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The roots of the Work

Helcaraxë

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After reading BoLT1, I think I have a general idea of where Tolkien's work with the later-abandoned Lost Tales originated; however I would like some professional opinion *ahem* INDERJIT!!*ahem*:D. I got the idea that the Lost Tales were originally closely associated with the mythology of the British Isles, and that Eriol, when coming to Tol Eressea, would eventually witness the ruin of its elvish civilization and its repopulation by men and converison into England ("I may have that mixed up..). :confused:

But exactly how deep did this connection run? What precisely was the relationship between Anglish myth and the early Lost Tales?

MB
 

FoolOfATook

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(!Far too brief of an answer below!)
The famous Tolkien quote is that he set about creating the Middle Earth legendarium in order to create "A mythology for England". England doesn't have a mythology in the same way that most countries do, largely as a result of the Norman Conquest.
 

fat baggins

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As professor of Anglo-Saxon, the roots of Tolkien's work come indirectly through much of Medieval literature, most notably Beowulf and Wagner's Ring Cycle (Der Ring Des Niebelungen).

Here is a discussion of the latter:
http://users.rcn.com/wotan.interport//ring1.html


Also from various Northern European sources: Yggdrasil (The World Tree from Norse Myth), The Green Man as Treebeard the shepherd of the forest, and many many others.

Hope this helps!
fb
 

Walter

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MorgothsBane, your other thread (about the Celtic Myths & LotR parallels) contains already many answers to your question here. And many more will you find in BoLT2 (esp. The History of Eriol or Ælfwine) as well as in the rest of the HoMe-series.

Tolkien indeed intended - at least for a certain period of time - to make or invent a mythology for England:
Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story-the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our 'air' (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be 'high', purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.

Letters #131 (To Milton Waldman, probably 1951, in the context of the negotiations about publishing the LotR and the Sil together)
But "a mythology of England", for Tolkien, seemed to imply that it had to be Anglo-Saxon England mostly (and he even tried a little "trick" with Ing(wë) to make a claim that the Anglo-Saxons, respectively their ancestor(s), Ing or Sheave, were the "original rulers" of England long before the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded the British Isles in the 5th century...). And as such it would have to contain at least some remnants of the old Germanic/Nordic myths (as reported in Sturluson's Edda - and later found in the Poetic Edda -, Beowulf or Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes, etc.).

However, Tolkien later seems to have changed his mind again, and removed nearly all explicit references to England and these old Germanic/Nordic myths, but still they can be considered to have been "inspirations" (among others, like Celtic, Finnish, Greek, etc.) for his own tales. (for more of these "inspirations" c.f. http://www.thetolkienwiki.org/wiki.cgi?TolkiensSources ).

But I think Tolkien would have heavily opposed any comparison with Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle:
Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases.

Letters #229
he snapped, when this issue was addressed, since he cordially disliked Shakespeare's and Wagner's approach to portray older myths in their works.
 

Helcaraxë

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Originally posted by Walter
MorgothsBane, your other thread (about the Celtic Myths & LotR parallels) contains already many answers to your question here. And many more will you find in BoLT2 (esp. The History of Eriol or Ælfwine) as well as in the rest of the HoMe-series.

It seems odd that Tolkien considered England to be Myth-starved when there is such a rich multitude of Celtic myth. Why is this?

Second of all, I am slightly confused about the relationship between Tolkien's possible inspiration by Celtic myth discussed in my other thread, and the origins of his work.




Basically I am asking: LotR (as in Lord of the Rings alone, nothing else) was only indirectly influenced by Tolkien's possible Celtic inspirations; it was Tolkien's MYTHOLOGY that was directly influenced by them and in turn influenced LotR?

I apologize for the bad wording of this post, but it's monday:D.


MB
 
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jallan

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MorgothsBane said:
It seems odd that Tolkien considered England to be Myth-starved when there is such a rich multitude of Celtic myth. Why is this?
Think English, not British. There are few surviving English legendary tales compared to the large amount of Scandinavian and Germanic tales that have survived or compared to the French chançons des gestes about Charlemagne and his peers and other early French kings and heroes.

