Thread: Tolkiens 'hidden' influences
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 Ild’nach 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.
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. )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.
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.
I don't know.
It may not be the strongest influence but it is possible it is there somewhere.
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.
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.
Ragnar’k, 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 Isra’l.
'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
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.
But really, don't worry. You're not incredibly stupid at all. You're just the same as me before I joined this site.
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 Th’oden's wife who died in childbirth.
'... 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.
For some reason I think of Germany , well just as it was becoming that group of people and the wildness and yet pride.
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 ?
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.
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.
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.
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 poet of poets wrote about it in his Tristia.
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.