June 7, 2012

How much was Tolkien's "Rings" influenced by Wagner's "Ring?"

Richard Wagner's four opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung was even more influential in the later 1800s and early 1900s than J.R.R. Tolkien's three volume The Lord of the Rings and its tremendous film adaptation were a century later. 

But, Tolkien always pooh-poohed Wagner's influence on him: “Both rings are round and there the resemblance ceases.” Tolkien also argued that he read the medieval sagas in the original Icelandic, while Wagner read them in translations. 

Still, consider the autobiography of Tolkien's close friend C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, which includes a chapter on the vast impact Wagner had on young people of his generation. I found a talk given by a professor of German literature, Edward Haymes, that argues the case for substantial influence of The Ring on The Rings. One excerpt:
German nationalists of the early nineteenth century saw a Germanic equivalent of ancient Greek and Roman mythology in the so-called Nibelung legend. It was common at that time to refer to the Nibelungenlied as the “German Iliad.” Mendelssohn and others were urged by nationalist thinkers to write an opera on the Nibelung subject. The goal was to establish a cultural past that was equal to, if not superior to the Greek and Roman literature they had all grown up on and to make it a part of the popular consciousness. Wagner hoped that his use of Germanic myth would somehow tap into this racial memory and speak directly to the soul of the German people.  
Parenthetically I might mention that Tolkien envisioned a very similar goal for his work. In a letter to a prospective publisher of the Silmarillion he wrote: “I was from the early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me) but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff.” Tolkien shared with Wagner the desire of providing a mythology for his own people. Where Wagner found medieval sources for his myths, Tolkien had to invent his. 

I would add to Prof. Haymes' well-informed analysis my own idle speculation that English v. German nationalist rivalries might have played a role in Tolkien's denigrating the impact of Wagner on him. Tolkien's hyper-Englishness might have something to do with having a German name. From Wikipedia:
The Tolkien family had their roots in Lower Saxony – the homeland of the original Anglo-Saxons – but had been living in England since the 18th century, becoming "quickly intensely English."

Moreover, Tolkien personally fought the German Empire in the Great War. The Battle of the Somme is the kind of thing that might leave a mark on a man's feelings.

84 comments:

BrokenSymmetry said...

William Morris' fantasies seem a likelier source. Morris was heavily influenced by Icelandic sagas (a common point with JRRT) and had extensive connections to Oxford (both town and gown).

Gilbert Ratchet said...

This is all somewhat ironic, given that he was born in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State.

Anonymous said...

How much was Tolkien's "Rings" influenced by Wagner's "Ring?"

Back in the day, the Asia Times Spengler used to be obsessed with this question.

Simon in London said...

Traditionally the English appropriated Arthurian legend - a process which started with the Normans. 'English' King Arthur defends 'England' against those dastardly Saxons!

Presumably Tolkien wanted a more purely Anglo-Saxon mythology, a tough prospect. There's plenty of mythologised history - Agincourt to Dunkirk - but not much actual myth.

Pfft the Elder said...

Tolkien was not anti-German, far from it. But he disliked that strain of German nationalism that led to Nazism. And he really, really hated Nazis. For him, it was personal. There was one case when his German publisher asked his if he had Aryan ancestry. Tolkien went ballistic.

Anonymous said...

"its tremendous film adaptation were a century later"

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!
LOR MOVIE SUCKS!

Anonymous said...

Yet in LotR the Hobbits are the English. Mythic things happen around them but rarely to them, all the action is happening elsewhere with other people. Apart, of course, from Bilbo, Frodo and their pals.

deconstructingleftism said...

The English indeed have no national myth and little national character. But that has been a strength for them, at least the ruling classes, because one could be quickly whipped up to meet whatever the current political need was. The same is more or less true of the US.

Anonymous said...

The Germans have an epic inferiority complex towards the ancient Hellenes and Romans. Their inferiority complex is so extreme that Hitler granted Italians honorary Aryan status based solely on the accomplishments of the ancient Latins, despite the fact that Italy in the 1930s was essentially a Third World country only a notch or so above sub-Saharan Africa.

The English "solved" the problem of the superiority of the ancient Hellenes and Romans contrasted to their own lack of achievements in antiquity by claiming the culture of the Greeks for themselves. What passes for "Anglo" culture is actually Athenian culture with an English cover. Pretty much the only genuinelly English aspect of English culture is English Common Law.

Americans have done the same thing by claiming their constitution and political institutions as creations of their own, whilst in reality they were plagiarized almost to a "t" from the ancient Romans.

Anonymous said...

Simon in London:"Traditionally the English appropriated Arthurian legend - a process which started with the Normans. 'English' King Arthur defends 'England' against those dastardly Saxons!

Presumably Tolkien wanted a more purely Anglo-Saxon mythology, a tough prospect."

This is quite correct.Materials for a British epic existed on abundance (Geoffey of Monmouth, etc), but Tolkien wanted an English epic, which is something else entirely.

RE:Wagner's influence,

Well, Tolkien is simply lying.Yes, Tolkien went to the original sources, but he was clearly influenced by Wagner's reshaping of the material.


Syon

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"The English "solved" the problem of the superiority of the ancient Hellenes and Romans contrasted to their own lack of achievements in antiquity by claiming the culture of the Greeks for themselves. What passes for "Anglo" culture is actually Athenian culture with an English cover. Pretty much the only genuinelly English aspect of English culture is English Common Law."

This is hysterically funny stuff;I keep on telling people that some of the best comedic faux scholarly writing today can be found in the comments on Steve's blog.

Unless, of course, you are being serious.....In which case you are simply completely wrong.


Syon

Volksverhetzer said...

I doubt he was very influenced from Wagner at all, but that both were very influenced by finding legends that were created by at least some of their ancestors, and that rings featured a lot in these myths and legends.

In Heathen Scandinavia oaths were sworn on rings, and you were also judged in a ring of stones (doomsring ?). They also used wedding rings, and rings were seen as somewhat magical objects meant to bind people.

The amount of pre-Christian German legends, pale in comparison to what is preserved in Scandinavia, so I doubt that Tolkien put much weight in them. With the few that is preserved in German, they need to go to Scandinavian sources to fill in the missing bits.

Even when it comes to medieval legends, Scandinavia seems to have some of the best sources, but very little of this is translated. At first few scholars bothered with these "inferior copies", but as knowledge have increased, scholars see that they are often more complete than what is found on the continent.

I wouldn't be surprised if more Germans and English will continue to "recreate" Scandinavian sources, in order to fill in what was lost by Christian zealots burning a lot of it.

I don't know of old this song is, but it is medieval, and is a Scandinavian version of the Roland story, and I would not be surprised if we soon hear this sung in English or German.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBlixPMAkR8&feature=related


English translation.

