The Mythology of Magic in The Hobbit: Tolkien and Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book “Story of Sigurd” 

Tolkien at Kalamazoo: The Hobbit on Its 75th AnniversaryTolkien at Kalamazoo: The Hobbit on Its 75th Anniversary

The Mythology of Magic in The Hobbit: Tolkien and Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book
“Story of Sigurd”


Jane Chance (Rice University)


Andrew Lang was Tolkien’s favourite fairy story author and key to Tolkien’s view of magic. The Hobbit was partially influenced by The Story of Sigurd. Tolkien borrowed magical elements from the tale and used them in The Hobbit.

Tolkien delivered an Andrew Lang lecture in 1939, two years after he published The Hobbit. The Hobbit is considered a fairy story because it includes Elves, trolls, Goblins that appear naturally in the story.
This paper examined and compared the use of magic in Sigurd and The Hobbit. They are similar in that both stories have a magic ring, a dragon, and treasure. In The Hobbit luck and chance along with Bilbo’s free will work benevolently for Bilbo, as opposed to the concept of fate in Norse tales. Gandalf saves Bilbo several times. Gandalf is an Istar. The Istari were told to persuade elves and men to good. Wizards are identified as Maiar, spirits capable of self incarnation and part of the mythology of The Hobbit.


Tolkien created a hierarchy in Middles Earth. Illuvatar has a hierarchy of Gods below him. There are two groups of Gods: the Ainur and the Valar.  The elves, like the Valar, were similarly divided into two groups of greater and lesser. Tolkien’s elves are neither human or spirits of the dead. They are human in appearance, but not human, they are different beings. Tolkien’s construction of Elvish history derives from Illuvatar. The elves transcend the negative connotation in the story of Sigurd. The Noldor Elves provide council to the group in The Hobbit, they teach them the lore of the Elves. The Hobbit includes a backstory that harkens back to the Maiar and Valar. Bilbo succeeds in his mission because of his valor and lack of pride, along with Gandalf’s aid.