It cannot be understated, the role some writers and authors have in shaping entire genres as we know and read them today. In the case of fantasy, much of what we recognize, for good or for ill, is owed to J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and other works. Other fantasy writers certainly existed before Tolkien, each having their own unique influence on the genre, but few have had the sheer, far-reaching presence of Tolkien. While Fantasy as a genre in fiction certainly predates Tolkien, it is Tolkien who codified and defined fantasy as many currently recognize it, generations after his time. In looking at the sources that inspired and influenced J.R.R. Tolkien, Xlibris Publishing hopes future authors will look for their inspirations and influences.
The predominant depictions of elves as beautiful, graceful, and long-lived beings with a preference for bows and forests? Dwarves as stubborn, obstinate bearded folk who live inside mountains, wield axes, and craft great works? Dark Lords served by savage hordes of craven goblins, crude orcs, horrible monsters, and evil sorcerers? Wizened old wizards mentoring and guiding the heroes on their journey? All Tolkien. And much of it he drew from myths, legends, and ancient literature.
Fantasy has always drawn heavily upon myths, legends, and folklore from cultures around the world. Tolkien makes full use of his literary and folkloric knowledge in shaping the world of Middle-Earth and the figures populating it. Most especially Tolkien draws upon Norse-Germanic myth and related literature. The Light Elves of Norse myth are the base for the Elves of Middle-Earth. Gandalf is heavily based on the depiction of Odin as the ‘Wanderer,’ a figure of wisdom, justice, and insight concealed in a humble form. The dragon in Beowulf is a key influence on Tolkien’s depiction of Smaug in The Hobbit, and characteristics of Beowulf can be seen in Aragorn. Archetypes and artifacts from across multiple Scandinavian Sagas, most especially the Volsunga Saga, are carefully placed and evoked throughout The Lord of the Rings.
It also to Tolkien we owe the prominence of such themes in Fantasy as good triumphing over evil, and said triumph often coming from humble origins.
While Norse myth and old Germanic literature greatly shape the world, languages, and cultures of Lord of the Rings, Christianity shapes the themes. Tolkien emphasizes the more modern ideals of good vs. evil, the value of humility, and the power of compassion, drawing from his Christian background. This is especially the case with the characters of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Hobbits, neither great warriors nor wizards, certainly not hidden kings, but humble and brave little hobbits play the most important roles in destroying the One Ring and defeating the Dark Lord Sauron. It was compassion that stayed hands from outright killing the wretched Gollum, and ultimately culminating in the final destruction of the One Ring.
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By Ian Smith