Middle Earth from Middle Europe: Medieval Manuscripts and an Inspiration for Tolkien
By Jonathan Massullo
Published Online (2008-9)
Introduction: In a letter to Milton Waldman, a slightly perturbed J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the world renowned Lord of the Rings series stated:
“I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own….Of course there was and is the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized…and does not replace what I felt to be missing…Do not Laugh! But once upon a time…I had in mind to make a body of work of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story…which I would dedicate simply to England.”
Anyone born of western culture within the last half century knows that Tolkien not only lived to see his dream actualized, but also in doing so gained a level success and clout rivaled by few writers of the twentieth century. Skeptics may have qualms with linking Middle Earth to Britain, but further investigation should put their doubt to rest. Tolkien has on many occasions expressed directly his homelands inspirational qualities, in fact, the term Middle Earth was borrowed from an Old English poem found in the Exeter Book known as Christ I. The line follows as such: “Hail Earendel brightest of angels, over Middle Earth sent to men…”
Still, some may challenge the authenticity of Tolkien’s fiction, claiming it was merely that and never borrowed from medieval culture. A closer investigation will prove this false, as Tolkien’s writings are wrought with innumerable medieval cultural references and influences, some seemingly speculative, others still strikingly similar to original sources.
From names and places to themes and storylines, much of Tolkien’s created world can be traced back to medieval English roots. Indeed, if one aspired to catalogue the entirety of medieval history’s influence upon Tolkien, they would not only have to veer from fact to speculation, reread many unpublished versions of his work, correspondences, interviews, essays and lectures, along with countless medieval sources, but also spend several lifetimes in the process. In order to narrow the scope, I will focus my writing on Tolkien’s most popular works: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, on the theme of his monsters and monstrous races.