Collaborative Online Paper 2: Examination of the Cultural Influences Behind ‘The Hobbit’ by Gillian Singler, Alicia Guthmiller, and Kevin Smith

Examination of the Cultural Influences Behind The Hobbit

by Gillian Singler, Alicia Guthmiller, and Kevin Smith

Introduction

The New York Times first pointed out in its review of The Hobbit, that “…there may come the thought of how legend and tradition and the beginning of history meet and mingle…”The Hobbit” is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible…this is a book with no age limits. All those, young or old, who love a fine adventurous tale, beautifully told, will take “The Hobbit” to their hearts (“New Books for Younger Readers”), and after an intimate examination of the text, one can find that Tolkien’s well-crafted text provides not only the historical heritage of English culture, but also an appreciation for and comprehension of the past that has continued to affect the futures of all cultures.”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a classic novel of English origins. In The Hobbit, Bilbo, a hobbit, – a race of small people with furry feet that are reflective of the good-natured country people Tolkien was raised around – joins an unexpected adventure with a band of dwarves intent on gaining back their mountain kingdom and treasure from Smaug, the dragon. On this adventure Bilbo learns about himself, the nature of good and evil, and the world, as well as those living in it. We chose The Hobbit because of Tolkien’s intricate weaving of the ancient past, English culture, and human nature to create a new world; a world that in some aspects is reflective of our own, but also diverges in many distinct ways.

Through his thorough knowledge of ancient literature and mythologies, his experiences as a soldier, and his love for England and its people, J.R.R. Tolkien created a tale that not only embodied the ethereal past, but additionally blended it with the physical present. Though initially misunderstood by many as a story for children, The Hobbit involves various adult themes including colonialism, war, and heritage. These subtle, but significant components create numerous layers to be uncovered by Tolkien enthusiasts and scholars alike, making The Hobbit a cherished tale, not only in its homeland but around the world.

Within the beginning of any great fictional story there is a created, well-structured world behind it. Tolkien was able to achieve all these things by developing a language that ended up growing into multiple languages used to let his world speak volumes to the masses. This created language was one of the building blocks Tolkien used to develop the stories within and outside of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. A portion of this essay follows the steps used to develop the two most prominent languages within the books and how each was crafted through Tolkien’s history of writing Middle-earth.

Another aspect that was focused on was religion. Tolkien himself claimed that religion was important throughout the novel, thus making it an essential subject to examine . One significant aspect of religion in The Hobbit is that it is not explicitly used. Tolkien thought that it was important to use, yet he did not use it in an overly obvious sort of way. How and why religion is used will be explored more thoroughly in this essay because of its importance to Tolkien and its place in British culture at the time.

While his use of religion may have been subtle, Tolkien’s borrowing from the legendary past is evidently disclosed. From the characters of Bilbo and Gollum, Gandalf and Smaug, to the dwarves and goblins, Tolkien openly derives many of his characters’ qualities, names, and mannerisms from historical tales including Beowulf, Le Morte d’Arthur, the Poetic Edda, and even the Bible. His weaving of such traditional tales from ancient English descent supports The Hobbit as the epic English tale that Tolkien envisioned it to be.

 Tolkien once stated of myths, “… One does not have to wait until all the native traditions of the older world have been replaced or forgotten; for the minds which still retain them are changed, and the memories viewed in a different perspective…” (“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” 263). In this same way, Tolkien has placed his own unique angle on various elements of English heritage in order to create the English epic, The Hobbit. As with myths, the written stories of a culture are passed down throughout the generations; then what is it behind this classic tale that continues to intrigue and interest not only those members within the culture of the text, but also members of various cultures from around the world? Why has Tolkien’s creation of Middle-earth’s culture continued to arrest the attentions of readers over centuries? These are the questions we endeavor to answer in our project. By dividing Tolkien’s individual perspective into five culturally based studies – language, history, geography, religion, and mythology – we hope to present the importance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in regard to the essence of its roots.

The History behind The Hobbit: Story

By Gillian Singler

“It would seem to have been part of the English temper in its strong sense of tradition, dependent doubtless on dynasties, noble houses, and their code of honour, and strengthened, it may be, by the more inquisitive and less severe Celtic learning, that it should, at least in some quarters and despite grave and Gallic voices, preserve much from the northern past to blend with southern learning and new faith” (Tolkien Beowulf: “The Monsters and the Critics” 266). J.R.R. Tolkien passionately believed that his beloved country, England — the offspring of Norse and Celtic influences — deserved its own mythology. Although viewed by some as a tale for children, upon closer inspection, The Hobbit delves into the history behind the shared experiences of England’s people as well as her myths.

While the legend of the The Hobbit is best known to have begun when Tolkien first noted the phrase, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” (Tolkien 1) in the margin of a student paper he was grading, Tolkien’s idea for The Hobbit had been a work in progress, whether aware to the author or not, as evident in its mythological roots and Tolkien’s extensive knowledge of the ancient past. The Hobbit was revised and republished three different times, the first publication being in 1937. After its first printing, The Hobbit was perceived by many critics as “a work of children’s literature” (Chance 11), and “it was met with great enthusiasm and received several [prestigious] awards…” (Pienciak 6). In 1947 and 1966, Tolkien revised his previously published edition of The Hobbit in order to “…create a transition to the ‘sequel’ of The Lord of the Rings…” (Chance 11) placing more emphasis on Bilbo’s discovery of the ring. As a result, The Hobbit’s historical pedigree deems it more than a tale for children.

In her text, Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Marjorie Burns explains that in order for a British identity to emerge, England had to dissociate itself from the Greek mythologies of Southern Europe (16). In order to achieve this dissociation, Tolkien began to look back at England’s ancient roots. Burns identifies that the major cultural conflict Tolkien, as well as the British nation, faced was which North they would identify themselves with, and she argues that due to the historical proximity of the Vikings, their war-like culture’s appeal to 19th Century sportsmen, the overall English peoples’ dislike for the Irish and the fanciful, and the prevailing (due in part to “Celtic-based Arthurian legends”)  but false belief that the Norse had been a more formidable race than the Celts, Scandinavian culture and myths prevailed (16, 17). This belief is contradicting to such Celtic epic tales as Tain Bo Cuailnge, in which warriors like Cuchulainn perform mighty and heroic feats, and Burns notes that Tolkien found a way to accept and incorporate this Celtic heritage through his blending of the Celtic and Welsh cultures. Tolkien permits this inherently Celtic influence by mingling it with aspects of the Welsh culture, for which he articulates approval of in his lecture “English and Welsh” (20), in which he reflects on the connections between language and culture, when he mockingly repeats John Fraser’s proverb: “‘A little Welsh is a dangerous thing.’ Dangerous certainly, especially if you do not know it for what it is worth, mistaking it for the much that would be much better. Dangerous, and yet desirable…and this value of Celtic (particularly Welsh) philology is perhaps more widely recognized now” (1). Tolkien’s associations with deeply rooted Celtic mythologies can be found in myths such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Arthurian legends – inspired by Celtic myth and culture — all distinguished throughout The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings series (21). Along with Celtic influences, Tolkien’s Norse influences, The Prose and Poetic Eddas, and Beowulf are evident cultural and mythical effects whose magnitude will be discussed at further length in the “The Mythology behind The Hobbit” section. While these ancestral roots provide the chief influence for the text, Tolkien’s own experiences – akin to those of many of his countrymen’s – served to inspire the novel as well.

In 1916, J.R.R. Tolkien, a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, faced the horrors of World War I, fighting in the battle of Somme, a battle that killed and wounded over a million people, before a year later catching trench fever and being sent back to England (Pienciak 4). Despite Tolkien disclaiming any allegorical allusions in his texts, he also acknowledged, “An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience” (“The Lord of the Rings: Beyond the Movie: Author and History”). One metaphor that might pertain to war can be seen through the dragon, Smaug as he resides as a king over his hoard in the Lonely Mountain just to the North of Middle-Earth (Tolkien, The Hobbit 15-17), his rising power and influence over the land existing “obliviously” to those further away and as a result, unaffected by it (Tolkien, The Hobbit 28).

Additionally, Smaug may also have a link to colonialism. Looking to the events in England during the time, the rule of the English Empire around the world was beginning to dwindle. Not only was Tolkien a part of a society where colonial enthusiasm was dissolving, but he also observed colonialism first-hand during his service in WWI and while witnessing the approaching events of WWII. Arguably, his text contains elements of colonialism, another example apart from Smaug being the customs of the hobbits (Liebherr 463). According to Louise Liebherr, the Shire has a group perpetuated national identity (57) – they retain clearly traceable blood lines, as seen in the narrator’s descriptions of Bilbo’s ancestry, (Tolkien, The Hobbit 2, 3); they share a common language; they are the only race that inhabits the Shire; and they have agreed upon practices – they do not go on adventures, thus never leaving the Shire and never intermingling with other groups (Liebherr 57). As seen in Bilbo’s case, if these unspoken guidelines are broken, a hobbit risks becoming viewed as a disreputable member of his society (Liebherr 58) as noted by the narrator prior to and upon Bilbo’s return from his adventure: “He may have lost the neighbors’ respect…He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be ‘queer’” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 2, 304). As a result of these behaviors, one can see underlying commentaries on the struggles of establishing a post-colonial identity (Liebherr 58).

Additional influences can be found as Pienciak points out that Tolkien “…began to feel increasingly alienated from the world about him…” (5) and while England was becoming industrialized, Tolkien responded with turning “…to the myths and heroic legends of the past” (5). While one can see the evident signs of the Norse unyielding heroism and The Hobbit’s borrowing from the Icelandic Eddas, it is worth noting that Tolkien felt an amount of animosity toward the German link to the Norse northern spirit, a sentiment typical of his time due to the war (Burns 19). Tolkien’s experiences in war and his views following war are reflective of the experiences of an entire generation, experiences which were the aftermath of witnessing the human capacity for evil, survival, and valor – experiences that would affect and influence generations to come.

Another result of this personal, but universal experience was the creation of hobbits. Tolkien’s admiration of his countrymen’s “‘indomitable…courage and tenacity…the English ability to recognize duty and carry resolutely through” (Burns 27, 28) as established during his experience in the First World War, can be seen through Bilbo’s character on numerous occasions, one chiefly being his stealing the Arkenstone and delivering it to Bard in an attempt to make peace, only to then return to face Thorin despite his fear, in his attempt to prevent war: “‘I gave it to them!’ squeaked Bilbo…‘You! You!’ cried Thorin… ‘You miserable hobbit!…I will throw you to the rocks!’” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 276).  As well, Tolkien once said hobbits are “‘rustic English people, made small in size’” (Burns 27) and Burns reveals that wherever they go their “presence serves to reduce Middle-earth extremes” (27), noting that it is the “two almost incompatible traits – neatly held in balance- that most significantly marks the hobbits…What Bilbo has acquired…is an Englishman’s northern roots. He has gained an Anglo-Saxon self-reliance and a Norseman’s sense of will, and all of this kept from excess by a Celtic’s sensitivity…” (28). This is best exemplified in Thorin’s parting words to Bilbo, “‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure’” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 290).

