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Minas Tirith Forums » History of Middle-earth » Parallels between Middle-earth and Norse Myths
Author Topic: Parallels between Middle-earth and Norse Myths
Roll of Honor Gna
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It's no great surprise or revelation that Tolkien's mythos was strongly influenced by Norse myths and legends. A biologist would call such a parallel a homology- a similarity between two organisms due to inheritance of the same feature from a common ancestor, the recognition of which is a key to the tracing of evolutionary lineages (Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny).

I've been thinking about a few homologies from Tolkien's world, as part of a lineage from the Norse myths and legends, and I'd be interested in other citizens' thoughts and ideas for additional homologies or different interpretations.

Gimlé/Álfheim (Norse), and Tirion/Eldamar (Tolkien): Álfheim is the dwelling of the Light-elves, who were said to be "fairer to look upon than the sun". Gimlé ("fire-proof") is the shining hall in the third heaven, inhabited by the Light-elves prior to the apocalypse of Ragnarök.

Of course Eldamar (Elvenhome) is the region of Aman inhabited by the Elves, and Tirion (Great Watch-tower) is the city of the Elves on the hill of Túna in Aman.

Bifröst (Norse) and Olórë Mallë (Tolkien): Bifröst ("shimmering path") is the rainbow-bridge connecting the world of gods and men, and will be shattered by the weight of hostile giants at Ragnarök.

The Olórë Mallë, or Path of Dreams, is the road devised by Lórien, by which the 'children of the fathers of the fathers of Men' came to Valinor in their sleep.

Gjallarbrú (Norse) and Qalvanda (Tolkien): Gjallarbrú is the bridge linking Midgard to the Underworld.

Qalvanda (the Road of Death)
quote:
...leads only to the halls of Mandos and Fui. Twofold is it, and one way tread the Elves, and the other the souls of Men, and never do they mingle.


[ 09-19-2005, 09:27 PM: Message edited by: Gna ]

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Roll of Honor Lassë
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Interesting []

Where is that last quote from? []

(...and why do you use umlaut in Bifrost and Ragnarok?)

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Roll of Honor Gna
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The last quote is from Book of Lost Tales 1.

And I used the umlauts because that's how the place-names or events were spelled in the reference I was using: Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, by Andy Orchard.

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Thingol of Doriath
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Strange... I've always heard them pronounced Bifrost and Ragnarök. But googling them shows spellings of all sorts.

I don't know enough about places in Norse mythology to add to the discussion, but I will add a quote from The Hobbit that has always conjured up a "Norse" feeling with me...

quote:
"Farewell, good thief," (Thorin) said. "I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed."
It is interesting that Thorin refers to the after-life as being a hall... come to think of it, Elves go to the halls of Mandos... in Norse mythology the slain went to Valhalla, literally "the Hall of the Slain" or Odin's hall. I can't recall any other mytholgy where the after-life was in a hall or building.

[ 09-19-2005, 08:16 AM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Thingol of Doriath
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I have some other similarities between Tolkien and Norse myths that don't have anything to do with places... should I add them here?

[ 09-20-2005, 05:45 AM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Roll of Honor Gna
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Sure, why not? I just didn't want it to overlap with your "heroes" thread. I can always alter the title to make it less limiting.

Until someone nasty and superior shows up, of course... []

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Thingol of Doriath
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The following is from Wikipedia...

quote:
The Icelandic mythographer and historian Snorri Sturluson seems to have referred to dwarves (dvergar) as "dark-elves" (dökkálfar) or "black-elves" (svartálfar); whether this usage reflects wider medieval Scandinavian belief is uncertain.[H-2] Elves who are not dark-elves are referred to by Snorri as "light-elves" (ljósálfar); this usage has often been connected with elves' etymological connection with whiteness.
Caliquendi vs Moriquendi

quote:
Several minor forces, the servants of gods, are presented such as Byggvir and Beyla, who belonged to Freyr, the lord of the elves, and they were probably elves, since they were not counted among the gods. Two other mentioned servants were Fimafeng (who was murdered by Loki) and Eldir.
Possible source of "Eldar"?

quote:
The Scandinavian elves were of human size... Even crossbreeding was possible between elves and humans in the Old Norse belief. One case appears in Hrólf Kraki's saga, where the Danish king Helgi finds an elf-woman clad in silk who is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
Beren and Lúthien?

quote:
There are also in the Heimskringla and in Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar accounts of a line of local kings who ruled over Álfheim, corresponding to the modern Swedish province Bohuslän, and since they had elven blood they were said to be more beautiful than most men.

"The land governed by King Alf was called Alfheim, and all his ofspring are related to the elves. They were fairer than any other people ..."
The last king is named Gandalf.

Imrahil?

quote:
If a human watched the dance of the elves, he would discover that even though only a few hours seemed to have passed, many years had passed in the real world.
Beren? The Fellowship in Lothlorien?
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Roll of Honor Gna
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Thingol [] .

