Tolkien’s Celtic Influences, Perhaps Seen Here In The Alps

The first film in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” is scheduled for release this December (it’s been divided into three parts to keep us all coming back for more), and the trailer has just come out.

This gives me the opportunity to note Tolkien’s knowledge of old names and old languages from which he created new old languages for his characters. Those of you familiar with the stories know of the dwarvish names Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Durin. Many other names of Tolkien’s dwarves ended in -i (Kili, Nori, Dori, Fili, etc.)* but the “-in” names have given me the impression that Tolkien knew something about the Austrian Alps, their history and their legends. I base this so far on two things:

1) There is an ancient salt mine in the mountains below the city of Salzburg, near Hallein. It is a popular tourist attraction — you take a little train deep into the mountain and slide down long wooden slides to lower levels. You are also ferried over a dark underground lake in a small boat. It’s not for the claustrophobic, but it’s rather fun. Along the way you learn of the mine’s history, that the Celts mined salt here at least as early as 1200 BC. Many of the Alpine towns reflect this salt industry by the use of the ancient Celtic word for salt — Hal — in their names: Hallein, Hallstadt, Bad Reichenhall, Hall in Tirol.

But I was discussing Tolkien and his dwarves’ names. The salt mine described above is in Bad Dürrnberg. Dürrnberg (“Dürrn Mountain”) sounds like the Durin of “Durin’s Day”, the rare dwarvish calendar event of a New Year (always in Autumn, in which the moon appears while the sun is still in the sky), and the ancient mountain mines only add to the idea.

2) There is an old Tyrolean legend of a Dwarf King who abducted a princess, with the aid of a magic invisibility hood, and took her to his rose garden in the Dolomite mountains. He was found and apprehended, but before he was dragged off to prison, he turned and cursed the roses whose movements gave him away — by day or night shall no man ever see their beauty. The Dwarf King forgot the dawn and the dusk, however, and in those times one can see a beautiful red glow on the mountains, the alpenglow.

Right, Tolkien. That King’s name was Laurin.

I may be completely off base but I find the similarities in the names interesting. A history of these parts can be traced through the place names — some are Germanic (from Frankish rule and onward), some are Latin (from the Romans), and some are much older than that, even. Why wouldn’t one be able to glean a sort of history out of the regional stories and the characters in them as well?

*These look like they may be names from the Poetic Edda. It may be time to delve into that. Just looking over the index of names in the Edda shows that Tolkien must have borrowed a lot from it. Interesting to me is that the similarity of those ancient names can pop up in very different parts of Europe — the untrained reader normally doesn’t connect the mythology of Scandinavia with that of the Alps. But maybe some of these old names are related.

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7 Responses to Tolkien’s Celtic Influences, Perhaps Seen Here In The Alps

  1. Carlisle says:

    No real connection, but your post reminded me of this: http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.com/2001/10/fairies-william-allingham.html

  2. ellroon says:

    (My family LOVES the Tolkien books). Tolkien (if you check his wiki page) was a linguistics prof. He also loved myths and fables his works deeply reflect these interests. I’m sure you’ll find a lot more connections.

  3. Marcellina says:

    If I have any geek cred at all, it’s in that I have read the hobbit + lotr three times. 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    I just wanted too comment the same as ellroon already said.
    To go on farther…. I think also the map (e.g. here http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/18/Baynes-Map_of_Middle-earth.jpg) of middle earth might somehow reflect middle europe (although it looks a bit mor like Wales, Severnmouth and Cornwall. For me however, when reading the story years ago I set Gondor in real world somewhere near Bolzano.
    And -I must confess- that I interpreted Tolkiens works also as a reflection on WW II as it was written in those times (although Tolkiens does say it is not)
    To return to the names: The ORK might be a reflection of the so called more simpathetic “Nörgelen” (see http://www.sagen.at/texte/sagen/oesterreich/tirol/allgemein/salig_fraeulein_noergelen.html) in Tyrolen tell tales.

  5. Paschberg says:

    sorry the last Anonymous was me 🙂

  6. Marcellina says:

    @Paschberg: I think my “mental map” of Middle Earth is an extended Europe, with the Oliphaunt-riding Haradrim being from northern Africa and Khazad-dum being somewhere in ex-Soviet Eurasia, or possibly Romania. The Shire is clearly England. I believe many people cannot help but think of it as associated with WW2, even though Tolkien denied it.
    I have read that the Orcs come from Beowulf.
    BTW there are unfortunately no Saligen in our “La Wally”, although I think they are in the book, no? But we do have some Perchten. 🙂

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