Hobbits call the number one hundred and eleven (111) eleventy-one. This is a habit peculiar to Hobbits and its use is not found elsewhere in Middle-earth.
Bilbo Baggins is the main character from Tolkien’s earlier book The Hobbit, also set in Middle-earth. In it, Bilbo joins a group of dwarves on an adventure to steal a hoard of treasure from the dragon Smaug, and regain the Lonely Mountain from him. Their quest sees them pitted against trolls, goblins, giant spiders and wood elves. Underneath the Misty Mountains, Bilbo is separated from the others and stumbles across a magical ring. He then engages in a battle of riddles with the ring’s current owner, the creature Gollum, eventually using the ring to become invisible and escape. Finally, the dragon is killed and the treasure recovered. Bilbo returns to the Shire a more adventurous, less stuffy, and much richer hobbit.
The hobbits of the Shire are a very conservative, respectable folk, disapproving of excitement and adventures in general. They regard Bilbo as their somewhat baffling and rather eccentric neighbour.
Gaffer is a British colloquial term for ‘foreman’, ‘boss’, ‘father’ or ‘old man.’
This has now become the typical image of a fantasy wizard. The idea of powerful men and women who can perform magic dates back to ancient times, but it was in the medieval period that the wizard as we know him became established. In High Medieval romance, wizards would often appear as wise mentor figures who aided the hero on his quest, just as Gandalf does in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The word ‘wizard’ itself derives from the Middle English ‘wisard’ – wise + -ard, and today the word is often used for a very clever or skilled person, e.g. a computer wizard. As age is often associated with wisdom, the archetype of the wizard as ‘wise old man’ was established, marked by his long white beard. From Merlin to Dumbledore, wizards are very popular figures in myth, legend and fantasy fiction.
The robes, tall pointed hat and staff (or sometimes wand) are also typical wizard features. It is possible that these may have been influenced by descriptions of the Germanic god Woden/Wotan (Norse Odin). In his guise as Wanderer, Odin wears a long robe, wide-brimmed hat, long grey beard, and carries a staff. Tolkien has stated that the image of the Odinic wanderer did influence him when creating the character of Gandalf.
The name Gandalf means ‘wand elf’ or ‘magic elf’ in Old Norse, and can be found in the Völuspá, a poem in the Poetic Edda (a collection of Old Norse poetry).
There are many possible influences for Tolkien’s ring of power. The first and most obvious is the magical ring of the Norse Völsunga Saga and later Germanic Nibelungenlied. In these, a ring called Andvarinaut is cursed by the god Loki to bring tragedy to whoever possesses it. The ring is desired by everyone, causing much conflict, but it only brings unhappiness. In the same story there is also a broken sword that is re-forged, something that will appear later in Lord of the Rings.
Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, a cycle of four operas based on the Völsunga Saga and the Nibelungenlied, also features the magical, cursed ring. Some critics have seen major similarities between Wagner’s work and The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien himself denied this influence, saying that “both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases.” Tolkien did not consider Wagner’s operas to be a particularly good interpretation of the Germanic mythology. However, this has not prevented some modern scholars and critics from concluding that Tolkien must have been influenced by Wagner, whether consciously or not, as many elements of their work are so similar. Others argue that this is a natural consequence of using the same source material.
Magical rings can be found in many different stories and legends. Other items of power are very common too. The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, tells of a magical artifact called the Sampo, which brings good fortune to its owner. The Sampo is fought over by good and evil, until it is eventually destroyed. Tolkien was very impressed with the Kalevala and has stated that it influenced him in the creation of Middle-earth.
J.R.R Tolkien reading 'The Road goes ever on and on':
The Tolkien Ensemble are a Danish group of musicians that write songs based on the lyrics of J.R.R. Tolkien. Here they perform their interpretation of 'The Old Walking Song':