By understanding the spiritual as well as physical tensions created between these two cultures existing in Britain, one can see how Tolkien has created a world that reflects an idealistic British mythology. These points are substantial to one’s understanding of The Hobbit because it evolves what might seem like a children’s tale on the surface into a deeper reflection of British history, thus fostering a cultural identity, which is an essential role of a mythology as well as crucial for a people to understand themselves and their connection to others. For example, through perceiving the preference the British had to affiliate themselves with the Scandinavian North and their rejection of what they saw as weak and fanciful, one learns that the British viewed themselves as a strong-willed, pragmatic, and adventurous people. This can be seen when Bilbo rescues the dwarves from the Spiders of Mirkwood: “‘Go on! Go on!’ he shouted. ‘I will do the stinging!’ And he did” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 158-165). Despite these beliefs about the Celts, one can see that Tolkien utilized what is inherently found in such Celtic epics as The Tain Bo Cuailnge to create an image of the chivalric and spiritual Englishman, displayed when Bilbo enters Smaug’s lair for the third time: “‘I am going down the tunnel once again. I have been that way twice, when I knew there was a dragon at the other end, so I will risk a third visit when I am no longer sure’” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 235). This dynamic allows one to further identify the complexity of British literary traditions, therefore encouraging a definition of British literature that may include a broader range of works that exist outside of England’s physical borders.

A historical context for the construction of The Hobbit is essential because by understanding how Tolkien, a British man, views the cultures from which he derives, one can begin to make historical connections that have assisted in shaping British identity. It creates a deeper appreciation for what Tolkien has created through The Hobbit. By fusing these two cultures and the historical context of his own experiences, Tolkien creates a uniquely British identity. By means of this awareness, a reader can gain knowledge of this identity.

Works Cited

Burns, Marjorie. Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. 12-29, 30-43, 75-92, 93-104. Print.

Liebherr, Louise. “Reimagining Tolkien: A Post-colonial Perspective on The Lord of the Rings.” Mary Immaculate College Institutional Repository and Digital Archive. (2012): 50-60. Web. < http://hdl.handle.net/10395/1526&gt;.

Pienciak, Anne. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1986. 1-7, 92. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “English and Welsh.” Inauguration Speech for the O’Donnell Memorial. University of Oxford. England, Oxford. 21 10 1955. Lecture. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://dohiyimir.typepad.com/eng_wel_tolkien.pdf&gt;.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1982. Print.

“The Lord of the Rings: Beyond the Movie: Author and History.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 23 Nov 2013. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/influences.html&gt;.

The History behind The Hobbit: Setting

By Gillian Singler

Further blending of Norse and Celtic influence can be examined in Tolkien’s creation of Middle-earth. For example, as is also revealed in the Celtic epic, Tain Bo Cuailnge, setting plays a significant role in the development of Tolkien’s stories. While Middle-earth indebts its name to Norse mythology, its geographical structure is a mixture of the Scandinavian and Icelandic wilderness (Burns 26, 75), a Celtic fairyland (Burns 26), and the English countryside (Burns 26).

In the text, Perilous Realms, Marjorie Burns notes the physical relationship between The Hobbit’s setting and the Icelandic Journals of William Morris, a romantic writer whose work was greatly admired by Tolkien (75). As described by Burns of Morris’ travel habits during his Icelandic journey, he moved “…noticeably east and north towards mountains, wastelands, and ice, a directional pattern that is also typical of Norse mythology…” (Burns 79); Bilbo’s company likewise travels north and east (Tolkien, The Hobbit). The wilderness is most evidently Icelandic in its representation of Morris’ travel journals (Burns 83, 84), when, as Burns points out in Chapter Four: “Iceland and Middle-earth,” Morris describes Iceland’s mountainous terrain as, “…mountains, whose local colour is dark grey or black…on our right is a mass of jagged bare mountains, all beset with clouds, that, drifting away now and then show dreadful inaccessible ravines and closed up valleys with no trace of grass about them among the toothed peaks and rent walls; I think it was the most horrible sight of mountains I had the whole journey long…” (Morris 76, 77). This is a sentiment, especially in regard to each writer’s vivid use of language to create mood (Burns 85), reflected in Tolkien’s description of the Wilderness that Bilbo and the dwarves first face: “There were many paths that led up into these mountains, and many passes over them…They were high up in a narrow place, with a dreadful fall into a dim valley…” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 55, 57), and in Bilbo’s first observation of The Lonely Mountain: “All alone it rose and looked across the marshes to the forest…he did not like the look of it in the least (Tolkien, The Hobbit 189). Continually, once they come “…to the Desolation of the Dragon (Tolkien, The Hobbit 203), “…the land about them grew bleak and barren” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 190).  Once more, corresponding with Tolkien’s description, Morris describes in his journal dated Saturday, July 29: “…the dreary bogs and the distant ice-mountains…a long line of broken down mountain… a dismal place enough…” (Morris 78, 79).

Also reflective of the volcanic mountains of Iceland, the Lonely Mountain is inhabited by a cataclysm in repose (Burns 80): “…rising from the near side of the rocky floor there is a great glow…There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon,” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 215). Once awakened, Smaug wreaks havoc on the land, spewing his fiery lava: “…fire belched forth…licking the mountain-sides with flame…His hot breath shriveled the grass…Flickering flames leaped up and black rock-shadows danced…” (Tolkien , The Hobbit 218, 219).

Tolkien’s description of Middle-earth is not only found in Morris’ Icelandic travel journals, but the Misty Mountains also find their roots in the legend of Skirnir, found in the Poetic Edda. Skirnir must ride over misty mountains, being wary of trolls and giants along the way, to woo the goddess Gerðr for the god Freyr: “Thy steed then lend me to lift me o’er weird/ring of flickering flame,/the sword also that swing itself/against the tribe of trolls…Night is it now, now we shall fare/over moist mountains…” (The Poetic Edda 67, 8.10). It is also worthy to note that Beorn’s dwelling is surrounded by oak trees, a tree sacred to the Norse as well as in Celtic lore, as referenced in Burn’s text: “In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the feeling given by these woods is entirely druidic and suggestive of that particularity otherworldliness that appears in either Celtic tales or in the Celtic-based Arthurian legends that England took as its own” (36), and again, similarly Burns notes that Morris writes of “Biorn the boaster” who “…has a homestead lying beyond Eyja-fell [a bog located in east Iceland], [while] Beorn has a hall just east of the Misty Mountains” (87).

Though most of Middle-earth’s landscape is inspired by Iceland, more can be said about the Celtic influence of the fairy realm. Tolkien implies this in his lecture, “English and Welsh” when he states, “To many, perhaps to most people outside the small company of the great scholars, past and present, ‘Celtic’ of any sort is, nonetheless, a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come. … Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the reason” (15). In addition to this, Tolkien states in his essay, “On Fairy Stories,” “Most good ‘fairy-stories’ are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches” (2). These ‘perilous realms’ and ‘shadowy marches’ can be seen in the forest of Mirkwood: “The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees…There was some greenish light about them…Yet the light only showed them endless lines of straight grey trunks like pillars of some huge twilight hall…” (Tolkien The Hobbit 140, 147). Within this forest lies an enchanted river, “There is one stream there…black and strong…I have heard that it carries enchantment and a great drowsiness and forgetfulness” (Tolkien The Hobbit 132), and Mirkwood serves as the kingdom of the Wood-elves: “At times they heard disquieting laughter…” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 147). While the name Mirkwood is also influenced by William Morris as it is the Norse forest of Myrkviðr, meaning dark forest as found in the Poetic Edda (“Mirkwood”), his description of the Wood-elves realm is best seen through Tolkien’s indirect connections with Celtic and Welsh mythological influences. For example, the Middle-English poem – once translated by Tolkien – “The Pearl,” finds its background in Celtic fairy-lore, and Mirkwood’s enchanted river echoes lines 108-110 and 142 of the poem: “The splendour of the water deep/Was lovely banks of beryl clear/And sweetly did that water sweep,/Flowing with murmuring sound anear/[…]/The stream was deep; fear bade me stay,” (Stanton). As well, the description of the forest in the Arthurian poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” – also translated by Tolkien – reflects the forest dwelling of Tolkien’s Wood-elves: “…into a forest full deep, wonderfully wide,/high hills on either hand, and woodlands under/of hoar oaks full huge a hundred together./The hazel and the hawthorn were tangled and twined,/with rough ragged moss ravelled everywhere” (Kline 32).

Although this fairy realm, where “…the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon…” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 167) is inherent of a place one may wander and never be found, the land of the High-elves is called “…Faerie in the West” (167), and Rivendell – where Bilbo rests a while in Chapter III – was inspired by Tolkien’s hike through the Swiss Alps in 1911 (“Rivendell in Switzerland”). In Letters, specifically letter 306, Tolkien states, “I am… delighted that you have made the acquaintance of Switzerland, and of the very part that I once knew best and which had the deepest effect on me. The hobbit’s journey from Rivendell to the other side of the Misty Mountains, including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods, is based on my adventures in 1911…Our wanderings…leave many vivid pictures as clear as yesterday.” In The Hobbit, Tolkien describes the scene as “unexpected valleys, narrow with steep sides, that opened suddenly at their feet, and they looked down surprised to see trees below them and running water at the bottom. There were gullies that they could almost leap over, but very deep with waterfalls in them. There were dark ravines that one could neither jump over nor climb into. There were bogs, some of them green pleasant places to look at, with flowers growing bright and tall…It was indeed a much wider land from the ford to the mountains than ever you would have guessed” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 47).

In the same way Middle-earth and the dwellings of the elves can be found in Northern Europe and in the descriptions of fairy stories, the Shire has its roots in Tolkien’s homeland, England. Tolkien was raised in the countryside of England, specifically Sarehole (Pienciak 2). As noted in Pienciak’s chapter, “The Author and His Times,” Tolkien once said, “‘The Shire…is very like the kind of world in which I first became aware of things…I took the idea of the hobbits from the village people and the children’” (2). Tolkien’s text takes on this nostalgic tone when the narrator describes Bilbo’s return to the Shire:  “Coming to a rise he could see his own Hill in the distance, and he stopped suddenly and said:

[…]/Roads go ever ever on,/Over rock and under tree,/[…]/Turn at last to home afar…Look at last on meadows green/And trees and hills they long have known” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 302).

