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Tolkein's inspirations?

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  • tbone1tbone1 Member Posts: 1,995
    I think James Branch Cabell is an influence who has pretty much been forgotten.

  • FardragonFardragon Member Posts: 4,511
    edited September 2017
    Not on Tolkien - Tolkien never read anything written after 1800, apart from Narnia, which he hated.

    Tolkien never set out to write fantasy, he was trying to recreate Saxon mythology that he felt had been lost as a consequence of the Norman conquest.

    He would have been totally unaware of what the likes of Lovecraft, Howard, and the rest where doing in America.

    KamigoroshiAnduinMirandel
  • FinneousPJFinneousPJ Member Posts: 6,456
    Hmm, I always thought he was trying create, not recreate, a mythology.

    ThacoBell
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 10,035
    I always interpreted the lines about old nameless things that gnaw on the roots of the world as a nod to Lovecraft.

    Zaghoul
  • KamigoroshiKamigoroshi Member Posts: 5,313
    Tolkien just took, copied, mixed and renamed large junks real world mythologies for his own world building. Honestly, I cannot remember a single part which was created solely by him. Like... at all!

    subtledoctor
  • Grond0Grond0 Member Posts: 5,722

    Tolkien just took, copied, mixed and renamed large junks real world mythologies for his own world building.

    Just like every other writer that's ever lived he drew inspiration from what he read and saw - no surprise there. To suggest that makes his work purely derivative is odd though - I suspect you would struggle to find a single other writer that's gone to the trouble of developing so many new languages.

    ThacoBellAnduin
  • KamigoroshiKamigoroshi Member Posts: 5,313
    edited September 2017
    Not really. The task of creating fictive languages isn't rare at all amongst authors. Two book series I can immedially name would be Guin Saga and Seikai no Monshou. Tolkien certainly did a nice job. But it wasn't new nor ground breaking stuff.

  • Grond0Grond0 Member Posts: 5,722
    edited September 2017
    Both those examples are much more recent than Tolkien. Looking on Wikipedia for languages invented in literature Tolkien has his own category and nothing pre-dates that - and as I indicated before he's also unusual in the range of languages he developed.

    While he obviously drew inspiration from many sources - for instance see the article referred to above by FinneousPJ on Finnish influences - I think ground breaking would be a very good description of what he did. You can see his influence persists in the popular impressions today of races like dwarves and elves, which are very much based on his portrayal of them (which was significantly different from the way they were popularly portrayed when Tolkien was growing up). However, I won't pursue the argument further.

    ThacoBell
  • scriverscriver Member Posts: 1,823
    ThacoBell said:

    I always interpreted the lines about old nameless things that gnaw on the roots of the world as a nod to Lovecraft.

    This is literally straight out of Nordic mythology (except them Norse had names for them, not that I could remember them even if I tried). Well, except the roots is on the world tree. So it's more like things gnawing on the roots of the universe. So it's not entirely literally straight out of it.

    Not really. The task of creating fictive languages isn't rare at all amongst authors. Two book series I can immedially name would be Guin Saga and Seikai no Monshou. Tolkien certainly did a nice job. But it wasn't new nor ground breaking stuff.

    Tolkien didn't just make up a bunch of words and string together some simplified grammar like most made up "languages". The man was a professional linguist, he even went as far as making up etymologicisms for his lingos. There's a reason people so often joke about Tolkien not making up tongues to use in his settings but making up stories to use his languages in.

    tbone1
  • DreadKhanDreadKhan Member Posts: 3,859
    I learned that he took much inspiration from old germanic literature, some of which he was a translator of. There seemed to be a ton of stuff directly lifted from these myths. I heard he translated Beowulf for example.

    Nothing really wrong with derivation imho, as long as you set stuff up in a sane, coherent manner. Tolkien did a goid job with his northern european stuff, maybe less so with other parts.

    tbone1
  • jjstraka34jjstraka34 Member Posts: 7,711
    Tolkien's inspirations were clearly ethnic mythologies, but in the end his work became as important as Homer or Shakespeare to our culture. Along with Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, he created the fantasy genre. I don't know if any of them set out to do this, but it's what happened all the same. The interesting thing of course, is that even people who are the ground floor of something new were influence by something else that came before them. It just so happens that the work of these 3 authors (and others like them) coalesced into a genre over the course of about 30-50 years. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't.

