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Marin Cosmin,

3rd Year,

The Twentieth Century British Fantastic Novel

assist. dr. Eliana Ionoaia

Group 5, Russian-English

Mythical influences in J.R.R Tolkiens Work

The fairy tale is a narrative of varying length that falls within the scope of the AarneThompson types 300 to 749, including elements of magic and fantastic creatures located in a
mythical time and space which is marked through the formulaic beginnings and endings
reminiscent of the oral tradition from which it emerges.1
The Lord of the Rings is generally recognized today as a powerful work of creative
imagination whose levels of understanding are dependent on the synthesis and assimilation of
a variety of medieval and modern materials. The masterpiece offers a twentieth-century
understanding of the nature of good and evil, the value of community, the natural order of the
universe, and the singularity of the individual. Tolkien wrote his narrative of Middle-earth.
That is, he responded to an era in which the individual has appeared to be powerless against
fate and the universal horror of evil, whether in Auschwitz and Eastern Europe, South Africa,
or southern California. In his fantasy of the empowerment of the individual, Tolkien has most
captivated a modern world-audience. As a masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings was written
almost as an afterthought on the part of its author.(Chance, p.1 )

A study of Tolkien's Art: A 'Mythology for England' by Jane Chance, Nitzsche that
appeared in 1979 relates the themes and images of Tolkien's minor works to his major works
and explores both for signs of his scholarship on Old and Middle English literature.(Chance,
p.13). As shown in the study, the greatest influence on Tolkien's fiction derived from the Old
and Middle English works he loved as he sayd in the the criticism he wrote about them. Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight, Song of Roland, Macbeth, The Battle of Maldon, Ancrene
Riwle, Chaucer's Fabliaux and Pearl. But also influential in his construction of fiction were
Tolkien's own essays on these medieval works, such as "Beowulf: The Monsters and the
Critics," and his earliest fictionalizations of those essays, in "The Home-coming of
1 Extract from the course
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Marin Cosmin,

3rd Year,

The Twentieth Century British Fantastic Novel

assist. dr. Eliana Ionoaia

Group 5, Russian-English

Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son" and The Hobbit. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14thcentury, anonymously written english romance. The tale of Sir Gawain chronicles the
Arthurian knight's numerous physical and mental tests. The major theme in Sir
Gawain, resisting temptation, is also a major plot device and theme in The Lord of the
Rings.2.
According to other scholars, the narrative structure of The Lord of The Rings and its
genre may also have been influenced by its classical and medieval antecedents. Scholars argue
that, as an epic, The Lord of The Rings chiefly mirrors Virgil's Aeneid and perhaps Beowulf:
for example, in the emphasis on battle; in such heroic qualities as loyalty and valor, wisdom
and fortitude; and in the obligatory descent into the underworld (as represented by Mordor)."
As a saga, the trilogy resembles the Norse-Icelandic Eddas and sagas and the Finnish epic of
the Kalevala, although its loosely episodic technique of branching journey-quests most
approximates entrelacement, a late-medieval romance characteristic. Symbolism, the idea of
quest and its accompanying themes of search and transition, an atmosphere of death and
disaster, and the growth and development of a young hero are other romance characteristics.
(Chance, p. 15)

Sir Gawain and also Perceval are the perfect inspiration for Frodo's loss of innocence
and evolution for the moral quality of the quest and its religious seeking. As Sir Gawain,
Frodo has to resist incredible temptation and have several leaps of faith. Tolkien also
incorporated some of the ideological conflicts from Beowulf into his mythology. Beowulf is
a blend of historical events and Nordic legend. The poem was probably composed in the
seventh or eighth century and spread primarily through song or spoken verse.3The poem is
set in Scandinavia, Beowulf is a Geat hero, who goes to help the Danish king whose mead
Hall wass atacked by a monster named Grendel.Beowulf kills Grendel and his mother the he
goes back to his country where he becomes king. After many years, Beowulf fights a dragon
whom he kills but he is fataly wounded. Tolkien infused The Lord of the Rings with the
physical and spiritual conflict evident in Beowulf.

