Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 18

Thread: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Posts
    4,631

    Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Tolkien's world certainly contains many creatures that may be called 'unreal', but there are zounds more of these to be found in the mythologies of different cultures.

    What of the griffin, the unicorn, the centaur, the pegasus, the sprite and loads more?

    Do we get any insight into the professor's thought process regarding this?

    Did he even give especial thought to which of these fantasy creatures would grace his stories and which not?

    Perhaps many of these, like the griffin, boast too extravagant and flamboyant characteristics and features, and are not very fitting for Tolkien's creation, where most things and concepts seem subtle and wonderfully worked out.

    On the other hand, a creature like the unicorn does not seem over-done at all, and is graceful enough for us to be able to imagine it as part of Middle-earth. Basically, it is just a horse with a horn, much like an elf is just a human with funky ears.

    Thoughts and opinions?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    82

    Post Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Why should such creatures have had a place in Middle-earth? Tolkien built his mythology from an etymological perspective. That is, if there was a name for a creature in Middle-earth, that name had to have a history. But what would the history have represented?

    The "mythology", as all mythologies do, supposes that everything is real. Hence, to have a unicorn in Middle-earth, you have to have a place for it. How should it have fit into the scheme of things?

    The Ents and the Eagles had roles to play. Even Tom Bombadil served some sort of purpose, although no one knows what it is. Thematically, he provided Frodo with a place of temporary refuge and a means of avoiding pursuit on the road. He also provided the reader some foreknowledge of things to come.

    What could Tolkien have had a unicorn do that would have advanced a story?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Posts
    4,631

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Hence, to have a unicorn in Middle-earth, you have to have a place for it. How should it have fit into the scheme of things?
    A plausible explanation would be to have the unicorn be the protector of the kelvar (at least the 'weaker' ones), much as the Ents are the shepherds of the trees. That does not seem at all far fetched to me, especially since in some stories unicorns are the protectors of forests.

    What could Tolkien have had a unicorn do that would have advanced a story?
    Much the same thing as any other creature in Tolkien's subcreation.

    Why should such creatures have had a place in Middle-earth?
    I'm not saying they should have, I am wondering why some did not while others did?

    Did Tolkien use a certain set of criteria or not?

    Did he model his creation after something specific or not?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Location
    Austria
    Age
    56
    Posts
    1,769

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    If we put aside the brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns (BoLT1) or the enchanted leprechauns ("Goblin Feet") or the dragon-moths, sea-worms, -cats and -cows (Roverandom) and creatures of the like, which seem more or less casually mentioned, what remains has in most cases either mythological or philological roots, or both.

    Dragons seem to have fascinated Tolkien from his youth and it appears he dedicated much thought to them and their mythological roots (cf. Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics).

    Balrogs, the 'fire-demons' resemble not only the fiery sons of Muspell of Germanic/Northern myths, but probably also stem from Tolkien's philological interest in the roots of the Old English word Sigelhearwan (cf. his essay Sigelwara-Land).

    Ents are in Northern and Anglo-Saxon tradition portrayed as giants, what Tolkien added to make them walking and talking trees has probably roots in Macbeth (Birnam Wood) and the Câd Goddeu, the 'Battle of the Trees', a Celtic myth.

    Fastitocalon is another example where mythological and philological roots meet.

    The giant spiders may have come in for a different reason, though.

    Thus, I do not think that Tolkien ever pondered about which creatures to "add" to his subcreation and which not, rather, I think he added what he saw fit and whatever had caught his interest one way or another...

    But what I find fascinating, is the mix of knowledge and fantasy, which makes Tolkien's creatures so unique, IMO

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, England, UK
    Age
    58
    Posts
    3,139

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Shadowfax is a unicorn in all but horned head.

    Even Tom Bombadil served some sort of purpose, although no one knows what it is.
    Perhaps we could have the same purpose for a Unicorn
    ~My Art~ The Tolkien Forum on FACEBOOK *like* . Member of The Tolkien Society.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
    Age
    93
    Posts
    2,115

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    What I find interesting Walter, is that he eventually dropped a lot of those creatures from the legendarium, or, in the case of others, they did not play a great or even minor part in the history of Middle-Earth. But then again, we know so little about Midlde Earth, some of those characters may not have been wholly dropped-just ignored.
    Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form-Vladimir Nabokov

    Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -Gustave Flaubert

    We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.-Marcel Proust

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, England, UK
    Age
    58
    Posts
    3,139

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Tolkien's criticism of Zimmerman's storyline in his Letters gives a clue; for instance, Tolkien accuses Zimmerman of over-using the Eagles, which he believed should be used sparingly to keep the story believable. Imagine a Middle-earth stuffed with mythological creatures popping up here and there in the story, and you see what he means by over-use; a principle which would also apply to variety as well as quantity.
    ~My Art~ The Tolkien Forum on FACEBOOK *like* . Member of The Tolkien Society.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Location
    Austria
    Age
    56
    Posts
    1,769

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    True, Inderjit, I think that - as time went by - Tolkien successively freed himself from his sources, Middle-earth and its "creatures" became more unique and references, or even mentionings of creatures "borrowed" from other mythologies became sparse.

    Tolkien's Elves are probably the best example of how unique the creatures of Middle-earth could become, they reached a state of refinement and sophistication, which is absolutely without parallels in extant mythologies.

    ----

    The eagles are IMO a somewhat different case, because Tolkien used them as sort of "dei ex machina" *), using them too often would have meant to overstress their credibility and that is IMO the reason why Tolkien calls them "...a dangerous 'machine'" in his letter. Had he not used them in this 'function', he probably could have had them involved in the plot more often.

