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Author Topic: Beorn's Viking Hall
Roll of Honor Thorin
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Back in the summer I went to a Viking festival on the Åland Islands and started to realize all the Nordic elements the Professor used in his writings. I’ve been reading James Graham-Campbell’s The Viking World and noticed more similarities. Besides the obvious name connections (Beorn, Gandalf, Warg, etc.), I think Beorn basically lived in a Viking longhouse.

quote:
They soon came to a wooden gate, high and broad, beyond which they could see gardens and a cluster of low wooden buildings, some thatched and made of unshaped logs; barns, stables, sheds, and a long low wooden house.
This seems to be a common feature of Viking farmsteads – buildings grouped close together, sometimes inside a fence such as at Hedeby’s Central Settlement in Denmark. Often there was very close proximity to animals.

quote:
Soon they reached a courtyard, three walls of which were formed by the wooden house and its two long wings.
This seems exactly like the farmhouse unearthed at Stöng in Iceland. Of course, the Stöng farmhouse was made of turf in Iceland, not wood. The Vikings built with the materials at hand, but the layout seems identical to Beorn’s.

quote:
Following him they found themselves in a wide hall with a fire-place in the middle. Though it was summer there was a wood-fire burning and the smoke was rising to the blackened rafters in search of the way out through an opening in the roof. They passed through this dim hall, lit only by the fire and the hole above it, and came through another smaller door into a sort of veranda propped on wooden posts made of single tree-trunks… They sat long at the table with their wooden drinking-bowls filled with mead. The dark night came on outside. The fires in the middle of the hall were built with fresh logs and the torches were put out, and still they sat in the light of the dancing flames with the pillars of the house standing tall behind them, arid dark at the top like trees of the forest.
Almost every Viking longhouse seems similar to this. There was a single large fireplace in the center. There were no windows. Wooden pillars ran down the length of the longhouse. One notable example is the settlement at Jarlshof on Shetland.

quote:
Bilbo found that beds had already been laid at the side of the hall, on a sort of raised platform between the pillars and the outer wall.
This has always been a bit interesting to me. Raised platforms between the pillars and the outer wall? A strange construction… until you realize that this is the common form that Viking-era longhouses took. Jarlshof, Ribblehead in Yorkshire, Ströng – they all had these raised platforms.

One other interesting bit of architecture is that Viking longhouses often had short walls and very tall peaked roofs. Compare this picture of a reconstructed Viking longhouse:

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with this sketch the Professor made of Beorn’s hall:

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Pretty cool!

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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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Thorin, there is one thing not showing in the reconstruction that shows up in Tolkien's drawing- was there one big hole in the roof for smoke to go?
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Roll of Honor Gna
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The homes in the Viking Age town of Birka, on the island of Björkö, were apparently very similar, judging from the models in the Birka Museum: walls of wattle and daub or wooden planks, and an open hearth in the middle of the floor. I visited the island and the museum with Thingol last summer. The photos of the models in a small book I have ( Birka, by Bente Magnus) show openings in the center of each roof.

The longhouses on the hill above the town of Birka were apparently even more similar to Beorn's house. Only one has been excavated, but it had a roof supported by rows of internal posts.

The inhabitants of Birka drank mead and had associated rituals, but the honey came from elsewhere through trade, not from local bees.

[ 10-02-2006, 07:33 PM: Message edited by: Gna ]

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Celebrían, I think that the smoke hole was cut off the top of the picture.
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Vardamir Nolimon
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Yes, Thorin, pretty cool. []

Were the Beornings related to the Northmen (those from Rhovanion, not Scandinavia [] )?

If so had JRRT made any other significant cultural connections between the Northmen of Rhovanion and those from northern Europe (aside from the Eotheod-Anglo/Saxon ones)?

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Éoric of the Riddermark
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Many excavated halls from England during the Anglo-Saxon age look similar.

quote:
If so had JRRT made any other significant cultural connections between the Northmen of Rhovanion and those from northern Europe (aside from the Eotheod-Anglo/Saxon ones)?
It's not ground-breaking info, but...the personal names of ancestors of the Rohirrim are Gothic. This also fits into the Northmen's reliance on and use of cavalry--the Goths were famed horsemen.
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Roll of Honor Thorin
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I think that there is quite a bit to this. I was originally planning a massive post complete with pictures from the Viking festival and quotes taken from throughout the Legendarium and archeological journals.

Then I realized that I need to sleep and work sometimes. []

So the result is a simpler and easier thread about Beorn's hall being a carbon copy of a Viking hall.

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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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At your leisure then, Thorin, for now you have whetted appetite! []
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Cernunnos
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See J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator by W G Hammond & C Scull (HarperCollins, 1995), 122-4, for a discussion of Beorn's House, 'long recognised' as being based on a Viking hall. A possible inspiration for Tolkien's illustration is suggested in a drawing by his colleague E V Gordon, which is reproduced.

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Whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered.

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Rateliff's History of the Hobbit also mentions this. Evidently the original inspiration for Beorn's Hall was a viking hall built in Copenhagen in 1893(?) for an exhibition and reproduced in numerous publications.
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Thorgis
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It would be a pity to let the topic rest as there are still so many interesting aspects to look into. The longhouse reappears in several shapes in Tolkien´s writings, so we might consider this archetype of north-european dwellings one of his favourit subjects.

Thorin mentions turf as material in Iceland. I have been slightly disappointed in the good Professor for not using that feature in the case of Beorn. As far as I understood many of the traditional icelandic turfhouses were partially delved into the hills. Considering Boern´s bear features it would make a lot of sense to have his dwelling be semi-submerged, like a bear´s den.
One can only guess that the Professor simply did not care too much about those nice details when writing the Hobbit.

