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Thread: Tolkien Characters vs Other Fairy Tale Creatures

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musicimprovedme started this thread with the following post:
posted on 21/2/2003 at 23:55
Hey? Can anyone here offer some general background on fairy tale creatures?

I guess in particular I was wondering about definitions and origins of such things as elves, dwarves, pixies, fairies, trolls, wizards, leprechans, witches, etc. I am sure I'm forgetting some things so please jump in with any other creatures that you know of.

To relate this to Tolkien, if you know anything about how other mythologies and fairy tales, how do you think Tolkiens characters compare or contrast? It seems to me that maybe with Orcs, hobbits, and Ents, that Tolkien forged entirely new territory or maybe borrowed from this or that to describe them.

And I would be interested in knowing you think Disney and others have portrayed these creatures, and how much you think animators have defined how we think of them. Peter Pan seems kind of Elfy to me, was he supposed to be like that or was that Disney dressing him up that way? Still he was eternally young etc.

What got me thinking about occured to me that in Snow White the dwarves were miners just like our beloved Gimli but when I first saw Snow White as a child, their profession didn't mean anything to me...and it kind of snowballed from there.

Any commentary?

While waiting for a response to your post, you might try to obtain a copy from your library, friend, or store of The Tolkien Reader, and read Tolkien's 70 page essay "On Fairy-Stories" where he answers some of your questions. rrThe above volume has many more interesting stories and poems, besides the essay. If you look for my post of 18/1/2003 at 02:10 under The Adventures of Tom Bombadil under Other... under Books, you will find find more specific info about the contents of The Tolkien Reader. Teacher Smilie
I agree with Grondy that The Tolkien Reader is an excellent place to start.
My latest Tolkien related purchase is The Magical Worlds of the Lord of the Rings: The amazing myths, legends, and facts behind the masterpiece by David Colbert. I haven't had a chance to look at it yet, but I will check it out for answers to your questions.
Actually I went looking and found a website that is just incredible, very exhaustive and factual about exactly my questions. It is a huge glossary about folklore but is part of a larger database about mythology, fairy tales, etc. Here is the link, in case anyone else is wondering like me.

I hope you find it interesting. Personally, I bookmarked it.

PS-This database did not list hobbits or ents but orcs are defined as "A sea-monster fabled by Ariosto, Drayton, and Sylvester to devour men and women. According to Pliny, it was a huge creature 'armed with teeth'."
When I think of Disney characters I picture the ultimate fairytale. They are all interesting but the difference between them and Tolkien's characters is that the Disney characters don't give you a sense of reality. And I'm not saying that simply because they are cartoons and the characters in LOTR are not; it's just that the characters in LOTR seem so much more real because there is so much more depth to them than the Disney characters. We know so much more about them. In Disney movies, we are introduced to the characters and the story but there is no character development.

Yeah, and I suppose that often enough the characters in Disney being animals doesn't help in the old REALITY department huh? hahah.

But seriously, I was thinking the same thing. I love Disney movies too and they have indeed covered most of the major fairy tales with a few of their own that will go down in history. I think Disney has turned to folklore and plugged into their characters what they want us to know about a stereotype of that character. Put a wizard's hat, robe, and wand on Mickey Mouse and all of a sudden we have Magical Mickey Mouse capable of pulling off a role like Fantasia, etc, even if the last time we saw him he was baking a cake with Minnie or dealing with his nephews or playing with Pluto. Not a criticism, though, I think Disney is more geared for children, or at least needs to be within their grasp. When you tell a story to kids, you need pretty pictures and a fast paced plot or else you will lose them, so stock characters fill in a lot of information in very little time.

Thanks for the Dragon link, the other stuff up your alley? In exchange, you may find a lot of good info on the link I posted.
It is funny how Disney made Peter Pan look elvish(in a way).
Here is another cool website on LoTR,

I cant Wait till next December when the next movie comes out!I like the books more though.

[Edited on 5/3/2003 by Grondmaster]

[Edited on 5/3/2003 by Grondmaster]
music....just to tell you, Peter Pan was going to be young all his life. Elves get older, much much older, they just dont look it. Smile Smilie
music....just to tell you, Peter Pan was going to be young all his life. Elves get older, much much older, they just dont look it.

Hey you are right Delidia. But can we assume that since Peter Pan never grows up, he never ages and would not die due to age, just like the Tolkien's Elves? That was kind of my thinking...and I'll be doggone if both he and Robin Hood don't look an awfully lot alike...according to Disney. (I'm pretty sure Robin Hood wasn't an elf either hahaha.)

