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Thread: Origins of the story

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Good evening all, I am new to this site and am very interested in these topics. A question I have first would be what is the most accurate resource that details how Tolkien got started with all of this? I'm curious about his knowledge and the influence of mythology on his writing. Anyone? Thanks in advance S

What do you mean, exactly? Do you want to know his inspiration, his reasons, his first tale? I would suggest checking the History of Middle Earth series, particularly Book of Lost Tales part one (volume one in the series), as well as the Tale of Tuor in Unfinished Tales, if you have these books, for his first tales. As for what the role mythology played in his writings, there are a few paths you might take. If you already know most of the tales rather well, you could just read a whole bunch of different mythologies and contrast them. I'd suggest the Kalevala (Finnish) as a start, particularly the tale of Kullervo, contrasted with the tale of the children of Húrin (found both in the Silmarilion (Of Túrin Turambar) and as a standalone book (The Children of Húrin)). You might also check the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, as this has a lot of his thoughts in it, and mentions mythologies specifically several times.

I don't know how much you have read, what books you own, how much time you are willing to devote, or even really what exactly your question is (sorry if this comes off as judgmental or angry or something, trying to avoid that). If you ask a more specific question (like: what was the first thing Tolkien wrote regarding middle earth, and what inspired this?) I'll be happy to provide you with enough research to kill an elephant. At least enough for a horse.

If I remember correctly (dubious), the first real drafts of anything substantial were as early as 1916, when Tolkien was 24. Inspired by other mythologies and stories (such as Beowulf and the Kalevala), and dissatisfied with Arthur, he was driven by the desire to create a story that was English. As for his knowledge, I think the principle thing to remember is that he was primarily interested in languages. My own thoughts are that he probably got interested in mythologies by the study of languages, and thence to his own mythology for his own languages. It's probably at least as likely that mythologies got him interested in languages, but at this time I can't remember or never learned which came first.

Welcome Rezz.

You have asked a massive question.... If I were you I'd mine forums here on P.T.

There are huge amounts of info for you to read.

I know that JRRT was working or at least thinking about his World before and during WW1. He had no intention of publishing. Then The Hobbit came along and he found a way of linking this Children's story into his Middle Earth Universe.

Again welcome and have fun reading.....

I would suggest checking the History of Middle Earth series, particularly Book of Lost Tales part one (volume one in the series), as well as the Tale of Tuor in Unfinished Tales, if you have these books, for his first tales.

I'm not saying you meant otherwise, but just for clarity The Tale Of Tuor And His Coming To Gondolin in Unfinished Tales, is a much later, if unfinished rewrite of The Fall of Gondolin.

So yes it's an early tale in a sense (and I assume that's what you meant), but this version was written in the early 1950s, after the tale of The Lord of the Rings was 'finished' and well after the early version given in The Book of Lost Tales.

To Rezzinator (welcome by the way): 'sourcing' Tolkien by referencing real world mythologies and inspirations is a tricky game. There are probably some 'all agreed upon' inspirations like (as mentioned) the Finnish Kalevala, Beowulf, and some works by William Morris, for just a few examples, but this sort of thing can start branching out...

... prompting Tom Shippey (a noted Tolkien scholar) to even title a section of his book The Road To Middle-Earth as: 'Appendix A: Tolkien's Sources: The True Tradition'

With respect to publishing, when Tolkien was twenty four he had a poem published, and his friend G. B. Smith (friend and fellow member of the TCBS, a small club of artists formed earlier than the more famous Inklings), who, sometime after receiving Tolkien's poem 'Kortirion', but facing possible death in World War I, wrote:

'My dear John Ronald, publish by all means. I am a wild and whole-hearted admirer...'  G.B. Smith

John Garth, Tolkien and The Great War

And Tolkien submitted more poetry to Sidgwick and Jackson soon after. This was before he himself embarked over sea for war.

JRRT seems to have had high hopes for the TCBS (noted in John Garth's book for instance, or letter five in The Letters of JRR Tolkien), and surely this included publication in my opinion.

Yeah this is a pretty loaded question with books written just for it, but a great one nonetheless. I agree though, dig through these forums and you'll find EVERYTHING you need to know!

Tolkien borrows largely from Scandinavian culture, so another interesting read is Der Ring des Nibelungen. It's a Norse mythology based play made by a German composer in the 19th century. Tolkien denies having used it as any source of inspiration, but the parallels between the LOTR and Nibelungen are many and more (I did a whole research thesis on it). So while he may not have drawn from it directly, it's a good look at the role of Norse gods in modern storytelling, common themes around that culture, how both are viewed today, and it's very likely that Wagner and Tolkien were inspired by the same Norse stories, so you get a look into the mind of a great creator like Wagner or Tolkien and what causes the gears to start turning. It's just a fun way to get two perspectives on the same thing from two epic masterpieces, then being able to compare the mindset of two geniuses. Interesting stuff...

Thank's Galin, figured somebody would come along who would correct the mistakes I invariably make when I don't actually double check anything. Rezzinator (that's a rezzy name, if one exists), there are probably several threads in existence that at least touch on this, if not discussing it in more detail. This site has a great search engine, and is wonderfully organized, but also old, and very massive. Not sure if there are entire books on just this one topic, if only because it's just one in a bunch of others, but this is a grand question indeed. Hope you find what you are looking for.

I've skimmed over a few of the Tolkien bio books and most of them have pretty extensive coverage of Tolkien's inspiration/founding of/revelation of Middle Earth. I didn't even read them all and took away all kinds of stuff. So yeah just look into a highly rated Tolkien bio (there's probably 100, couldn't recommend one specifically, maybe Galin would know) and I'm sure it'll cover everything you need to know. Otherwise what isn't covered is probably somewhere on Planet Tolkien :P

Thank you so much for the quick, detailed responses. I guess my question was pretty broad. See, I'm a fledgling writer who has been influenced by fantasy since I was young (familiar story I'm sure) and Tolkien was major for me. I'm most interested in how everything in his books is steeped in history. I want to create a history of my own without just being a Tolkien copy. It's refreshing to know how he borrowed from literature just like everyone else. Thanks for the welcome, I plan to look around the site and probably will have other questions, comments. Have a good evening!


I'm the same, I'm very secretive with my writing because it's so deep and I want it to be perfect. Thus, it's important to remember, Tolkien didn't release a book for about 30 years after he concieved Middle Earth. And of everything he wrote down over 30 years, only 2 books were published.

So no rush! Even if it takes a lifetime. You'll know when you have what you're looking for...