As it has been made evident, Tolkien’s Middle-earth is heavily based upon northern Europe’s natural features as well as that of the Celtic landscape and its enchanted imaginings. Through these geographical – both realistic and fantastic – incorporations, Tolkien’s Middle-earth becomes a land that embodies the values of the Norse and Celts. The engagement of this physical balance between the two heritages reaffirms Tolkien’s desires that the The Hobbit be a true English epic.

Works Cited

Burns, Marjorie. Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. 12-29, 30-43, 75-92, 93-104. Print.

Morris, William. “In camp at Brunnar.” Volume 8 of Collected Works of William Morris: Icelandic Journals: From the Geysirs through the wilderness to Waterdale. Ed. Gary L. Aho. London: Longmans, Green and Company, 29 Jul 1871. 75-77. Web. 23 Nov. 2013. <http://morrisedition.lib.uiowa.edu/Icelandic1871/1871IcelandJuly29.pdf&gt;.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “English and Welsh.” Inauguration Speech for the O’Donnell Memorial. University of Oxford. England, Oxford. 21 10 1955. Lecture. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://dohiyimir.typepad.com/eng_wel_tolkien.pdf&gt;.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1982. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R.. Letter 306 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter and Ed. Christopher Tolkien. (undated, late 1967 – early 1968). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. “Rivendell in Swizterland.” Web. 15 Nov. 2013. <http://scv.bu.edu/~aarondf/Rivimages/realriv.html&gt;.

“Mirkwood.” Princeton.edu. Wikipedia, 17 Nov 2013. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Mirkwood.html&gt;.

“The Pearl: Modern Translation.” Bill Stanton, ed. D.M. Stanton. Web. 23 Nov 2013. <http://www.billstanton.co.uk/pearl/pearl_new.htm&gt;.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Trans. Tony Kline. Poetry in Translation. A.S. Kline, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/English/GawainAndTheGreenKnight.htm&gt;.

 

The Poetic Edda. “The Lay of Skirnir.” Trans. Hollander, Lee. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1962. 65-73. Print.

 

The Languages of Tolkien and Middle-earth

By Kevin Smith

J.R.R. Tolkien constructed something other than the stories and tales for the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; he created each language all the races spoke in Middle-earth.  He did this before he even had the stories in mind, which is an interesting fact because most people have a story in mind before they start creating the world around them. Tolkien once stated in a letter: “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows,” (Tolkien, Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 219-220) In fact, he began working on the first version of “Elvin tongue” back in 1910 – 20 years before he even began writing The Hobbit (Tolkien, Letters 114). Tolkien was a philologist and spent much of his time before dealing with his books on constructing the many different languages as well as translating various texts.  He was already familiar with reek, Latin, Spanish, Old Norse and Old English before he began creating his first languages (Tolkien, “The Monsters and the Critics” 203). Tolkien stated “I find the construction and the interrelation of the languages an aesthetic pleasure in itself, quite apart from The Lord of the Rings, of which it was/is in fact independent” (Letters 119-120).

The first language he started conjuring was called Qenya, which was the first elvish script he worked on.  Tolkien wrote in a letter to Christopher Bretherton on July 16th, 1964, “I began the construction of languages in early boyhood: I am primarily a scientific philologist. My interests were, and remain, largely scientific. But I was also interested in traditional tales (especially those concerning dragons); and writing (not reading) verse and metrical devices” (Letters 257).  Tolkien used science and fable to create other languages long before he even started on the elvish script, which inevitably guided a steady hand through the structure of Qyena. He continued doing this because to him, it was relaxing and exciting. Tolkien stated in another letter; “It was like discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me” (Letters 214).  And so, the slow avalanche of creating just one of the languages for a book he hadn’t even imagined yet began.  But with a written word he needed speakers to tell the history of the script and the beings that it involved. Tolkien wanted Qenya to be a double aesthetic; “classical and inflected,” (Parma Eldalamberon 17, 135).

Just as every known language goes through changes and shifts, Tolkien had said that the elvish languages underwent numerous revisions in grammar, mostly in conjugation and the pronominal system. Tolkien stated in a letter to a reader, published in Parma Eldalamberon, that while he sometimes changed the proper meaning of an elvish word, he never disregarded it once invented.  He continuously would refine meanings, and countless times he forged new and useful synonyms (Parma Eldalamberon 17, 61). This is where the entire backbone of the stories came forth and laid ground for the mythology and anything else within it to occur.  The world surrounding it was -so well-structured that Tolkien never had to question the world he created or its boundaries.

Two magazines (Vinyar Tengwar, from issue 39 in July of 1998, and Parma Eldalamberon, from issue 11 in 1995) that are exclusively devoted to the editing and publishing of J.R.R. Tolkien’s gigantic mass of previously unpublished linguistics were finding new words all the time.  Even at the time that Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, had published The History of Middle-earth in the years 1983-1996 there were still new words and grammar rules that hadn’t been disclosed to the public yet.

With the idea of a structured language in hand, Tolkien began creating the cultures around it and the history that followed. Tolkien understood that languages usually stem from many different families and dialects to form the most polished one.  In 1965, he created an origin for his languages starting with a “Primitive Quendian,” which was the first “script” of the elves of Middle-earth.   In his work Quendi and Eldar, The War of the Jewels, the elves awoke together in the Far-East of Middle-earth and began to naturally make a language (372–377).  Tolkien invented two new languages that split off from the first primitive language and called them Avarin and Eldarin.  Eldarin then split off and evolved into three other languages with the moving and reassigning of the elves to give Middle-earth Telerin, Sindarin, and Nandorin languages (Tolkien, War of the Jewels 372-77). Avarin, on the other hand, split off into one new language which was a blend of Nandorin and Avarin.  Each of these elvish languages had their own branches that formed new terms and words for different races amongst the elves (Tolkien, War of Jewels 377)..  Using so much effort and care to create a world without a story ended up becoming a story of its own for Tolkien.  The idea of creating spoken languages into an unknown world before the ‘story’ is innovation at its best. It leaves no questions to the mythology within the story because the construction of the fictional world is too complex to argue.

The alphabet that the elvish languages are constructed in are closely related to any alphabet one would see outside of Middle-earth (English, Latin, etc.).  Using the same idea that sounds are what make the letter, Tolkien used new symbols to create an alphabet that had its own unique look.  Within most of the recent releases of Tolkien’s books there is a letter chart followed with the explanations of the sounds and meanings of the elvish letters. Tolkien took the idea of using acute and circumflex accents to mark long or short vowels with marks above the letter like so; ä ,â, and á.  The marks indicated how the vowel was used and were a key part in the functioning of the script to give each vowel a different sound, just like in most languages that Tolkien studied at King Edward’s School in Birmingham.  Most samples of the elvish language done by Tolkien were written using the Latin alphabet, but within the fiction Tolkien imagined many writing systems for his elves. The best-known are the “Tengwar of Fëanor,” but the first system he created in 1919, is the “Tengwar of Rúmil,” also called the Sarati.  Most of these elvish languages are based on the Latin alphabet and the other languages he researched while at school (Tolkien, Letters 230, 347).

Interesting enough that elvish was the first language created by Tolkien, but the first story, The Hobbit, was based around mostly dwarves. The dwarvish language that Tolkien created was called Khuzdul and he noted that it resembled Hebrew because both were “at once natives and aliens in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue…” (Tolkien, Letters 102).  Although only a very limited vocabulary is known, Tolkien mentioned that he had developed the language to a certain extent. It is unknown whether such writings still exist. Since much less was created for Dwarvish, much less is known about the outcasts that Gandalf and Bilbo agree to help in The Hobbit. In the mythological setting of Middle-earth, little is known of Khuzdul, for the dwarves kept it secret, except for place names and a few phrases such as their battle-cry: “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!” meaning “Axes of the dwarves! The dwarves are upon you!” (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: Two Towers 354).  The idea of the secrecy of the dwarves was also held to dwarven real names. All dwarven names were “outer-names” either from another language or titles. Dwarves didn’t record their true names on their tombstones as well. The runes seen written on Balin’s tomb in Moria from the Lord of the Rings (Jackson Fellowship) can be translated to read BALIN FUNDINUL UZBAD KHAZAD-DŪMU, meaning “Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria.”  According to the Lhammas, another fictional piece published by Tolkien, Khuzdul is a natural language, and has no other ties to any other Middle-earth language (Tolkien, History Vol. 5).

In the book The Silmarillion, Aulë, the creator of the first dwarves, taught them “the language he had devised for them,” (Tolkien, Letters 122)  which implies that Khuzdul is technically a constructed language that Tolkien never considered creating an entire script and form for. Because of the dwarves’ great reverence for Aulë, their language remained unchanged, and though the dwarves moved far apart from each other they would never change the way they spoke so that they would never have difficulties communicating. Dwarves carefully learned Khuzdul through humble study as they developed, to make sure that their language was passed down unchanged from one generation to the next.

Khuzdul is usually written with the Cirth script and for everyday usage, and the dwarves commonly speak the primary language of the region they are living in, the Common Speech (Westron or common English), though their pronunciation may have a Khuzdul accent (Solopova, Languages, Myths and History).  There were many similarities between Khuzdul and the native tongues of Men of the Far-East of Middle-earth as said in the Silmarillion (122). In the early days of Middle-earth, the world of men in these regions had friendly contact with the dwarves.  This shows many similarities to our world when considering the different cultures and languages that have mixed together over time and due to the connection of civilizations all over the world.

Tolkien didn’t just create the languages for these people, but much of the arts and music.  Tolkien created each race’s entire culture through poems and music that suited each.  He understood that he couldn’t create a world and a language, and then expect everything to fall into place.  He knew that he would have to create beings from the beginning on and show the evolution of Middle-earth through them. One of the poems/lullabies that sounds remarkably close to a Middle English lyric was sung by the elves in The Hobbit was “Sing All Ye Joyful.”  The poem reads as so:

Sing all ye joyful, now sing all together!

The wind’s in the tree-top, the wind’s in the heather;

The stars are in blossom, the moon is in flower,

And bright are the windows of Night in her tower.

Dance all ye joyful, now dance all together!

Soft is the grass, and let foot be like feather!

The river is silver, the shadows are fleeting;

Merry is May-time, and merry our meeting.

Sing we now softly, and dreams let us weave him!

Wind him in slumber and there let us leave him!

The wanderer sleepeth. Now soft be his pillow!

Lullaby! Lullaby! Alder and Willow!

Sigh no more Pine, till the wind of the morn!

Fall Moon! Dark be the land!

Hush! Hush! Oak, Ash, and Thorn!

