What do Gandalf and Merlin have in common, besides robes and magical staffs? Where do hobbits get their recipes, riddles, and love of rambling? What other Rings of Power were circulating in medieval Europe? How did Thorin violate the rules of medieval kingship?
You’ll find the answers and more in this book, which explores the magic and creativity behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s bestselling story from a historical perspective. Tolkien was a professor of medieval languages and literature at Oxford University, and he drew on his scholarshipand the homely comforts common in his own dayto build the world of The Hobbit.
The Hobbit and History uncovers the parallels between the Middle Ages and the intricate culture of Middle-earth that Tolkien created in The Hobbit, showing how historical cultures provided the models for Tolkien’s characters, foods, riddles, and battle tactics. The book explores how European myths and legends inspired Tolkien’s wizards, dragons, and the monsters he created. Seeing Middle-earth and its peoples against these historical backdrops shines new light on the richness of Tolkien’s world, which is rooted in knowledge of European cultures as deep as the archive that Gandalf explores in Minas Tirith.
Filled with fascinating facts and reproductions of Tolkien’s original artwork of Smaug and other aspects of Middle-earth, The Hobbit and History is the missing piece for every book and movie fan and anyone who thought their J.R.R. Tolkien collection was complete.
About the Author
JANICE LIEDL is an Associate Professor of History at Laurentian University in Canada who specializes in English history since the time of Henry VIII. She has published on Battlestar Galactica, Twilight, and Harry Potter as well as being the coeditor of Star Wars and History.
Read an Excerpt
Goblins are recurring enemies in The Hobbit. They prove to be even more dangerous than Smaug. The dwarves, humans, and elves are, despite their differences, united by their common hatred and fear of the goblins and almost destroyed by the goblin horde. Because they are the story’s villains, the reader has little sense of the goblins’ culture aside from what can be seen from the outsider’s perspective. Nevertheless, Tolkien does imbue them with some of the marks of warrior cultures. Goblins present a mix of ancient and modern characteristics. They fight with medieval weapons and, when riding their wargs, they resemble cavalry. However, they also build instruments of destruction capable of producing far more damage than typical medieval weapons. The narrator says that “It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them” (Hobbit, 73). This description makes them out to be users of the medieval equivalents of modern weapons of mass destruction. The goblins’ explosives and wheeled war machines have the same terrifying power as the tanks, long-range artillery, and poison gas that were used in the First World War. Goblins represent the cruelty of war. They are violent without reason and enjoy inflicting pain on their opponents. As the narrator says, “goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted” (Hobbit, 73). They are terrifying in a much different way than the imposing dragon Smaug. They are warriors of average skill, who seem to be incapable of complex planning because they are easily surprised early in the Battle of Five Armies. They are also poorly organized; the goblins carry an array of weapons and armor, appearing to have no standardization of either. However, they are resilient. They quickly recover from their initial losses during the Battle of Five Armies and manage to outflank their opponents surprising them from the rear. They are also able to use their super-weapons to temporarily turn the tide of battle. Bolg’s giant goblin guards are among these weapons. These huge figures were capable of resisting Thorin’s charge and seem to be far more powerful than anyone on the battlefield aside from Beorn.
Table of ContentsIntroduction: Bilbo, the Hands-On Historian – Janice Liedl and Nancy R. Reagin
I “A darkness came on with dreadful swiftness”: Middle-earth’s Warriors and Worthies
1. The Faces of the Five Armies - Marcus Schulzke
2. From Oakenshield to Bloodaxe: The Viking Roots of Tolkien’s Dwarves – Colin Gibbons
3. It Is Good to Be the King: Monarchs in Middle-Earth and the Middle Ages - Mark Sundaram and Aven McMaster
4. “The Last Homely House”: Elf-Lords and the Rules of Medieval Nobility – Janice Liedl
II From Hobbit-holes to Riddle-Games in the Middle Ages and Middle-earth
5. Dreaming of Eggs and Bacon, Seedcakes and Scones - Kristen M. Burkholder
6. Battle of Wits, Battle of Words: Medieval Riddles and The Hobbit – Christina Fawcett
7. Bilbo’s Ring: Magical Objects in Middle Earth and Medieval Europe – Laura Mitchell
8. “Roads go ever ever on”: Rambling and Roughing it in The Hobbit – Bram Mathew
III Wizards and Bears and Monsters, Oh My!: Magic and Mystery in Middle-earth
9. Merlin, Odin and Mountain Spirits: The Story of Gandalf’s Origins – Leila Norako
10. Berserkers, Were-Bears and Ursine Parents: Beorn the Skin-Changer and his Ancestors - Stefan Donecker
11. From Whence Came the Great Worms? History and Tolkien’s Monsters – Jessica Monteith
12. “Until the Dragon Comes”: Literature, Language, and The Hobbit – Martha Driver
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