In Search of a National Epic: The use of Old Norse myths in Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth


  • Tommy Kuusela Stockholm University


Honko, Lauri, 1932-2002, Tolkien, J R R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892-1973, Norse religion, Mythology, Norse, Epics, Nationalism, Folklore, Scandinavian, Popular culture, Popular literature


In this article some aspects of Tolkien’s work with regard to his relationship to folklore and nationalism are presented. It is also argued, contrary to Lauri Honko’s view of literary epics, that pre-literary sources constitute a problem for the creators of literary epics and that their elements can direct the choice of plot and form. Tolkien felt that there was a British – but no English – mythology comparable to the Greek, Finnish or Norse ones. He tried to reconstruct the ‘lost mythology’ with building blocks from existing mythologies, and dedicated his work to the English people. In this, he saw himself as a compiler of old source material. This article considers his use of Old Norse sources. With Honko’s notion of the second life of folklore it is argued that Tolkien managed to popularise folklore material while his efforts to make his work exclusively English failed; for a contemporary audience it is rather cross-cultural.

How to Cite

Kuusela, T. (2014). In Search of a National Epic: The use of Old Norse myths in Tolkien’s vision of Middle-earth. Approaching Religion, 4(1), 25–36.