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Old Norse Elements in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien

By Martin Wettstein

When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was 23 Years old, he had already learned Greek, Latin, Anglo Saxon, Old English, Finnish, Welsh and Gothic and had already invented two own languages, called Nevbosh and Qenya. Together with his interest in languages there came up an interest in myths and legends of the countries behind these languages and he read eagerly all the old legends he came across. During these studies he became aware of the fact that England itself had no own mythology. There was the Celtic, the Roman, the Norse and the Christian Mythology but none especially of England. The awareness of this fact and the lack of a mythology behind his own language, Qenya, made him write poems and short stories that told of events and persons as could have taken place in an English mythology. In the invention of these stories he was inspired by the Bible, the Edda, Celtic Tales, Fairy stories and the pieces of William Shakespeare, just to name the most important sources. In this Essay I would like to focus on the Norse elements that served as sources for the ideas of Tolkien. It is not the aim of this Essay to compare each idea Tolkien had with similar elements in the Norse Mythology. there are already more than enough articles on the ring as Norse element and the attempt to apply Odin to almost each of the Ainur or Tom Bombadil. It shall simply give an idea about how much this mythology served Tolkien as a source of inspiration.

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