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  1. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #1

    Influence of the Sigurd legend on parts of The Hobbit?

    So, recently, I've been working on two Young Adult dungeonpunk urban fantasy novels in a universe I'd describe as "Tolkien's Middle-earth meets Norse mythology's Middle-earth". I actually got more into Norse myth due to Tolkien, and one of the stories involves the Sigurd the Dragonslayer legend. BTW, that's my favourite Norse legend, as it was JRRT's. In researching the legend, I found a couple of ballads from the Faroe Islands which retell the story, but that version is quite different from the version I'm using. The first ballad, Regin Smidur (Regin The Smith) depicts the first bit of the legend, and there's one line that stuck with me describing Sigurd beating up a couple of his friends/acquaintances. He uses an oak tree branch as a weapon.

    All from an ancient oaken-tree
    A mighty branch he tore,and lammed those lads so lustily
    That some rose up no more.
    It instantly reminded me of Thorin and his nickname, which he earned from doing something similar. This translation is from a book by E.M. Smith-Dampier, Sigurd The Dragon-Slayer, A Faroese Ballad Cycle, which was published three years before The Hobbit came out. Is it plausible that Tolkien got his inspiration for this incident in Thorin's backstory from this song?
    Last edited by Morwen Edhelwen; 17/Mar/2013 at 04:10 AM.

  2. Very interesting find! The Faroese ballads certainly attracted the attention of philologists, and it's not inconceivable that Tolkien took at least some interest in them - though it would be nice if we could find some positive indication of this (say, him alluding to them in a lecture or a letter or something). A title like Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer could hardly have failed to intrigue Tolkien, anyway, whether or not he ever actually read it.

    Of course, the name Oakenshield has another clear Icelandic source, the name Eikinskjaldi from Vǫluspá. And Tolkien was using Oakenshield well before Smith-Dampier's book came out. Still, it's interesting that the note in TLotR on Thorin's epithet says:

    It is said that Thorin's shield was cloven and he cast it away and he hewed off with his axe a branch of an oak and held it in his left hand to ward off the strokes of his foes, or to wield as a club. In this way he got his name. -The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A.III, note

    I'd never really thought about it before, but it's not inconceivable that Tolkien was influenced by this ballad (or a similar tradition about an oak club weapon).
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  3. Saranna's Avatar
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    #3
    This set me surfing, and here's an interesting link or two - there seems to be quite a bit available online!

    http://home.ix.netcom.com/~kyamazak/...dampier-fe.htm

    http://odins-gift.com/pclass/theball...al_dampier.htm
    Last edited by Saranna; 15/Mar/2013 at 02:53 PM.
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  4. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #4
    And also:
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord of the Rings View Post
    Very interesting find! The Faroese ballads certainly attracted the attention of philologists, and it's not inconceivable that Tolkien took at least some interest in them - though it would be nice if we could find some positive indication of this (say, him alluding to them in a lecture or a letter or something). A title like Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer could hardly have failed to intrigue Tolkien, anyway, whether or not he ever actually read it.

    Of course, the name Oakenshield has another clear Icelandic source, the name Eikinskjaldi from Vǫluspá. And Tolkien was using Oakenshield well before Smith-Dampier's book came out. Still, it's interesting that the note in TLotR on Thorin's epithet says:

    It is said that Thorin's shield was cloven and he cast it away and he hewed off with his axe a branch of an oak and held it in his left hand to ward off the strokes of his foes, or to wield as a club. In this way he got his name. -The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A.III, note

    I'd never really thought about it before, but it's not inconceivable that Tolkien was influenced by this ballad (or a similar tradition about an oak club weapon).
    Thanks, LOTR! I forgot that last part! : AFAIK this club incident doesn't occur in the Icelandic versions. It seems to be a Faroese thing, and the Faroese version is very different.

    Interestingly, the names "Dáin" and "Thráin" appear in a poem called "Odin's Raven Song'' in the Poetic Edda, where they are two dwarves sent for by Odin to interpret Baldur's dreams, so apparently they knew how to interpret omens and could give the significance of dreams. After that, they are never mentioned again. They don't appear outside of this poem and Voluspá.

    Here are the lines:

    'Twas Thráin's belief that the dream was ominous;
    Dáin's thought that the dream was dark.
    Last edited by Morwen Edhelwen; 17/Mar/2013 at 11:09 PM.