The Arthurian material in Middle-English is largely of French origin, tales brought into England by Normans and Bretons from the continent. Actually, very little Welsh legendary material survives.
Second of all, I am slightly confused about the relationship between Tolkien's possible inspiration by Celtic myth discussed in my other thread, and the origins of his work.

Would I be correct in making this flow chart?

Some Celtic and other mythological influences (rather superficial,as Humphrey Carpenter says)--------------->The early mythology (Lost Tales)------------------> Tolkien's Later Ideas about the Silmarillion and what it should contain------->The Early LotR material--->ect. ect. ect.
Not really. Tolkien’s early mythology and legend has Irish, Norse, Finnish and even Classical roots. Celtic is not particular more influential than anything else. All of it is fundamental rather than superficial, but the great differences between the various mythologies in part encouraged Tolkien to mix and invent freely rather than to copy one of them alone.

Númenor comes from Atlantis with echoes of the dectruction of Judah because of its sins and of the story of Noah. The Hobbit adds stone-trolls from Norwegian and Icelandic folklore, a shape-changing bear-man similar to Björn in the Icelandic tales of Hrolf Kraki, a white stag which is a common appearance in French medieval romances. In The Lord of the Rings the concept of time seeming to be shortened in "faërie" realms appears in respect to Lothlórien (a motif found often in Irish tales). The desciption of the Rohirrim contains motifs from the Old English Beowulf. Some of the Ring history resembles that of the cursed Ring in the Icelandic Volsunga story of Sigurð.
 

Helcaraxë

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jallan said:
All of it is fundamental rather than superficial, but the great differences between the various mythologies in part encouraged Tolkien to mix and invent freely rather than to copy one of them alone.

But Tolkien intended his work to be "true" in the sense of adhering to the moral truth of Christianity. The story's most important theme is "God and his sole right to divine power." Sauron and Melkor, desiring to be creators rather than sub-creators, rebel against the authority of Iluvatar, attempting to gain the Flame Imperishable. None of this is present in the Icelandic sagas, nor in Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelungen," nor in any other souce from which Tolkien seems to have partially drawn his work. How could Tolkien inspirations be fundamental if they had an utterly different underlying theme than Tolkien's works?

MB
 

jallan

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Helcaraxë posted:
But Tolkien intended his work to be "true" in the sense of adhering to the moral truth of Christianity. The story's most important theme is "God and his sole right to divine power." Sauron and Melkor, desiring to be creators rather than sub-creators, rebel against the authority of Iluvatar, attempting to gain the Flame Imperishable. None of this is present in the Icelandic sagas, nor in Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelungen," nor in any other souce from which Tolkien seems to have partially drawn his work. How could Tolkien inspirations be fundamental if they had an utterly different underlying theme than Tolkien's works?
Tolkien did not confine himself to any single theme. Many Christians besides Tolkien have been very attracted to pagan myths and legends.

Dante’s Inferno is as much based on classical conceptions of Hades as on Christian legends of Hell. Milton’s Paradise Lost is stuffed with metaphors and similes taken from classical myth.

As a boy Tolkien was first attracked to classical mythology. Later his tastes swung more to northern myths.

In the Milton Waldman letter a Tolkien explains one reason for the existance of his Valar:
On the side of mere narrative device, this is, of course, meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the ‘gods’ of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted – well, shall we say baldly, by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity.
As Wordsworth wrote:
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.​
So Tolkien created a legendarium in which in the earliest days there were divine beings in the world who filled somewhat the role of the Hebrew/Christian/Islamic angels but whose iconography and deeds and style draw instead from pagan deities.

But Norse myth does give us Loki who has some parallels to Melkor. Probably the Elves on hearing tales of Loki would have told Ælfwine that Loki was Melkor as they explained the Manwë was Woden (Icelandic Óðin) and that Tulkas was Thunor (Icelandic Thór). Also Norse myth provides a dualism with the gods on one side and the Giants and other monsters on the other similar to the conflict between God (with his angels) and Satan (with his devils).

Irish mythology provides the monstrous Balor, King of the Fomorions, chief enemy to the Tuatha Dé Danaan who are the gods. Egyptian mythology knows the serpent Apep who oppose the sun-god Re and the evil god Seth responsible for slaying Osiris.

Hindu mythology is replete with stories of demons who come close to obtaining rule over the universe or who do obtain it until brought down, in the earliest tales by the god Indra, in later tales by the god Vishnu or the god Shiva or the goddess Deva/Kali.

