No Man’s Land is dedicated to the author’s grandfather. Not unusual in itself, but Simon Tolkien has a somewhat unusual grandfather, JRR Tolkien, whose experiences in the Somme inspired his grandson’s fifth novel, published to mark Friday’s centenary of the battle.
JRR Tolkien fought in the Somme between July and October 1916, as a signaller in the Lancashire Fusiliers. Arriving at the front on 14 July, two weeks after the battle started, he lost two of his best friends during the battle, and was invalided out in mid-October, around a month before the battle ended.
“[His experiences] were very much in my mind,” said Simon Tolkien. “He died when I was 14 and … I don’t think he was someone who talked about it ... But if you read The Lord of the Rings, it’s a real war novel, and it’s clearly inspired by what happened in the Somme. His way was to mythologise.”