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Thread: Tolkiens 'hidden' influences

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I think that in his efforts to create a new 'English' mythology that Tolkien took inspiration for much of his work not only from the Norse mystologies but also the Celtic. In particular the Irish mythologies which are well documented (Check out http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/index.htm.) and also the iris language which is the oldest vernacular in Europe.

Of the Iris mythology and language Tolkien had this to say:
"I go frequently to Ireland (Eire: Southern Ireland) being fond of it and of (most of) its people; but the Irish language I find wholly unattractive." This is a lie on Tolkiens part to throw us off the trail. Politically and culturally, at the time he felt it unwise to admit that his 'new' English mythology was largly influenced by Irish Celtic language/mythology.

Think about it - Do you think that Tolkien as a linguist would not be interested in the oldest and best preserved of the ancient Celtic languages? Much of the themes throughout LOTR such as warrior chivalry, symbolism and even actuall names appeared in irish sagas written centuries ago. Even the word 'Orc' appears in the ancient stories of 'Cuchulain of Muirthemne' as a term meaning dwellers of the Orkney islands.

The concept of the 'ever-living ones' being the most graceful and enlightened people was fully developed in Celtic literature as the Tuatha De Dannan (or Aes Sidhe) - Check out 'http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/gafm/index.htm'. Look at the names in this manuscript 'The FirBolg', 'Midhir and Etain' etc, If you do anything read 'Part I Book II: The Coming of Lugh', after a while you will think that you are reading the 'Silmarillion' and Lugh the Ildánach is an Elven warrior.

Other Irish legends develop the concept of 'the one eye'. Check out 'Balor of the evil eye'. He was a Fomorian, a race that could change form, especially to half human/half boar (orcish) form. I think that Tolkien spent much time studying Irish language and mythology (in his scholarly and linguistic capacities) but would never admit that his own writings were so heavily influenced by them.
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I think that Tolkien spent much time studying Irish language and mythology (in his scholarly and linguistic capacities) but would never admit that his own writings were so heavily influenced by them.

I don't think he made much of an attempt to hide where he got his influence. But there are many people more knowledgeable than me on that topic. I don't know much about other mythogogies around the world, but his inspiration from Norse mythology is too obvious to hide. Especially in the Hobbit. All the dwarven names are from a norse poem where they are listed one by one. Gandalfs name is if from that poem too. It's really a dwarf name and it means 'wand elf'. The part about the trolls in the Hobbit could have easily been a good old Norwegian fairy tale. Norwegian elves (or scandinavian I suppose) sounds a lot like faded wood elves. They live in the woods, are very beautiful and sing and dance beautifully.

I could go on and on and on with examples form both the hobbit, lord of the rings and the silmarillion, but since it's Christmas I won't bore you poor members with it. (unless you want me too. Wink Smilie )I don't think he used much from Irish mythology but he was indeed a great fan of the Celtic language and based Sindarin on it. Just look at this list of Welsh names from behindthename.com (click) and see how simmular they are to elven names. Tolkien was very fond of mythologies, and it is hard to say exactly where he got his inspiration. A lot of the stories about heros and magic and monsters are quite simmular no matter what country or religion they come from.

Sauron was never a big, flaming eye btw. Sauron the living lighthouse only excists in the movies.
Good reply,

I think that my main point is that Tolkien himself and everyone else makes big of the Norse influence
because it is so 'in-your-face' but tends to overlook the much more subtle celtic influence,
of which I think, we are only scratching the surface.

I read a lot of celtic mythology and every time I read about the Tuatha DeDannan bells
of similarity ring with Tolkiens Elves. I mean as warrior poets rather than timid
beings of Scandanavian mythology. Behaviours and lore rather than actual names.
The Tuatha DeDannan behaved very like the Elves, in a chivalric manner placing song and lore
alongside mastery in weapons. They arrived in Ireland on
ships from the west, from a land lost in the mist etc.

Tolkien would certainly have read the same material as I am now reading, so it just
makes me wonder. We'll never know I suppose.

Anyone willing to read 'Gods and fighting men' which is a conglomeration
of ancient recorded stories about the TDD, let me know what you think.
It can be found here:'http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/gafm/index.htm'.

