Tolkien’s Myth-Making

Dan Berger has produced a wonderful and provocative article at Mythic Scribes titled “J. R. R. Tolkien: Myths that Never Were and the Worlds that They Became.” He explores Tolkien’s motivation for writing The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion and why he first wanted them to be published together as a set. It all had to do with what he perceived as a mythological deficit the English suffered when compared to the other great cultures of Europe. Tolkien wrote,

I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing in English, save the impoverished chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing (Carpenter, Humphery. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 144 Houghton Mifflin, 1981).

This thought got Berger to thinking about mythology for Americans, who if anything are in an even poorer state with respect to our myths. He then goes on to explore some possible mythic themes that might resonate with Americans and even fleshes out how these themes might be developed in a fantasy setting. It’s all quite interesting, and well worth the read.

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