Hushed be all water, till dawn is at hand! (Tolkien, The Hobbit 365)

This translated poem’s tone and visuals are magical and positive.  The tools used in this poem are many of the tools used by Germanic poets which Tolkien said he was very influenced by (Tolkien, Letters 257). Even the way the elves sang their poems in the movies, like in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, there is elegance to the delivery (Jackson).  This ties in very well with the type of language Tolkien created for the elves’ poetry which was more of the victory or lullaby poems.  The dwarves, however, have the same Germanic feel, but with a different tone that matches well with their language.

The dwarves’ most famous and remembered poem from the book and movies is the one called “The Song of the Lonely Mountain.” The poem is very dramatic, in which the story of Smaug the Destroyer came to the city of Dale and took the riches from the dwarves.  The 5th and 7th from the movie verses go as so:

#5

Far over the misty mountains cold,

In dungeons deep, and caverns old,

We must away, ere break of day,

To claim our long-forgotten gold.

#7

The pines were roaring on the height,

The wind was moaning in the night,

The fire was red, it flaming spread,

The trees like torches blazed with light. (Jackson, The Hobbit)

Within these two sections, the Germanic mythology ideals show through the lines that have been written as a heroic dwarvish poem.  Much like Beowulf but with a rhyme, the dwarves have a musical story set within a poem that is dramatic and epic.  This ties in with Tolkien’s much credited love for poems such as Beowulf and other Germanic poems (Tolkien, Letters 257).  In the movie adaption of The Hobbit the dwarves sang the poem in a darker tone (Jackson), which would seem to fit with the Germanic lyrics of heroic poetry like Beowulf (Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics). The form in which this poem is written doesn’t fit exactly how a heroic poem would be written (which Tolkien has accurately done in The Lay of the Children of Húrin [Tolkien, History V. 3]), but still uses the same feel and techniques to capture the same ideals.

Throughout Tolkien’s main works of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings many different things can be found relating to his love for creating languages and imitating works that he adored. Tolkien isn’t anything short of astonishing, but he also knows to give due credit when he needs to throughout all of his letters.  However, there is no other credit he needs to give except to his creative mind in which he developed not only some of the most revered books of all time, but built a world in which these books could be written.  The perfected world of Middle-earth is ageless and remarkably still relevant because Tolkien formed the languages and mythologies surrounding The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings seamlessly.  There is no doubt that this world wouldn’t have been possible if Tolkien didn’t take the necessary steps in structuring and evolving languages that no one else has rivaled.

Works Cited

Jackson, Peter, dir. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. New Line Cinema, 2012. DVD.

Jackson, Peter, dir. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. New Line Cinema, 2003.

DVD.

Solopova, Elizabeth, Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and

Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books,

Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 1-5, New York, Del Rey, 2003. Print

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1982. Print.

Tolkien, J R.R., Ed. Humphrey Carpenter, and Christopher Tolkien. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R., “The Monsters and the Critics,” Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion, New York: Ballantine Books, 1979. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The War of the Jewels, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994. Print.

Religion in The Hobbit

By Alicia Guthmiller

Religion plays an important part throughout The Hobbit. It is not a forthright part, but it is important. Even though J. R. R. Tolkien does not come right out and talk about religion in his book there are still many examples of religion—specifically Christianity—throughout the book. Devin Brown wrote, “…The Hobbit does not sound like a very religious book. But in fact, Tolkien’s Christian beliefs are a fundamental part of the story from start to finish and are certainly, in part, what was behind C. S. Lewis’s observation that the story is ‘so true’” (16-17). This shows how interwoven Christianity is throughout Tolkien’s story. And it explains that even though it does not seem like it is a Christian book it still is. It is important to understand how religion is written about in The Hobbit, why Tolkien included it in his novel, and how the novel was impacted by the British culture in the 1930s.

First one should understand how religion is found in The Hobbit. Many people claim that religion is in The Hobbit, and many people also claim that it is not explicitly used. So how can people be certain that religion is even a part of the world of The Hobbit? Maybe there are people out there who are just projecting what they want to see onto the book. According to Thomas W. Smith’s article “Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination: Mediation and Tradition” this is not the case. Smith argues that a person has to read between the lines in order to understand how religion is included throughout the novel. He writes, “In a work suffused with a religious vision of the world, the artist illuminates and informs every dimension of his or her experience through the lens of belief. Put another way, Tolkien’s stories impart a vision of human life and the world;” (75). So while The Hobbit may not be filled with implicit talk about religion it is still there. Brown writes that Tolkien himself claimed that the fact that he was a Christian could be deduced from his writings (26). Brown writes, “Here the word deduced is key, making it clear that the Christian element in Tolkien’s stories is present but is not directly evident and must be deduced. In addition, the author tells us it can be deduced from the stories themselves, not something else” (26). It is in the world that Tolkien created for his characters. There is inherent good and evil throughout the novel. The goblins are seen as the evil beings and the elves as the good beings, just as in religion demons are bad and angels are good. The goblins are described as “great ugly-looking” things that “were very rough, and pinched unmercifully, and chuckled and laughed in their horrible stony voices” (Tolkien 68). Through these dark descriptions the evil of the goblins is evident.

While the goblins are connected with darkness the elves are normally connected with light—“The elves had brought bright lanterns to the shore, and they sang a merry song” (60). Elves though are different from goblins because they are not only depicted as good. The wood-elves certainly are seen in a negative light when they imprison the adventurers (167-168). The elves at least are given a choice as to whether they should be good or evil, but are more commonly shown as good. It is in the way that Tolkien has his characters live. By looking at the novel in this light it is easy to see how religion is included in The Hobbit. Religion is seen in the fabric of the everyday life of the characters that were created.

Religion can also be seen in the traditions that are upheld. There are many traditions that Tolkien writes into the novel. One of these traditions is that of storytelling. Storytelling is seen in many parts of the novel—when the dwarves first tell the story of Smaug, “…So my grandfather’s halls became full of armour and jewels and carvings and cups, and the toymarket of Dal was the wonder of the North. Undoubtedly that was what brought the dragon…” (35); when the dwarves sing their songs, “…It passed the lonely Mountain bare / and swept above the dragon’s lair : / there black and dark lay boulders stark / and flying smoke was in the air…” (128); when the elves sing their songs, “The dragon is withered, / His bones are now crumbled; / His armour is shivered, / His splendour is humbled!…” (279); and when the goblins sing their dark song, “…Bake and toast ‘em, fry and roast ‘em! / till beards blaze, and eyes glaze;…” (110).  This, according to Smith, is an important part of the religious aspect of the book. He writes, “For Tolkien, some of the resources of building our future arise from tradition, poured into new vessels through the hopeful work of a Catholic imagination” (96). So, by using the tradition of storytelling Tolkien was able to reiterate how important traditions are in the Catholic faith. And storytelling is an important part of any faith. Without the spread of the Gospel religions would be stagnant and not growing and this would cause them to die. So, religion is also seen in the novel through the use of the tradition of storytelling.

Another way that Christianity is found in the novel is through the lack of other religions. Brown writes that Tolkien once said his novels were fundamentally Christian (24). And this is not because of how often Tolkien mentions God, but because he does not mention the worship of other gods. Brown writes that Tolkien said, “I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’” (25). This shows a commitment to keeping God in the forefront. Many people know that the first commandment is that ‘you shall have no other gods’ and Tolkien shows how much he wants to keep that commandment. One time when he could be said to have ‘practically’ cut out all references to religion is when the eagles are departing. They give their farewells and say, “wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey’s end!” and Gandolf replies, “May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks” (Tolkien 116). This has a hint of religion in it because of the reference that is being made to heaven. However, Tolkien did simply say that he cut out practically all reference to religion not simply all reference. This shows that even in his imaginary world he keeps other gods and religions out of the picture. This puts the focus on the true God even in his imaginary world.

Now it is time to explore why Tolkien includes religion in his novels. Smith gives some very good reasons as to why Tolkien infuses The Hobbit with religion. Smith writes that the first reason is so that Tolkien is able to “get a new purchase on reality” (82). This means that by including religion in The Hobbit, a fictional world, Tolkien is better able to understand religion in the real world. He includes religion to bring understanding to himself. Obviously religion is something that is very important to Tolkien. He includes it in his writings so he can come to a better understanding of it himself, and possibly to allow his readers to come to a better understanding and appreciation of it as well.

Another reason that Tolkien includes religion in his novels is so that he can reach a better understanding about the traditions that play a role in Christianity as well. He wants to understand the faith as a whole, but also the traditions that make it up. In order to better understand the traditions Tolkien has to rediscover them. Smith writes, “For Tolkien, recovery of the sacramental character of the cosmos and history is possible in part by rediscovering tradition through his ‘historical fantasy’” (83). Tolkien tries to better understand religious traditions through traditions that he includes in his books. And this is important because “for Tolkien tradition can be a gift that opens us to the plurality of the world. A genuine gift can be a surprise. It can also be a freely chosen affirmation that it is good to exist…when we accept a gift with gratitude, paradoxically it may render us less selfish, for it is recognition that we need gifts to exist” (85-86).

Tolkien is leading people to realize that there are many parts to the world. For a long time Bilbo’s world consisted of nothing but his hobbit-hole and he didn’t want it any other way. When Gandalf invited him on an adventure he said, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today” (Tolkien 19). Eventually he of course agrees to go on the adventure and there are times when he even enjoys it and becomes a “real leader in their adventure. He had begun to have ideas and plans of his own” (211). Like the adventure that Bilbo was introduced to Tolkien wants to introduce his readers to religion, another part of the world. And that’s the gift that Tolkien is giving through his exploration of traditions. He is showing people that they need gifts to exist, particularly that they need the gift of religion (a tradition) to exist. And, like Bilbo, not everybody realizes they need this gift. Tolkien includes religion in order to allow himself to come to a better understanding of the traditions involved and so he can spread the gift of the tradition of religion.

Tolkien also includes religion because he wants his novels to be able to be used as an escape. However, they are not used in the classic sense of a literary escape. Tolkien does not want people to run away from reality but instead he wants “readers [to be pointed] toward reality” (Brown 179). This means that through his fictional world people are able to get a sense of the real world. So what are readers escaping from? Brown writes that “In Tolkien’s fiction we escape from the narrow view that this world is all there is and from the declaration that life has no inherent meaning or purpose. His stories help free us from the futility and despair of our times and the notion that we can do little or nothing to change the world we live in” (180). By reading this fictional story a person is able to discover truth about the real world.

Tolkien includes this in the book itself. Bilbo is shocked to discover that “the songs of old have turned out to be true” (286). And Gandalf asks him, “…And why should they not prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?” (286). Therefore the readers should not be shocked when they learn that The Hobbit impacts their reality as well. Even in his story Tolkien points to ‘reality’ through entertainment, in this case a song. Tolkien writes with religion so that his readers can escape from the pains of reality and see that there is more to this world than meets the eye.

