Did Tolkien read HenryK Sienkiewicz's trilogy of historical novels -- Ogniem i mieczem (1884 Eng. trans. as With Fire and Sword); Potop (1886, Eng. trans. as The Deluge); Pan Michael (1888, Eng. trans. as Colonel Wolodyjowski)? Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905, so it is reasonable to think that Tolkien did read these books.*
I began to think of this when learning that Richard Morgan wrote an article lamenting that Tolkien hadn't written the realistic kind of warfare that Morgan believes Tolkien certainly was capable of writing, if Tolkien had so chosen. Morgan picked a scene in which orcs are talking about 'the Great War,' as emblematic of the realism of an army's grunts, who are not privy to the leaders' lofty planning and strategy, the goals and objectives for which their lives are cannon fodder counters.
I'm currently reading the trilogy for only the second time, many years post the first reading. I'm re-watching for the second time since last winter the trilogy of films made of these novels by noted director Jerzy Hoffman.
There are scenes in the With Fire and Sword volume in which the cossacks speak and behave like orcs in Tolkien -- senseless, meaningless cruelty and destruction, vast blood thirstyness. Then, in Hoffman's film of With Fire And Sword released in 1999 to great attention, there are these same scenes in which the cossacks with speaking parts closely resemble the appearances of some of the speaking part orcs in Jackson's LOTR films. There are other scenes too, that recall Hoffman's film. But the most striking one is that the warrior Longinus, eventually succumbing to the vast number of the enemies he's fighting singlehandedly with a sword against their bows, and as this is also a warrior hero trope, it may not be a fair comparison.
The music score of the Hoffman 1999 film sounds very similar to the score for the opening theme music of Jackson's LOTR. However, both composers likely licked off from Wagner, so this may not be significant in terms of influence.
With Fire and Sword's period detail, like the other films Hoffman made from the Sienkiewicz trilogy, is impeccable. There are no special effects or CGI. There is comedy, as well as magic. It's a thrilling, marvelous movie experience made from an unwieldy novel that few of us, at least, will be able to find our way around in, these days when neither geography or history is anything considered necessary for a USian to know.** Hoffman's With Fire and Sword is the superior film by far (and now I'll just resign myself to be at least metaphorically killed for saying so).
But if Tolkien had indeed read this Sienkiewicz trilogy, and if Jackson was influenced by Hoffman's directorial choices, that would be a set of interlocking circles worthy, again, of the Victorian era's Big Novels.
*It's gratifying to know that Sienkiewicz, like Lew Wallace, who wrote Ben-Hur (another of my favorite books in my youth), was inspired and influenced deeply by Walter Scott and Alexander Dumas, and that he also spent time in the U.S.
** The histories I've ordered of Poland and of the Lithuanian states and Muscovy, etc. are arriving tomorrow.