Six of my earls will stay at home to guard the rings of gold
The other six in heathen lands are swinging their iron cold

CHORUS
Ride they out from Frankish lands on horses finely saddled
Blow the horn, Oliver, at Ronsavollen (or Roncevaux, dealer's choice)

Raised they up their silken sails high upon the masts
Sailed they to the heathen lands before two weeks had passed

Oaken oars and anchors strongs touched the clean white sand
Then was Roland, king's own friend, first upon the land

Slaughtered they at Roncevaux for two days and for three
On Roland's sword the Moors did die; a scythe they could not flee

The sun in the sky was blotted out as Moors they spears did throw
A frightened fellow Frankish man asked Roland his horn to blow

He set the horn to his bloody mouth, the blast heard o'er the fray
Over mountains went the sounds; it was heard three days away

Charlemagne the mighty king cries with grief and woe:
"What has passed with my own dear friend that he sounded such a blow?"

Charlemagne the mighty king came to the heathen land
Dead lay Roland, king's own friend, his sword still in his hand

Buried at home were the mighty earls and many a tear was shed
Their ship was full of gems and gold and the heathens were left for dead

Chamberlain Houston said...

The English indeed have no… little national character.

WTF? Have you ever met anyone English?

As for the Tolkien/Wagner question, nobody who's watched the Ring with any attention can fail to notice all sorts of ways in which the LotR harkens back to Wagner. But these are similarities on a rather broad level (say, the corrupting power of the Ring on its bearer or the invisibility conferred by Tarnhelm), and Tolkien made up a story that is quite different in theme and detail from Wagner's.

So no doubt Tolkien was being a bit peevish when he denied any influence from Wagner. A truer answer would have been, "Sure, but what I created was something quite different."

elvisd said...

The English indeed have no national myth and little national character. But that has been a strength for them, at least the ruling classes, because one could be quickly whipped up to meet whatever the current political need was. The same is more or less true of the US.

Elias Canetti said essentially the same thing.

formerly no name said...

There was one case when his German publisher asked his if he had Aryan ancestry. Tolkien went ballistic.

Freud used the term "Aryan" in a matter-of-fact way-at least in the pre-NS era. So maybe the "A" word then is like the "N" word today-except the rules for who could use it were reversed.

Anonymous said...

Tolkein famously resented the Norman invasion, which he regarded as a catastrophe for England, so most of the French-influenced Arthurian legends were right out as sources of mythology.

Anonymous said...

It is ironic that Tolkien resented the non-Germanic, Norman French, influence on the English language. He also didn't care much for the Celts. Arguably, if there is anything that makes the Brits distinct from other Germanophone peoples, it is the admittedly hard to categorize influence of the pre-Anglo-Saxon peoples in English ethnogenesis. Otherwise, the English would just be Dutch with some hills and mountains.

Anglo-Saxonism, with its discourse of freedom-loving yeomen, which certainly influenced Tolkein's hobbits, was heavily influenced by the larger Germanic discourse. Anglo-Saxonists traced their people's democratic, non-sensual tendencies back to the Continental Forest peoples; Tacitus and all that. Wagner and Tolkien were both manifestations of a much larger, international conversation, heavily informed by Germanic actual or re-imagined mythology. Tolkien's denying any connection is therefore hypocritical.

Finnish influence was huge on Tolkien. Tolkien was pretty clear on this point.

But I've always wondered if it is a coincidence that the illustrations Tolkien drew himself for the Hobbit resemble the works of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Tolkein's illustrations, even of the Shire, don't seem to be of a British landscape, particularly not the West Midlands. They are too stark, they seem vaguely Finnish or even Russian, like a painting by Ivan Bilibin or Mikhail Nesterov. I've never been able to find sources for this. I'd be interested in those, or a refutation citing other visual artistic influences.

Baloo said...

Well, there's Beowulf.

Matthew said...

"Yet in LotR the Hobbits are the English"

No, they are the English countryfolk. The varying peoples of Middle Earth correspond to different subgroups of Britons.

How German could Tolkien (b. 1892) really have been if his Tolkien ancestors came to England in the 1700s - 1/8th-16th-32nd German, with most of the rest, presumably, solidly English?

DaveinHackensack said...

"The Germans have an epic inferiority complex towards the ancient Hellenes and Romans."

In that case, they've got a golden opportunity to salve their complex now, with Greece in so much debt. Offer to wave Greece's debt in return for the Acropolis and some choice islands.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Tolkien was apparently not especially good at introspection, at least about what he had written. Others around him, notably Lewis and Owen Barfield, would point out things in his work which seemed obvious to them but he would simply deny.

I suspect he had a narrow, idiosyncratic definition for "influenced" and if that connection were not immediately present in his mind, he rejected. A Catholic reader had suggested that lembas owed something to the Eucharist conceptually. Tolkien thought it puzzling and wrong at first but came to agree with that decades later.

I don't know whether that is a good or bad thing, but it does make Tolkien something of an unreliable source about what went into his own work.

Anonymous said...

The Brits aren't satisfied by Shakespeare, Newton, Maxwell, Adam Smith, Darwin?
Robert Hume

secular study said...

T "The Germans have an epic inferiority complex towards the ancient Hellenes and Romans. Their inferiority complex is so extreme that Hitler granted Italians honorary Aryan status based solely on the accomplishments of the ancient Latins, despite the fact that Italy in the 1930s was essentially a Third World country only a notch or so above sub-Saharan Africa."

Oh bullshit. Italy was a poor country, relatively, but no more so than many other mostly rural European countries. Things changed drastically after WWII. Germans don't feel inferior to Italy. You may as well say the U.S. feels inferior to England. Germans have been ahead of just about everyone for so long, any "inferiority" they feel is a luxury, the kind liberals extend to people they don't have to live with.
Italy produced Fermi during the 1930s, to name one luminary. He can't have been the only--after all, he had to have been educated in Italian schools. Italy produced Galieo, DaVinci, etc etc.
Why this desire to compare Europeans with ss-Africans? They have NEVER been anywhere near ss-Africans in their level of civilization. I once heard someone try to compare medieval Europeans to Africans -- not to American Indians,which might have made some sense -- but sub-Saharan black Africans. Aside from drastically different history and climate, the Europeans were already constructing architecture based on complex geometry. According to Baker, in "Race", Africans had yet to invent the hinge. They did work iron and gold, as taught by the Portuguese, but when the Europeans went, so did the skills.
In the mayor's mansion in Baltimore, only Italians were known to be able to do the plaster work repairs on the
magnificent mouldings. Italians were artisans and master stone masons from ancient days, and they live and breathe an atmosphere of living history, carefully constructed and planned (at least at one time.) Why this urge to compare it to Africa? Why not, oh, say, Syria? Or Costa Rica, which culture it might actually resemble more. And don't talk to any Italian about Africans in their country during WWII. The rapes and assaults perpetrated by African troops roaming in Italy reverberate to this day. They were horrible.

