Hobbit questions

Yes, that’s right I’m not always asking serious questions :stuck_out_tongue:

Anyway, I obviously just got back from the movie and as I was sitting in the theater I started to wonder “what author invented Elves and Orcs and such?”

What was the first reference of them? What implied feats of J.R.R Tolkien are not his to claim but only borrowed ideas from other literary works?

I’m not trying to darken his doorstep, only discover the boundaries of his creativity.

I Googled earlier, but was only met with an annotated version of “The Hobbit” in book form.

Anybody wanna take a crack at the earliest known references to races and characters like that in the “hobbit series” (this includes the other works that have already been to the big screen).

The point, is to discover THE “author” of particular races of beings or at very least attempt this.

Other than possibly Ents, Tolkien didn’t really “invent” any of the species of Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s elves hark back to ancient stories of the Faerie, before the Victorians made them into Tinkerbell. The dwar(f)ves are in the Viking sagas. Trolls and goblins are ancient stories, as well.

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General Questions Moderator

Orcs or nazgul?

Orcs are, when you get down to it, kind of non-specific boogeymen or goblins (divorced from the specificity of modern FRPGs). Nazgul are wraiths…black spirits. There have always been plenty of those.

I’m not denigrating the Professor’s creation (ME?! Seriously?), I’m just noting that he didn’t actually invent most of the TYPES of creatures in it. What he did with the cast that he drew from legend and adapted to his world is genius, though.

In The Hobbit, orcs are described as just a large variety of goblin.

The Nazgul are just men, not a separate race. However, the “fell beasts” they ride owe more to pterodactyls than to any creature found in European or other traditional legends.

Hobbits don’t clearly match any traditional legendary creatures, but owe features perhaps to dwarfs, gnomes, brownies, or leprechauns. They are more human-like than any of these, however.

There’s Norse/Egyptian mythology for his Ainur, World War 2 for his war of the ring, the Edda for his third age characters, and the common Englishman for his hobbits.

The Wikipedia article sob “Elf” and “Elves in fantasy fiction and games” does a really good job of tracing Elves. The really short summary is that Tolkein invented nothing there.

As other shave said, the wraiths and goblins are just generic restless dead and bogeymen, and certainly not something attributable to Tolkein.

Hobbit themselves *are *his invention. While legend had plenty of little people, none of them were particularly similar to Hobbits, in the sense of being creatures of the everyday world, rather than from “fairyland” and being no more “magical” than the people you meet on the street. The Hobbits were. AFAIK, a unique creature in that they were a separate, non-human race that inhabited the mundane world, rather than the underworld or caves or haunted houses or similar “remote” locations. While that has been copied *ad nauseum *by later fantasy writers, to the best of my knowledge it was something invented by Tolkien, and no small part of the appeal of his world.

The animals the Nazgul rode correspond almost exactly to the legendary wyvern.

The man himself explicitly states that WW2 is not the inspiration for the War of the Ring.

The common Englishman is 3 feet tall, has pointed ears, lives for 120 years on average, can move absolutely noiselessly through woodlands and has greater resistance to disease and poisons than other humans and lives in holes in the ground?

I’m not seeing it. Care to explain?

I believe the argument was more to do with language, society, customs and so on, and I’ll cheerfully dispute that 120-year “average”; it’s mentioned somewhere that they “reached a hundred as often as not” but the Old Took himself just managed 130.

I kinda remember that too (intro before FOTR) but readers invariably conclude it was so. May have been the time frame during writing. We know “The Shadow of the Past” was written before 1940 but as Tolkien put it, LOTR “grew with the telling.” There are those who say WW 1 was a bigger inspiration. My take on that has more to do with his obvious reactions to things like urbanization, rise of industries, and developments that have made the world smaller (best demonstrated by the permanent closure of the undying lands, turning the world into a round sphere where mortals end up where they began.)

Not intending to weasel out of an obvious error, i must admit the WW2 allusion is a bit off.

You answered it far better than I could have. I wanted an expansion of Gandalf’s pronouncement that “there is a power of another sort in the shire.”

Another source for the nazgul: the Oprichniki, Ivan the Terrible’s goon squad. They rode black horses, they wore black robes, they exterminated Ivan’s enemies, and five centuries after they were disbanded, Russian mothers still invoke their name to frighten disobedient children.

Ents: The Wizard of Oz has talking trees, and Alice Through the Looking Glass has talking flowers. Both pre-date Lord of the Rings. Not to mention the Green Man.

The first thing connected with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien wrote were stories that now can be found in The Silmarillion. He began working on them in 1917, twenty years before The Hobbit was published and sixty years before The Silmarillion was published.

The idea of elves could go back into Proto-Germanic times:


There are some earlier uses of the word “orc”, but the creatures described weren’t that much like Tolkien’s:


In The Hobbit, the creatures he calls “orcs” are instead called “goblins”. This is also an old word:


Dwarves go way back too:


You should read some books on Germanic mythology. One place to start might be reading the text of Richard Wagner’s series of operas The Ring of the Nibelung. This is how, for instance, most Germans (and a lot of other people) know about Germanic mythology. (And, no, he’s not a relative of mine.) There are many obvious ways in which bits of the plot of The Ring of the Nibelung is found in Tolkien’s works. Of course, it’s even more important that you read the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I never thought of this before, but based on your description it could be argued that Hobbits are very similar to Munchkins of Oz, which predate Hobbits by only a couple of decades. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read Frank Baum’s books but I seem to recall that Munchkins were clever little people and somewhat child-like but not particularly magical or fairy-like. And they lived in normal (but small) houses.

There’s been an immense amount of research on what influenced Tolkien. There’s no evidence that he read any of the Oz books:


Tolkien was a great scholar of Northern myth & legend. He would never have claimed that he “invented” elves or dwarves or dragons. He was also well-read in more recent literature; there’s an etymology for orc although he tailored the creatures to fit his fantasy world.

He invented Hobbits. (And probably Tom Bombadil, but we don’t like to mention him.)

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that they were an influence. Just that they are similar creations.