Anonymous asked in Entertainment & MusicMovies · 7 years ago

How 'Celtic' is The Lord of the Rings?

During his lifetime JRR Tolkien strenuously denied that his work was in any way 'Celtic' or 'Irish.' He made it very clear that he was an Englishman writing an English story (note to Americans who might read this: by 'English' we're not talking about languages, but matters pertaining to England and the Englisc folk).

According to Tolkien's letters, 'the book is English, and by an Englishman.'

He had very little time for 'Britishness' and identified himself solely as an Englishman.

'I love England - not Great Britain and certainly not the British Commonwealth.'

His opinion of 'Celtic' (i.e. Irish, Welsh, Scottish) mythology was pretty scathing. When asked straight up whether LOTR and the Hobbit were Celtic he wrote:

'Needless to say they are not Celtic! I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste.'

Tolkien wanted to write for England and the Englisc a national epic, to try and replace a little of what was lost in the horror that followed the Norman/ Breton/ French Conquest of 1066.

He admired the Finnish Karvala a lot, but his main sources were Teutonic and Nordic mythologies, because they are both closely related to Old English mythology.


You would think that this was pretty clear cut, yes? But since 1973 (Tolkien's death) this linking of The Lord of the Rings to 'Celtic' things has been slowly building up; and since the Peter Jackson movies came out the Celtophiles have been going hyper - irish pipers at the premier in London's Leicester Square... a soundtrack by bloody Enya...

So how 'Celtic' is The Lord of the Rings? Is this all just a case of cultural Empire-building by the Celtophiles and the Irishers? Or is Tolkien himself wrong?


@Herve - My source is 'The Letters of JRR Tolkien' published 1981 by his son.

It is a pretty well known collection. Are you trying to say that because JRR Tolkien's lifetime collection of letters disagrees with your view they must be forged or something?

He took inspiration for the structure of his invented Elvish languages from many sources. That does mean they were 'Welsh.'

3 Answers

  • 7 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    They're not Celtic at all. And he didn't just admire the Kalevala, Norse Eddas, the Sagas......this was a huge part of his passion, along with all the Germanic/Saxon (I'm talking Saxons, not Anglo-Saxons) mythos....he enjoyed all of that and most of all, their respective tongues. And really, your northwestern European myth will (in general) either be Teutonic/Germanic or Celtic. With some Latin thrown in for added confusion....and to allay some confusion, Quenya/Finnish, Sindarin/Welsh, if there has to be a tie-in.

    Tolkien indeed had to repeatedly state that there wasn't Celtic myth in his version of Ea tales. And no allegory etc.....people always were and still do try to imprint their own passions onto these stories.

    I'm thumbing through my copy of Humphrey Carpenter's Letters book, and you see where he had to squash that new (at the time) myth about ties to that branch of myth or tongue before the resurgence in popularity in Gaelic Irish etc. everything. But this was really taking hold in the decade in which the Master died.... Welsh, and Norse roots and Asturian and......there has, since the 60s and 70s been a resurgence all over Europe, Scandinavia, Rus/Slavic many old ways brought to light in a positive light. Mayhap due in part to the Professor's version of how the English peoples came to be, done so effectively that it made everyone else look for something to be proud of in their lineage.

    I've often wondered -why- particularly this Celtic omission, with so many other inclusions made that weren't root English (you'll pardon my modern day American spelling). Other than the author's own preferences.

    And the man hated the French language. A lot. (I've always made the ties to the WW1 trenches there and all that hell as having something to do with that).

    Like we all do, the Professor had things he was way into, and there were things he could do without.

    I'm so pleased, for my own mongrelly American Norwegian Swedish German and Hungarian Rom Gypsy self, that he did not see fit to stranglehold/keep his new and WAY better version of English/England's start-up, to only his own select pure countrymen. I myself would buy a one-way ticket to Middle-earth, if ever one were made available. The best I've been able to do is do pilgrimage to his not Lordly, but simple grave-site....and wonder over a simple but brilliant man's ability to change and inspire the world for the better with his own thoughts. Most of us feel a positive enrichment, some just get all uppity.

    Don't really care if any of it has Celtic inclusion or not. Quite a few pieces of Eithne's music is LOTR inspired. Myself and oh, maybe a couple of others think they're magical. The piece: Aniron from FOTR (I know you detest the films, but bear with me) was in Elvish, not Gaelic. And it was entirely appropriate for the 30 seconds it had in the soundtrack. May it Be was pop-y, but so was the one sung by Annie Lennox....speaking of Scottish....I've heard nothing on Pictish or Cumbric or whatever not being included in Tolkien's overall works....ever....why is that?? Why the seeming conspiracy theory panic re: Celtic (which wasn't just Irish.....La Tene et al)

    • brother_in_magic
      Lv 7
      6 years agoReport

      The elves are not similar to the Norse elves at all. They are very like to Ireland's Tuatha de Danann, with their undying lands in the West, and their enemy Balor of the Baleful Eye.

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  • 4 years ago

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  • Herve
    Lv 6
    7 years ago

    If Elvish didn't take its linguistic roots from Welsh, then i'm Gandalf's beard.

    He actually used Welsh for the roots of Sindarin, so I don't know where you've got those quotes from.

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