Anonymous said...

Fritz Lang's two-part 1924 movie of the Nibelungenlied is awesomely good.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0015175/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0015174/

It's dedicated "To the German People".

Cennbeorc

Mirco Romanato said...

The two rings are round but the themes are completely different.

If there is something resembling the Ring of the Nibelung in Tolkien is the Silmarillon and the accompanying tales of Hurin, Huor and their sons.

The Silmarils are the Gold or the Reno, The Ring is the Crown where Morgot put the gems. Who take the gems for himself is cursed in ruin whatever his power. When one gem is freely turned to the Vala, they send their army to defeat Morghot and his.

The Tale of Hurin Sons is there, with brother, sister, (involuntary) incest, death, the dragon.

The parts are there, but how they are used to build the plot is completely different.

But the must important feature of Tolkien works is the absence of Wotan. In the end, Wotan is the deux ex-machina of all. He know, he plot, he direct the people to obtain what he desire.
In Tolkien, there is no direct involvement of a god to obtain his desired goal. Iluvatar do not interfere with the plot. The decisions of the mortals (elves, Vala, men, dwarves or others are their, they are not influenced by the intervention of a god).

Anonymous said...

Maybe Tolkien was just thinking of the fact that his own work was deeply Catholic, and Wagner's was pagan.

Auntie Analogue said...

Was Tolkien influenced by Wagner?

Yawn.

I really don't give a Narnia.

Kylie said...

"Fritz Lang's two-part 1924 movie of the Nibelungenlied is awesomely good...It's dedicated 'To the German People'."

I'd imagine that dedication had something to do with the fact that he was then married to Thea von Harbou.

Ed said...

Tolkein was a complicated person. He based one of his made up Elvish languages on Finnish and the other on Welsh. Wagner was also complicated.

Mirco Romanato posted a pretty intelligent short analysis of Tolkein's writings, but this is one of those things that you probably need a series of posts or an entire blog (and they exist) to explore sufficiently.

Æthelred said...

GK Chesterton tried to do something like what this professor is suggesting with his poem about King Alfred, "The Ballad of the White Horse," but the result was maybe too idiosyncratic to gain widespread, lasting popularity. I think though that it is a more probable source of inspiration for Tolkien's work than Wagner.

My understanding is that Tolkien had this idea that the pre-Christian, northern European cultures were the embodiment of the barbarian virtues such as courage, honor, individual justice etc. And that, when you mix these cultures with Christianity, you end up with chivalry, which Tolkien thought had reached its highest point in Anglo-Saxon England with the resistance to the vikings, the martyr kings, Alfred and so on. He thought the Nazi thing was a comic book caricature of this concept which also happened to be morally repugnant to him on a personal level. Perhaps he thought Wagner was tainted to some degree as a sort of forerunner? It is interesting that in that letter to the German publisher, he makes a big point of noting that he had always been very proud of his German ancestry, up until recent events.

The question I have is, regardless of whether Tolkien was consciously trying, how successful was he in producing the first, great Anglo-Saxon foundation myth for the English people? I couldn't say as I am not English, but at very least I suspect that he managed to gin up a lot business for professors in the medieval studies departments. His books seem to have successfully brought out the inner Saxon in Robert Plant.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

The Germans have an epic inferiority complex towards the ancient Hellenes and Romans."

Epic, no. Extant, yes, although it does not extend to the Italians of today (and certainly not the to the Greeks).

There is a temple called Wallhalla, which lies on the Danube, near Regensburg, that was envisioned as a memorial to the genius of the German people and is dedicated to "German Manhood". It was commissioned by Ludwig I, one of the crazy kings of Bavaria (I know, that doesn't narrow things down much), and is built in the style of a Greek temple:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walhalla_memorial

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

"its tremendous film adaptation were a century later"

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!
LOR MOVIE SUCKS!"

Agreed. It was a travesty - A Travesty! - perpetrated on Tolkien's great epit. Peter Jackson shouldn't even be directing cat-food commercials, let alone trying to interpret one of the great works of english literature.

Ron Woo said...

I've always found it fascinating that while much of the Lord of the Rings is associated with Celtic myth and legend in the popular imagination, Tolkien had a highly dismissive attitude towards indigenous British culture - he wrote somewhere that he thought Celtic culture to be characterized by madness and folly.

Wagner and his ilk were the 19th century equivalents of today's Black Nationalists - arguing that the Greeks of antiquity were all blonde and blue-eyed on par with arguing that Hannibal and Nefertiti were sub-Saharan blacks in appearance.

Anonymous said...

Mirco is correct, Tolkien's moral structure was distinctly Christian or Catholic. Even his mythology, which combined an Indo-European style pantheon of gods, backed by a transcendent, all-powerful God, Eru, is reminiscent of Catholic understandings of Paganism and attempts to save pagans. There is salvation outside of the church and Christ, provided a person is objectively "good."

Tolkien's mortals are given free will and an innate desire for the ultimate truth. These ideas are made particularly clear in Morgoth's Ring, one of the many posthumous collections of Tolkien's notes and unfinished stories.

But, Mirco, your example isn't the best one. In the story of Hurin's children, the plot is driven by Morgoth's machinations and actions, which are both magical and physical. Morgoth deceives Hurin and his children causing them to make bad decisions, with consequences beyond their own existences.

Morgoth is most certainly a god, a bad god representing the forces of nihilism, but still a god. He was a god-king, who used both magic and more conventional means like armies to achieve his goals. Morgoth, through his own actions, devolved from god (Melko) to demigod (Morgoth), who was trapped in a physical body. Tolkien wrote that Morgoth, like Sauron, had spent too much of himself on his creations, spreading himself out to thin. Mechanics aside, the lesson is really about the futility of evil.

A better example of free will without divine oversight would be the Valar refraining from intervening to save men and elves from Morgoth. The Valar only relent because Eru allows them to after Earendel pleads on behalf of everyone. Theoretically, because they did not devolve and were not as earthbound, the Valar were far more powerful creatures than the later, constrained Morgoth. They could have whopped him any time.

Ron Woo said...

"It is ironic that Tolkien resented the non-Germanic, Norman French, influence on the English language. He also didn't care much for the Celts. Arguably, if there is anything that makes the Brits distinct from other Germanophone peoples, it is the admittedly hard to categorize influence of the pre-Anglo-Saxon peoples in English ethnogenesis. Otherwise, the English would just be Dutch with some hills and mountains. "

Ha - droll insight.

The Norman French influence is a big part of what makes the English and their language distinctive - the English tongue is truly an odd compound of Germanic and Romance elements.

The Dutch and English share a number of similarities - small Protestant nations at the forefront of modernization who once wielded hugely disproportionate influence. Interesting to note that the Dutch language is most likely the direct lineal descendant of the language spoken by Charlemagne.