The reason for the walls being so low is the original constructive concept of the house. The roof had to take care of the entire stability and the beams ran through to the ground. The walls fulfill a merely separating function (this also becomes clearer when having a little linguistic look at the three german terms for "wall": 1-elongated pile of rubble, "Wall" / 2-"Wand", derriving from "to wind", the winding of willow branches between sticks, such a "Wand" is still not used for a constructive element, that would rather be 3-"Mauer", neatly constructed from stones or bricks).
Even in a relative modern structure like the Danish Trelleborg longhouse we still see the diagonal timber bars which had to support the roof-beams.
Before the northmen (on our earth) had the ingenious idea to make that opening in the middle of the roof they did build windows, even though it is hard for us to recorgnize. Air (and smoke) -circulation was granted by the openings in the roofs just underneath where the front beams cross. They were called "Wind-Auge", "wind-oog" in dutch.

Nice of Éoric to mention the Anglo-Saxon halls in England: Once again: As I understand it the Anglo-Saxons soon alterd their main building material to stone. Looking at Meduseld there actually is little in the text that gives any indication of the hall being built from timber. As I had seen the golden hall made in timber I was amazed when I realized that Tolkien had actually avoided any definete mentioning of material (apart from the roof, which can cause quite a headache).

The Germanic roots of the Rohirrim names (I had always understood that those were Anglo-Saxon. Gothic is a new bit of information to me, but still has the same northern roots). Interesting detail of the continuing tradition of the homelands of the Anglo-Saxons is: They still place these crossed ornamented horseheads on the roofs of their timber-framed farmsteads (which can be easily spotted if you google for "Niedersachsenhaus", for example).

Yes, please do continue and give us some goodies of your reconnaissance trip through Scandinavian heritage parks!!!

I would be quite interested in the number of dwellings with front entrances, compared to opposite entrances in the middle third of the sides.

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Mithrennaith
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[Thorgis:]
quote:
The Germanic roots of the Rohirrim names (I had always understood that those were Anglo-Saxon. Gothic is a new bit of information to me, but still has the same northern roots).
I think there is a bit of miscommunication here. The Rohirric names are Old English (Anglo-saxon), as the professor explained (Appendix F II in LotR) he translated the genuine Rohirric (an archaic relation of Westron) into Anglo-Saxon, since he had translated Westron in to English. Éoric of the Riddermark's answer
quote:
It's not ground-breaking info, but...the personal names of ancestors of the Rohirrim are Gothic.
to Vardamir Nolimon's question
quote:
If so had JRRT made any other significant cultural connections between the Northmen of Rhovanion and those from northern Europe (aside from the Eotheod-Anglo/Saxon ones)?
of course refers to Vidugavia, King of Rhovanion and his descendants (mentioned in 'Cirion and Eorl' in UT) Marhari, Marhwini, Forthwini and Marh-..., the leaders of the (pre-)Éothéod and ancestors of Frumgar, Fram and (much later) Léod and Eorl. These are placed 12 to 6 centuries before Eorl. These are Gothic in form, as they represent a language in its turn much older than Rohirric, Gothic being the oldest recorded Germanic language.

In addition to Éoric one can also point to other descendants of the Northmen: the men of Dale and Esgaroth, whose language the professor represented as Old Norse (as he again explains in Appendix F II), only seen in the outer names of the Dwarves of Erebor, taken from that Mannish language. Still another group of descendants were the Men of the Vales of Anduin, to whom Beorn is apparently related, and his name is related to both Old English and Old Norse.

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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quote:
Thorin mentions turf as material in Iceland. I have been slightly disappointed in the good Professor for not using that feature in the case of Beorn.
Oh, I don't see any need to be disappointed in this. The Vikings built with the material they had at hand. Beorn lived next to Mirkwood, and wood was readily available. Why should he build with turf when he had trees?
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Pippin Toker
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Hi

I dont have any reference for this, but i think that the vikinghouses in Iceland was found after Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit".

Kim

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Roll of Honor Neytari Took-Baggins
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I think they at least had drawings of them before that...And Beowulf had been around...
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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Pippin might be speaking specifically of the Stöng viking hall in Iceland, which I mentioned earlier.

I don't know when it was excavated, but the present reconstruction wasn't started until 1974 according to the official site. The Professor was already dead by then.

However, the Stöng hall followed the "typical" viking architecture, which was certainly well-known during the time of the Professor's life. I used the Stöng example to show that Beorn's hall was a viking hall, not to show that the Professor used Stöng specifically as a model.

If we want to know what specifically Tolkien used as inspiration, John Rateliff says:

quote:
A curious feature of the original, rejected illustration was discovered by Tolkien scholar J.S. Ryan in 1990: Tolkien had modelled 'Firelight in Beorn's house' very closely on an illustration of a Norse mead-hall that had appeared in a work published just a few years before, An Introduction to Old Norse (1927), by his friend and collaborator, E.V. Gordon. And not just any mead-hall: the illustration appears in the midst of Gordon's excerpt from Hrolf Kraki's Saga, a section he titles 'Bothvar Bjarki at the Court of King Hrolf'. What's more, since Krolf Kraki is the same figure as Beowulf's Hrothfulf, nephew to the Danish king, his hall is better known to modern-day readers by its Old English name: Heorot, the Grendel-haunted seat of old King Hrothgar. Tolkien, then, had modeled Medwed-Beorn's hall on a building he had studied carefully - in fact, the most famous such hall in Old English literature, every detail of whose description had been scrutinized by generations of philologists and archeologists.

Medwed, The History of the Hobbit


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Roll of Honor Neytari Took-Baggins
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Ah, sorry, early morning post strikes again []
From: California ainrofilaC | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Snöwdog
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I remember when I read the Hobbit back in 1975 that I thought Beorn and his house was Viking-like.
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