”Beowulf” and the Influence of Old English on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Hugo Joly Morin
Academia.edu, April 30 (2012)
It is uncommon for a popular work of art to take roots in an academic context. Many popular novels and films, possibly the two most common mediums of art we encounter nowadays, are written by talented creative writers and aim to achieve a high level of realism to help the reader connect with the work. An exception to this came to popularity nearly sixty years ago. J.R.R. Tolkien, then an Anglo-Saxon professor in the University of Oxford, published his second novel, titled The Lord of the Rings, in 1954. It is while being a full-time professor that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, an uncommon fact for the third best-selling novel ever written at more than 150 million copies sold.
Reading The Lord of the Rings, however, it is clear that the academic context in which the novel was written contributed greatly to the complexity, depth and aesthetic prowess of the novel. Tolkien being an expert in Anglo-Saxon, nearly all of the names employed in the novel share Old English roots. Moreover, perhaps the greatest and best-known work written in Old English was the heroic epic poem Beowulf. Tolkien is often said to ‘‘have helped to rescue the poem for posterity’’1 by not only writing one of his most important essays on the subject, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, but by basing a lot of The Lord of the Rings on the Anglo-Saxon poem.