Anonymous said...

please tell us more about the laws of gravity that don't apply to art, apparently. or mabe just stop backing up your non-novel ideas about Richard Wagner which you probably "scooped" stumbling around wikipedia. Tolkein shared a world with Wagner? Go figure!Science guys pique an easily annoyed nerve for men who care about culture and the way science geeks such as yourself ruin it. Isn't that against the laws of gravity? OMG. Have an imagination worth talking about hbd dude.

Anonymous said...

The mention of Gallen-Kallela made me look at the summary of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.

Wikipedia says "The protagonists of the stories often have to accomplish feats that are unreasonable or impossible which they often fail to achieve leading to tragedy and humiliation." Somehow this seems stereotypically Finnish. Most other nations would favor epics with heroic triumphs, but the Finns gravitate to existential doom.

Jazzle said...

I could never get passed the singing elves when I tried to read LOTR. And I can't figure out what is wrong with gaining power if you have a chance.

Anonymous said...

"Italy in the 1930s was essentially a Third World country only a notch or so above sub-Saharan Africa"

You're an idiot.

Iberian said...

ITALY, third world? - How comment this? Apart the fact, that Italy was the most advanced region in Europe, from II century BC to XVII (non stop); or that, from XVIII to XX, keep much of their proeminence in Art - I have some words from Italy in the beggining of XX century: Futurismo, Fascismo, Beretta, Ferrari...
Also, Nazis "granted" Arian status to almost all Europeans (which is right), including the few that are not (Finns, Hungarians, Estonians...); but Italians certainly deserve, after all, the salute, the black shirts, the banners, etç... are all stolen from them...

Peter A said...

Just as today, Italy north of Rome in the 1930s was not 3rd world, and the far north - Turin, Milan, Venice, Trieste - was as developed as anywhere in Europe, and more developed than, say East Prussia. South of Naples was 3rd world, and arguably still is.

Anonymous said...

I never read Tolkien and don't intend to but...

It be my impression that whatever Tolkien thought of Wagner, he was at least indirectly influenced by him. Wagner's operas really put Germanic mythology on the map. It gave it shape, made it come alive, made it breathe, made it relevant again. There are two kinds of inspirations: appreciative and oppositional. Appreciative inspiration is when someone loves something and tries to do something similar. Oppositional inspiration is when someone passionately dislikes something and is roused to 'do it right'. So, even if Tolkien hated Wagner, the hate may have inspired him to re-imagine the myth. In boxing, opponents inspire opponents to fight better. In some ways, oppositional inspiration may be more useful than the appreciative kind. If one loves something, one just tries to imitate. But if one finds problems with something, one tries new approaches. I think Stones and Beatles inspired one another oppositionally as well as appreciatively.

The great thing about Wagner was he didn't just dutifully retell the old tale but reinvented and reinvigorated it, like Boorman would later do for the Arthurian legend in EXCALIBUR, the only decent Arthur movie(with by far the best use of Wagner's music).

Whenever someone creates a great work based on another material, the result takes on new life and new meaning. Notice most film adaptations of novels are forgettable, but a great one doesn't just tell the novel's story but reinvents it. It's wholly original in its own way. Thus, Welles' MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS isn't just an adaptation of the novel but a great film told in the language of the new artform of film. It's great in its own right.
Wagner did this for Germanic myths through his music, and it was in music that Germany really shook the world. Edith Hamilton in MYTHOLOGY said Germanic myths have great depth, tragedy, and passion BUT the writers of the ancient eddas were turgid, untalented, and crude, and so Germanic mythology never came artfully alive as Greek mythology had under Greek poets, orators, and playwrights. It was Wagner who finally poeticized Germanic mythology into something worthy of great art. He finally presented the mythology in a form that was worthy of its latent creative potential. (Similarly, it could be said that Leone was the first director who truly saw the mythic potential of the Western, though I suppose an argument could be made for DUEL IN THE SUN, a film I've never been able to sit through.)

Anonymous said...

While Tolkien may have been offended by Wagner's philosophy and views, I think maybe the biggest difference between him and Wagner was basically similar to the one between Britain and Germany. British were a literary people while Germans were a musical people. Brits were rational storytellers, producing Shakespeare and Dickens. British authors could be passionate but their stories are well told, ideas poetically and articulately conveyed.
Germany gave us Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner. German music, like German sentences, overflow and meander dragon-like. They are full of passion and violence and threaten to overturn 'good taste' and form.
Even during Romanticism, English contribution was essentially literary while German contribution was musical. English Romantic poetry may be passionate but there's an element of restraint and thought.
German romanticism expressed through music doesn't merely convey thoughts and feelings about nature. It tries to be ONE WITH NATURE, BE NATURE.

There is something 'small' about Britain, and it's no wonder Tolkien's good guys were hobbits, the shopkeepers of their realm. There's a lot going on in LOR, but the central focus is on hobbits who seek to restore order so that all decent hobbits can go back to tea and crumpets and poetry-reading and saying "aye guv'nor" in their neat little towns. The central focus of LOR is not the world of gods or giants but the world of small folks. Hobbits confront gods, heroes, and grand villains, but their main interest is to de-mythologize the world so that hobbits can go about their gentle hobbity business without bother from the rest of the world. Hobbits are not conventional heroes seeking adventure. They go on an adventure to extinguish the world of BIG spirits and powers so that they can be left alone. They want an uneventful world with fewer need for dangerous adventures. Hobbits prefer small spirits--more like sprites--in English gardens than grand spirits and big forces.

While Germany was also filled with neat and orderly people, there was something about the German imagination that was robust and overflowing, bursting at the seams.
Both Brits and Germans were disciplined but in different ways. Brits built their emotional culture from small things. Nice small things in their proper place came together to build an a larger social order. So, discipline was maintaining order so that all the small things remained in their right place in a kind of social harmony. It was hobbity.

In contrast, German felt and thought in GRAND terms, and so their concept of discipline began with Big things. Germans saw discipline as control and repression of BIG passions, BIG visions.
Brits build a tower made of small wooden blocks, and expected people to watch themselves so as not to knock it down. That was British discipline.
Germans felt huge boulders on their shoulders and thought Germans should be filled with both great passion and discipline to carry the heavy load. (Maybe Germans, especially Prussians, felt this way cuz they were stuck between great powers: France, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, etc. In contrast, Brits might have been less anxious and riled up since they were surrounded by sea as barrier. Germans were also late comers to the great power game, which made them even more passionate to do things fast and forcefully.)

Notice at the center of the Nibelungen opera are the gods and great heroes. Even the loathsome giants are more admirable than the short scuzzy Nibelungen, the German equivalent of hobbits.

Anonymous said...

