Was Tolkien influenced by India?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by rcscwc, Oct 24, 2013.

  1. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    Was Tolkien influenced by India?

    Recall his background. He lived in an England which had India as the jewel of the crown, that too at it peak. Oxford
    and Cambridge, with their various colleges attracted a large of Indians for education. Being a philologist, he just
    could not have been but have had some exposure to old Indian literature. Since most in the west are not conversant with ancient Indian literature, they are not expected to spot the Indian influences.

    Devas and elves

    Devas, aka gods, initially were not immortal, ie they could be killed but did not die of any other cause. Elves too were exactly like that. Second, Devas came from svarga, the undying land, like elves. Then svarga, at one time was within the "circles" of earth, later on it no longer has been, so is the case with the Undying Land. If Tolkien's Undying land is barred to mortals so is svarga, except after death. Devas too were, like elves, inherently benevolent, noble and had and aura about them. Like elves, they too taught men in many fields. They did intermarry with humans.

    Gandalf and Vashishtha

    Vashishtha was a powerful sage, and finds mention in Rig Veda, Zarushthrian literature and the first epic Ramayna, the firt epic. Though he could vanquish most powerful rakshas, he did not do it himself, but drafted Rama and His brother Lakshman for cleanising of the forests from the scourge of rakshas. Just look at Gandalf. He was powerful but did not vanquish Sauron and other scourges directly. He drafted Bilbo to deal with the Smaug the dragon. Though the dragon was killed by Bard, but signal contreibution of Bilbo is undeniable. Likewise, to deal with Sauron, he drafted Frodo, men, elves, dwarves etc. Vashishtha after rout of Rakshsas from the forest left the administration to the king of Ayodhya. Ditto Gandalf.

    Hobbits and apes

    Tolkien mentions that Hobbits once roused could do great deeds to change the destiny of the world. Most famous are Bilbo and Frodo though there have other Hobbits too who did great deeds. Humble apes helped Rama in vanquishing Ravana that too right in his capital Lanka. Hanuman, the most well known to the west burnt down Lanka, like falling of the rings in fires of doom overthrew bastions of Saurons.

    King under the mountain

    In Ramayana, it is mentioned that ape kings had some powerful kingdoms. Most notable is the city of Kishkindha under the mountain. It was ruled by Bali and later by his younger brother Sugriva, who was the chief of apes who
    helped Rama. Tolkien too conceived of kingdoms under the mountains. most notable Moria under Misty Mountains and that under the Lonely mountain. Kishkindha had streets, roads, palaces, halls, general quarters, fountains etc. You name a feature of Lonely mountain kingdom, it is already there in Kishkindha. Too much of a coincidence.

    Stewards of Gondor

    That is one of the many institutions in LOTR, which is not found anywhere in westren literature or traditions. However it was quite common in INdia of the old. Whenever the king was absent or unable to discharge his functions, he appointed a senior minister as guardian/steward of the kingdom. Absence could be due to pilgrimage, sickness or the untimely death when the heir was a minor. Thus stewardship could continue for years.

    Most famous case is of Rama and his brother Bharat. When Rama was in exile , Bharat declined to ascend the throne. But he agreed to act as steward during Rama's exile, exercising the powers and functions of the king, but like Stewards of Gondor, her did not sit on the throne, but on a seat lower down, while the throne was occupied by Rama's wooden slippers.


    They took some thinking to place. In Hinduism, Garuda, the eagle, is the mount of Lord Vishnu. Garuda is supposed to be demi celestial and very strong and powerful in his own right. Gawiihir was not celestial, but was very strong. Moreover he could speak with humans and Hobbits in a language easily understood by all. There is another powerful bird mentioned in Ramayna, Jatayu the great Vulture. He was strong and powerful had special powers like assuming human form. When Ravana abducted Sita, wife of Rama, and was going to his Lanka by aerial ways, Jatayu spotted him, Though old at that time he attacked Ravana in an attempt to rescue Sita, but was badly injured by Ravana and fell down to the earth. He later disclosed to the identity of the abductor.

