Msg#: 43                                           Date: 08-25-96  03:49
  From: David Grubbs                                 Read: Yes    Replied: No 
    To: Lydia Goodberry                              Mark:                     
  Subj: Re: Mythology in Lord of
LG>   If I'm not mistaken, Tolkein based at least parts of his books on
LG> Beowulf...

Tolkien was a philologist at one of the English universities, an authority on
Old English and Middle English language and literature; he was also conversant
with Finnish, Welsh, Gothic, Norse, Irish, Latin, Greek and Hebrew languages
and ancient mythic and legendary literatures.  His knowledge of the
interelationships of languages was enormous; in his younger days he worked on
the Oxford English Dictionary, tracing the origins and history of words as they
developed toward their present forms and meanings.  His influence in scholarly
circles might have been enormous, had it not been for what he referred to as
his "secret vice," a hobby of inventing languages that he had enjoyed since his
grammar school days.  By the time he was a young man, his hobby reflected his
deepening understanding of matters philological, and he began what was to
become a lifelong project, the creation of two "historically related" languages
which derived from a common ancestor-tongue, changing down the (fictional) ages
in a regular fashion that gave them the sembelence of real languages.  But he
knew that a language cannot exist without a population to speak it, so he had
to invent the two kindreds of elves, the High Elves and the Grey Elves.  Though
the details of vocabulary and grammar of these languages were unrelated to any
real languages, he deliberately gave them something of the "flavor" or style
(phonological and grammatical) of Finnish and Welsh, two of his personal
favorites.  He also knew that languages inevitably have an intimate
relationship with a mythology.  (His good friend C. S. Lewis once cynically
referred to mythology as "a disease of language"; Tolkien replied that you
might just as well call language a disease of mythology).  So his
Elvish-speaking populations also required a mythos, which he developed over
many years into what eventually became _The Silmarillion_.  This dealt with the
most ancient myths, from the "Elder Days," when the elves, exiled to
Middle-Earth by the Valar (gods), warred against Morgoth, Sauron's boss.  He
created his mythos independently of any "real" mythologies; the only really
striking similarity was that between his tragic hero Turin and the Finnish
Kulervo of the Kalevala.  But again, there was the matter of "flavor" of the
stories, and this was modeled on the flavor of North European tales: thus his
use of the terms elf, dwarf, etc., and at one point he did write a large
portion of the tale of Turin in the Old English "alliterative" meter used in
Beowulf.  The Lord of the Rings, begun as a sequel to his successful
"children's" book _The Hobbit_ carried the mythos forward into a mixed
"legendary" and "historical" setting.  Here he introduced the Dunedain, the
Lords of Men of the West, whose language was "represented" in the book by
Modern English, instead of invented as Elvish had been; speaking a language
related to that of the Dunedain were the Riders of Rohan, whose language was
similarly "represented" by Old English.  Mostly they are depicted as speaking
the "Common Speech" of the Dunedain (and the hobbits), but their use of Modern
English is subtly "flavored" with something of the spirit of Old English, and
the samples of their poetry are done in the meter of Beowulf.  Though many
individual "elements" have their parallels with myths and stories of many
lands, Tolkien used them, along with unique elements, to tell a very original
tale in a very original way.  There are many more parallels to the Edda of the
Old Norse than there are to Beowulf.  For further information on many of the
topics I have touched on here, see Appendix F to _The Lord of the Rings_ (Vol.
III) and _The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays_.
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