British discipline was about tea-sippers trying to maintain their good form. German discipline was that of people intoxicated on beer and brimming with great passion but also with a powerful sense of obligation to keep one's passions under control.
Russians and Germans are different in this sense. A drunken Russian is just a wild crazy slob, whereas a drunken German tries to keep his raging intoxication under control as if to harvest the passion and direct it on some great goal. Hitler wasn't much of a drinker, but he was Germanic in the sense that was intoxicated with his crazy vision yet maintained great control over himself and others to direct his passions toward some 'great destiny'. This is why Germans were dangerous. They were both intensely drunk(metaphorically speaking) and fanatically disciplined. Wagner's operas are fearfully both intoxicated and intensely sober. Generally, Western man liked to think in terms of 'sober and rational' VS 'drunk and irrational'. Like Apollo vs Bacchus. But Wagner the German was like Bacchus and Apollo rolled into one. He brought out the wildest passions but molded them into sublime form.

Also, Western man liked to think in terms of spirit vs sensuality. Spirit was Christian, sensuality was pagan. But Wagner's operas fused spirituality with sensuality. They were both barbaric and transcendent.

For the Brits who didn't like to get swept up in emotions, all of this was troublesome. And fussy Tolkien didn't know how to emotionally handle it. Wagner approached his work with BIG passion. He worked big.
Tolkien approached the subject almost Dickens-like, constructing little details upon details, gradually making the story grow larger and larger from accumulation of small things. Very British.

Wagner expressed the old myths through music, very typical for a German.
Tolkien expressed the old myths through detailed storytelling, very typical for an Englishman.
So, whatever Tolkien thought of English culture and history, his mind-set and outlook were very British. He preferred literariness over musicality. He preferred detailed storytelling to overflowing passion.
So, the clash between Wagner and Tolkien wasn't merely one of ideas and views but of cultural sensibilities.

PS. Though British form and discipline fended off Germanism, it finally lost to the Negro gritskrieg of blues, rock n roll, and etc. Today's yobs are even worse than brownshirts.

bgc said...

This topic is tackled in some detail by (the best) Tolkien scholar - Tom Shippey (who is, like Tolkien, a philologist) in "The Problem of the Rings: Tolkien and Wagner", in the superb essay collection Roots and Branches.

But Tolkien was not anti-German - indeed quite the opposite: as a philologist he knew and *loved* the Germanic/ Norse language and culture, and this loves comes through in many of his works - T. was probably the last great scholar of this tradition.

Anonymous said...

You can learn something about the British from their use of the word 'bloody'.

BLOODY sounds terrible and it should sound terrible. But Brits have often used it in a light charming manner. Thus, BLOODY can be used in good taste... like something can be bloody good, jolly old sport. Brits took the blood out of BLOODY.
Bloody ridiculous if you ask me.

Simon in London said...

Aethelred:
"The question I have is, regardless of whether Tolkien was consciously trying, how successful was he in producing the first, great Anglo-Saxon foundation myth for the English people?"

Tolkien certainly seems to speak strongly to the traditional southern English middle or upper-middle classes, such as my half-cousins. Tolkien's Anglo-Catholicism seems entirely compatible with their mainstream Church of England worldview.

As a boy of half Celtic (Ulster Protestant) parentage, I could not really relate to Tolkien in the same way; I much preferred the swords & sorcery of Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock; I tended to agree with Moorcock's derogatory view of Tolkien & his hobbits.

Now I've lived in London for twelve years, where the few remaining hobbits are assailed by many traitorous Sarumans and their endless hordes of orcs; I have a lot more sympathy for the hobbits.

Average Joe said...

I would add to Prof. Haymes' well-informed analysis my own idle speculation that English v. German nationalist rivalries might have played a role in Tolkien's denigrating the impact of Wagner on him

Actually it probably had more to do with the fact that Jews played a dominant role in British publishing and Tolkien did not want Wagner's negative view of the Jews to adversely affect his working relationship with his publishers.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Tolkien was influenced by the Finns (the Elvish language he created is largely based on Finnish). The Finns are not part of the Anglosphere, the Germanosphere, or even the Indo-European sphere - Finnish is one of the few non-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe. What they represent is a holdout from Pre-historic Europe, before the Indo-European invasions of several thousand years ago out of the area north of the Caspian Sea. To some extent their culture has been sublimated by the Swedes, but they've kept their language and were never fully assimilated.

Anonymous said...

Actually it probably had more to do with the fact that Jews played a dominant role in British publishing and Tolkien did not want Wagner's negative view of the Jews to adversely affect his working relationship with his publishers.

Great, finish the thread with some anti-Semitic paranoia. Anyway, that's a stupid idea.

Cennbeorc

Polichinello said...

I think you find a closer parallel to LOTR in Plato's Republic where he discusses the Myth of Gyges:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_of_Gyges

"According to the legend, Gyges of Lydia[1] was a shepherd in the service of King Candaules of Lydia. After an earthquake, a cave was revealed in a mountainside where Gyges was feeding his flock. Entering the cave, Gyges discovered that it was in fact a tomb with a bronze horse containing a corpse, larger than that of a man, who wore a golden ring, which Gyges pocketed. He discovered that the ring gave him the power to become invisible by adjusting it. Gyges then arranged to be chosen as one of the messengers who reported to the king as to the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, Gyges used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king, and became king of Lydia himself. King Croesus, famous for his wealth, was Gyges' descendant."

Georgia Resident said...

"Americans have done the same thing by claiming their constitution and political institutions as creations of their own, whilst in reality they were plagiarized almost to a "t" from the ancient Romans."

Actually, the case seems to be the opposite. The founders pretty explicitly played up the Roman influences on American political institutions (there's a reason the upper house of Congress is called the Senate). The Federalist writers were also very fond of Roman-influenced pseudonyms.

But our actual structure of government, and especially our legal institutions, bear little resemblance to the government of the Roman Republic. The Senate was elected by state legislatures, and had an absolute veto over House legislation, which was not a feature of the Roman Senate. There was no power in the Senate to appoint a dictator (a feature of the Roman Senate). The powers of the US Senate were codified explicitly in the Constitution, while the powers of the Roman Senate were mostly a matter of tradition.

Georgia Resident said...

"Agreed. It was a travesty - A Travesty! - perpetrated on Tolkien's great epit. Peter Jackson shouldn't even be directing cat-food commercials, let alone trying to interpret one of the great works of english literature."
Everyone's a critic. No, the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Jackson does not have all the complexities and nuance of the books. Most movie adaptations of most books do not. That said, they're still fine movies, and far better than most of the tripe produced today. I'd sooner have kids take their life lessons from Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter or, god forbid, The Matrix.

a very knowing American said...

"The Nibelung's Ring" showcases the German genius for classical music. "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" showcase the English genius for childrens' and young adult literature.

Bill said...

