As such, when he came to create the mythical world in which The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the new Amazon Prime show The Rings of Power take place, he was obviously influenced by the myths of the Vikings.

Völsunga saga

One of the most prominent influences on Tolkien's works is the legend of Sigurd, more specifically, the events of the Völsunga saga. This Old Norse work was one of the first that Tolkien read, and he purchased the only English translation available at the time while he was a student in Birmingham, according to Humphrey Carpenter's 1978 "J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography."

This saga deals with the misfortunes of the family of Sigurd, which revolve around a magical but cursed golden ring called Andvaranaut and a broken sword reforged called Gram, which roughly align with Tolkien's One Ring and Narsil (reforged into Andúril). 

The ring Andvaranaut has great corrupting power on the fortunes of Sigurd, which is similar to the power of the One Ring to entice a person to evil, for example, Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings.

The Völsunga saga shares a common ancient source with the Old High German tale Nibelungenlied. Both these  Early Medieval texts influenced the series of operas by Richard Wagner known as Der Ring des Nibelungen. There are similarities between Wagner's operas and Tolkien's writings which has led some to suggest that Tolkien was heavily influenced by Wagner, especially in the creation of the One Ring

However, Tolkien himself fervently dismissed these claims and is known to have criticized Wagner's interpretation of the Norse myths of Sigurd and the Nibelungs. The links between Wagner's work and Nazism may have spurred Tolkien's denial of any derivation, but ultimately the similarities may just arise because of both their use of the Völsunga saga as inspiration.

Gods, kings, and dwarves

Smaller influences permeate the names and designs of other characters in Tolkien's world. In the prophetic Eddic poem Völuspá, a long list of names of dwarves is given, which mentions, among others, the names Durin, Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Eikinskialdi (Oakenshield), which are all found as names of dwarves in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Dwarves frequently recur in Norse mythology and likely inspired Tolkien's dwarves too.

Also, in this list of dwarven names is the name Gandálf. Although Gandalf is not a dwarf in The Lord of the Rings, it hints at his Norse origins. Elements of Gandalf's character and descriptions mirror those of the Norse god Odin, especially in his form when he wanders the mortal world.

Tolkien himself wrote that he thought Gandalf to be an "Odinic wanderer," and this is evident in the parallels between Gandalf and Odin. When he enters the realm of men as "The Wanderer," Odin is said to have a long white beard, a wide-brimmed hat, and a staff, much like Gandalf.

Tolkien's great works of fiction, while trail-blazing, evidently owe a fair amount of debt to the works of the Norse and Anglo-Saxons. Photo: Julia Shlyckova / Shutterstock

Furthermore, Gandalf is often a figure of great wisdom, prophecy, and insight, all of which are characteristics of Odin.

The final prominent name influence comes from the principal character of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins. Frodo's name comes from the Old Norse fróðr and the Old English frōda, which means "wise." A prominent Norse figure with a name from the same root is the Danish king Fróði from Grottasöngr, who exploits two giantesses to produce wealth from a magical grindstone. 

Frodo Baggins is by no means greedy, but Fróði's greed could mirror Frodo's eventual corruption by the One Ring and desire to take it for himself.

Beowulf

Another one of the great influences on Tolkien's work is the Old English epic poem Beowulf. While it isn't Norse, Old English and Old Norse literature have a lot in common. 

The most prominent influence from Beowulf is seen in The Hobbit, with Smaug the dragon being heavily influenced by the dragon in the final act of Beowulf. They share a great hoard of gold, destructive tendencies, as well as old age. 

The dragon from Beowulf is one of the most famous from Viking Age literature, and so it is likely that Tolkien took inspiration from it.

Another point of contact between Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings comes in the great hall of the Rohan, which is called Meduseld. The name Meduseld means "mead hall" and comes directly from Beowulf, alongside one description of it by Legolas: "līxte se lēoma ofer landa fela" "the light of it shines far over the land." 

Meduseld parallels the great hall of Hrothgar, Heorot, which is also described as golden and the hall of kings. Tom Shippey, a scholar of Tolkien's works, also highlights how the passage in the book where the characters enter Meduseld exactly mirrors in structure the section in the poem where Beowulf enters Heorot (according to Shippey's The Road to Middle-Earth).

Tolkien's great works of fiction, while trail-blazing, evidently owe a fair amount of debt to the works of the Norse and Anglo-Saxons. Their timeless words and mystical figures inspired many of Tolkien's most famous characters and reveal a man who was deeply rooted in the Viking past, as much as he was in his own extraordinary world and contemporary times.

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