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Diploma thesis Analysis of medieval motifs in J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels

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Код роботи: 3822

Вид роботи: Дипломна робота

Предмет: Теорія та практика перекладу англійської мови

Тема: Analysis of medieval motifs in J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels

Кількість сторінок: 59

Дата виконання: 2016

Мова написання: англійська

Ціна: 1500 грн


The aim of the thesis

1. A Brief Overview of Tolkien’s literary heredity in the context of medievalness

1.1. General outline of Tolkien’s literary heredity

1.2. Biography and career

1.3. Medieval studies by Tolkien

1.4. Tolkien’s artificial languages

1.5. Existing scholarly works on medieval sources in Tolkien’s literary works

1.6. Tolkien’s own vision of the world

1.7. The nature of Tolkien’s artistry writings

1.8. Selected medieval aspects in Tolkien’s artistry writing

2. Comparative analysis of J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels and selected medieval texts

2.1. The approach to the comparative analysis

2.2. Quest narrative

2.3. Types of epic heroes

2.4. Frodo, Bilbo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

2.5. Landscape depictions in Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the description of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings

2.6. The Battle of Maldon and the Telenor Fields

2.7. Bilbo and Smaug—parallels in Beowulf

2.8. Boromir’s departure and the funeral of Scyld Scefing




This work is an analysis of J. R. R. Tolkien’s literary writings from the point of view of medieval literature and history. The initial idea that stood behind the research conducted on the following 30 pages was to find specific thematic and technical moments in Tolkien’s novels that have parallels in medieval literary and historical texts in order to define the sources of inspiration of the novelist. It is a well-known fact that Professor Tolkien’s academic interests included medieval literature, history of English and other Germanic languages. Moreover, the idea that Tolkien used numerous elements from various mythologies, including Finnish folklore and mythology, Christian mythology, along with different elements from history of England and other countries is widely recognized by scholars. The overview of existing academic works on this topic is discussed in detail on the page 12.

The thesis, as the title states, focuses mainly on the medieval motifs in Tolkien’s novels, mostly ignoring the aspects of Christianity, ancient mythology and other sources of influence. These motifs include, however, not only specific plot and character similarities or parallels with the medieval sources, but also the sub textual issues in the novels and how they are related to the medieval thinking, sets of values, or style of writing.

The first chapter discusses Tolkien’s artistry heredity rather superficially in order to familiarize the readers with it. It includes some brief information about his most influential and well-known novels. Besides, the reader will also find some details of his biography, academic career and personal interests. For the purpose of the discussion, the first chapter mainly focuses on the topic of medieval studies by Tolkien, his interest and knowledge of various languages (including artificial languages as well as the languages that are not in use today), and medieval history and literature, which was very closely related to his professional work. The first chapter also includes the brief overview of the existing publications and scholarly material inspecting the aspects of medievalism in Tolkien in order to prove that the chosen theme is topical and widely discussed. Readers will also find out what the nature of Tolkien’s literary writing is and how it is connected with medieval literature, if not familiar with his novels.

The second chapter of the work examines the two most known novels by J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The issue of quest-like storytelling and story structure is discussed. In particular, the essential elements of quest narrative, typical for ancient and medieval stories, are found in several plot lines in the two books. Several characters, namely Aragorn, Frodo and Bilbo, are examined through the prism of different types of epic heroes and compared to specific medieval characters like Sir Gawain and Beowulf. Among the other issues touched in the work, the second chapter includes comparative analysis of selected story details and scenes in Tolkien’s novels and well-known medieval texts. Namely, the depiction of Mordor is compared to the similar nature depictions in Beowulf and Sir Gawain; the battle at the Pelennor Fields is examined for parallels in The Battle of Maldon; the plot turn of Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug and its further consequences is compared to the similar plot line in the last narrative part of Beowulf; Boromir’s funeral is compared to the funeral of Scyld Scefing in Beowulf.

The choice of the topic of this thesis was driven by several reasons. Firstly, the issue of literary analysis in the historical context poses practical interest for English philology scholars and linguists. The texts used as the sources for comparison are widely used for studies of Middle English and Old English. They also present interest for literary critics as there are definitely not very many medieval stories that survived until now. It is also worth to inspect how some of the most influential novels of the twentieth century, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, were written. It is very likely that those interested in literature studies as well as in creative writing will find the discussion presented in this work if not useful, then at least as food for thought.