"arguing that the Greeks of antiquity were all blonde and blue-eyed on par with arguing that Hannibal and Nefertiti were sub-Saharan blacks in appearance."

Well, some of the Greeks and Romans were, in fact, blonde, and the Macedonians who united Greece and spread Hellenistic culture throughout the Meditarranean and Middle East definitely had a strong Nordic strain, as evidence by the blonde offspring that Alexander's soldiers fathered in parts of his empire.

That said, the Greeks who arguably had the most influence on the modern world (the Athenians) were probably far more Meditarranean than Nordic, as evidenced by their self-portrayal, which typically showed them as olive-skinned and dark-haired, and their customs, such as keeping their wives in seclusion.

Also, there is more distance, genetically and phenotypically, between pretty much all Caucasians and blacks, than between Nords and Meds, so arguing that attributing Greek and Roman achievements to Nords is "on par" with portraying Nefertiti and Hannibal as black Africans is a bit much.

pat said...

In the interest of full disclosure I must mention that I've never read a Tolkien book but I have sung both Fasolt and Fafner in Wagner's Ring.

The two rings are so obviously different that it doesn't take much scholarship to refute any notion of their similarities.

I'll provide some scholarship anyway.

A decade or so ago I read through all of the Volkerwanderung books by the great German historian Hans Delbruck. I read them in transation but still the Germanic style was quite different from what we are used to from English or American historians. Delbruck wrote of course about the great hero of Germany who saved the fatherland from Roman domination - Arminius. Arminius - or Herman - was the mastermind behind the Teutoburger Forest massacre. Augustus tore his cloths, stopped shaving, and wandered the halls on the Palentine screaming "Varus give me back my legions". Rome withdrew from Germany and never again tried to colonize north of the Rhine.

Hitler was well aware of this history. Part of his respect for the English as an opponent was that he recognized their Germanic roots. Unconquered roots. His contempt for the French was is part that they had been conquered by the Romans while the Germans because of Herman had not.

So who was Herman? About the only contemporary source would be Tacitus. As I remember Suetonius the other great Roman historian of that period didn't write about the Germans. And Tacitus doesn't tell us much. One thing is clear his real name wasn't Arminius or even Herman. Delbruck suggests that it was Siegfried.

The Ring was of course is an expansion of the story of Siegfried's death. Wagner kept adding prefactory material until he got a tetrology. The real historical Germanic hero Arminius and the mythical Germanic hero were one and the same - so says Delbruck.

Th dragon that Siefried (AKA Beowolf) slays is the Roman Empire (actually still the Republic then). The Niebelungen Saga was composed around the time of Christ. It's not really very old. I think there is a reference in it to Mithradates the Great who would also inspire the fourteen year old Mozart to write another opera.

My point is that Wagner's Ring is one of the central myths in Western culture. It has links everywhere. Tolkien's Ring recounts a fable in which the very English Hobbits (they live in a shire after all) defeat the evil and vaguely Germanic Sauron. In Wagner's Ring the heros are the Germans - indeed the story is about THE German hero.

Wagner also injected some of his other ideas into his ring. First of all there is the theme of love/sex. Alberich begins the whole four opera cycle with a scene in which he gains power by renouncing love. The second new theme in Rheingold is contract law. Wotan writes his legal obligations on his spear. He gets into trouble when he promises the giants the goddess Freia (from whom we get Friday). Wotan has run up a debt which he can't pay. That leads him to stealing the Ring.

Wagner's Ring is much more concerned with legalisms than it is with race. In Walkure Wotan sings a jolly little ditty that explains his legal position. This is a twenty minute solo. When people say they don't like Wagner they usually mean scenes like Wotan's second act monolog. The audience sits there patiently waiting for the third act (The Ride of the Valkyries) to start.

In any case Tolkien's Ring doesn't have all these heavy ponderings about legal obligations nor does it have the heavy dose of sex. Siegfried is the fruit of an incestuous union. Allowing this to happen causes Wotan more trouble still.

In Tolkien Gandalf and Frodo are constantly opposed by a series of villians and miscreants. Whereas in Wagner's Ring Wotan's opposition is always Wotan's previous commitments.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Presumably Tolkien wanted a more purely Anglo-Saxon mythology, a tough prospect. There's plenty of mythologised history - Agincourt to Dunkirk - but not much actual myth.

Of course, much the case across Europe as a whole.

I've always found it fascinating that while much of the Lord of the Rings is associated with Celtic myth and legend in the popular imagination, Tolkien had a highly dismissive attitude towards indigenous British culture - he wrote somewhere that he thought Celtic culture to be characterized by madness and folly.

And considered Welsh the most beautiful of languages (other than Finnish). His distaste for Celticism seems limited to the mythology, not to their attitude to language (and likely other cultural virtues).

Wagner and his ilk were the 19th century equivalents of today's Black Nationalists - arguing that the Greeks of antiquity were all blonde and blue-eyed on par with arguing that Hannibal and Nefertiti were sub-Saharan blacks in appearance.

Is there truly any sign that Wagner ever thought such a thing? Certainly some people thought and think this of course.

Anonymous said...

"The Germans have an epic inferiority complex towards the ancient Hellenes and Romans. Their inferiority complex is so extreme that Hitler granted Italians honorary Aryan status based solely on the accomplishments of the ancient Latins, despite the fact that Italy in the 1930s was essentially a Third World country only a notch or so above sub-Saharan Africa."

Idiot, Italy in the 1930s was more like Argentina, just better educated and industrialised.

irishman said...

secular study:
"Oh bullshit. Italy was a poor country, relatively, but no more so than many other mostly rural European countries. Things changed drastically after WWII. Germans don't feel inferior to Italy. You may as well say the U.S. feels inferior to England. Germans have been ahead of just about everyone for so long, any "inferiority" they feel is a luxury, the kind liberals extend to people they don't have to live with."

Italy was in dire shape before WWII. It essentially had a pre World war 1 army. This is why it was repeatedly humiliated in the war. It's invasions of France and Greece were fiascos. The italians in Libya were so shambolic that the surrendered en masse to second rate British troops who were a fraction their size. It's GDP per head in 1938 was less than Greece's less than half that of the UK and Germany. But even this is misleading as to the true state of Italy. Italy then as now is basically a giant wealth transfer regime from Piedmont and Lombardy in the north to the south, by which I mean south of Tuscany. The south of Italy is even today in dire shape, it's income per head is little more than half that of the north. Back then you could compare it to Turkey or the middle east. Yes Sub sahran africa is a bit off but to be frank not by much. If Italy north of Rome got it's independence the south would be Guatamala within a decade. The North could give the Germans a run for their money on the other hand.

Simon in London said...

" arguing that the Greeks of antiquity were all blonde and blue-eyed"

I remember noticing that in The Aeneid, Virgil describes Queen Dido as blonde-haired - implying that it was (a) possible but (b) unusual for a North African/Phoenician queen to be blonde-haired, in the imagination of his readers.

