Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lord of the Rings: Tolkien's Influences

by Lottie Perry-Evans

The final movie installation in the Hobbit trilogy will be released next Friday (12th December) so I thought it appropriate to write about a much-loved series and the incredible author who brought these novels into our lives.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (January 3rd 1892 – September 2nd 1973) an English writer, poet, philologist and university professor and the author of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien served as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford (1925 – 1945); he also served as Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford (1945 – 1959). Tolkien became a close friend of C.S Lewis and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II on 28th March 1972. The success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the “father” of modern fantasy literature. The Lord of the Rings started as a sequel to J. R. R. Tolkien's earlier work The Hobbit, published in 1937. The popularity of The Hobbit had led George Allen & Unwin, the publishers, to request a sequel. Tolkien warned them that he wrote quite slowly, and responded with several stories he had already developed.  Allen & Unwin thought more stories about hobbits would be popular. So at the age of 45, Tolkien began writing the story that would become The Lord of the Rings. The story would not be finished until 12 years later, in 1949, and would not be fully published until 1955, when Tolkien was 63 years old.

For those of you who have not yet read The Lord of the Rings (which I highly recommend you do) here is a brief plot description. The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth (the world in which the novels are based). From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across northwest Middle-earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, the hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took, but also the hobbits' chief allies and travelling companions: the Men Aragorn, a Ranger of the North and Boromir, a Captain of Gondor; Gimli, a Dwarf warrior; Legolas, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard. The One Ring is a ring of such great power that if found in the wrong hands would be a weapon of mass destruction, so when the ring comes to Frodo Baggins he and his companions must find their way to destroy it in the fiery heart of Mount Doom.

The Lord of the Rings developed as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology (the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages), religion (particularly Roman Catholicism), fairy tales, Norse and general Germanic mythology, and also Celtic, Slavic, Persian, Greek, and Finnish mythology. Tolkien included neither any explicit religion nor cult in his work. In one of his letters Tolkien states, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism." Many theological themes underlie the narrative, including the battle of good versus evil, the triumph of humility over pride, and the activity of grace, as seen with Frodo's pity toward Gollum. In addition the epic includes the themes of death and immortality, mercy and pity, resurrection, salvation, repentance, self-sacrifice, free will, justice, fellowship, authority and healing. Tolkien mentions the Lord's Prayer, especially the line "And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" in connection with Frodo's struggles against the power of the One Ring.
Tolkien was heavily influenced by Nordic mythology. During his education at King Edward's School in Birmingham, the then-young Tolkien read and translated from the Old Norse in his own time. One of his first Nordic purchases was the Völsunga saga. It is known that, while a student, Tolkien read the only available English translation of the Völsunga saga. In this saga, a golden ring and a sword to be reforged are respectively named Andvarinaut and Gram, and they correspond broadly to the One Ring and the sword Narsil (reforged as Andúril). The Völsunga Saga also gives various names found in Tolkien. Tolkien's Elves and Dwarves are largely based on Norse and Germanic mythologies. Two sources that contain accounts of elves and dwarves that were of interest to Tolkien were the Prose Edda and the Elder or Poetic Edda. The descriptions of elves and dwarves in these works are ambiguous and contradictory, however. The descriptions do point to dwarves predating man which is the precise description Tolkien uses in The Lord of the Rings. 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. The figure of Gandalf is particularly influenced by the Germanic deity Odin in his incarnation as "The Wanderer", an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff. Tolkien, in a letter of 1946, nearly a decade after the character was invented, wrote that he thought of Gandalf as an "Odinic wanderer".

I hope that reading this has been of interest to you, and if you haven’t read the Lord of the Rings yet, I highly recommend you do. It is an incredible series of novels written by a legendary author who deserves to be remembered for all time. Tolkien has changed the lives of so many and I believe these books should be passed down through generations to come. I think that this quote from Galadriel, a character in Lord of the Rings, suits Tolkien down to the ground: “even the smallest person can change the course of the future”. And that is exactly what Tolkien has done, without the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit, fantasy would never be as it is today. The final movie will be released on Friday 12th December and that will be the end of an era. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movie franchise which has lasted for 13 years will have ended, but I hope that Tolkien’s legacy will remain alive for many years to come.
Find the trailer for The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies below:

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