Tolkien wrote about religion for personal reasons, but also because of how the British culture of the time affected him. During the early 20th century religion in Britain was on the decline. Thomas William Heyck, the author of “The Decline of Christianity in Twentieth-Century Britain,” writes that there “was a decline in the twentieth century of participation and membership in all the Christian denominations” (440). This shows that religion was beginning to have less appeal and power than it had previously had. This would make it very important for those who were still practicing Christians to spread the word. This could have been a major factor in why Tolkien infused his novels with Christianity and why he did it so subtly. People of the time did not want religion. So Tolkien gave them a book that had small hints of religion. The people could read it and slowly be reintroduced to the religious world.

Nowadays the popularity of religion is variable. There are people who are quite religious and people who do not want anything to do with any kind of religion. No matter where a person stands they have the same likelihood of being interested in The Hobbit. Tolkien’s subtle use of religion once again allows anybody to become enthralled with that world. And they may or may not come away with his small doses of religious ideas. The novel fit in well with the culture of the time and it fits in well with the culture now.

Tolkien used religion in The Hobbit for personal reasons as well. He wrote a letter to Christopher Tolkien on May 6, 1944 in which he said, “I think if you could begin to write, and find your own mode, or even (for a start) imitate mine, you would find it a great relief. I sense amongst all your pains (some merely physical) the desire to express your feeling about good, evil, fair, foul in some way: to rationalize it, and prevent it just festering. In my case it generated Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes” (Tolkien Letters 66). He is explaining why he had to include religious ideas in The Hobbit. Why he had to explore ‘good, evil, fair, foul.’ He had to do it so he could let it out. He could not allow it to just keep growing inside of him. He wrote with religion in order to get his ideas out there and so he could express himself in some way. He was trying to get relief by further exploring how good and evil could be rationalized and by including religion in his works he was able to find that relief.

Religion is an important part of The Hobbit. Tolkien wrote in specific ways so that there would be hints of Christianity throughout the novel. He wrote subtly. He infused his world with a religious vision to give readers a deeper understanding of the world. He included traditions like storytelling so that people would be reminded of religious traditions and come to a deeper understanding of those traditions. He included religion in order to give people an escape from the monotonous, unreligious world that they may have been living in. He wanted to give people a chance to see what he saw in the world. And for him the best place to start was in a different world. A different, make-believe world, that would lead the people back to the real world with a new understanding of how things work. Religion was important for Tolkien at a time when not many people found importance in religion. He included it in his novel because it was important to him, to understand the world better, and to give people the chance to escape from reality and find a new side to the same reality. While The Hobbit may not seem like a religious book it is easy to see how religion is infused throughout the book and why.

Works Cited

Brown, Devin. The Christian World of The Hobbit. Nashville: Abingdon, 2012. Print.

Heyck, Thomas W. “The Decline of Christianity in Twentieth-Century Britain.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 28.3 (1996): 437-53. JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

Smith, Thomas W. “Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination: Mediation and Tradition.” Religion and Literature 38.2 (2006): 73-100. JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

Tolkien, J. R. R.. “Letter 66.” Letter to Christopher Tolkien. 6 May 1944. The Letters of J. R. R.

Tolkien. London: George Allen & Unwin, n.d. 90. E-reading. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again. Revised ed. New York: Ballantine, 1983. Print.

The Mythology behind The Hobbit: Characters, Setting, and Motifs

By Gillian Singler

“The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends who presents it incarnate in the word of history and geography…For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected (Tolkien “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” 256, 257). While The Hobbit is considered a mythology in its own right, it also finds its roots in the ancient mythological past. Tolkien’s unification of Celtic and Norse mythologies is most evident in his usage of classic Arthurian legends, which have their roots in Celtic mythology, and the Scandinavian epic, Beowulf.

According to Jane Chance, author of Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England   “…in a letter to the Observer on 20 February 1938, Tolkien admits that, for, The Hobbit, ‘Beowulf is among my most valued sources, though it was not consciously present to the mind in the process of writing, in which the episodes of the theft arose naturally (and almost inevitably) from the circumstances…’” (11). While evident parallels – such as the existence of a dragon – exist, far more subtle parallels can be found between the two epics. For example, Chance notes that in his “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” essay, “Tolkien describes the poem as ‘a contrasted description of two moments in a great life, rising and setting’” (12); she continues to note that “Bilbo also battles with his two adversaries, Gollum and Smaug the dragon, at various rising moments only” (12). As well as the structures of the text, the characters of each text also correspond with the one another; the trolls and goblins share similar characteristics with the monster Grendel as does Gollum with Grendel’s mother and Unferth (Chance 12), as does Bilbo with Beowulf, but these similarities will be noted further in the essay through a more detailed character analysis.

While the majority of similarities between Tolkien’s work and the Celtic-based Arthurian legends and Irish fairy stories are found in the Lord of the Rings tales, some resemblances can also be found in The Hobbit. One example is seen when Bilbo and the dwarves come across the white stag in Mirkwood: “…they became aware of the dim blowing of horns in the wood and the sound as of dogs baying far off…Suddenly on the path ahead appeared some white deer, a hind and fawns as snowy white as the hart had been dark…” (Tolkien 146). While this description alludes to their running into the Wood-elves, it also serves as a link to the Arthurian legends and the elves’ relationship to them. As seen in the Arthurian tales, Merlin sends the knights on a quest to hunt the white stag (“The Arthurian Legend: Merlin.”); while a white stag in Arthurian legend is often a sign that one has crossed into the fairy’s realm, the hunt is also a motif that indicates further adventure (Johnstone).

Along with these several examples of Norse and, though subsidiary, Celtic impacts on The Hobbit, further influence is more visibly found in its characters.

Bilbo

            While Bilbo does not begin the tale as a hero, he is a dynamic character that comes to embody many qualities of an epic and chivalric hero. For example, along his journey, Bilbo effectively battles his internal self (Chance 15), as displayed by Tolkien throughout the novel’s descriptions of his Tookish and Baggins side: “…but the fact remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses…” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 3). As well, Bilbo is clad in his elven armor and wrapped in blankets (Tolkien, The Hobbit 271, 290, 292,) and while this image may initially seem pitiful, it is a physical representation of Bilbo as a mild hobbit turned hero (Olsen, “The Hobbit Grows Up.”). The reader can also see Bilbo successfully becoming, as Gandalf puts it to Bilbo, “‘…not the hobbit that you were’” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 302) when the narrator states, “…he was no longer quite respectable…I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content…” (304) – an epic trait as described by Joseph Campbell (the hero’s choice is not always the respected choice; the hero achieves the ultimate boon).

Bilbo is given further chivalric qualities in his ability to put the well-being of others before his own desires by fighting the dragon sickness: “Suddenly Bilbo’s arm went towards it drawn by its enchantment…he lifted it, shut his eyes, and put it in his deepest pocket… ‘This is the Arkenstone of Thrain,’ said Bilbo,…‘I give it to you…’” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 237, 272). One final element of Bilbo’s reflection of heroic Arthurian traits is his likeness to Sir Gawain’s description from “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”:

So many marvels by mountain there the man finds,/it would be tortuous to tell a tenth of the tale./Sometimes with dragons he wars, and wolves also,/sometimes with wild woodsmen haunting the crags,/with bulls and bears both, and boar other times,/and giants that chased after him on the high fells./Had he not been doughty, enduring, and Duty served,/doubtless he had been dropped and left for dead,/for war worried him not so much but winter was worse,/when the cold clear water from the clouds shed,/and froze ere it fall might to the fallow earth./Near slain by the sleet he slept in his steel/more nights than enough in the naked rocks,/where clattering from the crest the cold burn runs,/and hung high over his head in hard icicles./Thus in peril and pain, and plights full hard/covers the country this knight. (Kline)

In this same way, Bilbo faces the harshness of the wild and unknown – the cold, dragons, wargs (wolves), Beorn (wild woodsmen and bears) – and he endures.

Gandalf

In his essay, “Gandalf and Merlin, Aragorn and Arthur: Tolkien’s Transmogrification of the Arthurian Tradition and Its Use as a Palimpsest for The Lord of the Rings,” Mark Hall cites that in a letter to Milton Waldmon, “Tolkien asserts that the Arthurian myths are inadequate for the world he is making. He notes that while the Arthurian legends were insufficient, this actually provides support for the assertion that the Celtic myth is a palimpsest for his sub creation” (4). Gandalf and Merlin are obviously connected in power (each are wizards), responsibility (the responsibility that Gandalf feels for Middle-earth is similar to Merlin’s role in preserving the kingdom of Camelot), and their prophetic nature (Merlin ensures Arthur’s gaining the crown, while Gandalf declares in the end to Bilbo, “‘You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?’” [Tolkien, The Hobbit [305]). However, Hall notes that it is not the similarities that bind Merlin and Gandalf, but it is where they diverge: “The Merlin of Arthurian tradition is a figure who wields great power …In contrast, Gandalf adamantly refuses the absolute power offered to him by Frodo, for he fears he cannot control it” (4). While Hall cites the ring as an example, this can also be seen in The Hobbit when Gandalf leaves the party to ensure Bilbo’s development as a hero (158-165). Through Gandalf’s role as a teacher, protector, and guide for Bilbo, Chance argues that Gandalf is a type of Christ figure (12) as shown through his patience with and rescuing of Bilbo and the dwarves. Additionally, he is an omnipresent mediator that is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. This can be seen in The Hobbit, prior to the Battle of Five Armies, when Gandalf “appeared suddenly, and stood alone with arms uplifted…’Halt!’ he called in a voice like thunder and his staff blazed forth with a flash like the lighting. ‘Dread has come upon you all! Alas! It has come more swiftly than I guessed’” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 281) and later during the battle when “Gandalf…was there, sitting on the ground as if in deep thought, preparing…some blast of magic before the end (Tolkien, The Hobbit 286).

Despite these similarities, Burns asserts that “…Tolkien himself cited a painting, Der Berggeist (The Mountain Spirit) as an ‘origin of Gandolf’” and that “…it is Norse mythology that most consistently influenced his character” (95). To begin, Wettstein notes that Gandalf’s name is taken from a dwarf of Norse Mythology (“Old Norse Elements in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien”). As well, Burns confirms the roots in Norse mythology as she cites the various parallels between Gandalf and the Norse Aesir, Odin, through their the numerous and similar epithets (“Long-beard, Greybeard, One Who Rides Forth, Wanderer”) given to the character and god, as well as their carrying of staffs and sticks as “weapons in disguise” (97, 98).

