Midgard and Middle-Earth

Term Paper, 2014

11 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Odin as an Influence on Tolkien’s Characters
2.1 Odin and Gandalf
2.2 Odin and Manwë
2.3. Odin and other Characters

3. Dwarves
3.1 Appearance and Character Traits
3.2 Names

4. Influences on the Story
4.1 Places in Midgard and Places in Middle-Earth
4.2 Rings as Artifacts of Power
4.3 Fire Giants
4.4 Broken Swords

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The influence of the Edda, as an inspiration for stories, is wide spread across our modern culture. There are comic books and movies about the god of thunder Thor, books have been written that are set in the realm of Asgard or Midgard, and the influence of the old, Norse myths can clearly be seen in the texts of many bands, especially Metal bands, like Manowar or Amon Amarth. Another huge impact on story-telling is the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Many writers of our time are influenced by his world-building and of course the release of the movies based on his books made way for the fantasy genre to become known and loved by a broad audience.

But even Tolkien has not invented his entire world out of thin air. It is reasonable to assume that he was, like many other artists, also influenced by Norse myths.

The goal of this paper is to show that Tolkien’s characters and the stories in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Silmarillion’ are heavily influenced by the Edda and similar Norse myths. There will be a comparison of different characters, races and places in Middle-Earth and of the Edda. Other possible influences like Greek or Roman Mythology, classical fairy tales or the Arthurian Saga were surely important for the development of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants, but they have to be ignored in this essay. One of the most important aspects of Tolkien’s creative work is of course the linguistic approach he took. There are several other works, even by Tolkien himself, that take a look on this aspect, but regarding the length of this paper this shall not be discussed.

The essay starts with a comparison of Odin, the highest god in Norse mythology and characters of Tolkien, then goes to the race of dwarves, to finally look at other aspects of the story and how they might have their roots in the Edda.

2. Odin as an Influence on Tolkien’s Characters

2.1 Odin and Gandalf

One of the most striking resemblances in character traits and appearance can be seen in Odin and the wizard Gandalf. Tolkien himself wrote that he saw Gandalf as “the Odinic wanderer”1. This refers probably to the fact, that Odin and Gandalf are guiding people on their way, but mostly they do not interfere. Their physical description is also quite similar.

In his first appearance in The Hobbit, Gandalf is describes as follows: “[…] an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.”2 In The Lord of the Rings he can be seen as “An old man […] (who) wore a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, and a silver scarf. He had a long white beard and bushy eyebrows that stuck out beyond the brim of his hat.”3 If we compare this to Odin in the Volsunga saga: “over him was a spotted cloak, […]and he had a sword in his hand as he went up to the Branstock, and a slouched hat upon his head: huge he was, and seeming-ancient, and one-eyed”4 “there came a man into the fight clad in a blue cloak, and with a slouched hat on his head”5 Both of them wear the color blue. Gandalf even wears a blue cloak at the end of their journey, when they are passing Bree.6 This appearance defined the stereotypical appearance and clothing of most wizards in the fantasy genre.

After Gandalf’s presumed death in the Mines of Moria, Frodo writes a poem about him, where one verse says:

“A lord of wisdom throned he sat,

swift in anger, quick to laugh;

an old man in a battered hat

who leaned upon a thorny staff.”7

This verse shows once again the parallel in their appearance and also mentions wisdom as one of their key-attributes which is connected to both, Odin and Gandalf.

Both of them walk in disguise, so the people do not see their true power. The god as the grey-bearded man and the Istari Gandalf, as a simple old man, wandering Middle-Earth.8

Not only their appearance shows similarities, they also own the fastest horse alive. Odin’s Sleipnir and Gandalf’s Shadowfax are both special breeds. Shadowfax as the best horse of the Riddermark9 and Sleipnir is told to be the best among the horses of gods and men.10

Odin once takes the form of an eagle to fly from an enemy,11 whereas Gandalf is saved by Gwaihir, the lord of the eagles, to escape Saruman.12

2.2 Odin and Manwë

Odin also bears a special resemblance to Manwë Súlimo. Both of them are the highest of their respected kind, Odin as the highest of the Æsir and Manwë as the highest of the Valar. Tolkien himself confirmed their analogy in the following way: “Eriol told the fairies of Wôden, and they identified [him] with Manweg.”13 Wôden is in this case just another name for Odin. So the similarities are not at all surprising. Odin reigns from a high seat in Asgard where he can see over the worlds and all the men14 while Manwë has his throne on the highest mountain from which he can see through all obscuring substances further than anyone.15 All other news are reported by birds. Manwë has several bird messengers and spies16 whereas Huginn and Muninn, Odin’s ravens fly over the worlds each day to report what they see back to their lord.17 After his adventures in the Skáldskaparmál where Odin retreats as an eagle, he is known as the god of poetry who brings the art of composition and poetry to the gods and men18. Manwë on the other hand gives this gift to the Vanyar, because he is delighted by this art.19