Ring, I have seen both Kevin Costner's (editing now: that is Robin Wiliams, and the movie is Hook. I saw Kevin Costner's Robin Hood) version and Disney's Peter Pan, I liked them. Disney's Peter Pan had a sequal, Return to Never Never Land which went straight to video and the only reason I know about it is from being with kids all the time. My fav Disney cartoon happens to be Robin Hood though. I LOVE what Disney did with the characters of Mr. Smee (Capt Hook's first mate) and with Prince John and Sir Hiss. Disney has a real gift for imagining what animal would equate to a certain person's character. Did you ever notice that in Robin Hood, Prince John does NOT have a mane? He is drawn as a female. I wonder what that means...hahaha.

Oh yeah, and I love the way Disney draws the celebrities features into their animated characters. Perfect example is how you can tell the three hyenas apart in Lion King. I can tell which one is Whoopi Goldberg at any rate, can't you?

[Edited on 12/3/2003 by musicimprovedme]
As folklore and mythology happen to be long-standing hobbies of mine I found this thread interesting. Wink Smilie Thanks for the link Music, I bookmarked it too!
Good arguements for and against Disney. I do not like what they did to the tales themselves, but I suppose considering their audience you really can't blame them. It is just another cycle in storytelling.
The main similarity I see between Tolkien's characters and other fairy tales is in the Hobbit. The Elves in Mirkwood, for one thing, are very much as you would expect Elves to be except that they aren't tiny. Their arrival is also announced with the blowing of horns, the association of Elves carrying horns is present in many poems about them. Gandalf's role as the Wizard in the Hobbit is also found in other tales. The dwarves and Smaug are also rather traditional. This is because when Tolkien wrote the Hobbit, he was thinking in a more traditional pattern. In LotR he was able to draw more on his mythology, which was quite untraditional (in everything except the concept of dwarves I think). So the goals and characteristics of the races changed quite a bit from the Hobbit to LotR and further to UT and the Sil. In my opinion, this change was a loss of traditional fairy tale elements.
When I read The Hobbit the first time, my vision of the Rivendel Elves was of two foot high silly beings. By the time Bilbo reached Mirkwood, the Elves had grown another foot or two (not as in requiring more shoes, but in actual height). By the time he met them with the Arkenstone, they were five feet tall.

Did anyone else experience this size transition from the elves of the faery tales to the Elves of the LotR that ocurred in The Hobbit?
Well, I don't know if I'm following you correctly Grondy, and it's been a while since I read the Hobbit (I will be changing that very soon, got a bus ride coming up!). I do remember thinking that when Bilbo and Co. got off their path due to hunger and heard the elves partying and then went to find them and they had disappeared...that this fit my stereotypical Joe on the street impression of elves. (This was not at all postAuthorIDitative, probably as much thanks to Keebler as anything else. Would also add that part of the reason I started this thread is because I realized I have never known the difference between fairies, elves, and pixies, etc so when I was reading, I probably had a conglomerate picture in my head of a bunch of tiny, gay, magical, mischievous creatures). When these same elves captured the dwarves though, I remember thinking that there was more to the elves than I originally thought, and maybe I should drop whatever impressions I had at first so Tolkien could tell ME what he had in mind when describing HIS elves. I don't really know if I thought they grew or not, unless you mean growing in their depth as characters or seeming bigger because they could be ferocious.

[Edited on 3/3/2003 by musicimprovedme]
I had similar views to your's Grondy the first time I read the Hobbit. I had the preconcieved idead that elves were small willowy beings, and that is how I saw them even though Tolkien was describing them differently.

I also found them incredably annoying the first time I came across them in Rivendell. From what I remember, they were up the trees teasing the dwarves and singing silly songs. I think at that time, Tolkien had successfully given me a Dwarven attitude towards the elves.

When I finally discovered that the Noldor were often seven feet tall, it took quite some getting used to. In my mind's eye, even now, I only see them as being my own height rather than a foot taller.
I think that Tolkien`s creatures are more imaginative, than fairy tale creatures.
Sheryl xx
I think it's more to do with depth and continuity than imagination. What makes Tolkien's works so great, for me, is the diversity of possible scenarios and that all will eventually come together and make sense as a whole, no matter how big or small.
I belive the hobbits and dwarves have brcome what we call "nisser". And my suspicipon was confrimed when I saw C.S.I on tv and Grisson said "Well who put it there then? A hobbit?!?!?" And hobbit was translated with "nisse". They are pranksters but hard working. I always blame the nisse when things are missing. Wink Smilie The farm-nisse lives in your barn and take good care of the animals and helps out on the farm, but you had better treat him nice and if you forget to give him his porrige Christmas eve you'll be sorry! He's small but really strong and he will kick your @ss..