Athenians and Romans were clearly not Nordic, though the Dorian invaders (eg Spartans) may have been rather lighter than the older Ionian (eg Athenian) inhabitants of Greece.

IMO Maddison Grant type Nordicism does come across as a bit silly, though not as ridiculous as claiming that Cleopatra was a black west-African. A more realistic approach is to recognise that western-European civilisation rests on a tripod of Jewish/Christian religion, Greco-Roman civilisation, and Germanic culture and folk.

Anonymous said...

Italy was in dire shape before WWII. It essentially had a pre World war 1 army. This is why it was repeatedly humiliated in the war. It's invasions of France and Greece were fiascos. The italians in Libya were so shambolic that the surrendered en masse to second rate British troops who were a fraction their size.

The Italians had some great kit, like the Reggiane Re.2005 . Not enough of them its true, but still as good as anything anyone else had.

Their Navy was pretty impressive as well.

The Italian Naval Commandos were outstanding as were the Folgore Paratroop Division. They were far from incompetent. If the Germans had gone along with the Italian plan to invade Malta the whole North Africa campaign may well have turned out quite differently.

They struggled against the Greeks because the Greeks put up a great fight.

However, until the Germans arrived in North Africa with their 88s, the Italians had no effective antitank weapons, something their commanding officer was aware of but Mussolini failed to see the significance of. The unfortunate Italian troops had to face the heavily armoured and (for them) unstoppable British Matilda tanks. This wasn't forested Finland full of lakes and in the middle of winter, but open desert. Of course they surrendered.

Having said that, the Eighth Army beat 'em fair and square.

Mirco Romanato said...

In Italy we say, about the WW2, "Italian soldiers and German officers"

The problem of Italy was, after near 20 years of Fascist regime, the heads of the Armed Forces were selected more for their fealty to the Fascist Party than for they skills. Mussolini, like Saddam, believed to be able to "seat at the table of the peace" paying a few lives of Italian soldier. They both misread the political and military conditions. And both went at war unprepared and paid with their lives.

ATBOTL said...

"The Germans have an epic inferiority complex towards the ancient Hellenes and Romans. Their inferiority complex is so extreme that Hitler granted Italians honorary Aryan status based solely on the accomplishments of the ancient Latins, despite the fact that Italy in the 1930s was essentially a Third World country only a notch or so above sub-Saharan Africa."

Wrong on both counts. The thing about Northern Europeans envying the ancient civilizations is a bizarre myth that certain people like to believe to salve their own feelings of inferiority. I've never heard a word of envy, only admiration. Envy is not something that Germanic people experience easily, because envy takes a selfishness, a trait that Germanic people seem to have less of than anyone else, which makes their societies so pleasant and successful.

As for Italy being almost Africa...a truly Wiskeyian misrepresentation.

Ron Woo said...

"Envy is not something that Germanic people experience easily, because envy takes a selfishness, a trait that Germanic people seem to have less of than anyone else, which makes their societies so pleasant and successful. "

Find it interesting you say that - I'd had extensive interactions with Germans in business and found many of them to be shallow and self-centered dead fish.

You appear to know or understand very little of human cultural history - German envy of Mediterranean antiquity's accomplishments is readily understandable only a few centuries ago, when Teutonic nations had yet to achieve much of substance.

Anonymous said...

is readily understandable only a few centuries ago, when Teutonic nations had yet to achieve much of substance.

And yet the Finns feel no envy for the Egyptians.

Ron, since you are a Woo perhaps you are bringing an overly Chinese slant on this. The Chinese are somewhat obsessed with their "ancient civilization" as a barometer of worth of their state (it's what holds all their provinces together, for one thing) and so may exaggerate the concerns of other nations. Americans for example don't really care that their country is around 300 years old or see that as making any statement about who they are or what their country is worth.

The thing about Northern Europeans envying the ancient civilizations is a bizarre myth that certain people like to believe to salve their own feelings of inferiority. I've never heard a word of envy, only admiration.

Some people feel that way (those who think hard about the subject), but in general, even those who can't take the blow to their pride (which is very few amongst Northern Europeans) end up rationalising it away and valorising their barbarian ancestors and their lifestyle - that's more characteristic of Nordicism than trying to claim that they were the true ancestors of civilization.

Which is very hard for a people like the Chinese who are very invested in being these agrarian civilization types for basically forever to grasp.

neil craig said...

One might make a case that Tolkein was influenced by wanting to do the opposite. Wagner's heroes are BIG HEROES full of blood and thunder whereas Tolkein chooses little, inoffensive unwarlike creatures as the heroes. This fits the British self image and if history is any judge, the German.

Anonymous said...

"Oppositional inspiration is when someone passionately dislikes something and is roused to 'do it right'."

In-spite-ation.

Anonymous said...

The Carolingian Renasissance was funded by the loot Charlemagnes got off the Hun Ring-fortresss. This is the origin of the treasure of the ring cycle.

19th century journalism called every big conspiracy a Ring. The Tweed Ring, etc.

David Davenport said...

The real historical Germanic hero Arminius and [Siegfried] the mythical Germanic hero were one and the same - so says Delbruck.

And what was Delbruck's evidence for that assertion?

"Arminius" versus "Herman:" The Latin male, singular, nominative case suffix attached to a noun is "-us" or "-ius," so "Arminius" is actually "Armin."

Perhaps some vernacular speakers of classical Latin dropped their H's, so "Armin" was shortened from H'armin --> Herman.

Folk entymology: "Herman" --> "Herr Mann," the ur-German.

Kylie said...

Anonymous 6/7/12 10:19 PM and Anonymous 6/7/12 10:20 PM (who I think are one and the same),

Great comments and I've found them to be very true re my own English and German heritage.

Anonymous said...

I am not a Tolkien or literary scholar, but I think Steve's last sentence carries more weight than everything else, all the various literary and artistic influences. Yes, surely just about everything the man ever knew contributed to what he wrote and to his artistic style. Tolkien apparently denied it, but I can't see how the man's writing is not about the Somme.

He did admit hobits were based on enlisted men he knew and his batman (enlisted aid). He was a Second Lieutenant, a Signals officer, so he likely got around the battlefield.

I've known many 3 war combat vets, vets who have seen much combat. Heck, I'm old enough to have known WWI vets. Men with a great deal of time in the field. Some don't manifestly suffer from PTSD, but they often become oddly "compartmentalized". I see Tolkien as a combat vet writing about combat. Like All Quite on the Western Front or The Forgotten Soldier, another of Shakespear's murmur'd tales of iron wars. But Tolkien was able to do so at a distance more removed and more artistic and was also able to address not just his personal sense of loss, but a sense of bigger loss in the balance, his fears for the cost to civilization, to England.

