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SOURCES AND INFLUENCES
On this page are the works of early literature that Tolkien was intimately familiar with, mostly prior to embarking on writing his own epics.  Some he read for pleasure, some were important to his professorial career.  All were great sources of inspiration to him and were highly influential to his writings.
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The Kalevala
trans. by Keith Bosley
ISBN: 019283570X
The Kalevala
trans. by Francis P. Magoun
ISBN: 0674500105
The Kalevala
The Finnish language made an impression on Tolkien and was his major inspiration for the Elvish language of Quenya.  The Kalevala is a collection of Finnish mythology, previously a purely oral tradition, put into the form of a song cycle in the early 1800s by Elias Lonnrot.  Tolkien said of the Kalevala, "The more I read of it, the more I felt at home and enjoyed myself."  Upon teaching himself Finnish he remarked that "It was like discovering a wine-cellar filled with bottles of amazing wine of a kind and flavor never tasted before.  It quite intoxicated me."  Parallels will be seen between the Finnish hero Kullervo and Tolkien's Turin Turambar.
The Kalevala Heritage: Archive Recordings of Ancient Finnish Songs

ASIN: B00000378I
 

The Poetic, or Elder Edda
ISBN: 0292764995

Much of the mythology of Iceland is recorded in the poetic Eddas.  Tolkien was quite familiar with the Icelandic Eddas and in fact borrowed several of the names for the dwarves that appear in The Hobbit from the Voluspá (The Prophecy of the Seeress).  The names of Gandalf (Gandalfr) and Oakenshield (Eikinskjaldi) also came from the Voluspá.

The Prose, or Younger Edda
ISBN: 0460876163

The prose retelling of the Eddas was compiled by Snorri Sturluson in 1220.  Tolkien was familiar with the prose Edda as well as the poetic Edda.
 

Edda -- An Icelandic Saga: Myths From Medieval Iceland -- Sequentia
ASIN: B00000IFOM

Performed by the early music ensemble Sequentia, this is a musical restoration of the Elder Edda texts.  Sequentia is best known for their complete cycle of the music of Hildegard von Bingen.  Edda--An Icelandic Saga is one of their most interesting and beautiful recordings.

Edda
ASIN: B00000G6LZ

Sung in Icelandic by Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson.
 

Beowulf
ISBN: 0393320979

Beowulf was, of course, of paramount importance to Tolkien in his career as a philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon and English Language and Literature.  He taught it to his students.  He recited it at lectures.  He published two essays on the subject, and he translated the poem from the Old English himself.  He changed the way other scholars thought about Beowulf.  Until Tolkien's own translation is published (if it ever is), we must be content with what is available.  This is a new translation by Seamus Heaney.


 
Edited by J.R.R Tolkien and
E.V. Gordon, Oxford, 1925
ISBN 0198114869
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Translated by J.R.R. Tolkien Tolkien was interested in the middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight because it was written in the language spoken in the West Midlands of England, the land of his mother's ancestors.  He and E.V. Gordon collaborated in compiling a new edition that would be suitable for university students, and this was published in 1925.  His own translation of Gawain was begun in the 30s or 40s and completed no later than 1953.  Although broadcast on the BBC in that year, it was not published until 1975.
ISBN 0345277600
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Looking for other books?                                             Rev. December, 2005