Secondly, the analysis of Tolkien’s literary heredity is a tremendous field for study and for recreational reading. It is hard to find a bookstore without at least a few of his books. The interest of the masses has led to the publication of 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth, composed and published by his son Christopher Tolkien. Many other related materials and publications are also available: critical monographs, pictures, maps, dictionaries and even manuals for learning Tolkien’s artificial languages. There are also a great number of thematic Internet portals, forums and online encyclopedias on Tolkien’s universe. Yet, an average reader who would like to learn more about the novels and to understand how they relate to Tolkien’s main field of interest and the ancient world most likely would have some troubles to become familiar with the discipline to which Tolkien himself dedicated all his life. Even though there are translations of quite many medieval texts, how should one know where to start? Thus, it was decided to compose a work that could serve as the first step to understanding Tolkien’s novels in the context of the ancient literature. For this reason, the thesis has practical value for those who are primarily interested in the Tolkien’s artistry writing and are willing to learn more about his books, his academic career and perhaps even his personality. It is also worth to note that in the recent years the interest in his biography and academic career has been growing. And this is true not only for academics but also for the others.

Finally, the author of this work was familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien’s literary writings and some critical literature from a young age and his relation to the novels can be described as passion. Moreover, the process of literary analysis presents interest to the author as well. Another related cause for such a choice of the topic was the availability of critical literature and original texts which was essential at the stage of the initial research. Thus, the choice of the topic was done also for practical reasons—to facilitate the process of writing on the one hand and to gain new knowledge and research experience in the field of the author’s interest.

Hopefully, this work will present interest to those interested in Anglo-Saxon medieval literature, as it discusses some of the most influential texts. It is worth to note, that Tolkien was one of the first who considered the Old English and Middle English poems and other texts as such that are worth literary analysis, not only as useful sources for the language studies. Considering this, the work should turn the reader’s attention to the literary aspects of such poems as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Also, the author hopes that the discussion will prove interesting to those who are fascinated by Tolkien’s novels and are willing to broaden their knowledge and find out more about the sources of his inspiration and, thus, better understand his novels.


The comparative analysis conducted in this work gives a few specific examples of parallels between two novels by Tolkien and medieval literature sources. These mainly provide the proof that Tolkien as a writer was inspired and used his knowledge of the medieval literature while creating his literary works. The examples are limited in number due to the need for rather long explanations of how the Tolkien’s familiarity with specific works of literature manifest itself in his own novels and by the limited volume of the thesis. Yet, the presence of medieval elements in Tolkien are widely recognized and discussed by critics and are still being explored.

The presence of quest narrative structure and the brief analysis of the thematic and technical parallels of Tolkien’s novels and selected Old English and Middle English sources might be considered as a proof that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are quiet close to the medieval literature. Though written in the first half of the twentieth century, the novels may be considered as untypical for that period in literature. Particularly, the characters and their personal development is shown by their actions and words, while in the twentieth century, along with the rapid development of psychoanalysis and growing interest in psychology as an academic discipline, there was a trend to explore the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters in literature. This trend, perhaps, can be traced as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century when such novels as The Scarlet Letter were published, or even earlier. Yet in Tolkien, the characters manifest themselves primarily through how they behave and what they do, leaving the reader to make his own conclusion about the inner processes in the characters. This is similar to what can be found in, for instance, Beowulf. When the hero says that he would kill the monster, this might be seen as a speech act, as a promise to do so or find death. This also leads us to the other idea: Tolkien’s characters speak in a high and noble language, with long monologues that include also references to the events described in other Tolkien’s novels or even drafts, similarly as medieval literature is filled with references to historical or religious events or figures.

It is also worth to remember that Tolkien himself said that his literary writings are, in a way, an attempt to create a mythology for England. As he from a young age was fascinated by mythologies of other peoples, this is not a surprise that he used some of the finest elements in his own mythology, sometimes in such a manner that the parallelism is obvious, and sometimes in such a manner that a few elements were combined together and blended with his own imagination and vision in a unique way in order to create a unique, well-structured, virtually limitless mythology. One can also conclude that sometimes his novels turned out to be medievalized not on purpose, yet because Tolkien was fascinated by medieval history, languages and literature himself, thus, the medieval motifs in his novels emerged naturally. We should bear in mind that the stories of the Middle-earth were written by only one person and, perhaps, for Tolkien’s own satisfaction. The novels conduct what Tolkien himself saw as the most important, fun, interesting. In other words, his novels are a manifestation of his own personality and preferences. Thus, the numerous medieval motifs and aspects in his novels are the consequences of his sincere passion for everything medieval.


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