    Elephants vs ouliphaunts

    Indians used elephants as a war animal. It is mentioned in LOTR that Southrons, who allied with Sauron, too used ouliphonts. Both the beasts are strikingly similar.

    Aragorn and Bhishma

    Bhishma was blessed by his father with death at the time of his own choosing. Arogorn was similarly blessed by Elrond. Both were formidable warriors and could not be defeated in combat.

    Tolkien himself denies that LOTR is allegorical of bible and christianity. But only that.
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    He once claimed to at Jesuit priest friend of his that LotR was a fundamentally religious and catholic work, although unconsciously so to begin with.

    As for his predominant influences, it's widely accepted that they were mainly Germanic, Nordic, Slavic Celtic myths.
    Gandalf is named after an old Norse name (Gandalfr) which incorporates the words for staff/wand and elf.
    The origin for the concept of Gandalf was actually a postcard of a mountain spirit (Der Berggeist), depicting a man in a cape and wide-brimmed hat feeding a deer.
    Tolkein also described Gandalf as being like Odin, who apparently had a "wanderer" guise: one eye, white beard, wide-brimmed hat etc.

    I think much, if not all, of Tolkein's works were similarly inspired, so doubtful it would have been directly from the Indian myths / legends / religions.

    However, that said, it is not unusual nor unexpected that the same myths and stories exist in many cultures around the world, so it maybe that the Norse and Indian legends share a common ancestry.
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  5. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    The sources for Tolkein's ideas are fairly well established through the extensive work done by his son in editing and having published, with detailed commentary, earlier versions of the material. In these books he traces the origin and development of themes, characters and plots. I have not read all of these, but in those I have I recall no mention of an Indian influence. Therefore, I strongly suspect that any such influence is minor, or indirect, or both, or non-existent.
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  7. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    Both you gentlemen are ignoring the clear references to Hindu texts. Why is there such a strong similarity not once but many times? Is Aragorn-Bhishma parallel minor? How many mortals have got such a boon? Is there a third example?

    When he discounts Bible, would he accept Indian influence? And who has so far taken a close look from Indian perspective?
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2013
  8. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

    Could be some influence from India, sure. Most of his inspiration came from the Kalevala (Finnish pantheon) as I recall but there's no reason to think other world religions didn't influence him. Those are interesting conceptions, above.
  9. Lakon Valued Senior Member

    Interesting thread. A lot of the meaning in your above post seems lost in translation.

    As others have said, many stories are modelled around one archetype. It's a small world.
  10. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    Sure. For example, there are no dragons [fire spewing or otherwise] or trolls in Indian literature. But don't equate literary infl;uence with theological influence.
  11. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    I am sure none of those "others" were conversant with Indian literature.
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Carl Jung reminds us that many of the same legends arise in most cultures in most eras, without any evidence of sharing or influence. He calls these archetypes. He died before genetics became a mature science, but they seem to be programmed into our neurons by our DNA: instinctive beliefs, in other words

    This is not surprising since we have many instinctive beliefs, such as the instinct to run away from a large animal with both eyes in front of its face. Most instinctive beliefs have an obvious purpose, because without it an animal would die before reproducing so his genes would not be passed down. These archetypes seem to have no evolutionary advantage, but they could have been random mutations passed down through genetic drift or a genetic bottleneck.

    If there are similarities between Norse legends and Hindu/Dravidian legends, it's hardly remarkable. It does not necessarily mean that there was contact between the two populations.
  13. Lakon Valued Senior Member

    What was Indian literature conversant with ?
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    What exactly do you want?