Greek myth has little of this. The battle of Zeus against Typhon and of the gods against the Giants occur but are not stressed.

One problem Tolkien had was that his Valar corresponded mythologically with gods but could not, legitimately, be worshipped as the pagan gods were, though they could of course be prayed to and venerated as are saints like St. Michael (who might possibly be equatable with Manwë).

He seems to have had difficulty making use of them and in his earlier works it is strongly suggested that they failed rather badly. Criticism of the Valar mostly disappears in Tolkien’ later writing.
 

Helcaraxë

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Tolkien may not have confined himself to a single "theme," but his stories have a very firm foundation in a very Christina concept. The idea of God's right to divine power is, essentially, the basis of Tolkien's work. It is the underlying truth. And it is not present in pagan mythology.

~Helcaraxë
 

Walter

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Helcaraxë said:
The idea of God's right to divine power is, essentially, the basis of Tolkien's work. It is the underlying truth. And it is not present in pagan mythology.
I really would appreciate if statements like this one, which represent one's personal opinions on the matter, would be made easier recognizable as such, e.g. by adding "In my opinion" or something of the like. Or else they could easily be mistaken as some form of absolute truth, which they, of course - IMHO - aren't...
 

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I tend to agree with Walter. The underlying truth that Helcaraxë mentions, is not the underlying truth for everyone. Even if it was the writer's intention, which I believe it wasn't. Tolkien stated very clearly that his work was not an allegory. The above said seems to imply that Tolkien's work is a kind of allegory of Christian ideas and values. Definition of an allegory (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English):

"A story in which the events and characters represent ideas or teach a moral lesson"

The story is the story, nothing more, nothing less. And it is a personal matter what meaning one attributes to it. There is no absolute truth in this (or any other) matter. Discussing roots is not the same as discussing intentions. And when it comes to intentions, I believe the author himself has said the last word on the matter... If the story had indeed been so clearly 'Christian', then it might appeal only to Christians. The fact is that it is a universal story which appeals to people of all beliefs, even agnostics and atheists.
 

jallan

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Helcaraxë posted:
Tolkien may not have confined himself to a single "theme," but his stories have a very firm foundation in a very Christian concept. The idea of God's right to divine power is, essentially, the basis of Tolkien's work. It is the underlying truth. And it is not present in pagan mythology.
It is an underlying truth in Tolkien's work, inasmuch as he believed this of the world as it exsists. Similarly God's ominipotence and omniscience and so forth are equally underlying truths in Tolien's work. So is God's tolerance of evil. Other underlying truths are the yearly cycle, that trees have roots, that sky is blue, the existance of war, the existance of greed, of love, of bravery, self-sacrifice, loyalty, selfishness and so forth.

I don't think any of these can be called the underlying truth as though there were only a single underlying truth in Tolkien's legendarium.

But you are correct that developed interlaced pagan mythologies do not generally justify the rights of the gods to hold their power. Gods just do hold power, often having taken it from an earlier generation of gods and they hold it under continuing threats from other supernatural beings who might be said to have as much right to divine power as the gods.

They quarrel with each other.

Jews developed monotheism. So did the Medes and Persians. So did Greek philosophy.

Greek philosophy generally believed in a single great God, usually identified with Zeus. The tales of Zeus gaining power by overthrowing his father Cronos were thrown out as lies of the poets along with most other tales of gods dealing with men. Or the tales were interpreted as allegory. Yet the Greeks and Romans continued to tell these supposed lies because they loved them and those tales continued to be told by Christians.

Pagan cosmologies are mostly generation cosmologies in which powers arise from Chaos and beget new powers on one another. The right of particular gods to supremecy becomes as arbitrary as the right of people of European descent to dominate North America: just a matter of history.

Zeus is not necessarily a better ruler than was Kronos. But he's the one whom you have to deal with.

Tolkien did not make that kind of belief part of his legendarium. Manwë and Varda are legitimate rulers of Arda.
 