    ThacoBell
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 10,035
    @scriver I'm not so sure. Tolkien named literally everything in his stories. Not naming them would have to have deliberate, which is a very Lovecraftian thing to do.

  • scriverscriver Member Posts: 1,823
    I think you are taking the phrasing a bit too literal there.

  • Mantis37Mantis37 Member Posts: 1,045
    It's always possible to look at an author's work and trace how they may have been influenced, consciously or subconsciously. However this is less than half the work. What have they excluded? How have they altered or combined the sources? For what purposes? How successful were those choices? Tolken's breadth of knowledge helps him to draw on sources many writers would be unfamiliar with, but he builds on them with skill.

    ThacoBell
  • FardragonFardragon Member Posts: 4,511
    edited September 2017
    ThacoBell said:

    I always interpreted the lines about old nameless things that gnaw on the roots of the world as a nod to Lovecraft.

    Nope, Tolkien loathed modern fiction (and by modern, that's anything written after Spencer's Fairie Queen), and lived in an isolated academic bubble. He probably had never heard of Lovecraft until he was mentioned by American fans in the 1960s.

    Lovecraft and Tolkien where simply dipping into the same pool of existential dread that had always been there.

  • subtledoctorsubtledoctor Member Posts: 11,466
    edited September 2017
    It sometimes amazes me what a high pedestal people tend to put Tolkien on. Influential? Of course. He engaged in true world-building to an extent, and with skill, that no one had before and few have matched since. That is his signature achievement.

    But that doesn't mean he invented the genre, or the themes, etc. In these areas, his works were very derivative, riding a wave of interest in fantasy and fairy stories that was probably a cultural reaction to industrialization. He didn't invent this stuff out of whole cloth.

    And I honestly think his novelistic prose leaves a lot to be desired, especially in characterization. I found very few sympathetic personalities in the LotR trilogy... his characters are most compelling when draped with the haze of myth. The Silmarilion has that haze, and uses it to great effect. It is astonishingly original and great.

    As far as further reading, for examples in the fantasy genre that influenced Tolkien you might look at Morris, McDonald, and Lord Dunsany; going back further, look at the Kalevala, some Norse sagas, the Tain, and of course the Mabinogion.

    Post edited by subtledoctor on
    StummvonBordwehr
  • FardragonFardragon Member Posts: 4,511
    edited September 2017


    But that doesn't mean he invented the genre, or the themes, etc. In these areas, his works were very derivative, riding a wave of interest in fantasy and fairy stories that was probably a cultural reaction to industrialization.

    This is failure to understand the world Tolkien lived in. The bit about the reaction to industrialisation is true, but the idea that he was "riding a wave" of anything is wrong. Firstly, remember he was English. Lovecraft and Howard where pretty much unknown outside the USA until the 1960s. This is the age before instant internet communication, the USA was still a far off land, imported American novels difficult to come by. Secondly, he was an Oxford academic. This was a world apart, cut off from even English popular culture. You should try reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, or Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh to get an idea or what an alien, rarefied world that was. Whilst his works where certainly derivative, they where derivative of stories that where already hundreds of years old. Finaly he had no interest in being a professional novelist. He had a job which he was quite happy with, the stories where written for his own amusement, and only published because he was nagged. He was not trying to be popular.

    What happened was when his books (initially bootleg versions) reached the USA in the 60s they where picked up by a wave of popular culture that was already underway, much to Tolkien's own bemusement.

  • AnduinAnduin Member Posts: 5,745
    Oh horse dung. HORSE DUNG.

    Okay. I'm not an expert but I live. LIVE. In the same village as Tolkien grew up in. Rednal. Okay, I'm next door and need to walk across the park.

    He was definitely influenced by the things around him, although he himself said he wasn't.

    Some people say the Lord of the Rings was an allegory for the second world war. Which is rot because by that time he had already wrote most of what would become Lord of the Rings. He did fought in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme where men fell in their hundreds of thousands. Tolkien somehow survived. He was in a dark place, literally and mentally. The idea of elven souls leaving to return to the halls of the dead in Valinor (England) to join those who did not leave to venture into Melkors middle earth (killing fields of France) was a fantasy he perhaps found comfort in. Also the idea of hope. Hope. The Lord of the Rings is all about hope. Even in the darkest of times. It was never extinguished in LofR or in Tolkien (and is a major theme of his other books)

    Also he spent his life finding the origin of words. He wrote a large chunk of the Oxford dictionary, this was the reason he studied so much norse texts. He basically could trace a word back through time and space.