    To advertise India?
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That seems to have been his primary motivation since he arrived among us.
  16. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    It is not my contention that Indian and Norse myths are parallel. Mostly not. But does Norse mythology have kings under mountain, a mortal with death by choice etc? What are the examples of these "archetypes" in any other culture.
  17. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    Advertise India? How, Fraggle, is that my motive? Of course I do have independent and different views compared to yours. And I think I am entitled to them.

    In the meantime, please address the issue of Indian influence on Tolkien as I have brought out. Btw, the Indian examples I quoted are THERE, very much there. It needs very little effort to verify them.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2013
  18. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    So what? Who cares?
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I'm not disputing that. What I'm asking for is evidence that Tolkien A) knew about them and B) was influenced by them. Scholars have been analyzing his work for decades, and the origin of his fictional mythology as a hodgepodge of North Germanic (Norse) legends and West Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) legends is obvious.

    If you want to attribute some of this to Hindu or Dravidian legends, you'll have to provide evidence of your own. As Jung's theory of archetypes tells us, the same legends tend to arise independently in all cultures and all eras, even if there is no contact between them.

    Tolkien was careful to restrict himself to Germanic sources. Note that there are no Norman French motifs in his stories, even though the Normans had as much influence over British culture as the Anglo-Saxons, and probably more than the Norsemen. As far as I know, he also ignores Celtic motifs, even though the original inhabitants of southern Britannia (the Brythonic people) were Celts.

    After scrupulously avoiding the influences of several major cultures whose aggregate influence on British culture is very strong, in order to limit himself to Germanic legends, it would be rather strange of him to then import legends from India. Indian culture has surely influenced British culture (especially their food

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    ), but not as strongly as Celtic, Germanic and French--or American, for that matter!
  20. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Tolkien as a young man visited the hill country of Kentucky, where he met short and clannish people who lived in small and isolated towns, dug their houses back into hillsides, had names like Walker, Bracken, Oldham, Warren, Meriwether, Whitehead, and Clay, gardened and harvested mushrooms and set great store by their expertise in growing and smoking tobacco in pipes, were handy at throwing stones and clever with ropes and gear but did not swim or boat much, ate big meals whenever they could get them, generally avoided large scale or factory work, and often went barefoot.

    Just sayin'.
  21. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Tolkien was an illustrious professor of early medieval literature, a man who spent much of his life teaching 'Beowulf' to undergraduates.

    My impression is that over the years, perhaps partly as a hobby or entertainment at first, he seems to have hit on the idea of writing a medieval-style saga of his own, telling it as he would have told it himself, one that illustrated and highlighted the features that he most loved in the writings that he taught and that he always hoped that his students might come to appreciate as well.

    Most of his influences seem to have came from early medieval northern European literature as far as I know. They certainly seem inspired by how the early medieval northern Europeans perceived the wider world around them, supernatural influences and all. Gondor seems to be analogous to Byzantium. (Are Mordor and Sauron analogous to Arabia and the expansive new faith that suddenly erupted there in the 7th century?) The secluded Shire and its hobbits certainly suggest the early English.
  22. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I read somewhere that he wrote The Hobbit for his son, as a didactic book.
  23. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    No. It's YOUR hypothesis, so it's up to YOU to provide the evidence to convince the sceptics. That's how, not just science, but all academic study functions.

    Actually you could probably get a decent PhD thesis out of this. But, as others have pointed out, you should probably approach it by looking first for the common features of Indian and Norse mythology and folklore and determine to what extent any similarities are due to cultural cross-influence or to other things more general in human stories. Only once you've dealt with that can you address whether Tolkein might himself have been directly influenced by India. (I think it most unlikely. He was born in S Africa and moved to England when he was three. I can't find any sign he ever went to India or was interested in Indian culture. And most certainly Indian mythology and folklore was not a part of what an Englishman of his time would expect to pick up from the colonial connection.)

    The problem, in my opinion, is you'd have to spend a lot of reading Tolkein's books, which from a stylistic viewpoint leave a lot to be desired (and I'm not just thinking of Tom Bombadil!).

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