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Author Topic: Celtic Influences
Thingol of Doriath
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I was reading a great article in this months National Geographic about modern day Celts. Included was a quote by Tolkien:

quote:
"Celtic of any sort... is a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come."
It got me to thinking... how much Celtic influence is found in Tolkien's work. Mythology, language, artwork, architecture, etc;

I did a search of all forums here. I didn't find any thread dedicated to this question, though I found many references in different posts: his mastery of the Welsh language, the Púkel Men, short spears, etc;

From: Sverige! | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Athene
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It's interesting that Tolkien should have said that, because recent discoveries about "the Celts" have come to much the same conclusion.

There was a recent programme on about them, which concluded that there were no particular people called the Celts. Celtic was a common language across most of Europe at one time but it covered many different peoples, who did not necessarily have the same racial heritage.

Much of the romanticism regarding Celtic heritage comes from the peoples of Wales, Ireland and Scotland trying to make themselves distinct from the English following various wars and occupations. In terms of genetic lineage, recovered artifacts, and records of the various customs of these people it is clear that there is no clear line between Celt and non-Celt.

I read Tolkien's words as saying that Celticness can be interpreted according to the reader's wishes: that the romanticism of Celtic myth far outweighs the actual knowledge we have about these mysterious people.

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Thingol of Doriath
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Interesting. [] Though wasn't there a common religion, or at least similar religious practices(I'm thinking Druids, standing stones, etc;)?

I remember reading somewhere that Tolkien was looking to create an English mythology... since one didn't exist.

I must admit, I know little about Celtic mythology. Hopefully Gna and Cernunnos will find this thread and enlighten me.

Another thing... The Springle-Ring. I know that it is a Hobbit dance, but the name always reminds me of the faerie rings in Ireland.

[] Hmmm... faerie/aerie? Isn't that a Celtic influence?

E: Some familiar names: Icaunus and Arawn.

[ 03-08-2006, 04:39 AM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Roll of Honor Gna
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I've tried matching characters and tales from Celtic mythology to Tolkien characters, but it never works out as well as it does for Norse mythology-some aspects fit, but then the tales diverge.

Cuchulainn, the "Hound of Culann", shares some elements with Túrin; for example, he accidentally kills his friend Ferdia, just as Túrin slays Beleg. Cuchulainn has a divine father, however, in Lugh, the sun god.

Taliesin, the "Shining Brow", is perhaps my favorite character from Celtic mythology; he was a bard, sage, and wizard who has elements in common with Gandalf, Radagast, Eärendil, Tinfang Gelion, Maglor, and Dairon. Taliesin often appears as an eagle to other seers, and so it could be argued that he resembles Tolkien's Eagles as well.

I think a case could be made for the Tuatha de Danaan, the race of gods who inhabited Ireland before humans appeared, as counterparts of the Valar. They defeated the misshapen Fomorii, led by Balor, who might correspond to Morgoth and his legions of evil creatures.

I'm sure there are more comparisons that could be made...I'll think about it a bit. The linguistic correspondences might be stronger; for example, I think there's a character called Govannon. Hopefully Cernunnos will show up and add to this. Great topic, Thingol! []

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Thingol of Doriath
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Wasn't Taliesin Merlin's real name also? It was in The Mists of Avalon, "Merlin" being a title. Of course that is a work of fiction. []

I have read that Tolkien could speak Welsh, and loved the language. I professed a fascination for Welsh names in Letter #163 and in letter #165 he says, "I also find the Welsh language specially attractive". Welsh, for me, looks a lot like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch... a village in Wales. I can't think of any Tolkien language that looks like that! Does anyone know if he incorporated Welsh in any of his languages?

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Roll of Honor Silmahtar
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Thingy, Tolkien looked to Welsh for aesthetic inspiration when he was developing the language that became Sindarin. I believe he drew upon Welsh phonology in order to make Sindarin "Celtic-sounding". As far as any actual Welsh words in Sindarin, I don't know...

http://www.uib.no/people/hnohf/sindarin.htm#Heading5

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Roll of Honor Gna
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In The Road to Middle-earth, Shippey discusses a lecture that Tolkien gave at Oxford in 1954, entitled "English and Welsh".

quote:
'The names of persons and places in this story (The Lord of the Rings) were mainly composed on patterns deliberately modelled on those of Welsh (closely similar but not identical). This element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it.'
A bit of wishful or egocentric thinking on Tolkien's part, maybe, and Shippey points out that the "Welsh-modelled names in Middle-earth are only those of Gondor and of Elvish, or more accurately of Sindarin".

Shippey also includes an Appendix on Tolkien's Sources: the True Tradition, and the only Celtic work that I found, glancing through this piece, was the Irish The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal. In fact, Shippey mentions that Tolkien was influenced the Appalachian folklore and culture of Kentucky and North Carolina, because he felt that these reflected English traditions free of the oppression of Latin, French, and Celtic.