  5. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #5
    There's also (I believe) another influence on the character of Thorin from the legend of Sigurd, through the character of Regin, Sigurd's foster father. "Regin" is a dwarven name from the Voluspá, which means "Mighty/Powerful One" and in some versions of the legend, Regin is a dwarven prince,(I'm using that version) exiled from the kingdom because of his brother Fafnir who has turned into a dragon and is resting on a hoard of gold, causing the death of his other brother. He is then forced to work as a blacksmith to humans for his living, just as Thorin is. Both he and Thorin are portrayed as serious and brooding over their lost gold (and in Thorin's case, homeland as well) for centuries, and seeking revenge, although Regin's more of a schemer:

    After that we went away, and we have had to earn our livings up and down the lands as best we could, often enough sinking as low as blacksmith-work
    or even coalmining. But we have never forgotten our lost treasure...
    Thorin, TH Chapter 1, "An Unexpected Party".
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  6. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    #6
    A bit of free association brings up the similar case of Weland (or Völund, or Wayland) in Puck of Pook's Hill, who starts off as a great god, and ends as a wayside smith, working for pennies, and getting no thanks.
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  7. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Dorwiniondil View Post
    A bit of free association brings up the similar case of Weland (or Völund, or Wayland) in Puck of Pook's Hill, who starts off as a great god, and ends as a wayside smith, working for pennies, and getting no thanks.
    Isn't Volund an elf originally? he's called the king of the elves.
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  8. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    #8
    Not in the legends that I know. For once Wikipedia is reasonably accurate about this Norse hero (apart from inconsistencies in spelling!): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayland_the_Smith
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  9. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dorwiniondil View Post
    Not in the legends that I know. For once Wikipedia is reasonably accurate about this Norse hero (apart from inconsistencies in spelling!): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayland_the_Smith
    Why's he referred to as "king of the elves" and "of the race of the elves"?
    The road goes ever on and on

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  10. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    I think I'm missing something. Where is he called "king of the elves"?
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  11. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Dorwiniondil View Post
    I think I'm missing something. Where is he called "king of the elves"?
    Volundarkvitha.
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  12. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    Got it. Answer: I don't know! Of course, Norse elves are not the same as Tolkien's.

    Though in fact I was originally thinking not of the Norse Völund, but of Kipling's Weland, being reduced to wayside smithing, as a parallel to Thorin.
    Last edited by Dorwiniondil; 12/May/2013 at 12:28 PM.
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  13. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dorwiniondil View Post
    Got it. Answer: I don't know! Of course, Norse elves are not the same as Tolkien's.
    I think he is an elf, but the writer of that poem also wanted to humanise (best way I can think of to say it) him a bit. Yes... Norse elves can be evil. eg Skuld in Hrolf Kraki's saga who was the king's half-sister and also a half-elf. She is also one of the most fascinating villains ever; a child of rape who (it's implied) is evil because her human father didn't keep his promise to her elven mother.
    Last edited by Morwen Edhelwen; 12/May/2013 at 12:36 PM.
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  14. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #14
    Also, Völund's revenge on King Nidud is terrible; he kills the king's young sons, and seduces (rapes) Bodvild, his daughter, who wears the ring he gave his wife Hervör.
    The road goes ever on and on

    ​-FOTR

  15. Interpretation of the Vǫlundarkviđa can be pretty difficult, but the phrase 'vísi alfa', 'prince of elves' occurs several times and seems to be a formula genuinely associated with Vǫlund. In the reading of the poem I favour, he's not particularly humanized at all: the story is much more about the dangerous side of elves and the foolishness of trying to hamstring and enslave something/one so potent. The poem ends with a broken family and the elf flying away laughing, literally untouchable by human power. I don't think there's any evidence at all that he was ever a god, despite modern romantic attempts to cast him as such.

    I'm not sure that this original Norse Vǫlund has much to do with Thorin (certainly the Regin connections are much more obvious), but I don't think it's a stretch to see something of him in Feanor or Eol. There aren't actually that many 'terrible Elvish smith' figures running around, at least.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  16. Incidentally, I was recently re-reading the Vǫlundarkviđa shortly before I went to see the new Star Trek movie. It occurred to me that if they ever made a movie of Vǫlundarkviđa, then Benedict Cumberbatch would have a field day with the role of Vǫlund. It would almost be worth whatever indignities Hollywood would inflict on the script to see that!
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  17. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #17
    Hi LOTR! I didn't even notice your posts until today! On humanisation: you're right and I'm wrong.

    I actually think Benedict Cumberbatch would make a good Fafnir in Volsunga Saga. And of course now the Hobbit movies are coming out... Richard Armitage should play Regin and Aidan Turner should be Sigurd. Cate Blanchett should be Grimhild.
    The road goes ever on and on

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  18. Morwen Edhelwen's Avatar
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    #18
    bump
    The road goes ever on and on

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