The British lost 60,000 the first day of the Somme (about half KIA). The battle lasted for 4 or 5 months and killed over a million men. Tolkien was in the thick of much of it until he came down with trench fever (which probably saved his life and he must have known it). Nearly all Tolkien's close friends were killed in the war. I believe his battalion or regiment survived the battle but was eventually overrun making a stand-at-all-cost during another and "disappered from history".

Much of the Somme was fought by the "Pals", volunteer units from the same towns who often all knew each other. When an entire unit was wiped out it meant disaster for some Shire back home (and other places, Newfoundland is one). The Somme was the very definition of the battle that killed off a generation. I don't see how living though that can't be a dominant influence on a man's writing.

A vet is the last person I'd believe in regard to what he says about why he's telling his stories and what they mean. It's probably what people have to do.

Mr. Anon said...

"pat said...

It has links everywhere. Tolkien's Ring recounts a fable in which the very English Hobbits (they live in a shire after all) defeat the evil and vaguely Germanic Sauron. In Wagner's Ring the heros are the Germans - indeed the story is about THE German hero."

I never perceived Sauron or the Nazgul or the Orcs as germanic in any way. The Rohirim however seemed decidedly germanic, and they were good guys.

Ron Woo said...

"
Ron, since you are a Woo perhaps you are bringing an overly Chinese slant on this. The Chinese are somewhat obsessed with their "ancient civilization" as a barometer of worth of their state (it's what holds all their provinces together, for one thing) and so may exaggerate the concerns of other nations. Americans for example don't really care that their country is around 300 years old or see that as making any statement about who they are or what their country is worth."

You make a good point actually - although I do not personally feel I am susceptible to this tendency.

Chinese in mainland China will often grouse to me about how American (US) history is one of unimpressive brevity. I will usually respond by pointing out that its length is irrelevant - the country has an incredible history. If anything, the youth of the United States throws into relief the grandeur its accomplishments.

I do find it ridiculous, however, that many partisans of the Teutonic races on this website are in denial about the chronological structure of their record of accomplishment - i.e. fallow until recently, then just remarkable over the past few centuries. Why would this be a sort spot? It's also utterly disingenuous to argue otherwise.

Anonymous said...

"Th dragon that Siefried (AKA Beowolf) slays is the Roman Empire (actually still the Republic then). The Niebelungen Saga was composed around the time of Christ. It's not really very old."

The more normative historical tradition traces the roots of the NIBELUNGENLIED to the the downfall of the Germanic kingdom of Burgundy in AD 436.

Syon

Anonymous said...

@ Mr Anon

Orkish sounds vaguely Turkic or Slavic. There really aren't any "Germans" in Middle Earth, maybe in Dorwinion, a land to the South, inhabited by kinsmen of the Northmen, famous for its wines and crops. A reference to the Rhineland or Continental Germans? Otherwise, the equivalents of the Franks, Thuringians or Alemmani aren't there.

The far ancestors of the Rohirrim in ancient Rhovanion were modeled on the Gothic/East Germanic peoples. Otherwise, Tolkien's legendarium reflects his Northern interests: Britain, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and Finns. The Laketown men and the Beornings are modeled on Scandinavians.

On Orcs, Tolkien wrote, I don't have the reference, but I think it is in Morgoth's ring, to his son Christopher, that orcs are in every society. They are dull, vicious sorts. Dare I say, Tolkien was also a little bit of an agrarian snob. Orkish influenced Common Speech seems pretty Cockney or urban proletariat.

Pfft the Elder said...

To verbose Anon at 10:19--

I didn't read your full comment and don't intend to but...

Would you give Tolkien some credit re Wagner? He said he wasn't influenced and I believe him. He said that he was influenced by Kalevala and if you read it you'd see how true it is. The creation myth, the plot elements, the general "feel"...there is a lot in common. But no one read Kalevala; and on the other hand everyone knows Wagner; so they all look under the convenient Wagnerian lamppost.

--------------------

Re: blond Greeks.

Mary Renault (one of Tolkien's favorite writers btw) posits that while the indigenous Achaeans were dark and swarthy, the relative newcomer Dorians were fair-haired and blue-eyed. I understand that was the scientific consensus at the time. Is it still? Or no one thinks about such things anymore?

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0yF1AnuRN4

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampo_(film)

Sampo (Russian: Сампо) is a Russian and Finnish language 1959 joint Finnish and Soviet production based loosely on the events depicted in the Finnish national epic Kalevala. A significantly edited version called The Day the Earth Froze was released internationally. This version was later featured in the American series Mystery Science Theater 3000. The original Russian version has not been released on video or DVD.

Anonymous said...

'Would you give Tolkien some credit re Wagner? He said he wasn't influenced and I believe him. He said that he was influenced by Kalevala and if you read it you'd see how true it is.'

Ok. But the movie is Wagnerian and not in a good way.

It seems as if whole bunch of nations coming into being in mid 19th century were forging national myths to create a unified consciousness. There was less need for this among Brits and French cuz their borders and identities were better established.

I guess Mormonism sort of fits into category as well. Lord of the Tabernacles.

Anonymous said...

"There was less need for this among Brits and French cuz their borders and identities were better established."

What became national myths for Germans and Finns only amounted to fantasy lit for the British.

Poles did it not with mythology but tragic-heroic history: The trilogy by Sienkiewicz, of which the first novel is awesome.

Anonymous said...

It seems as if whole bunch of nations coming into being in mid 19th century were forging national myths to create a unified consciousness.

This wouldn't be at all like the myth-making that comes out of Hollywood today? Or do they call that fiction?

Mr. Anon said...

@ Mr Anon

Orkish sounds vaguely Turkic or Slavic. There really aren't any "Germans" in Middle Earth,...."

I didn't say "German". I said "Germanic", which would encompass both Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians. And, clearly, the Rohirim are germanic. Even their names sound anglo-saxon - Eomer, Eowyn, Theoden, etc.

Anonymous said...

@ Mr Anon,

I didn't mean to contradict you. I wasn't clear, I was elaborating on your comment.

The majority of Tolkien's good peoples are "Germanic" derived in language, lore and many aspects of material culture, the exceptions being the Celtic derived Breemen and Dunlendings, and the Pukelmen, and the Numenoreans.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Mr Anon,

I didn't mean to contradict you. I wasn't clear, I was elaborating on your comment."

Verstanden. Entschuldigung.

Anonymous said...

Tolkien was irrefutably influenced by Wagner. We in Britain (and it's colonial offshoots) tend to forget how significant German culture (especially at the higher end in science and scholarship) influenced British (and for that matter, American) thought. The Victorians -- the world of Tolkien's childhood -- was very Germanophile. This historical fact was re-written because of the First and Second World wars.
That said, Tolkien was also influenced by others, too.