Tolkien's First World War revolver goes on display at Imperial War Museum North

By Sarah Jackson | 11 December 2013

A First World War revolver once owned by The Hobbit author JRR Tolkien will go on display at IWM North in Manchester ahead of their First World War Centenary exhibition

Webley Mk V revolver used during the First World War.
The Webley Mk V was once owned by Tolkien© Courtesy of IWM North
This year’s Christmas blockbuster will almost certainly be the middle part of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. For those caught up in Hobbit fever, a visit to IWM North will grant the opportunity to see an unusual piece of Tolkien memorabilia: a First World War revolver.

The author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was a student at Oxford University when the First World War began. After finishing his degree, he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers and was soon sent to France, even fighting in the Battle of the Somme - one of the bloodiest battles in history.

By October 1916, Tolkien caught trench fever and was sent back to England, where he would remain for the rest of the war. It was during this recovery period that he began writing down the stories and mythology of Middle-earth, which he had begun to explore during his time at Oxford. These writings would form the basis of The Silmarillion.

The revolver - a Webley Mk V, the standard British service revolver at the time - will go on display in the Main Exhibition Space this December, ahead of the opening of IWM North’s major First World War Centenary exhibition, From Street to Trench: A war That Shaped a Region, in April 2015.

Graham Boxer, the Director of IWM North, said: "This December, just as the latest The Hobbit film launches in cinemas, visitors to IWM North will be able to see this weapon and connect further with Tolkien’s magical stories, which were born from harrowing wartime experiences.”

Although Tolkien himself strongly denied that his stories were straight allegories of either World War, he also admitted that as an author he could not help but be affected by his experiences.

It has been claimed, for example, that the character of Samwise Gamgee, an ordinary and humble Hobbit who showed extreme resilience and bravery in the face of danger, was inspired by the courage of ordinary soldiers in the trenches. Likewise, the eerie Dead Marshes of Mordor bear a resemblance to the utter devastation of the Western Front.

Tolkien remained unfit for active duty for the rest of the war; of his friends who also went to war, only one survived. His revolver provides a tangible and tragic link between the harsh realities of war and the fantastic and magical mythologies that he created and that are still enjoyed to this day.

  • Open 10am-5pm. Donations welcomed. Follow IWM North on Twitter @I_W_M and use the hashtag #IWMNorth.

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Follow Sarah Jackson on Twitter @SazzyJackson.

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