On perhaps a different note it's interesting to note that Tolkien bore
a dislike of Shakesphere for turning the tall and elegant Elves of Scandanavian
legend into the comical fairy creatures of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Much akin
to the way that the TDD become the comical leprechauns of Irish lore.
This is an interesting thread, Onions. I don't know enough about mythology to agree or disagree but I have looked at the url you posted and it seems there are possible influences. Whether this is because a lot of mythologies have the same origins and legends I don't know. It is more than possible that Tolkien read or studied this tale and perhaps incorporated bits of it into his own literary works much the same as any author is influenced by other works.

I don't know.

It may not be the strongest influence but it is possible it is there somewhere.

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They live in the woods, are very beautiful and sing and dance beautifully.

Are you one of these Scandinavian elves, sis? You sure have all the characteristics.

And well, Onions....you might want to take a look at the Nordic legend of Beowulf and his ring!
I would also suggest reading the opera "Ring des Nibelungen" by Wagner written between 1848 and 1874. This opera is all based on Nordic mythology and follows the path of a ring of power. Very interesting.
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I would also suggest reading the opera "Ring des Nibelungen" by Wagner written between 1848 and 1874. This opera is all based on Nordic mythology and follows the path of a ring of power. Very interesting.
I believe Wagner's opera was actually based on the Germanic Myth The Nibelungenlied; or is Germanic Myth a subset of Nordic Myth? And Tolkien got very perturbed when people tried to compare his Ring to Wagner's Ring.
Germanic mythology is strongly influenced by Nordic mythology, or one might say they are strongly intertwined just as Anglo Saxon is a strong mixture of Nordic, Germanic and English (or Christian) myths. The prologue to Ring des Nibelungen is based on the Nordic version of the Three Fates -- Goetterdaemmerung. In any case, I think it's difficult not to compare the two. Critics often disregard the authors point of view when comparing and contrasting works anyway. Not that I say it's a good practice, but Tolkien obviously used Nordic traditions in his works, so comparing it to other works influenced by Norse mythology is not unusual. Besides the fact that Ring des Nibelungen, a work completed more than 40 years before Tolkien's work that involved giants and dwarves and a struggle for a ring of power is not an uncalled for comparison. Sorry Tolkien, but I'll probably be doing it in my thesis.
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This is a lie on Tolkiens part to throw us off the trail. Politically and culturally, at the time he felt it unwise to admit that his 'new' English mythology was largly influenced by Irish Celtic language/mythology.


I don't think Tolkien lied when he said that. Maybe it was influenced subconsciously, or the aspects of Irish/Celtic language/mythology were present in other cultures, and that's where he got them from. And why would Tolkien lie to throw us off the trail? What did he have to hide? Did it really matter? And who would care? Remember that Tolkien didn't expect TLOTR to be THIS popular.
Balor of the one eye totally grossed and freaked me out. He just inspired such raw terror, just the the eye of Sauron.
It's due to Wagner that everybody is familiar with the incorrect term "Twilight of the Gods", which is the translation of Götterdammerung, which supposedly is the translation of Ragnarök.

Ragnarök, though, means Fate of the Gods and not Twilight of the Gods. Darn you Wagner!

As for Tolkien refusing to be compared to Wagner, that is probably because the man was extremely antisemitic, which is why today most (if not all) of his music is banned in Israël.
Here's a quote on 'Celtic things' (concerning the rejection of the Silmarillion in the late 1930's):

'Needless to say they are not Celtic. Neither are the tales. I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste: largely for their fundamental unreason. They have bright colour, but are like a broken stained glass window reassembled without design. They are in fact 'mad' as your reader says -- but I don't believe I am.' JRRT Letters

Tolkien would later comment: 'Since The Hobbit was a success, a sequel was called for; and the remote Elvish legends were turned down. A publisher's reader said they were too full of the kind of Celtic beauty that maddened Anglo-Saxons in a large dose. Very likely quite right.' JRRT 1955

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Onions posted: Think about it - Do you think that Tolkien as a linguist would not be interested in the oldest and best preserved of the ancient Celtic languages?


