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Nicholas DeMeulle
Professor McDonough
English 201
20 October 2015

J.R.R. Tolkien, full name John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was a well known scholar of the
English language, having specialized in the study of Old and Middle English. He worked on
many different literary works in his life, two of the more famous being The Hobbit and The Lord
of the Rings trilogy. However, Tolkien had a particular appreciation for early Anglo-Saxon
culture, most noted by his lecture entitled Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics along with a
collaboration on a publication of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which he worked on with the
help of E.V. Gordon. Although many authors try to keep their works as original as possible,
certain influences cannot help but sometimes be noticed. This is especially true of Tolkien within
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as you can clearly see a heavy influence of Anglo-Saxon
culture within the text. However, in certain scenarios, it goes a bit farther than that. Specific
scenes within these novels appear to almost be plagiarized from earlier Anglo-Saxon texts. Now
that is not necessarily a bad thing, as through doing so Tolkien has made more accessible a wide
array of poetry and literature that can be too complex for younger generations to understand and
interpret. Due to the influence that Anglo-Saxon culture had on Tolkien's writings, he has, in a
way, modernized old Anglo-Saxon texts and poetry.
In the poem Beowulf, the lead up to Beowulfs encounter with the dragon details how a
servant in exile had entered the dragons lair to steal a piece of treasure valuable enough so that

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he could present it to his master to end his exile. However, the thief, nor lord, had thought about
the consequences of stealing from a dragons hoard and thus unleashed the dragons fury among
the local populace. This scenario in the book is represented almost in full in J.R.R. Tolkiens
book The Hobbit. In The Hobbit, a Halfling, or Hobbit, named Bilbo is instated by a company of
11 dwarves and the wizard Gandalf in order to be their burglar and steal a certain treasure from
the dragon Smaug. Bilbo succeeds in stealing a golden cup from the dragon and unleashes the
dragons rage among the nearby town of Laketown. While the events are not in sequential order
in both stories, in Beowulf the thief had stolen from the unnamed dragon and had hurried
to his lord with the gold-plated cup and made his plea to be reinstated(2281-2283). After the
dragons rage had been let loose, the thief had made his way to Beowulfs halls and described to
him how the issue had begun, The precious cup had come to him from the hand of the finder,
the one who had started all this strife and was now added as a thirteenth to their number(24042408). In the way that the thief was added to the party, the two stories of Beowulf and The
Hobbit have a difference, but both end up adding a thirteenth member to their traveling party,
who happens to be a burglar, before the main protagonists directly engage with the dragon.
Furthermore, during the fight with the dragon in Beowulf, Beowulf is left alone to fight the
dragon, which proves to be unsuccessful as he is unable to injure the dragon through its hard
scales, until Wiglaf enters combat with him after the other lords had fled to the nearby forest.
Wiglaf assists Beowulf in his fight by weakening the dragon with a sword strike so that Beowulf
may deliver a finishing blow to the creature. In The Hobbit, Smaug attacks the city of Laketown
after being stripped of one of his treasures that had been taken by Bilbo. While Smaug is setting
the town aflame, the townsmen, along with the hero Bard, attempt to slay the beast by peppering
it with arrows. As is with Beowulf, Bard and the townsmen are unsuccessful in felling the dragon

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until a thrush lands on Bards shoulder and speaks to him, telling him to watch for the weakness
in Smaugs scales. Bard sees it as he looses his final arrow and watches it sink into the creatures
belly and heart, slaying the dragon. Bard and Beowulf are similar in that they are the hero who
slays the mighty beast, whereas Wiglaf performs the same duty to Beowulf as the thrush does to
Bard, providing them assistance so that they may deliver the final blow. Of the two scenarios,
Beowulf's is portrayed in a much darker tone, as most of the story is. You have a thief who steals,
simply for his own selfishness to be reinstated in his master's estate, followed with the
destruction of the populace and the countryside. This is further darkened by the tone Beowulf
sets when he sets out on his journey to slay the dragon: the ever pervasive feeling that he would
not be returning to his home and hearth. This lies in contrast with how The Hobbit portrays the
series of events. Within The Hobbit Bilbo stealing the cup is never meant for his own selfish
gains, he was simply proving his talent to Thorin, the dwarven company leader, so that the man
would respect him for being what the company had made him out to be: a burglar. The dragon,
Smaug, has the same distinction as the Beowulf dragon through its want for destruction but it
does not destroy an entire countryside, it merely annihilates a single town; one that is quickly
rebuilt. The hero of the scene, Bard, never has an underlying sense of despair and doom, but
rather that of hope, which allows him to persevere and slay the dragon. This is one of the ways
Tolkien helped to modernize the 8th century poem, by allowing it to be read in a lighter tone.
Through this mechanism, Tolkien managed to almost write out in full the entirety of Beowulf's
third encounter with the dragon, all the while causing it to be filled with a sense of adventure and
success, rather than the doom that is so apparent within Beowulf.
Within The Lord of the Rings Aragorn, one of the main protagonists, introduces a race of
warriors by paraphrasing lines from the 11th century poem, The Wanderer. This speech is later

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adapted into the live action film movie, made in 2003, but is instead voiced by King Thoden as
opposed to Aragorn. The lines within the movie read, 'Where is the horse and the rider? Where
is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountains, like wind in the
meadow. The days have gone down in the West, behind the hills...into Shadow'. The
Wanderer contains a much elongated version but bits a pieces appear to resemble some of The
Lord of the Rings speech: 'Where did the steed go? Where the young warrior?...and the storms
beat against these stone-faced cliffs, / snow descending seals up the ground, / drumming of
winter when darkness falls, / night shadows darken, from the north send down / fierce hail
showers in hatred of men'(92, 101-105). The two poems have much in terms of similarity, both
telling the story of the deaths of the narrators loved ones as well as the syntax in which the
poems are based. However, Thoden's is short, only spanning would could be approximated at
4-5 stanzas, whereas The Wanderer tells his tale of death over the course of almost twice as
many stanzas in a much more descriptive fashion. Therefore, it is not so much the tone that sets
Tolkien apart from his Anglo-Saxon predecessors in this scenario, but more the feeling for an
easier language, one that can be fully comprehended by younger minds as it gives a clearer and
easily relatable scenery, such as a mountain and a meadow, as opposed to ...snow descending
seals up the ground... Despite the language shift, much of the meaning is not lost between the
two works. The reader can still interpret Thoden's thoughts through his small speech about the
fleetingness of life which also has prominence within the aforementioned quote from The
Wanderer as well as the entirety of the poem.
By providing a more contemporary language for his readers, Tolkien managed to bring
Anglo-Saxon poetry and tone into his novels while still being able to fully get across the
meanings that they held within his works. Whether through the use of beautiful poetry, owing its

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roots to an Old English heritage, or through his modernized language which gave birth to a
worldwide bestselling fantasy novel, Tolkien has created one of the most beloved stories of all
time which manages to keep alive early Anglo-Saxon culture. Someday, Tolkien's novels may
become a more ancient and poetical way of writing, but their origins will always remain a part of
the story itself, never allowing early literature to ever truly fade away.

Works Cited

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Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 41-108. Print.
The Wanderer. Trans. R. D. Fulk . The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 118-120. Print.

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