    ----

    *) deus ex machina, the 'god from the machinery' has its origin in the Greek drama where it meant the timely appearance of a god to unravel and resolve the plot. The name deus ex machina was probably chosen, because the god's appearing in the sky (or from above), was an effect which was achieved by means of some sort of a crane (the "machine").
    Last edited by Walter; 12-14-2004 at 01:44 PM. Reason: Explanation added...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    Location
    Newark, Delaware, United States
    Age
    29
    Posts
    2,210

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Tolkien's works, while they did not include such creatures as listed above, did contain some interesting creatures, though these were mainly in the alternate versions (in my opinion, better versions) of certain stories from the Silmarillion that were written out more fully in the BoLTs and the other HoME books.

    Let us not forget Tevildo, the Prince of Cats; or one of Sauron's incarnations, Thű, who could take the form of a wolf-man, or werewolf; nor the Vampire Thuringwethil who could become a bat.

    Tolkien referred to other creatures "in the dark places of the Earth" and I've always been curious about what he had in mind.

    PS: it's been a while since I read the stories, so if I was incorrect with those names, please correct me
    Tu sei senza pieta, ma quanto sarŕ pesante il mio castigo?

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
    Age
    93
    Posts
    2,115

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Let us not the forget the nameless things which Gandalf only saw, and the mysterious evil creatures which have no name that are mentioned in the early chapters of LoTR.
    Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form-Vladimir Nabokov

    Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -Gustave Flaubert

    We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.-Marcel Proust

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Location
    Austria
    Age
    56
    Posts
    1,769

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he.

    Gandalf in The Two Towers
    This is a curious statement, considering that Sauron is a Maia and Ainu, an "offspring of Ilúvatar's thought", one of those who were "with him before Time".

    In fact I think, that this is one of the few remaining allusions to other mythologies. In Germanic and Northern mythology we have Yggdrasill, the ash-tree, representing the world (of which Midgard, Middangeard or 'Middle-earth' is a part). And there it is said that Nidhogg, a serpent/dragon, is gnawing the bottom of its deepest root.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, England, UK
    Age
    58
    Posts
    3,139

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    There have been debates on this paradox; partly resolved by starting the clock on Sauron's age from the day he entered Middle-earth, with him possibly living outside of time (and therefore ageless) before then.
    ~My Art~ The Tolkien Forum on FACEBOOK *like* . Member of The Tolkien Society.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Location
    Austria
    Age
    56
    Posts
    1,769

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Quote Originally Posted by Eledhwen
    There have been debates on this paradox; partly resolved by starting the clock on Sauron's age from the day he entered Middle-earth, with him possibly living outside of time (and therefore ageless) before then.
    But then - following this line of reasoning - the "nameless things" could hardly be older either, could they?

  14. #14
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, England, UK
    Age
    58
    Posts
    3,139

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Quote Originally Posted by Walter
    But then - following this line of reasoning - the "nameless things" could hardly be older either, could they?
    No, but those beings who step into time (Middle-earth) at a certain juncture cannot claim to be older than what was already there. That which exists outside of time cannot be measured by it. If Sauron had been in Middle-earth when these nameless, gnawing creatures of the discord were created, he may well have been aware of them; but he was not there and so was not aware. I think that is the gist of Gandalf's words.
    ~My Art~ The Tolkien Forum on FACEBOOK *like* . Member of The Tolkien Society.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Location
    Austria
    Age
    56
    Posts
    1,769

    Re: Mythological creatures in Tolkien's universe

    Not so, I would say...

    For the Great Music had been but the growth and flowering of thought in the Tuneless Halls, and the Vision only a foreshowing; but now they had entered in at the beginning of Time, and the Valar perceived that the World had been but foreshadowed and foresung, and they must achieve it.

    Ainulindalë
    Then those of the Ainur who desired it arose and entered into the World at the beginning of Time; and it was their task to achieve it, and by their labours to fulfil the vision which they had seen. Long they laboured in the regions of Eä, which are vast beyond the thought of Elves and Men, until in the time appointed was made Arda, the Kingdom of Earth. Then they put on the raiment of Earth and descended into it, and dwelt therein.

    Valaquenta
    Since they entered the world not at a certain juncture, but at the very beginning of Time, there is hardly a chance for anyone/anything being "older" than one of those Ainur who chose to enter the world, IMO.

    The statement of Gandalf is IMO simply not congruent with other information about Tolkien's subcreation at the time.

    Thus - to me - it only makes sense when I consider it an allusion to the myth of Yggdrasil and Nidhogg, especially since Tolkien uses a similar wording as is found in the translations of Snorri's Prose Edda...

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. Tolkiens Battle: Myths and Faith
    By Ancalagon in forum J.R.R. Tolkien : The Creator of Middle-earth
    Replies: 38
    Last Post: 11-19-2003, 02:38 AM
  2. Tolkien's Fashion Tips
    By Anamatar IV in forum Bag End
    Replies: 3
    Last Post: 06-23-2003, 01:58 AM
  3. Replies: 6
    Last Post: 05-18-2003, 09:14 AM
  4. Similarities between Tolkien's LotR and Goodkind's Sword of Truth series
    By Wonko The Sane in forum Other Related Topics
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 12-02-2002, 10:14 PM
  5. PJ's Arwen more like Tolkien's Luthien?
    By Confusticated in forum Tolkien's versus Jackson's 'LOTR'
    Replies: 10
    Last Post: 11-22-2002, 11:21 PM

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •