J.R.R. Tolkien, sharing an experience with many young men of his class and education, participated in the Officers Training Corps while at King Edward’s School. Because of this program, Tolkien and many of his fellow junior officers in the Great War were already familiar with the procedures of drill and camp and with basic tactics of war games in all kinds of weather. The atmosphere of the training camps of World War I would not have taken them entirely by surprise, but would have been somewhat reminiscent of the great summer encampments of OTC units from around the country—though of course now with a far more serious purpose. The OTC continued training cadets during the war; in the rather chilling words of one of the historians of the program, it was the “hen that was prepared to go on laying eggs until Germany should call for a change of diet” (Haig-Brown 73). In this presentation I’ll talk about the origins of this program, Tolkien’s participation in it, and how this experience underlies the importance of military preparedness and the consequences of lack of preparedness among the free peoples of Middle-earth. (This expands my 2011 paper in Tolkien Studies; see bibliography.)


This revises and expands my 2011 paper in Tolkien Studies, adding sections on Tolkien’s experiences with horses and his WWII civilian work in particular; see bibliography for original publication. Guest of Honor presentation at MiddleMoot 2023, Hawkeye Community College, Waterloo, Iowa, 14 October 2023.



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