    Incidentally. He was an expert at indo-european languages, which is spoken in some form from western spain to india. The origins of African and Asian languages are different, thus you get no asians or africans in his books... (indirect racism please forgive him.)

    He spent his life reading. Was in a reading club with C.S.Lewis who was intrigued and copied his idea of developing new fictional worlds. Frankly, Narnia with talking Lions disgusted him. In fact every other fantasy world he read about up to that point probably disgusted him as they were not developed properly. Hence he was galvanised to release his books which he had to compile together from the relentless note making he made.

    Yes he was influenced by other authors as he thought them rubbish. So he wrote his own. You can trace elven words through time and space in his works just as you can with words in the real world.

    Tolkien was unique and has been copied but never matched since.

    I also have to drive past one of the towers he could see from the grammar school he attended. It still sends an icy shiver down my spine each time.

    Influenced? Yes. His own words? Yes.

    ThacoBell
  • subtledoctorsubtledoctor Member Posts: 11,466
    edited September 2017
    Yes, there was a wave of interest in fairy/fantasy stuff in the U.K. and US in the 60s, which coincided with growing distribution of cheap pulp fantasy novels and this combination inspired Gary Gygax to combine those stories with tabletop war games. And thus D&D.

    But earlier, between the ~1850s and ~1920s there were (relative) gobs of fantasy stories being written. Most of that writing was not prose, and most of the prose was not novels, and most of it was fairly cheap, pulp writing. And most of it is lost. The few that reached higher levels of quality and reknown include stuff like The Well at the End of the World, and the King of Elfland's Daughter. I highly recommend those in particular, to anyone who wants to read more of this era's prose.

    Tolkien didn't exist in a vacuum. Ideas of elves and dwarves and orcs didn't spring forth from a blank slate of imagination like Athena from Zeus's forehead. The subject matter was fairly common. It's the form that (some of) his writing took - long novels with dense world-building - that was way ahead of its time.

    Anduin
  • Grond0Grond0 Member Posts: 5,722

    Tolkien didn't exist in a vacuum. Ideas of elves and dwarves and orcs didn't spring forth from a blank slate of imagination like Athena from Zeus's forehead. The subject matter was fairly common.

    I think you're not giving him enough credit for imagination there. The ideas of creatures that were current in the UK at his time were not at all like the ones he portrayed in his books. Of course he pinched ideas from mythology, but I don't believe anyone prior to him had attempted a systematic portrayal of the culture and history of fictional races, quite apart from the languages issue.

    ThacoBell
  • FardragonFardragon Member Posts: 4,511
    edited September 2017
    It's certainly true that Tolkien had seen, and absolutely hated the late Victorian/early 20C faerie stories, and set out set the record straight, by going back to earlier myths. This is where the evolutionary divergence between fairy cobblers and santas little helpers, and the haughtly woodland archers occured. But I don't think it's really fair to say he was "influenced" by something he set out to be completly different too. But the early 20C American writers would have passed him by, just as I suspect Howard wasn't really interested in late Victorian English faerie stories.

    It's pretty obvious that his experience on the first world war battlefields where a huge influence, expecualy on Frodo's journey through Mordor, and on the themes "what difference can a little person make? Why and how do we continue without hope?" and I would argue that it is that personal experience of war that sets him apart from most other writers. He claims that the second world war was not an influence, and I believe him.

    The influence of the land we grow up in is clearly important, and Tolkien's depiction of 19th C England in the Shire and 9th C Angland in Rohan clearly add depth to the book, just as the vast deserts that Conan traverses are inspired by Howard's homeland.

    ThacoBell
  • subtledoctorsubtledoctor Member Posts: 11,466
    Grond0 said:

    The ideas of creatures that were current in the UK at his time were not at all like the ones he portrayed in his books.

    I just don't know what your basis for this assertion is. Like I said, the late-19th-century version of pulp fantasy was pretty common around that time. Obviously every author put (and puts) their own particular spin on this race or that magic, etc. Tolkien was no different in this respect... except...
    Grond0 said:

    I don't believe anyone prior to him had attempted a systematic portrayal of the culture and history of fictional races, quite apart from the languages issue.

    I could actually disagree here too. Gulliver's Travels is an obvious example. And of course there were many other writings in a similar vein (some outright imitations).

