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Preface In the Spring of 1968 while I was studying the Old English poem Beowulf with Dr. Rudolph Bambas, my colleague and classmate Judith Moore suggested that I might enjoy reading a new work by J:R.R. Tolkien, known to us as the editor of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the author of that seminal article -- Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings delighted me that summer. In the fall, at the urging of another colleague, I enrolled in the Old Norse seminar. That conjunction of events proved to be the beginning of a lifelong study of Northern literature and its contributions to the cauldron of story which produced The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales. The first version of this study became my doctoral dissertation -- Studies in the Sources of J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings.1 Throughout the years that followed while I was either teaching college English or working as a librarian, I have continued my research. The original study was based on about twenty-five sagas; that number has been tripled. Christopher Tolkiens careful publication of The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales, and six volumes of The Historv of Middle-earth has greatly reatly expanded the canon available for scholarly study. Humphrey Carpenters authorized biography has also been helpful. However, the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien have produced both the . greatest joy and the greatest terror. Tolkien was an active and aggressive letter writer. In my original study, I had postulated a correlation between the wizard Gandalf and the Norse God Odin. Imagine my delight when I read Tolkiens letter to his publisher Sir Stanley Unwin about a proposed German translation: He [the translator] has sent me some illustrations (of the Trolls and Gollum) which despite certain merits . . are I fear too Disnified for my taste: Bilbo with a dribbling nose, and Gandalf as a figure of vulgar fun rather than the Odinic wanderer that I think of. o o 2. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that he thought source studies were not very useful (Letters, 150). Throughout my study, I have tried to abide by the conditions Tolkien set down in a letter to Peter Szabo Szentmihalyi: "Whenll
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they [readers] have read it, some readers will (I suppose) wish to criticize it, and even to analyze it, and if that is their mentality they are, of course, at liberty to do these things -- so long as they have first read it with attention throughout (Letters, 414). The Letters also provide a number of prohibitions: Tolkien noted that the term trilogy is inaccurate (I have used three-part work); Tolkien disliked the word Nordic (I have used Northern and Norse); and so forth. I have read and reread Tolkiens works and have worked with the texts closely at hand. My approach has not been that of a fan, although I do have a great love for his work, but that of a scholar of medieval literature. Yet, fans, rather than scholars, still write most of the books and articles on Tolkien. Many of these have some good ideas and insights but few reflect a careful knowledge of either Tolkiens work or of medieval literature. Ruth S, Noels The Mythology of Middle-earth is one such work. If Tolkien had not been popular, he would now be given more serious consideration. When scholars do come to write about Tolkiens work, they frequently talk about what. he did not accomplish rather than what he intended and produced. This book concentrates on placing Tolkien in a tradition of Northern literature. Northern literature has lent its own problems to the progress of the study. The literature is not well known to English-speaking peoples, especially to Americans. I have provided a brief outline in Chapter 2. The names of the sagas in Icelandic are long and difficult to read; the Icelanders use shortened, formalized pet names, but I have settled on anglicized, Americanized titles to be used throughout. Generally for simplicitys sake, I have dropped the diacritics in Norse names but retained those in Tolkiens personal and place names. Like other pieces of scholarship, this work is not finished. When I read more sagas and works derived from them and more volumes of the History of Middle-earth, I will find new correlations. However, I have compiled enough evidence to help the reader understand what Tolkien meant when he declared his literary purpose: I have tried to modernize the
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myths and make them credible? A Texas A&M University Library research grant helped me to start towards the preparation of the current manuscript. Alice Osaji began the long process of additions and editing. Rosalind Clark, a colleague in the English Department, read the whole, offering helpful advice and constructive criticisms. Since I have never worked in one of the few libraries with an extensive Icelandic collection, the interlibrary loan network, one of the. great prides of American librarianship, has been my constant benefactor. The Oregon State University Faculty Womens Writing Group has offered invaluable advice on scope, audience, and organization. The Oregon State University Research Council provided funds to finish the manuscript. My mentor and friend Jay Martin Poole has performed Herculean organizational chores: my Administrative Assistant Mary Steckel and our Book Man Scott Larsen brought a keen intelligence, incredible patience, and an unflagging sense of humor to preparation of the text, And my family (Glen and Doris Strange, Darla Strange Comeaux) and friends (whose numbers have increased over the twenty years of career mobility) have provided long years of encouragement.
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NOTES1 o Gloriana St. Clair, Studies in the Sources of J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord
of the Rings, University of Oklahoma, Ph.D., 1970 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms, Inc.) 2. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 198 1), 119. (All references are to this edition and are in the text as Letters.) 3. Henry Resnik, The Hobbit-Forming World of J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Saturdav Evening Post (July 2, 1966), 94.
CHAPTER ONE Introduction The early reviews and criticisms of The Lord of the Rings make a persistent and provocative suggestion that in some way the essence of his work derives from the world of the sagaman -- Norse mythology, folklore, and literature. In a review in the New Statesman and the Nation, Francis Huxley notes Tolkiens familiarity with epic saga and suggests that the outline was based in saga. 1 In the Spectator, Elizabeth Leigh Pemberton calls The Lord of the Rings the heroic saga of the imaginary world of Middle Earth [sic]. . e 2 The Times Literarv Supplement reviewer also used the term saga in describing Tolkiens work.3 Robert J. Reilly notes borrowings from Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Norse; Thomas J. Gasque acknowledges that Tolkien was steeped in Northern mythology; William Ready focuses on courage as a key element of Norse myth; and Patricia Spacks comments on the darker view of Northern mythology in Tolkiens work.4 Most of these studies focus on Norse mythology rather than on Icelandic literature, and most allude to influences instead of exploring the technical details of such influences. This book discusses the observations and references to Norse mythology made by this and other writers about Tolkien. However, the purpose of this book is to go beyond the mythology
explore the Icelandic sagas and their contributions to Tolkiens background 4 in story and characterization, to his technique and style in composing tales about Middle-earth, and to his choice of themes, values, and motifs. Colleagues and critics often pose three puzzles for Tolkien scholars. First, the colleagues want to know why so many millions of readers bought, read, and discussed The Lord of the Rings in the 1960s and subsequently. 8 This book does not answer that question. Literary scholars interested in social commentary and observers of popular culture must assess the popularity of The Lord of the Rings to a wide audience in that decade of
American life. J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land edited by Robert Giddings contains several articles on the social influence, but since most of the critics writing for the volume do not like or admire Tolkien, their commentaries are biased and their conclusions tainted.5 No satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon has yet been produced. The second puzzle is why Tolkien wrote these works rather than . others. Colleagues understand how Faulkner reached his obsession with the mythology of Yoknapatawpha county, how Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene interested themselves in the themes of English Catholics, and how James Joyce devoted his talent to stories of the artist in Dublin. The colleagues do not understand how an Oxford don began to tell the tales of Middle-earth. They understand how Lessing could write Children of Violence but not how she conceived Canopus in Argos. Kingsley Amis is allowed Luckv Jim but not The Alteration. This book clarifies, Tolkiens choice of materials. He fed his imagination on Northern literature, and Northern literature fostered the creation of his particular statement of mythic ideas, concepts, themes, and : motifs. The third puzzle is why does The Lord of the Rings continue to engage so many readers. C. S. Lewis was Tolkiens contemporary, friend, and fellow professor. Both we