Dwarves

As stated by Wettstein, “the Dwarves are clearly adopted from Norse Mythology. The Norse dwarves live in caves and mines in the mountains where they dig for gold and gems. They are skilled craftsmen and forge magical Weapons and Rings in their forgeries. It was dwarves that forged Mjölnir (Thor’s Hammer) and Draupnir (Odin’s magical Ring)” (“Old Norse Elements in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien”).  In similar fashion, Tolkien reflects Norse myths in the dwarves’ song at the start of The Hobbit:

Far over the misty mountains cold

                        To dungeons deep and caverns old

                        […]    

                        The dwarves of yore made might spells,

                        […]

                        There many a gleaming gold hoard

                        They shaped and wrought, and light they caught

                        [..]

                        Goblets they carved there for themselves

                        And harps of gold; where no man dwells…

                        (Tolkien The Hobbit 14, 15)

Wettstein also importantly observes, “The names of the Dwarves Tolkien took mainly from an old Norse poem. It is called theVöluspá and is the first poem of the poetic Edda.” These names included Thorin, Thrain, Thror, Bombar, Bivor, Bavor, Fili, Kili, Fundin, Gloi, Dori, Ori, Dvalin, and Durin (“Old Norse Elements in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien”).

 

Elves

Wettstein continues by pointing out that Tolkien borrowed likewise when creating the elves: “From the Norse Mythology he took but the name and the properties of this people. The Norse elves are magical beings that are quite rare in Midgard. Men know them just from tales and old legends” (“Old Norse Elements in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien”). As Anne Pienciak points out in her book, JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, “The word elf seems to have originated in Norse mythology and to have been carried over into English as another name for fairy” (92). Marjorie Burns also discusses the lore behind the switching of fairy for elf, when she cites Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories”: “‘English words, such as elf,’ he wrote, ‘have long been influenced by French; but in later time, through their use in translation, both fairy and elf have acquired much of the atmosphere of German, Scandinavian, and Celtic tales…’” (23).

In addition to this, Burns notes Tolkien’s elves’ close association with Celtic lore: “But most telling of all (for the Celtic argument), Tolkien’s elves are fairies under an alternate name. In his earliest legendarium drafts, fairies are what they are called” (22). She later continues the connection: “The Elves are a more distant and more retiring race. For them, it is sensitivity and an almost rarified beauty and grace…Equally significant is the Elves’ role as healers…” (130). This feature is also common to the fairies of Arthurian legend as seen in poems such as The Faerie Queene and “Lanval”:

Ambling through town, with a maiden;

Never in this world was maid so fair.

[…]

This was how the maiden dressed up:

Of white linen, her camisole

Was made so that it showed both whole

Sides, shining where it laced up.

Her body was slim, long waisted, tall,

Her neck was whiter than fresh snowfall.

Grey were her eyes, white her face,

Lovely her mouth, nose in the right place,

Brown eyebrows, forehead smooth and fair,

Bright blond, crisply curling hair

The radiant light of pure gold thread

Fades by the brightness of her head.

[…]

Any man who sets eyes on her,

Pleasure warms him straightaway…

(Marie de France, translated Judith P. Shoaf )

Pienciak additionally supports these observations by explaining that as the fairies of Irish lore are immortal, so are Tolkien’s elves (93).

In addition to borrowing from Celtic mythology, light and dark elves can also be found in the Prose Edda, which does not create clear distinctions between the good and evil of elves (Burns 23). This is an aspect seen through Tolkien’s creation of various elven cultures (24). This is found in Bilbo’s observation of elves on page 49 of The Hobbit, “He loved elves…but he was a little frightened of them too” (Tolkien), and in the narrator’s description of the Wood-elves and their kin, “These are not wicked folk. If they have a fault it is a distrust of strangers. They differed from the High-elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise. For most of them…were descended from the ancient tribes that never went to Faerie in the West…There were the Light-elves and the Deep-elves and the Sea-elves…” (167).

Beorn

            Beginning with his name, an old Germanic word for “bear,” Beorn’s character holds the closest resemblance to not only Norse mythology, where it was believed some warriors could be become beserks – men that fought so furiously that they changed into animals (Wettstein) – but to Celtic mythology, as evident in the epic myth The Tain Bo Cuailnge. The character of Beorn, like Cuchulainn, is a skin-changer. Not only does he change his physical appearance, but he is also capable of changing his behavior. As Cuchulainn is seized by a warp-spasm and made into “a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of…His heart boomed loud in his breast like the baying of a watch-dog at its feed or the sound of a lion among bears…he drove out to find his enemies and did his thunder-feat and killed a hundred, then two hundred, then three hundred, then four hundred, then five hundred…He went into the middle of them and beyond, and mowed down great ramparts of his enemies’ corpses…” (150-155), so Beorn “In that last hour…came alone, and in a bear’s shape; and he seemed to have grown almost to giant-size in his wrath. The roar of his voice was like drums and guns; and he tossed wolves and goblins from his path like straws and feathers. He fell upon their rear, and broke like a clap of thunder through the ring…his wrath was redoubled, so that nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bit upon him. He scattered the bodyguard, and pulled down Bolg himself and crushed him” (291).

Along with this relationship to The Tain Bo Cuailnge and the hero Cuchulainn, Marjorie Burns provides another Celtic link by explaining that the perils faced by the party in the wilderness on their journey to Beorn’s is similar to those faced by the Arthurian Knight Gawain on his way to face the Green Knight (35, 36). Despite these links, Burns argues that there is a  more evident link to the Norse Saga of Egill Skallagrimsson and Saga of Hrolf Kraki in which the hero “Biarki (Little Bear) fights in the Danish King’s army in the form of a massive bear” (40). As well, Beorn’s practice of hanging the hides of wargs in his tree and goblin heads on the gate (131) is a subtle link to the Norse and Celtic similar practice of keeping enemy heads (Burns 34).

The Eagles, Ravens, and Wargs

In her text, Marjorie Burns notes that the animals most commonly associated with Norse mythology find their way into Tolkien’s The Hobbit: “…the eagle, raven, and wolf. Wolves sit at Odin’s feet and are fed the flesh of the battle-slain [it is also worth noting that the Fenris Wolf devours Odin and the wolf Sköll consumes the sun, while his brother, Hati eats the moon, at Ragnarok]; every day two ravens fly outward, gathering news of the world and returning with it to the god; and in The Poetic Edda, a hovering eagle and a wolf are associated with Valhalla. While the Norse eagle has both negative and positive attributes, so do Tolkien’s eagles, as described when they rescue Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves from the goblins and wargs: “Eagles are not kindly birds. Some are cowardly and cruel. But the ancient race of the northern mountains were the greatest of all the birds” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 104). In similar fashion, like the Norse wolves of Ragnarok, Tolkien’s wargs work with the goblins and their talk “was dreadful to listen to…” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 102), but they betray their animal-like nature (when compared to the evil of the goblins) when the narrator observes, “Wolves are afraid of fire at all times, but this was a most horrible and uncanny fire” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 103); even though the wolves are working with the goblins, they take no delight in torturing, and they – like all wild creatures – fear fire (Olsen, “Rescued in the Wild, By the Wild”). The role of the Norse raven as a messenger (also a quality of Tolkien’s thrushes) can be found in The Hobbit when it brings a message to the dwarves: “…Before long there was a fluttering of wings, and back came the thrush; and with him came a most decrepit old bird…He was an aged raven of great size… ‘O Thorin son of Thrain, and Balin son of Fundin,’ he croaked… ‘I am Roac son of Carc…Behold! the birds are gathering back again to the Mountain…for word has gone out that Smaug is dead!’” (259).

Goblins, Gollum, and Smaug

In his lecture, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” Tolkien states, “Beowulf’s dragon, if one really wishes to criticize, is not to be blamed for being a dragon, but rather for not being dragon enough…the conception…appears draconitas rather than draco: a personification of malice, greed, destruction (the evil side of heroic life), and of the undiscriminating  cruelty of fortune that distinguishes not good or bad (the evil aspect of all life)” (260). Through this description and the parallels between the dragon in Beowulf and Smaug, it seems that Tolkien’s goblin’s are more fitting of his definition for draco. In The Hobbit, the goblins are portrayed as the epitome of evil as seen through their delight in machinery and torture (Tolkien 60-64). While this may not have a mythological background, it’s worth noting that their background may be reflected in the context of Tolkien’s time as mentioned in my section “The History of The Hobbit: Story” – like the Nazis, the goblins specialize in warfare and torture (Olsen, “At the Roots of the Mountain).

According to Jane Chance in her chapter “The King Under the Mountain: Tolkien’s Children Story,” the characters of Gollum and Smaug serve to replace those of Grendel and the dragon that serve as Beowulf’s demise. She cites Tolkin’s lecture “Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics” when he explains, “‘If the dragon is the right end for Beowulf…then Grendel is an eminently suitable beginning” (Chance 16). She uses this to support her claim that while Gollum assumes the role of Grendel for Bilbo, Smaug assumes the same of the dragon (16).

She also points out that Gollum’s obsession over the ring links him to Smaug and his hoard as Bilbo uses the ring to steal “a great two-handled cup” (216), notably similar to Wiglaf’s theft of the goblet from the dragon’s hoard in Beowulf. Smaug’s reaction to this theft, as noted previously in his comparison to a volcano, is as well linked to Beowulf. After the slave steals “a gem-studded cup” (Beowulf 32.2217) and stirs “…a dragon’s anger/[…]/glowing with rage it left the tower/[…]/Vomiting fire and smoke, the dragon burned down their homes. They watched in horror/As the flames rose up: the angry monster/Meant to leave nothing alive…” (Beowulf 32.2287-2308, 33.2311-2313). Additionally, the burning of Geatland echoes Smaug’s burning of Lake-town: “Fire leaped from the dragon’s jaws. He circled for a while high in the air above them lighting all the lake; the trees by the shores shone like copper and like blood…reckless in his rage…seeking only to set their town ablaze” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 249).

Again, citing his lecture, “It is just because the main foes in Beowulf are inhuman that the story is larger and more significant than this imaginary poem of a great king’s fall. It glimpses the cosmic and moves with the thought of all men concerning the fate of human life and efforts; it stands amid, but above the petty wars of princes, and surpasses the dates and the limits of historical periods…” (Tolkien “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critcs” 277), it then seems significant that Smaug is killed by man, named Bard – a poet that recites epics – rather than by a dwarf.  Also note, his death is a result of his pride – hubris being a condemnable trait is a theme often found in Greek mythology as seen in tales such as Bellerophon and Niobe.