Bödvar Bjarki ("little bear of battle" Norse) and Beorn (Tolkien)

quote:
...of all the berserks described in the literary sources, the one who most clearly exhibits bear-like traits. According to the legendary Hrölf's Saga Kraka, a mighty bear appeared and fought alongside Bödvar's men as he slept; the bear vanished when he was woken. Clearly the bear is intended to signify Bödvar's own external soul or fylgja.
From Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend

draugar ("walking dead" Norse) and barrow-wights (Tolkien)

The draugar in Icelandic sagas inhabit treasure-filled burial mounds, and, unlike insubstantial ghosts, can inflict serious harm on both property and people.

The wights in Fog on the Barrow-Downs seemed capable of inflicting harm on the hobbits, and perhaps had begun the process of preparing them for death or some dark ritual. But another way of interpreting the chapter might be that the hobbits were under some sort of psychological spell or in a trance state, such that they dressed themselves in the white clothes, circlets, and gold chains.

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Thingol of Doriath
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The god Tyr(Norse) and Beren(Tolkien)
The wolf Fenris/ the hound Garm(Norse) and Carcharoth/Huan(Tolkien)

It seems that Tolkien used elements of the misadventures of Tyr/Fenris/Garm in the story of Beren and Lúthien.

quote:
According to the Edda, at one stage the gods decided to shackle the wolf Fenrisulfr (Fenris), but the beast broke every chain they put upon him. Eventually they had the dwarfs make them a magical ribbon called Gleipnir from such items as a woman's beard and a mountain's roots. But Fenrir sensed the gods' deceit and refused to be bound with it unless one of them put his hand in the wolf's mouth. Tyr, known for his great courage, agreed, and the other gods bound the wolf.
Fenris bit off Tyr's hand as Carcharoth bit off Beren's. Both would be known for only having one hand. The magical ribbon Gleipnir and the chain Angainor are similar as well.

quote:
In Norse mythology, Garm is a huge dog which guards Hel, the land of the dead, alongside of Hræsvelgr and living in a cave called Gnipahellir. Garm was the greatest of all dogs (excluding the Fenris Wolf). During Ragnarök, Garm and Týr will kill each other.
Garm guards Hel, Carcharoth guards Angband. Then there is the element of greatest hound/wolf found in both.

quote:
Tyr is destined to kill and be killed by Garm.
Huan was destined to be killed by Carcharoth. In the end they killed each other.

The goddess Sif(Norse) and Galadriel(Tolkien)

Sif was said to be the most beautiful goddess with hair that looked like gold, not unlike Galadriel. The god Loki cut off her hair as a prank, but to make amends he talked dark-elves into making new hair for her made of real gold(that grew like real hair). This also shows similarities with Fëanor's desire for a strand of Galadriel's hair.

The god Baldur(Norse) and Lúthien/Fingolfin(Tolkien)

The god Baldur was so beautiful that flowers sprang up wherever he went... compare that to the niphredil that bloomed when Lúthien was born and the flowers that sprang up under Fingolfin's feet when he marched into Middle-earth.

All quotes are from Wikipedia.

[ 05-20-2006, 05:19 AM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Eluchil
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On black-, dark-Elves & co, Tom Shippey wrote a very interesting article (mainly based on the idea that Tolkien's Elvish nomenclature is an answer to this controversial issue in Germanic philology). But it is not directly accessible on the web anymore []
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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Thor in Alvismál (Norse) and Gandalf in the Hobbit (Tolkien)

In Alvismál (The Lay of All-Wise), the dwarf Alvís comes to Thor to claim Thor's daughter as his bride. (The daughter had apparently be promised to him earlier.) Thor refuses unless Alvís can answer any question Thor poses. Alvis answers all of Thor's questions, but fails to notice that night has passed; the rising sun turns him to stone.

quote:
THOR:
Never have I met such a master of lore
With such a wealth of wisdom.
I talked to trick you, and tricked you I have:
Dawn has broken, Dwarf, Stiffen now to stone.

Compare Gandalf to the trolls in The Hobbit: "Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!"
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Thingol of Doriath
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Wow... good find. []

Did Tolkien have an original thought? [] []

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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quote:
Did Tolkien have an original thought?
Possibly as many as Shakespeare []
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Roll of Honor Sauron's Secret Agent
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But Shakespeare added almost 2000 words to the English language, not to mention the innumerable metaphors and similes of his that we still use to this day.

Tolkien really doesn't begin to hack it on that front.

edit: Aaargh, typos

[ 05-20-2006, 01:05 PM: Message edited by: Sauron's Secret Agent ]

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Queen of Grammar with King Marcho.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less travelled by...

Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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True - there is always the risk that LotR is not a well-known classic 400 years from now ...
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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Aesir and Vanir (Norse) and Valar and Maiar (Tolkien)

The Aesir and Vanir were the two groups of gods in Norse mythology. The Aesir were the major branch, and included Odin, Frigg, Thor, Baldr and Tyr. The Vanir wee a different gods, including Freyr and Freyja.

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