    But no, I'm actually with you on this, and this is my whole point: it is Tolkien's "systematic portrayal of the culture and history of" races like dwarves and elves and nations of men that sets him apart, and that puts him ahead of his time. His investment into the history and culture of Middle-Earth was quite unique, and would become rampantly popular ~50 years later.

    (Of course this may be just a phase - in time we may come to disdain the world-building fantasy genre typified by LotR/GoT/etc., and become enthused with the poetic form again. An Tolkien could go out of print and be relegated to the junk aisle of used bookstores. Who knows? But, now I'm just rambling...)

  • FardragonFardragon Member Posts: 4,511
    edited September 2017
    Gulliver's travels is an allegory for different aspects of British society, rather than an attempt to create a self contained alternative world. But I agree that Tolkien wasn't the first. I would perhaps point to Edgar Rice Burroughs as a better example.

    But lets not forget that the 1930s-1950s was the time of pulp SF as well as pulp fantasy.

    There is also Hollywood to consider. The Danny Kaye movie "The Court Jester" (1956) is set in an entirely fictional pseudo-medieval european kingdom, complete with a witch, a bard protagonist, a female warrior and dwarves.

  • Grond0Grond0 Member Posts: 5,722

    I just don't know what your basis for this assertion is. Like I said, the late-19th-century version of pulp fantasy was pretty common around that time.

    Indeed, but the Victorian view of elves for instance was more like we would now think of faeries (though Santa's elves are a holdover from that), e.g. short and mischievous. The view of elves as tall, noble, somewhat detached and attuned to nature had more in common with the far older portrayal in the Norse sagas, but Tolkien wasn't copying any previous portrayal - he was pulling together elements drawn from various sources to make new characters that suited his particular viewpoint.

  • subtledoctorsubtledoctor Member Posts: 11,466
    edited September 2017
    Grond0 said:

    Indeed, but the Victorian view of elves for instance was more like we would now think of faeries (though Santa's elves are a holdover from that), e.g. short and mischievous.

    Read Lord Dunsany. Tall, chivalrous elves with plate armor and longswords. And published 10 years before The Hobbit. Granted it's a very different book - of course. Point just being that Tolkien was working with tropes and ideas that were not created out of whole cloth.

    I tend to see Dunsany as the end of Victorian fantasy literature and Tolkien as the beginning of modern fantasy literature. But they were contemporaries, and very much working within the same literary milieu.

  • Grond0Grond0 Member Posts: 5,722

    Read Lord Dunsany. Tall, chivalrous elves with plate armor and longswords. And published 10 years before The Hobbit. Granted it's a very different book - of course. Point just being that Tolkien was working with tropes and ideas that were not created out of whole cloth.

    I've read the King of Elfland's Daughter if that's what you're referring to and it is indeed a very different book. In that book Lord Dunsany appears to me to be playing with fantasy ideas rather than attempting to create an alternative (if fantastic) reality and I see no connection between his descriptions (or lack of descriptions) of elves and Tolkien's work. I think you're right though that Dunsany's book could be described as fitting at the tail-end of Victorian fantasy. Tolkien's work, however, could not - the roots he was drawing on are far older.

  • QuickbladeQuickblade Member Posts: 899
    scriver said:

    ThacoBell said:

    I always interpreted the lines about old nameless things that gnaw on the roots of the world as a nod to Lovecraft.

    This is literally straight out of Nordic mythology (except them Norse had names for them, not that I could remember them even if I tried). Well, except the roots is on the world tree. So it's more like things gnawing on the roots of the universe. So it's not entirely literally straight out of it.
    That would be Nidhogg. *is a Norse history buff*

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Níðhöggr

    tbone1scriver
  • FardragonFardragon Member Posts: 4,511
    edited September 2017
    Dunsany was drawing on Spencer's Faerie Queen - a series we can be confident Tolkien had read - he would probably have studied it at school or as an undergrad.

    I suspect Tolkien thought that was where the rot set in, with it's Norman chivalric romanticism contaminating good old Saxon grit.

  • AnduinAnduin Member Posts: 5,745
    Fardragon said:

    Dunsany was drawing on Spencer's Faerie Queen - a series we can be confident Tolkien had read - he would probably have studied it at school or as an undergrad.

    I suspect Tolkien thought that was where the rot set in, with it's Norman chivalric romanticism contaminating good old Saxon grit.

    Orc is the name the anglo-saxons called the normans. (although to be precise Orc is old english for a foreigner, monster or demon)

    "Bloody Orcs invading again." - Harold 1066, probably...

    Fardragon
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