With the many links to Norse and Celtic mythologies made evident in his text, it is also worth briefly mentioning that Arthurian tales also include dragons: “[Merlin] promised to solve the problem of the castle foundations himself. He told the King that the foundations fell every night because there was a pool beneath the earth they were lain on. He also told the King that beneath the pool, two dragons lay sleeping. And when Vortigern dug under the foundations, he found the pool. And when he drained the pool, the two dragons awoke, and began to fight” (“The Arthurian Legend [Merrie Haskell’s version]: Merlin”); therefore, it is fitting that Tolkien would have included such a dragon in his tale.

In his text, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter describes a debate between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. In this debate, Lewis is quoted as saying, “myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver. No, said Tolkien, they are not….just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth…Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil” (147). By merging the mythologies Celtic and Norse Norths, Tolkien crafts a myth for the British. Through the creation of such noble characters as Bilbo, Gandalf, the elves, and the dwarves to fight against the evils of Smaug, Gollum, and the Goblins, Tolkien’s myth expresses his beliefs in the purpose of myth, to guide a culture onto the worthy path of virtue and goodness.

Works Cited

Burns, Marjorie. Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. 12-29, 30-43, 75-92, 93-104. Print.

Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R Tolkien: A Biography. 4. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. Print. <http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/493147-j-r-r-tolkien-a-biography&gt;.

Chance, Jane. Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. 11-17. Print.

Hall, Mark. “Gandalf and Merlin, Aragorn and Arthur: Tolkien’s Transmogrification of the Arthurian Tradition and Its Use as a Palimpsest for The Lord of the Rings.” Inklings Forever. VIII.8 (2012): 2-10. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://library.taylor.edu/dotAsset/2f2d1578-cbcb-4deb-b425-982a43b35daa.pdf&gt;.

Johnstone, R.S.. “The Arthurian Hunt: Introductory Comments.” The Hunt in Arthurian Literature. University of Idaho, 01 11 1998. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <(http://www.uiweb.uidaho.edu/student_orgs/arthurian_legend/hunt/intro.html). >.

Olsen, Corey. “At the Roots of the Mountain.” Exploring The Hobbit. iTunesU. 2008-2012.          Lecture.

Olsen, Corey. “The Hobbit Grows Up.” Exploring The Hobbit. iTunesU. 2008-2012. Lecture.

Olsen, Corey. “Rescued in the Wild, By the Wild.” Exploring The Hobbit. iTunesU. 2008-2012. Lecture.

Pienciak, Anne. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1986. 1-7, 92. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” Sir Isreal Gollanz Memorial Lecture. Proceedings of the Britsh Academy. United Kingdom, London. 25 11 1936. Lecture. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://www.english.uga.edu/~jdmevans/Personal/JRRT1936.pdf&gt;.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1982. Print.

Wettstein, Martin. “Old Norse Elements in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien.” academia.edu. Academia, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.academia.edu/228734/Norse_Elements_in_the_work_of_J.R.R._Tolkien&gt;.

de France, Marie, and Judith Shoaf, trans. “Lanval.” University of Florida: College of Liberal Arts. University of Florida, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/jshoaf/Marie/lanval.pdf&gt;.

Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York, NY: New American Library: Penguin Group, 1999. Print.

“The Arthurian Legend (Merrie Haskell’s version): Merlin.” King Arthur. New York University Community, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <https://files.nyu.edu/amd402/public/arthur/story.html&gt;.

The Tain: From the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge. Trans. Thomas Kinsella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Conclusion

After analyzing the five various culturally centered categories of J.R.R. Tolkien’s influential novel, The Hobbit, one can come to understand the British people of Tolkien’s time. While the values of The Hobbit are reflected through epic and fantastical characters and situations, the text draws stark parallels between the real world due to the intricate and intended details in Tolkien’s craft. The languages in his novel and the languages in the real world are all similarly developed, and Tolkien used real history, geography, religion, and myth in order to create his world. This discovery is essential as it allows readers to escape into a fantasy world while inadvertently learning more about the real world.

The Hobbit reflects the qualities of resilience, idealism, and the mythical spirit as seen while Bilbo and his company learn about themselves, those around them, and as they prove that while the world may seem like a frightening and hopeless place, each has a role in the grander design of good over evil. While it may seem that through the generations, we have lost the mythical spirit and idealism necessary to promote permanent and positive change, through continuing to read and analyze such classics as The Hobbit, future generations will come to understand the importance of such values as well as the cultures in which they are founded. Tolkien’s detail and dedication in crafting this masterpiece is rewarded by the inspiration and intrigue it continues to encourage.

With the world that is Middle-earth and all of the beings within the fiction, none of them would have had the same voice without the development of the languages.  Though the basic reader may not initially notice the craft put into the creation of languages, these books would not have been as well rounded without them.  It really goes to show that for a perfectly created fictional world, a solid base is needed to build on, and Tolkien used the languages he created as that base.

Tolkien used religion in his fantasy world in order to point the readers back to the real world. He used religion for personal and cultural reasons. He wanted to be able to better understand the traditions involved in religion and give his readers the same chance. Religion was very important to him in a time when it was not important to a lot of people. Tolkien subtly used religion because he knew that not everyone would be open to explicit religion. He believed that through his fantasy world he could bring people more understanding in the real world. Tolkien’s dedication to his fantasy world caused him to use religion in order to make his world point back to the real world.

C.S. Lewis once stated that The Hobbit “will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and  profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic” (“Then and Now, 1937”).

As it was evident to C.S. Lewis, a comprehensive analysis of Tolkien’s The Hobbit reveals it to be an elaborate intermingling of ancestral languages, myths, topography, faith, and personal experiences  producing a text that will survive the ages. While these elements initially seem to be reflective of the past, they are undeniably found in the present as the experiences of fear and courage, evil and goodwill, loss and growth are traits consistent throughout the centuries of mankind’s existence.

 

Annotated Bibliography

 

Brown, Devin. The Christian World of The Hobbit. Nashville: Abingdon, 2012. Print.

Devin Brown, a Lilly Scholar and Professor of English at Asbury University, gives an in-depth look at how Christianity is infused in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, why Tolkien wrote this way, and how we know that it is included since it is so subtly done. This book made it very clear how religion was included in the novel and gave diversity to the information found.

Burns, Marjorie. Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. 12-29, 30-43, 75-92, 93-104. Print.

Marjorie Burns is a Portland State University English professor. Her book covers the Celtic and Norse influences found in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. She discusses Beorn’s link to other cultural skin-changers, the topography behind Middle-earth, and other various cultural and mythological aspects of the novels. This source shaped my essay as it provided much of the information presented in my mythology and geography sections.

Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R Tolkien: A Biography. 4. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. Print. <http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/493147-j-r-r-tolkien-a-biography&gt;.

Humphrey Carpenter was a distinguished broadcaster and the authorized biographer for J.R.R. Tolkien. This text is the official biography of J.R.R. Tolkien. It provided me with a deeper understanding of how Tolkien viewed mythology, and therefore, why he might be motivated to write The Hobbit as a mythology and utilize certain heritages.

Chance, Jane. Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. 11-17. Print.

Jane Chance is a professor of English at Rice University, specializing in medieval mythography. Her text takes analytical look at the connection between Tolkien’s background in Old and Middle English and his texts, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings series, The Silmarillion, and Tolkien’s essays, detailing his influences. The section on The Hobbit was of special interest to me as it detailed Tolkien’s knowledge and use of Beowulf.

Eation, Anne T. “Books: New Books for Young Readers.” The New York Times. 13 03 1938. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/02/11/specials/tolkien-hobbit.html&gt;.

de France, Marie, and Judith Shoaf, trans. “Lanval.” University of Florida: College of Liberal Arts. University of Florida, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/jshoaf/Marie/lanval.pdf&gt;.

The poem “Lanval” is a medieval narrative poem that tells the story of the knight Lanval who goes into the forest after King Arthur neglects to award him with land. He wanders into a fairy realm and is met by a beautiful fairy and her party and they become lovers. He is sworn to secrecy, he returns to Camelot, and he is courted by Lady Guinevere whom he spurns. In her anger, Lanval is put on trial and his fairy love comes to his rescue. This source provided a link for me with Tolkien’s characterization of the elves.

Hall, Mark. “Gandalf and Merlin, Aragorn and Arthur: Tolkien’s Transmogrification of the Arthurian Tradition and Its Use as a Palimpsest for The Lord of the Rings.” Inklings Forever. VIII.8 (2012): 2-10. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://library.taylor.edu/dotAsset/2f2d1578-cbcb-4deb-b425-982a43b35daa.pdf&gt;.

Mark Hall is a professor of English at Oral Roberts University. This essay provides further correlations between Tolkien’s characters and characters found in the Arthurian tales.

Heyck, Thomas W. “The Decline of Christianity in Twentieth-Century Britain.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 28.3 (1996): 437-53. JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

Thomas William Heyck, a professor of History at Northwestern University, wrote about the decline of religion in 20th century Britain. This was important in understanding the culture of the time that Tolkien wrote The Hobbit.

Jackson, Peter, dir. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. New Line Cinema, 2012. DVD

Jackson had already directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy before taking on the book of The Hobbit.  Though not all the movies have been released, An Unexpected Journey is the first installment of the The Hobbit which was broken up into three films.

Jackson, Peter, dir. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. New Line Cinema, 2003.

DVD.

This was the first of all the Tolkien books to be filmed and is still a top rated movie of all time according to imdb.com. It success in the theaters paved way for Jackson to direct The Hobbit which was first released 10 years after he began filming The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.

Johnstone, R.S.. “The Arthurian Hunt: Introductory Comments.” The Hunt in Arthurian Literature. University of Idaho, 01 11 1998. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <(http://www.uiweb.uidaho.edu/student_orgs/arthurian_legend/hunt/intro.html). >.

R.S. Johnstone a member of the Arthurian Club  at the University of Idaho, Caliburn. This website provides background information on the importance of the hunt motif in Arthurian legends. This site was useful to me as it provided me with an understanding of this motif, so that I could find it in The Hobbit.

Lewis, C.S. “Then And Now, 1937.” The Times Literary Supplement. 28 6 2013. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1279628.ece&gt;.

The Times Literary Supplement is a journal that offers “comprehensive coverage not just of the latest and most important publications, in every subject, in several languages – but also current theatre, opera, exhibitions and film.” This particular article is a reprint of the review of The Hobbit written by C.S. Lewis.

Liebherr, Louise. “Reimagining Tolkien: A Post-colonial Perspective on The Lord of the Rings.” Mary Immaculate College Institutional Repository and Digital Archive. (2012): 50-60. Web. < http://hdl.handle.net/10395/1526&gt;.

This is a thesis paper that examines the influence of post-colonialism in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, arguing that Tolkien has taken a more substantial stance on the issues of his time then has been previously acknowledged.