2.3. Odin and other Characters

Odinic influences are not restricted to those two characters of the saga. One can see Odin in many other of Tolkien’s creations. Is it in Thorin, who gets his news not from two, but from one raven, Roäc20, or in Aragorn, the king of men, who, aided by an army of undead, fights against evil at the end of the third age21 much like Odin does at the end of Ragnarök. There Odin, the king of the Æsir, fights against evil, with an army of fallen, dead warriors called the einherjar.22 A more striking resemblance can be seen in the main antagonist of the Lord of the Rings, Sauron. One of the most remarkable features of Odin’s form is that he has only one eye.23 This loss of his eye grants him wisdom and knowledge.24 Probably the most distinct feature of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings is his all seeing eye. The other thing strongly connected to him is the one ring, on which we shall take a look later.

3. Dwarves

3.1 Appearance and Character Traits

Aside from Bilbo and Gandalf, the dwarves are the main protagonist of The Hobbit. The whole appearance and the typical characteristics of this race can also be seen as influenced by Nordic sagas. In the Gylfaginning it is described that they are living in the earth and in stones. They are masterful smiths and crafters of everything connected to metal. It is them, who crafted the hammer of Thor, Mjöllnir, the ship of Frey, called Skíðblaðnir, or Brisingamen, the necklace of the goddess Freya.25 In the Silmarillion it is written that “[…] their skill in the working of metal and stone was very great […]”26 The dwarven kings were also in the possession of rings of power. In the Edda there are two important rings mentioned, that are also forged by the skillful dwarves. Later on those rings shall be discussed in detail.

David Day goes a bit further and discusses the possibility, that not only were the northern sagas an influence on the dwarves of Tolkien, but rather the Norsemen themselves. They were portrayed as loyal, strong, stunted, great smiths and fearless warriors,27 just like the dwarves.

3.2 Names

Nevertheless, the clearest influence on the dwarves in The Hobbit are their names, which are directly taken out of the Gylfaginning:

“Motsognir was their mighty ruler, greatest of the dwarves, and Durin after him: The Dwarves did as Durin directed […] Dvalin, Bivor, Bavor, Bombur, Nori,[…] and Gandalfr, Vindalf, Thorin, Thror and Thrain, […] Fili, Kili, […] I must tell of the dwarves in Dvalins host; […] Gloi(n), Dori, Ori […]”28 It is surprising that even the name of the best known wizard in Middle-Earth, Gandalf is taken out of this list of dwarf names. This seems clearer if we look at the meaning of this name. Day shows several possible translations for it. ‘Gand’ stands for magical power and ‘gandr’ for an object used by wizards to cast their magic, like a staff or wand. ‘Alf’ or ‘alfr’ either means ‘elf’ or ‘white’. So he suggest three possible meanings of Gandalf: ‘elf wizard’, ‘white staff’ or ‘white sorcerer’. All of those option are fitting for him. He is connected to the elves, wields a white staff and later on is known as Gandalf the White.

As Rudolf Simek shows, the dwarven names are also nearly always meaningful names. Bifur, as the trembler, Bombur, the swollen one, Oin, the afraid and Thorin as the bold one. Durin, which is maybe one of the most important dwarves in the history of Middle-Earth could either mean drowsy or sleeping but maybe also doorkeeper,29 which would fit in Tolkien’s story in The Hobbit.


1 Tolkien, J.R.R., Letter 107

2 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit. P. 6

3 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings. P. 24-25

4 Volsunga Saga. Ch. III

5 Ch. XI

6 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings. P. 995

7 P. 360

8 Burns, Marjore. Perilous Realms. Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. P. 97

9 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings. P. 262

10 Edda. Gylfaginning. 42

11 Edda. Skáldskaparmál. 58

12 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings. P. 261

13 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Book of Lost Tales 2.P 290

14 Edda. Gylfaginning. 9

15 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion. P 26

16 P 40

17 Edda. Gylfaginning. 38

18 Edda. Skáldskaparmál 58

19 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion. P 40

20 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit. P. 299

21 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings. P. 790

22 Edda. Gylfaginning. 51

23 Volsunga Saga, Chapter III and Chapter XI

24 Edda. Völuspa. 21-22

25 Edda. Skáldskaparmál. 61

26 Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion. P. 232

27 Day, David. The World of Tolkien. Mythological sources of The Lord of the Rings. P.62

28 Edda. Völuspa. 10 ff

29 Simek, Rudolf. Mittelerde. Tolkien und die germanische Mythologie. P. 62

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Midgard and Middle-Earth
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Institut)
Introduction to Fantasy Literature
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Midgard, Middle-Earth, Tolkien, Edda, Odin, Gandalf, Manwe, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Herr der Ringe, Der kleine Hobbit, Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Ring, Sauron, Saruman, Norse, Mittelerde, Dwarves, Zwerge, Volsunga, germanisch, Mythologie, germanische Mythologie, Silmarillion
Quote paper
Robin Materne (Author), 2014, Midgard and Middle-Earth, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/287241


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