I didn't belive in Santa Claus when I was a kid, but I believed in the nisse. *lol* Big Laugh Smilie

We have many Christmas songs about the nisse, and many of our Christmas cards have a nisse on them and we decorate with nisse-figurines. Santa Claus is called "jule-nissen" the Christmas-nisse.

Nisse-pics I could find.

Ok I don't really belive in this, but I find it amusing. Smile Smilie
LadyFeawen: Welcome to our forum. Happy Elf Smilie

And yes Disney's Peter Pan does look Elf-like.

I moved your question to The Fellowship vs The Two Towers under The Fellowship of the Ring under The Lord of the Rings The Movie(s). Look for it there under my name and today's date with your byline.

Amari’: I think your nisse are the Elves in the fairytale The Shoemaker and the Elves and are the same as those found in our commercial ads and TV stories during the Christmas season. They are definitely non-Tolkien.

I think Tolkien's Elves were patterned after the "Sidhe" as shown in John Duncan's 1911 tempera painting The Riders of the Sidhe which can be seen at:
Cool Elf Smilie
I belive that alot of so called mythic creatures where and are in some cases still around. It's just to much of a coincedence that so many cultures from different parts of the world share simular creatures. Take Dragons for example: The Oriental peoples, Judaic peoples (In this I include the Arabian peoples), the Persians, the Celtic peoples, the Norse peoples and the south american natives (Quetza-coatl). How can all these diffrent peoples who haven't been in contact with each other all have came up with basically the same creature!

Gobliniods are the same the Celtic peoples, certain African tribes and the Aborigonal peoples of Austrilasia all have a very simular race of beings!

Amarie, the link you posted with pictures of Nisse, look to me a bit like what I grew up calling gnomes...and in America, rednecks put statues of them in the yard. hahahhahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
That's old people who do that in the UK!
That`s true. Do you live in the UK Ross? Cool Smilie
Yep t'up north! Tongue Smilie
Back to the topic-h another link ,but this might be a bit scary-it's not related to tolkien but to other types of fabulous beings-I found it while searching for some old-dragon images.

I think Tolien's work should be related or compared to older art-we're talking mainly about the 20th century here;I think the best place to search is the medieval period,there are burried the roots of J.R.R's creation. a good link,however,a few sections are still under construction(Elf,Dragons and Dwarves Sad Smilie ).If you find anything like this on the net,please let me know!!

Grondy,I know what you mean-though I didn't experience this-but with all due regret I have to say my first vision weakened after i saw the LOTR movies-now it's like flashbacks when reading it,and that maket it in a way more fascinating and in a way...well,how do i put this?...I saw some of John Howe's paintings bafore I read the books,and I was crazy about them-so Gandalf and The Dark Tower,for instance,will always look to me the way Howe saw them,yet i can't remember the face of Frodo before he became Elijah Wood(or viceversa Smile Smilie ).

[Edited on 20/3/2003 by raptor]

(Grondy merely cleaned-up the links,)

[Edited on 21/3/2003 by Grondmaster]
It's just to much of a coincedence that so many cultures from different parts of the world share simular creatures. Take Dragons for example: The Oriental peoples, Judaic peoples (In this I include the Arabian peoples), the Persians, the Celtic peoples, the Norse peoples and the south american natives (Quetza-coatl). How can all these diffrent peoples who haven't been in contact with each other all have came up with basically the same creature!

Yes Ross, I've always wondered this! This is sort of similar to the fact that all languages have similar sounding words for some things, like 'mother'. At one point, of course, all humans were in the same place so had one langauge. As they spread out over the globe, their languages broke off and evolved differently, but they still carried a remnant of that first langauge. I think it's the same for mythology. Big Smile Smilie
Well, some Science peoples think some animals that looked like dragons could've existed in the olden days in some places........
Yes, and when their bad methyl breath caught the spark of steel sword on flint-like dragon-scale, the resulting flame made for a hot knight on the town. Elf Rolling Eyes Smilie