Morris, William. “In camp at Brunnar.” Volume 8 of Collected Works of William Morris: Icelandic Journals: From the Geysirs through the wilderness to Waterdale. Ed. Gary L. Aho. London: Longmans, Green and Company, 29 Jul 1871. 75-77. Web. 23 Nov. 2013. <http://morrisedition.lib.uiowa.edu/Icelandic1871/1871IcelandJuly29.pdf&gt;.

William Morris was a Victorian poet, author of romance novels, and a leader of the British socialist movement. He was greatly admired by Tolkien; therefore, his work was useful in finding Icelandic influences in Middle-earth.

Olsen, Corey. “At the Roots of the Mountain.” Exploring The Hobbit. iTunesU. 2008-2012.          Lecture.

Corey Olsen, also known as The Tolkien Professor, is a professor of English at Washington College, specializing in medieval literature. His lectures analyze the deeper meanings behind Tolkien’s The Hobbit, chapter by chapter. They were useful in gaining background for Tolkien’s work and understanding the choices Tolkien made when creating The Hobbit. This section provides an overview of the significance of Bilbo’s character change, the characterization of Gollum and it provides an analysis of the riddles game.

Olsen, Corey. “The Hobbit Grows Up.” Exploring The Hobbit. iTunesU. 2008-2012. Lecture.

This section provides insight into the Battle of the Five Armies and discusses the resolve of Bilbo’s character change, as he has been struggling with his Baggins and Tookish sides.

Olsen, Corey. “Rescued in the Wild, By the Wild.” Exploring The Hobbit. iTunesU. 2008-2012. Lecture.

This section analyses Biblo’s relationship with the dwarves, but more importantly for my work, it looks at the significance and symbolism of Mirkwood and its inhabitants.

Pienciak, Anne. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1986. 1-7, 92. Print.

Anne Pienciak is a writer for Barron’s Education Series. Her text provides an overview of The Hobbit’s plot, but more importantly a brief outline of J.R.R. Tolkien’s life and his experiences have influenced his major works.

Smith, Thomas W. “Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination: Mediation and Tradition.” Religion and Literature 38.2 (2006): 73-100. JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

Thomas W. Smith, Ph.D with an expertise in politics and religion took an in-depth look at how and why Tolkien included religion in The Hobbit. This article gave a better understanding of how religion was used in all of its subtleties and why Tolkien went to such lengths to include it.

Solopova, Elizabeth, Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and

Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books,

Print.

An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary background of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Fiction introduces languages and literatures which were particularly important for Tolkien as a writer. Tolkien was a university professor, specializing in early Germanic languages, such as Old English, Old Norse and Gothic. He also, on many occasions, wrote about his fascination with the Finnish language and epic poetry. As is well known, these professional and literary interests had an enormous influence on his creative writing, including his mythology and invented languages.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” Sir Isreal Gollanz Memorial Lecture. Proceedings of the Britsh Academy. United Kingdom, London. 25 11 1936. Lecture. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://www.english.uga.edu/~jdmevans/Personal/JRRT1936.pdf&gt;.

This lecture denounces critics who viewed Beowulf as a source for Anglo-Saxon history and not as a poetical piece in its own right. In this lecture, Tolkien argues that Beowulf is a work of literary art, and should be studied as such, specifically referring to the importance of its monsters.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “English and Welsh.” Inauguration Speech for the O’Donnell Memorial. University of Oxford. England, Oxford. 21 10 1955. Lecture. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://dohiyimir.typepad.com/eng_wel_tolkien.pdf&gt;.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, and the author of The Hobbit, as well as author and translator of numerous other works. In this lecture, Tolkien discusses connections between the Welsh language and culture, and how it has influenced the English language.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 1-5, New York, Del Rey, 2003. Print.

History is a 12-volume series of books published between 1983 and 1996 that collect and analyse material relating to the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, compiled and edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien. These books show the unseen stories of Middle-earth and bring them forth through lost documents and poems.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1982. Print.

The Hobbit is the first installment into the world of Middle-earth, where Tolkien began and set his mythology.

Tolkien, J.R.R. Letter 66: Letter to Christopher Tolkien. 6 May 1944. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. London: George Allen & Unwin, n.d. 90. E-reading. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.

Tolkien, J.R.R. Letter 306 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter and Ed. Christopher Tolkien. (undated, late 1967 – early 1968). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. “Rivendell in Swizterland.” Web. 15 Nov. 2013. <http://scv.bu.edu/~aarondf/Rivimages/realriv.html&gt;. Web. 15 Nov. 2013. Ed. Natalia Prokhorova. <http://tolkienguide.narod.ru/promet/A_U_Letters.pdf&gt;

This book is a collection of 354 letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien from 1914 – 1973. It provides letters on Tolkien’s private life as well as the thoughts and decisions behind his creation of Middle-earth, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and other various works. Letter 306 specifically discusses the influence behind his creation of Rivendell.

Tolkien, J.R.R, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Print.

The Two Towers is the second installment of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy that he wrote after The Hobbit.

Tolkien, J.R.R., Christopher Gilson, Parma Eldalamberon, Boston: E.L.F. 1971. Print.

The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (E. L. F.) is a “Special Interest Group” of the Mythopoeic Society devoted to the study of the constructed languages of J. R. R. Tolkien, today headed by Carl F. Hostetter. It was founded by Jorge Quiñónez in 1988. The E. L. F. publishes two journals,Vinyar Tengwar, edited by Hostetter, and Parma Eldalamberon, edited by Christopher Gilson. There is also an online journal, Tengwestië,edited by Hostetter and Patrick H. Wynne; and it also sponsors the Lambengolmor mailing list.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion, New York: Ballantine Books, 1979. Print.

The Silmarillion  is a collection of J. R. R. Tolkien‘s mythopoeic works, edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien in 1977, with assistance from Guy Gavriel Kay,[1] who later became a noted fantasy writer.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The War of the Jewels, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994. Print.

The War of the Jewels is the 11th volume of Christopher Tolkien’s series The History of Middle-earth, analysing the unpublished manuscripts of his father J. R. R. Tolkien. It is the second of two volumes  Morgoth’s Ring being the first to explore the later 1951 Silmarillion drafts (those written after the completion of The Lord of the Rings).

Wettstein, Martin. “Old Norse Elements in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien.” academia.edu. Academia, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.academia.edu/228734/Norse_Elements_in_the_work_of_J.R.R._Tolkien&gt;.

Martin Wettstein is a graduate student at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. This essay provides an overview of the Norse influences in Tolkien’s writing. It complimented Marjorie Burn’s piece by providing a brief, but insightful overview of the major elements – characters, geography, cosmology, and language – influenced by Norse tradition in Tolkien’s works.

“The Arthurian Legend (Merrie Haskell’s version): Merlin.” King Arthur. New York University Community, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <https://files.nyu.edu/amd402/public/arthur/story.html&gt;.

This website provides a summary of the Arthurian legends. More specifically, the section on Merlin recounts his almost being sacrificed. Merlin saves his own life by proving his powers; he tells King Vortigern that dragons are sleeping beneath the foundation of his castle and when Vortigern digs below the surface, he indeed finds two dragons and they begin to fight. Merlin then prophesizes Vortigern’s downfall and flees.

 

Beowulf. Trans.Burton Raffel. New York, NY: New American Library: Penguin Group, 1999. Print.

Beowulf is a Scandinavian saga recounting the great deeds of the hero, Beowulf, King of the Geats. In this epic poem, Beowulf seeks adventure and assists a nearby kingdom in ridding itself of a man-eating monster and its mother. In his old-age, Beowulf saves his kingdom from a dragon, losing his own life as a result. Raffel Burton has translated various texts and poems (including Don Quixote); he is also a poet and a teacher.

“The Lord of the Rings: Beyond the Movie: Author and History.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 23 Nov 2013. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/influences.html&gt;.

This website includes information pertaining to the background of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. It also provides a history of the author in order to bring the texts’ influences to light. As well in provides additional information on the culture and languages of Middle-earth.

“Mirkwood.” Princeton.edu. Wikipedia, 17 Nov 2013. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Mirkwood.html&gt;.

This website provides an overview of the forest, Mirkwood. It includes a brief history of the origins of its name, the role of forests in Tokien’s stories, and Mirkwood’s inclusions in other novels written by Tolkien.

“The Pearl: Modern Translation.” Trans. Bill Stanton. D.M. Stanton. Web. 23 Nov 2013. <http://www.billstanton.co.uk/pearl/pearl_new.htm&gt;.

“The Pearl” is a Middle-English poem by an unknown author. It recounts the tale of a mourning father who is shown the Celestial City in a dream. He is told he may not enter, but he still attempts to cross a stream into the city. When he attempts to cross into the city, he falls into the stream and he then wakes up. He vows to devote his life to the will of God. Bill Stanton was a radio writer in the sixties and seventies. He wrote various stories and children’s plays, and he also translated “The Pearl.”

Poetic Edda. “The Lay of Skirnir.” Trans. Hollander, Lee. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1962. 65-73. Print.

The Poetic Edda is a major source of Norse hero tales; specifically the saga “The Lay of Skirnir” recounts Skirnirs travels over the mountains, fighting dangers along the way, at the request of the god Freyr, so that he may woo the goddess Gerðr. Lee Hollander was a scholar of Norse literature and professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Trans. Tony Kline. Poetry in Translation. A.S. Kline, n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/English/GawainAndTheGreenKnight.htm&gt;.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a Middle-English poem, believed to be written by the same unknown author of “The Pearl.” The poem recounts the tale of Sir Gawain’s journey into the forest to face the Green Knight, a fairy who challenges King Arthur’s knights. Sir Gawain dutifully accepts the challenge and chops off the Green Knight’s head. The Green Knight then picks up his head and challenges Sir Gawain. As a result, on All Hallow’s day, Sir Gawain must seek and again face the Green Knight. He stays at the Green Knight’s castle (unbeknownst to Sir Gawain), passes the first two tests, but is then cut on the neck for failing the third. He then finds out it is the Green Knight testing him, along with Arthur’s half-sister, and he returns to Camelot. Tony Kline is the owner of the website “Poetry in Translation” where he translates and compiles numerous poems from various languages into English. This poem was useful in drawing geographical and character connections from Celtic myth to Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

The Tain: From the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge. Trans. Thomas Kinsella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

The Tain is an epic Irish tale focusing on the history and many feats of the hero Cuchulainn. It is a tale of the war between Ulster and the remaining four states of Ireland.

One thought on “Collaborative Online Paper 2: Examination of the Cultural Influences Behind ‘The Hobbit’ by Gillian Singler, Alicia Guthmiller, and Kevin Smith

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