See the quote after next. About the language, he found it 'mushy'... 'It is thus probable that nazg [Black Speech] is actually derived from it [from Irish Gaelic nasc], and this short, hard and clear vocable, sticking out from what seems to me (an unloving alien) a mushy language, became lodged in some corner of my linguistic memory.' JRRT 1967

Anyway, JRRT also stated... 'I have no liking for Gaelic from Old Irish downwards, as a language, but it is of course of great historical and philological interest, and I have at various times studied it (with alas! very little success.).' JRRT 1967

Anyway, agree or not with his listing of Tolkien's sources, I think Tom Shippey gives a good warning in general. 'It is especially necessary then, for followers of Tolkien to pick out the true from the heretical, and to avoid snatching at surface similarities.' Tolkien's sources: the True Tradition, Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth

Incidentally, in this section Shippey mentions, among other sources of course (including Beowulf and the Finnish Kalevala), the Irish Imram, The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal.
"Letters" are driving me crazy. I have never read them outside of what I find quoted here on the forums. But, every time I read a quote from "Letters", it shocks the Angband out of me (or should that be Mandos?). For instance, without having done any kind of research, I would have just taken for granted that Tolkien was largely inspired by Celtic mythology, and it would never in a million years have occured to me that there was any Norse inspiration. Am I just that stupid? (Don't answer that.)
Of course you are not, it was an eye opener reading Letters, I just finished my third reading a few days ago. It is so complicated and scattered and I find I have to go back and look and look and then put this with that and .......what a mind. I am amazed he did that much research into so much of languages what with all his other duties and obligations domestic and career wise.What a mind!
I am surprised that you did not know of Tolien's Norse inspirations. The Elvish tongue is largely based on Scandinavian languages, right? I've always thought the flow of the Elven tongue always made the whole thing feel very very Norse. But I wouldn't be surpirsed if you didn't know this because you did not focus too much on the Silmarillion. Would I be right in guessing that you are really into Rohan, since that's where most of the Celtic element comes from?

But really, don't worry. You're not incredibly stupid at all. You're just the same as me before I joined this site. Dunce Smilie
Quenya is based on Finnish, which is not a Norse (Northern Germanic) language. Tis a language that belongs to the Finnish-Ugric languages (Hungarian being amongst its siblings).

I deem Rohan not as Celtic; Rohan seems a quintessential medieval Norse (Viking) society to me. In fact some Rohirrim names are used in Scandinavia until this day - Alvhild being an example - as you know Elfhild was the name of Théoden's wife who died in childbirth.
I did not get a celtic impression of Rohan at all. In fact, The Hobbit and LotR don't give me any strong indication of cultural influences behind the scenes; they seem to be genuinely created (my ignorance is probably showing bigtime). My celtic impression comes from the elvish stuff, like in TBoLT.
Isn't Rohan supposed to be some sort of Old English place? Forgive me if that isn't Celtic. I've always assumed that it was.
Rochan is Elvish for 'Horse-land' but the Rohirrim used the Mark. Tom Shippey writes that Tolkien must have known that the Mercians of Central England probably called their land 'mark' (Anglo-Saxon mearc 'mark, sign, line of division' and mierce 'boundry, limit'. According to Shippey the West Saxons called their neighbors Mierce 'borderers'). Tolkien used Old English to translate the much older language of the Rohirrim, but warned that this linguistic procedure...

'... does not imply that the Rohirrim closely resembled the ancient English otherwise, in culture or art, in weapons or mode of warfare, except in a general way due to their circumstances: a simpler and more primitive people living in contact with a higher and more venerable culture, and occupying lands that had once been part of its domain' JRRT Appendix F

Tom Shippey argues however, that while the Rohirrim may not be based directly on the historical Anglo-Saxons of England, they are inspired in part by the Anglo-Saxons of poetry and legend.
The more I thought about it, the more I decided that, if I were to associate Rohan with a culture that I know about, I would associate them with the Iberian culture. That is probably just because of the equestrian component, and I associate the Castillian culture with horses.
That is very interesting , I think I would like to spend some time contemplating that comparison.
For some reason I think of Germany , well just as it was becoming that group of people and the wildness and yet pride.
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Rohan seems a quintessential medieval Norse (Viking) society to me.

