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Book Review: Anglo-Saxon Community in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

CoverI purchased a copy of this book back in the spring when it was first released. Anglo-Saxon Community in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was written by Dr. Deborah A. Higgins and peppered throughout the book are the beautiful, Anglo-Saxon themed chapter art works by Danielle Storey. The cover illustration, named Riders of Rohan is by reknowned Tolkien artist Ted Nasmith. It is a beautiful book, which only added to my enjoyment of the subject matter. This is only a personal review of a book that I enjoyed reading. For an interview with the author go here. Now, on to the book itself.

There are four specific sections that deal with the meat of the subject and how the content and structure of the Beowulf poem is related to The Lord of the Rings: On Fairy-Stories and Monsters, Tolkien enters the Anglo-Saxon community Through the Mead-Hall Building, The Role of the Lord, Comitatus and Gift-giving in the Mead-Hall, and Lady With a Mead Cup.

On Fairy-stories and Monsters which deals with Tolkien’s use of the great Cauldron of Story, as Higgins puts it, details his inspirations from, Beowulf in particular as it pertains to Anglo-Saxon culture. Tolkien, like many authors, used myth and actual history together to weave his stories, but unlike many other modern authors he understood what was important while others have forgotten them or even deride them – the fantastical elements in a story should be important. Unlike many Beowuld scholars which scoffed at the fantastical elements in the poem and cast the historical elements as the only important things about Beowulf, Higgins shows us that they entirely missed the point. Tolkien especially thought it was true in Beowulf that the historical elements lend credence and a foundation to the story while the fantastical elements were the more important parts and stated that they are actually what was of prime significance. This book in its entirety does especially deal with the text of Beowulf.

The Mead-Hall Building – This focuses on the Mead-Hall in Anglo-Saxon culture. I’ve learned that through the Beowulf poem we see glimpses of very important aspects of the culture and rituals surrounding the hall. The Mead-Hall was crucial to the strength, closeness of the community and the prestige of its lord. Deborah goes into detail using the Beowulf poem as an example of what Anglo-Saxon society and the building construction of its Mead-hall would have looked like. I am sure many of us remember the beautiful descriptions of Meduseld of Rohan. Well, look no further than Heorot in Beowulf for its inspiration for Heorot was described by the poet as one of the greatest halls to ever be built. Higgins also goes on to explain how Sir Gawain and the Green Knight also is influenced by this important Anglo-Saxon work. In the section The Role of the Lord, Comitatus and Gift-giving she examines Beowulf to illustrate the relationship between Lord or king and his warriors of the hall and goes into great detail into this aspect of the Anglo-Saxon world. She then also in the last section writes about Lady With a Mead Cup. The role of the lady or queen of the Mead-Hall and the passing of the mead cup and all it entails; its significance to her own influence and power in the Hall of her lord.

Higgins helps us to see through studying Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings what Anglo-Saxon society was like and how important certain customs were to the strength of that society. She also helps the reader to see how Tolkien used information and customs found in the poem Beowulf to help construct the cultural richness of The Lord of the Rings. In the LOTR we can see glimpses of Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon society most definitely in Rohan but also in the elven societies, and in Gondor. I thought it was interesting and fitting to look at Tolkien’s work through the Beowulf poem as it is one of the few precious fragments we have of of early Anglo-Saxon society before the Norman invasion. For anyone who is interested in Tolkien scholarship it is an excellent addition to have in one’s library. For a more comprehensive interview done by our member goldberry with the author about the book click this link.

victorialadybug (V. A. Jeffrey) is a fantasy and science fiction author. She also loves music, art, history, cooking, baking, fermenting stuff, comic book movies and nearly anything Tolkien related. Her biggest writing inspirations are Shakespeare, Frank Herbert and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.

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3 comments

  1. Jason Alan - PHATE

    It’s an amazingly comprehensive book. The work Deborah had to have put into this… wow. amazing job. this is something that that people will be able to reference for many many years to come. Awesome job Dr. Higgins!!!

  2. I love new books on Tolkien scholarship.

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