Helcaraxë

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Sarde said:
I tend to agree with Walter. The underlying truth that Helcaraxë mentions, is not the underlying truth for everyone. Even if it was the writer's intention, which I believe it wasn't. Tolkien stated very clearly that his work was not an allegory. The above said seems to imply that Tolkien's work is a kind of allegory of Christian ideas and values. Definition of an allegory (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English):

"A story in which the events and characters represent ideas or teach a moral lesson"

The story is the story, nothing more, nothing less. And it is a personal matter what meaning one attributes to it. There is no absolute truth in this (or any other) matter. Discussing roots is not the same as discussing intentions. And when it comes to intentions, I believe the author himself has said the last word on the matter... If the story had indeed been so clearly 'Christian', then it might appeal only to Christians. The fact is that it is a universal story which appeals to people of all beliefs, even agnostics and atheists.
Well, whether there is no absolute truth whatsoever is another matter entirely. ;)

But Tolkien himself said that one of the most important theme in LotR is that of "God and his sole right to divine power." So there you have it. Tolkien himself says that this was an underlying theme. Of course, we are free to interpret the theme as we will, but that is his intention. But I agree with jallan when he says it is not the only underlying truth; although, I don't think "the sky is blue" was particularly high up on Tolkien's thematic priority list. ;)

There is another very important thing, Sarde. What I mentioned was definately not allegory. Tolkien's world, like all worlds, is built on rules. The divine right happens to be one of these. Tolkien, in creating ME in this way, was certainly not trying to teach a moral lesson about the world. This rule is an integral part of the story itself. The story is the story, true. But the story is set in a world that has laws which are the basis of it. This was one of the laws at the basis of ME. There is really nothing allegorical about it. Put simply, the "divine prerogative" right that exists in Tolkien's work really has nothing to do with our world. It is inherent in Tolkien's universe, but this does not automatically imply that he meant it to represent our world. Tolkien's universe is a self-contained thing. Tolkien modelled it after our world, because he meant ME not to exist in an imaginary world, but in an imaginary time period. So it stands to reason that Tolkien would create ME in such a way that it would be consistent with what he, as a Christian, thought the world to be.


~Helcaraxë
 

Sarde

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It seems to me that Tolkien either contradicts himself in this matter or that he had a different definition of allegory than my dictionary does. If Tolkien did say that 'God's sole right to divine power' is the most important theme in TLotR, then it would be an allegory, not in the sense of teaching a moral lesson, but in the sense of representing ideas... :confused:

But to me as a reader, this theme is not part of TLotR. I for one am happy that Tolkien doesn't mention 'Eru and his sole right to power' in the whole LotR story, since I would probably then have put it aside. To me, the story (in itself, disregarding information from Silmarillion etc.) is about power and how it corrupts people. Though I have not finished the book (at the Battle of Pelennor Fields now), I don't think anyone is ever mentioned who does have the right to power and is not corrupted by it. Thank God :)D) it isn't because I could just as well have read the Bible then.
 

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Sarde said:
If Tolkien did say that 'God's sole right to divine power' is the most important theme in TLotR, then it would be an allegory, not in the sense of teaching a moral lesson, but in the sense of representing ideas... :confused:
Actually I'm not sure Tolkien ever said that this is the basis of his work, the underlying truth or anything as explicit on the matter.

I do not know where Helcaraxe has this statement from -though I would be curious to learn where it is from. The only statement I know of, which sounds similar to this comes from Letter #183 (my italics):

In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about 'freedom', though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true God, and held worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.
But this IMO can hardly be the "foundation" for Helcaraxe's opinion, since it is not only worded differently but also has an entirely different context...
 

Helcaraxë

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Sarde said:
It seems to me that Tolkien either contradicts himself in this matter or that he had a different definition of allegory than my dictionary does. If Tolkien did say that 'God's sole right to divine power' is the most important theme in TLotR, then it would be an allegory, not in the sense of teaching a moral lesson, but in the sense of representing ideas... :confused:

Even by your definition, it is not really allegory. It is a part of the world itself; it is not meant as "representative." Simply because something in a story coincides with reality (in this case, Tolkien's Christian view on reality), does not mean it is an allegory. Following this logic, anything that a fictional world shares in common with ours can be considered allegory. :eek:

Walter: No, this quote is not merely the "foundation" (why the quotes?) of my theory.

The whole reason Melkor rebels (and thus corrupts Sauron, as without Melkor there would be no evil), is because Iluvatar refuses to give him the flame imperishable. Hence, Eru's sole right to the power that he alone can possess.