2 Source: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/myth.html
3 Source: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/myth.html

Marin Cosmin,

3rd Year,

The Twentieth Century British Fantastic Novel

assist. dr. Eliana Ionoaia

Group 5, Russian-English

From Boethius's sixth-century and heavily influential Consolation of Philosophy


Tolkien may have borrowed the reconciliation of providence, fate, and free will that helps to
explain the often-antithetical state-ments in the novel about chance and fates's Indebted to
Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy are his theory of naming and the concept of equivocal
reality that it reflects, as well as his Augustinian concept of evil as privation." Prudentius's

fourth-century Psychomachia, with its battle between virtues and vices, may have influenced
the dra-matic battle between Sam and Frodo and the spider Shelob. Finally, the novel is deeply
governed by the idea of discordia concors, the medieval and Renaissance concept of
everything in its place, order emerging out of disorder.(Chance, p.16)

The Fellowship has the almost imposible task to take the Ring to were it can be
destroyed and because It has a mind of its own and it wants to go back to its creator, the
greatest threat to the Fellowship and its mission comes not from without but within.
(Zimbardo, p.76). The one ring to rule them all, was created by Sauron and its really tricksy,
Frodo mustnt trust the lies that the ring says. He is in a continous fight with himself. The
two books of the Fellowship trace the process of this realization: the first book centers on the
presentation of evil as external and physical, requiring physical heroism to combat it; and the
second book centers on the presentation of evil as internal and spiritual, requiring a spiritual
heroism to combat it.( .(Zimbardo, p.78). The hero builds his understating of good and evil
throught his adventure.He descends into the darkness but also into the ligt, as Beowulf
does.The the greatest enemy of Frodo and also Beowulf is himself
The One Ring has been said by many to be inspired by the ring in the Norse sage of
the Vlsungs, and its later German version, the High Medieval 'Nibelunglied'; however
comments by Tolkien make it unclear as to whether it was a reference to the 'Vlsungasaga' or
not. Alternatively the ring could be based on a ring of invisibility from Greek
Mythology.(Chance, p. 55). Althoug its unclear of the rings origins, its true that in every of
the three storyes, a magical ring and a powerful sword are present.
A 19th-century compilation of old Finnish ballads and poems, named Kalevala was
another source of Tolkiens inspiration. Tolkien was fascinated by the Kalevala, finding in it
timeless themes and archetypal characters. The hero of the Kalevala is a wise old shaman
named Vainamoinen, who has a flowing beard and magical powers, reminiscent of Gandalf
3

Marin Cosmin,

3rd Year,

The Twentieth Century British Fantastic Novel

assist. dr. Eliana Ionoaia

Group 5, Russian-English

in The Lord of the Rings.4Tolkien learned Finnish so that he can read the Kalevala from
where he created Quenya, the Elven language.
Religious influences are also present in the action. The good versus bad battle is
pictured in many fronts, as well as selfsacrifice, resurection, falling into temptantion, mercy
and salvation.Gandalf the grey, an Istari ( an angel ) is killed by an ancient monster in the
Mines of Moria but he ressurects as Gandalf the White, this being a sign of Iluvatars
power,The Lord of the Ringss world God.
From the Eddas come the names of the Dwarves; alternatively, from Scandinavian
myth the names of Gandalf, the Ring, the Dwarves, and the Elves are borrowed." From Old
English words come important concepts and types: the loyal subordinate is drawn from the
heorothwerod, the band of retainers supporting the chief. The names of Gandalf and the
dwarves in The Hobbit were taken from the "Dvergatal" in the Elder Edda and the
"Gylfaginning" in the Prose Edda. (Chance, p. 15)

The Lord of The Rings has become a cult over the years. It is so appealing because it
captivates its readers so deep into its universe with incredible and authentic details. The reader
is brought down to legends of chivalry and fairy tales. Thousand of years of heroes and
magic, combined in a handful of incredible men. Tolkien brought heroes from different from
different civilisations and beliefs and put them into one world, uniting them in the name of
good. Ancient languages and spells, the pure fight between good and evil, with the win of the
good in the last moment creates an incredible world. Every creature in Tolkiens world has an
evil counterpart, Gandalf and Sauron, the elves and the orcs. All the pieces of influence put
togheter in one big story that can be just a fictional story but might as well be the real story of
the humanity.

4 Source: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/myth.html
4

Marin Cosmin,

3rd Year,

The Twentieth Century British Fantastic Novel

assist. dr. Eliana Ionoaia

Group 5, Russian-English

Bibliography

Chance, Jane. The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power. University Press of

Kentucky, 2001.
Chance, Jane. Tolkiens Art: A Mythology for England. University Press of Kentucky,

2001.
Stanton, Michael N. Hobbits, Elves, and Wizards.Palgrave, 2001.

Zimbardo, A. Rose, Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of


Tolkien Criticism, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/myth.html