From what little I've read of Celtic mythology, Merlin and Taliesin were entirely separate individuals. Merlin was reputedly the son of a human mother and a demon father, and his magical powers were the source of Uther's deception with Ygraine, the Round Table, and the construction of Stonehenge. Taliesin acquired his gift of prophecy by consuming a "greal" of inspiration from the witch Ceridwen's cauldron.

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Cernunnos
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I would say that the greatest 'Celtic' (in broad terms) influence on JRRT was definitely his employment of Welsh as the inspiration for Sindarin. 'Grey Elven' is very similar to Welsh in look and 'feel', and also to a large extent in grammar. Notable in this regard are the lenition of consonants according to number, case etc (eg perian 'a hobbit', pheriannath 'of the hobbits'). As far as I know this occurs in European languages only in Welsh (and Irish), and may well in fact have entered the Insular Celtic languages from a pre-Indo-European strain. Sindarin's relationship with Quenya was meant to suggest the linguistic relationship between Welsh and (rather closely related) Latin among I-E languages. Quenya is based largely on Latin (and the totally unrelated Finnish).

Celtic mythology, in as far as it has come down to us, is a rather minor influence. Finnish and especially Norse legends are much more important, the Norse particularly in The Hobbit.

Re Taliesin, he appears to have been a historical character (fl 6th century) initially, a famous bard, not necessarily in what is now Wales, but rather (or also) among the 'Men of the North', the original Old Welsh speaking inhabitants of what is now Scotland south of the Forth and Clyde, and Cumbria (which has the same name as Wales in Welsh - Cymru).

[ 03-18-2006, 03:43 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

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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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Thingol of Doriath
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Thanks for your input Cernunnos. []

I seem to remember reading a quote that stated that the language of Rohan was loosely based on Welsh. I'll see if i can dig that up.

On a side note... I was unaware that Wlsh and Latin were related at all, I would have assumed that it would be the exact opposite.

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Cernunnos
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Rohirric is based absolutely on Anglo-Saxon, without Welsh influence. The concept (a rather complicated one!) is that Rohirric, being related to the ancient northern speech of the ancestors of the Hobbits, had a relation to their speech (represented 'in translation' as slightly old-fashioned English) similar to that between modern and Old English. The (unrecoded) Rohirric language is thus also 'translated', into Anglo-Saxon.

Actually, I'm sure this was just an excuse, and JRRT just wanted to have fun with his beloved Old English, making up names, alliterative poems etc.

Re languages, the Italic branch of the indo-European family (including Latin and several other lesser-known languages of ancient Italy, like Oscan and Faliscan) is recognised as particulary close to the Celtic. This does not seem to have occurred to ancient authors, tho' the Romans certainly knew their language was related to Greek. Latin is in fact even closer to Irish and its descendants than to Welsh. Compare the numerals 1-10 below:

Latin Gaelic Welsh

unus aon un
duo dha dau
tres tri tri
quattuor ceithir pedwar
quinque coig pump
sex sia chwech
septem seachd saith
octo ochd wyth
novem naoi naw
decem deich deg

Latin equus 'horse', Archaic Celtic *ekwos, Old Irish ech, Gaulish *eppos (and incidentally Old English eoh, as in Éowyn 'horse joy', etc).

All the languages of modern Europe are of the Indo-European family except for Basque (language isolate), Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and Lapp (Finno-Ugric family - origins in Siberia), Turkish (Turkic family - a minority language in Bulgaria) and Maltese (Semitic family).

[ 03-18-2006, 03:39 PM: Message edited by: Cernunnos ]

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

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Hamfast Gamgee
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Tolkien liked the Celts and the Saxons. Which is a bit strange as they did not always like each other!
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Cernunnos
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Might I recommend (if you can find it) JRRT's essay 'Welsh and English', published I think in the 1930s, which gives his own thoughts on these matters.

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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 Sauron's Secret Agent
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http://faculty.smu.edu/bwheeler/tolkien/online_reader/T-English&Welsh.PDF
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Marhwini
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Celts are a problem in Tolkien's works.

As have been pointed out, he did borrow extensively from the Welsh, but the Celts were not "English" and thus, like the French, "outsiders" in his mythology.

This isn't to say they had no influence, just that it was more peripheral than that of other cultures.

And the Rohirrim's language was represented by Saxon, or Old English, but that itself is related to Goth/Gothic, which was the language used to represent the Éotheod, and the Northmen of Rhovanion from which the Éotheod arose.

But the issue of the Celts was one that often chafed Tolkien (notice his thinking of them "Oppressing" the English), and the Celtic idea of Elves is very, very different from that of Tolkien's Elves.

This is a subject I am interested in learning more about "Celts in relation to Tolkien."

I know, historically, a great deal about them (the where they lived, who they fought, what they did sort of things). But culturally and mythologically I know very little about them (only having read a handful of myths in classES I took in 1983 - 1985 on Comparative Religion.

MB

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