The conflict started by Melkor is not merely a plot device. It is an inherent and fundamental part of Tolkien's universe. If there was no evil, if Melkor hadn't rebelled, than the world JRRT created wouldn't be Arda as we know it. So you see why this concept (the concept that ultimately caused the rebellion and the discord) is an integral part of the world and not just a theme.

~Helcaraxë
 

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Helcaraxë said:
Walter: No, this quote is not merely the "foundation" (why the quotes?) of my theory.
Well, I was - and am - taking issue with your statements (my italics)
The idea of God's right to divine power is, essentially, the basis of Tolkien's work. It is the underlying truth.
This makes it appear as if this were the single most important theme of Tolkien's work. That is - as jallan already pointed out - simply not the fact.

In your subsequent post you stated:
But Tolkien himself said that one of the most important theme in LotR is that of "God and his sole right to divine power." So there you have it. Tolkien himself says that this was an underlying theme.
Now you have weakened your claim of a "single most important theme" some, but here it appears as if Tolkien has actually made a statement like you claim it and that at least the part you put in quotation marks: "God and his sole right to divine power." is actually part of what Tolkien stated somewhere.

Since I have not yet encountered such a statement, I was looking for something like this in Tolkien's writings, but I haven't found anything which is essentially congruent with your claim and which would somehow warrant your statements.

So, my question is: Is the first sentence of the quote above, something Tolkien actually stated, or is this just an impression you get? And if it is the former, then I would like to know where I can find it....
 

Helcaraxë

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Walter, I don't recall stating that it was the only underlying truth. If I implied that, then I misspoke. I don't think there is only one underlying theme. However the theme in question is still vitally important to the story, and is one of the most important underlying truths.

Anyway, regarding the importance of that theme, see my post above. The theme about Eru's exclusive right to the Flame Imperishable is essential to the story. If this theme was not present, none of the events in the Silamillion and LotR would ever have happened.

You see, I had seen the quote about "God and his sole right to divine honour," in another book, which probably took it out of context. So when you provided the actual quote, I realized that I had misapplied the statement. However, the importance of this theme is still observable even without a direct quote from JRRT, as I pointed out above. I apologize for the confusion.

~Helcaraxë
 

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Helcaraxë posted:
The theme about Eru's exclusive right to the Flame Imperishable is essential to the story. If this theme was not present, none of the events in the Silmarillion and LotR would ever have happened.
This stretches matters.

Eru is God. Eru has an exclusive right to anything he wishes. But if Eru were to share the Flame Imperishable by Eru's will, Eru's divine power would not be lessened.

The rebellion did happen (as the explanation for evil) according to Zoroastrian/Jewish/Christian/Moslem mythology/theology. It becomes therefore a fact in any tale using that mythology whether it is Tolkien's The Lord of the Ring or Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby.

But that the world is very much an unfriendly and evil place appears in numerous stories which indicate no necessary belief in monotheism or which even speak against it. The origin of evil is often unimportant in such tales. The origin of Evil is unimportant in The Lord of the Rings as written.

Even the theme of worshipping another than God is not made an important one in either The Silmarillion or The Lord of the Rings. We do not clearly see anyone tempted to worship Sauron. Even Saruman who will join with Sauron will be a potentially trecherous servant rather than a sincere worshipper.

What Tolkien seems to be talking about is why within the legendarium Sauron is wrong and those who oppose him are right. Tolkien points out that it is not just a matter of freedom from oppression (otherwise the Dunlendings who freely chose to follow Sauron are just as right as the Rorhirrim who throw in their lot with Gondor).

Sauron demands divine honor. But giving divine honor to Sauron is just wrong, wrong in the normal unmoral sense that paying divine honor to any single created being is wrong, if by divine honor we mean confusing that being with the creator, upholder and sustainer and subordinating all to that being.

But however this might have been an underlying theme in his legendarium, Tolkien did not make it a strong theme in the Silmarillion or The Lord of the Rings. He might have done so in his proposed sequel The New Shadow, the beginning of which contains a philosophical discussion of the meaning of Orkishness and implies that we are entering a tale in which decisions about what powers one should revere and worship will be central.
 

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