Myth and Middle-earth

Myth & Middle-earth by Lesley Ellen Jones

Author:Lesley Ellen Jones
Title:Myth & Middle-earth
Published:2002 by Cold Spring Press


Myth &-Middle-earth is a unique look at the legends, myths, and folktales that found their way into J.R.R. Tolkien's classic works of fiction: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. A Celtic specialist by training, Leslie Ellen Jones discusses the Anglo-Saxon, Finnish, Old Norse, Germanic, Gothic and especially Celtic myths that Tolkien drew upon for his created worlds. Dragons and marching trees, cosmic couples, wizards, dwarves, Elves, shapeshifters, heroes and villains, riddle games - and the highly elaborate languages constructed for Middle-earth - it's all explored in this concise look at the wondrous universe created by Tolkien's deep breadth of knowledge and his magnificent imagination!

description from the back-cover of the book


While this book is as pleasant to read as it is interesting, it has in my opinion some serious flaws and shortcomings. The biggest disappointment for me was that on the one hand the author claims to explore the medieval legends, myths and folktales that found their way into Tolkien's writings and even attempts to judge Tolkien's desire to create a 'mythology for England':

Creating a mythology for England was Tolkien's goal. Very well. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt and analyze his completed works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as though they are mythology, using the tools of the mythologist, looking for comparisons with related mythologies, and searching for mythic themes. Let us see what those bits and pieces of older myths were that Tolkien assembled in his own way, for his own purposes, and how he modified their meanings in the process.
Myth & Middle-Earth p.46

But trying to do this, she restrains herself to an analysis of arbitrary topics from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and totally omits the material presented in The Silmarillion and all other writings of Tolkien dealing with the core of his mythology. Some of her statements are rather dubious (Of all the Noldor only Galadriel survived the War of the Silmarils,...), some of her theories rather far-fetched (...suggesting that on some level "elves" and "Vanir" (the primitive fertility gods who are displaced and then assimilated by the Esir...) are equivalent) others just amusing (Elvis Presley was a swing of the trickster pendulum to counterbalance the hysteria of Joseph McCarthy's congressional anti-Communist inquisitions.).

Anyone actually interested in exploring the mythological background of Tolkien's books should first check out Shippey's books, they provide a serious and thorough approach and a great starting point for own researches. However L.E. Jones' book covers some of Tolkien's Celtic influences in greater detail and I would recommend her book for those readers who - like myself - are not yet familiar with Celtic mythology (though at the moment I can only give Mrs. Jones the benefit of the doubt that her knowledge of Celtic mythology is more detailed and thorough than her knowledge of Tolkien's writings and Germanic mythology...)

-- ChW


(C) The Tolkien Wiki Community Page last changed: August 29, 2003