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The Lord of the Rings and Norse Mythology

J. R. R. Tolkien is one the great fantasy writers of the 20th Century, possibly the greatest.
His masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, has sold hundreds of millions of copies and has been
translated into more than thirty languages (Creation of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythology). One
of the interesting things about The Lord of the Rings is that, even though it was written as a
fictional story set in its own make-believe world called Middle-Earth, there are a lot of
elements of Norse mythology through the story, which denotes the direct influence of Norse
myths into Tolkiens writing. I am going to delve deeper and explore these elements by
comparing certain aspects of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and compare them to their
equivalents in Norse mythology tales. I will be focusing on three particular examples: the
similarities between the character Gandalf and the Norse God Odin; the existence of elves
and dwarves in both Norse mythology and The Lord of the Rings; and finally, the parallel
between the character of Balrog and the Giant Surtr.
The character of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Norse God Odin are
similar to each other in some ways, and it has been suggested by some that Gandalf is also
meant to be a parallel to Odin (Rings, dwarves, elves and dragons: J. R. R. Tolkiens Old
Norse influences). For example, in The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is an old wizard who
travels around pretty much everywhere in Middle-Earth. In Norse mythology, Odin The
Norse God of wisdom, magic, poetry and war was known for travelling all the worlds in
various shapes, sometimes as an old man (Rings, dwarves, elves and dragons: J. R. R.
Tolkiens Old Norse influences). In another example, Gandalf The Grey dies at the hands of
the creature Balrog, but comes back to life as the more powerful Gandalf The White (Rings,
dwarves, elves and dragons: J. R. R. Tolkiens Old Norse influences). In Norse mythology,

Odin hangs himself on the world tree and comes back with deep, magical wisdom (Rings,
dwarves, elves and dragons: J. R. R. Tolkiens Old Norse influences). Clearly, J. R. R.
Tolkien was heavily influenced by Odins story when he created the character Gandalf.
The existence of elves and dwarves in both Middle-Earth and Norse mythology is a wellknown point of similarity between both worlds (the literary and the mythological). For
example in the Lord of the Rings, dwarves are known to produce the highest-quality weapons
due to their innate abilities as swordsmiths. In Norse mythology, the dwarves are also
renowned for their weapon forging capabilities (Rings, dwarves, elves and dragons: J. R. R.
Tolkiens Old Norse influences). Another example, elves in The Lord of the Rings have
pointed ears and cannot die from old age. In Norse mythology the elves also have pointed
ears and also possess special abilities that humans do not have (Creation of J.R.R. Tolkien's
mythology). It is hard to imagine Tolkien creating creatures like elves and dwarves into his
writing without the knowledge of Norse mythology.
In both Middle-Earth and Norse mythology it exists a fearsome demon who is considered
evil: Tolkien named him Balrog, but the Scandinavians called him Surtr. In The Lord of the
Rings, Balrog is a large creature who lives deep underground in the mines of Moria, who
Gandalf fought and eventually defeated after ten days of fighting (Balrog - medieval
monsters). In Norse mythology, Surtr is closely linked to the volcanic underworld
(Balrog - medieval monsters). In The Lord of the Rings, Balrog uses fire as a weapon, in
the form of a fiery whip. In Norse mythology, Surtr also uses fire as a weapon, by wielding a
flaming sword against his enemies (Balrog - medieval monsters). It is hard not to come to
the conclusion that Tolkien lifted the idea of a fire-wielding creature straight from Norse
Mythology and simply renamed Surtr, Balrog.

In conclusion, the similarities in both The Lord of the Rings and Norse mythological tales
are numerous, and these examples are but a few that illustrate the extent of the influence
Norse mythology had on J.R.R Tolkiens writing, particularly The Lord of the Rings. The
parallel between Gandalf and Odin, the existence of dwarves and elves in both Middle-Earth
and Norse myth, as well as the fire-wielding monster known as Balrog in The Lord of the
Rings, and Surtr in Norse mythology. It is obvious that without the passing down of old
Norse tales and the creation of a whole mythology by the Scandinavians, The Lord of the
Rings might have not been written, or at least been written in a very different form from what
we have today.

Works Cited

Rings, dwarves, elves and dragons: J. R. R. Tolkiens Old Norse influences. The University of
Highlands and Islands. Center for Nordic Studies. Web. 29 November 2015.
https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/research-enterprise/cultural/centre-for-nordic-studies/mimirs-wellarticles/rings-dwarves-elves-and-dragons-j.-r.-r.-tolkien2019s-old-norse-influences

Creation of J.R.R. Tolkiens Mythology. The One Ring The Home of Tolkien Online. Web.
29 November 2015. http://www.theonering.com/reading-room/critical-viewpoints/creation-of-j-rr-tolkien-apos-s-mythology-i-wrote-this-paper-for-my-studies

Balrog - medieval monsters. National Museum of Denmark. Historical knowledge. Web. 29


November 2015. http://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/middle-ages-1000-1536/j-rr-tolkien/balrog-medieval-monsters/