I agree Vir.
I thought that Tolkien compared King Theodin's great hall at Edoras (In Rohan ) somewhat like the hall from king Hrothgar's Heorot in Beowulf ? Wasn't that about Vikings as well ?
Being as how our esteemed Jrr wrote an entire work on Beowulf and translated,I am quite sure you are one h undred per cent correct Mellon, very perceptive of you. And he seemed to always know which ancient group or ethnicity to borrow from to evoke that totally mythological, god-like, dream like and yet painfully real world into which he pulled us in and we don't wish to leave.
Beowulf doesn't feature Vikings, tis set in ancient England.

In the movie adaptation of Beowulf though, featuring a white-heared Christopher Lambert, it takes place in a hybrid fantasy/sci-fi world. If you can, you must see it... it's so horrendously bad that it is very enjoyable to watch... a bit like PJ's movie adaptation of LOTR.
I was talking about Rohan Vir ,the Golden hall .The settlement/houses as you put it in another thread ,does look a bit like how the Vikings lived
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Virumor posted: Beowulf doesn't feature Vikings, tis set in ancient England.


Beowulf was written in Old English but the hero himself lived among the Geats (the Geats were from southern Sweden), and sailed to Denmark to fight in the hall of the Danish king Hrothgar.
I see. But weren't the Geats and 'Vikings' (Norse/Swedes) two different peoples?
A member of my family is writing a definitive collection of works which takes language from Babylon or before and brings it right up to now. He is an incredible philologist with mastery in ancient civilizations and he is currently working right now on the correlation between Hebrew, English and Japanese. He has had scholars from all over the world seek his understanding and ask to include his findings in their books. He showed me clearly that all the languages when you go back far enough are so entertwined and this off shoot and that that you will invariably find pockets of similarities between many and so of course this person might see the teutonic connection or whatever.
He is also currently doing exhaustive research on behalf of the First Nations here in my country, showing how the tribes are connected to the Celts , mongolians, Japanese etc from overseas and it has been a wonder to them as their scholars join in and contribute. So really, from Tolkien's childhood learning to decipher the Cymru words on vehichles he could see out of his window, to his fascination with old and middle English to Beowulf to his trip in Sweden, and his love of Finnish language, all these things poured together gave him the singular breathtaking and otherworld type of sub creation he created. So it , in my opinion, is not worth arguing about since everyone is a little right. Smile Smilie
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I see. But weren't the Geats and 'Vikings' (Norse/Swedes) two different peoples?

Well, yes and no. Norse includes what today is Norway,Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. So the Geats would be counted as Norsemen/Vikings. Before Sweden was gathered as one country, the Sweds and Geats had seperate, neighbouring kingdoms.
The Geats originated from the barbarians that harassed Ovid's banishment place of Tomis (modern day Constanta).

The poet of poets wrote about it in his Tristia.
Well at least it is clear that dear Vir did not spend his childhood reading comics alone Smile Smilie.
I'm glad that Tolkien influenced you as well VirSmile Smilie
Hey, TV wasn't available until I was 14 and we didn't get a set until I was 16; so I was a reader. My early reading experience was enhanced by reading 'Classics Illustrated Comic Books'. This is how I first read Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables, Mark Twain's The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, etc. In my later teenage years I found the actual novels in the library and read them.

I couldn't read any Tolkien back then as my small town library hadn't heard of The Hobbit and LotR was just being published. It would take me another ten plus years to become aware of LotR, three years out of Uni.

I thought that very early on it was Cymru and at some point Finnish that had extremely high influence on professor Tolkien, but I suppose as he created about eight languages himself it could have been dozens of languages that had influence on him.

I think its fair to state the Professor was, like all of us, influenced by the stories and poems which he grew up with, studied and loved and if you look at his upbringing that would have been an extremely wide variety of European cultures and mythologies passed on through antiquity.

As with the Bible Versus Lord Of The Rings thread, if you look hard enough you can find influence from any culture, even very early Persian or North African within his works.  This is why we are all so transfixed by his stories, they are familiar enough that we can relate to them, but distant enough that they a Fantastical and awe inspiring.