were inspired by, but as far as I know he never mentioned anything specifically about those words.
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  3. #3
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    Also, although I am not sure about the specific answer, the wording in the novel is different:

    “You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”

    It was Peter Jackson that changed it to “you shall not pass” for the movie. The inference of “cannot” is very different to “shall not”. “Cannot” implies that it is impossible for the Balrog to pass; Gandalf’s spell makes it powerless to do so, while “shall not” suggests it could pass if it wanted to, but Gandalf is just telling it that it isn’t going to. Almost like a child being told by a parent.

    So, my guess is that Peter Jackson might have known about the French slogan, but Tolkien did not use it (at least not in its exact wording, anyhow).
    Last edited by TheArtilleryman; May 04 2019 at 10:59 AM.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheArtilleryman View Post
    Also, although I am not sure about the specific answer, the wording in the novel is different:

    “You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”

    It was Peter Jackson that changed it to “you shall not pass for the movie. The inference of “cannot” is very different to “shall not”. “Cannot” implies that it is impossible for the Balrog to pass; Gandalf’s spell makes it powerless to do so, while “shall not” suggests it could pass if it wanted to, but Gandalf is just telling it that it isn’t going to. Almost like a child being told by a parent.

    So, my guess is that Peter Jackson might have known about the French slogan, but Tolkien did not use it (at least not in its exact wording, anyhow).
    Ok, that sounds plausible. And considering that a few years later PJ made a film about WWI it makes even more sense.
    in my thoughts and in my dreams they´re always in my mind
    these songs of hobbits, dwarves and men and elves
    come close your eyes
    you can see them, too - Blind Guardian, Bards tale

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by BelamanthDE View Post
    Today the band Sabaton publishes their new song "Fields of Verdun". They have a video going with this that explains the historic context of the battle, you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOTgizE36To

    One thing that struck me immediately was the French motto for the battle: "On ne passe pas!" - "they shall not pass!" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They_shall_not_pass

    As a Britsih soldier, he probably wasn't present at Verdun personally, but I am quite certain he had this in his mind when he wrote that famous Balrog/Gandalf scene.

    Do any of the Tolkien experts here have any sources that would support my theory?
    Good Band Sabaton

    The British did not fight at Verdun, that was a French/German battle.
    The British offensive on the Somme was designed to relieve some of the pressure from Verdun.
    So Tolkien would have probably been aware of the French and battle of Verdun.

 

 

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