Syncretic Middle-Earth Bilbo Baggins’ adventure to the Lonely Mountain opens the doors to J. R. R. Tolkien’s vast Middle-Earth. Tolkien describes his intricate world with such exquisite detail from the mythic creatures occupying his heroes’ every turn, to the deep woods where their adventures seem to go awry. Tolkien’s characters experience from region to region the glamourous figures that cross through dense woods and winding rivers to guide them on their way, he excludes concrete religious deities as a factoring role among the adventures he has created.
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are syncretic endeavors in which Tolkien synthesizes different religious traditions into a unifying spirituality rather than infusing his world with a specific religious ideology. Tolkien pulls key religious traditions from mostly medieval ideologies to create a unifying struggle for the common good. Nature is Tolkien’s main force to bring many of these different cosmogonies together, and as history develops throughout the Middle Ages and “by 700 A. D. as] Christianity’s place in Irish culture [is] secure;” Celtic, Norse and Catholic ideas mix together o create one religion that is appealing to the many different Germanic tribes-creating a syncretic British Isle (Black XLII). Tolkien builds of this idea through terrain like the Mirkwood forest, the many rivers and fords, the Shire, and the Misty Mountains. In each of these lands, both the Fellowship and the troop of dwarves with Bilbo, face many Otherworldly beings and experiences like Tom Bombadill, the Elves, Goblins, Orcs, Dragons, etc.
However, Tolkien specifically uses the terrain as a battle ground for the common good through the synchronism of his own mythology. Gandalf guides both the Fellowship and Bilbo with his troop of dwarves down specific paths on the way to their destinations. Such paths always begin with an assumed idea that Gandalf will remain by the sides of his chosen troops, until they leave the Shire and travel through a mixture of woods and rivers or are met by at least one mountain.
Then Gandalf conveniently disappears at the dire most points they need him, and then they face more rivers and woods alone, until the groups meet their destination. The importance of this pattern Gandalf creates is the distinction between the realms of good, and evil. Tolkien onfigures Gandalf in the Odinic-figure, who throughout much of Norse mythology is known for his wisdom, wandering, and guidance of heroes (Guerber 34-35). When Gandalf leaves the Shire after Bilbo’s birthday, he travels throughout Middle-Earth searching for more information regarding the One Ring which rules them all (Tolkien 43, 50-57).
It is at this time that Tolkien really goes beyond H. A. Guerber’s physical description of Odin to mold Gandalf into his image characteristically as well (Guerber 16-17). Tolkien uses Gandalf as a singularly powerful figure that is familiar with all realms of Middle-Earth and easily oves among them, while pulling them all together for one cause-the destruction of the ring for the restoration of good. Tolkien, while writing both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was creating a fictional mythology for Britain that never was.
Dimitra Fimi states that “Tolkien felt the lack of a mythology as an important deficiency for his own country and its national identity, and what he set out to do is exactly what Elias Lo”nnrot had done before in Finland-he undertook the task of the middle-class intellectual to provide his country with a mythology” (Fimi 160). He is “attempting to create an apolitical mythology for the English language, isolated from the time and place in which it was written,” (Weidner 75-6).
European countries credit their vast histories to one larger cosmogony before synchronizing into the Christian religion; Britain is the rare exception of growing from a multitude of religions thanks to its Norse northern neighbors and their Celtic and Pagan natives. Tolkien, who was well aware of this because of his background in medieval literature, adapts previous religious beliefs and structures into the core of The Hobbit and The Lord f the Rings (Fimi 158).
Gandalf is essentially more than the Odinic-guide to Tolkien’s characters, but a being capable of exposing the different characters, based on different areas of Norse, Celtic, and Modern religious traditions, to one another in a fluid and natural way. Just as Odin is important for sending his heroes off into battle “the increased role of Tolkien’s Odin as the mastermind of the entire story,” put Gandalf into the position to use Bilbo and Frodo to bring together many aspects of Norse and Celtic traditions, “and thus manipulates the tale”-giving the quests a unified feel (Bennett 6).
Therefore, as Gandalf leaves Bilbo and the Dwarves at the entrance to Mirkwood forest, Gandalf pushes the troop together (The Hobbit 175). By leaving them, the Dwarves must rely on Bilbo and create a unified front to escape Mirkwood. Gandalf is able to form these natural transitions between realms because of his elimination of specific ruling religious deities.
Unlike the forced synchronism of religion in Old English Literature like The Wanderer, where the mention of one ruling power seems forced and interjecting, Tolkien’s endeavor intertwines all of Britain’s religious traditions orks well in his ability to carefully craft different guiding figures to unify Middle-Earth (The Wanderer ii. 120-123). The geographic layout of Middle-Earth and its infusion of nature within the plot of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings provide a physical barrier between the Shire and the Otherworld.
Tolkien himself states that The Shire represents the ideal British culture, and he identifies with the hobbits because of their timid nature (Grotta). While the Shire does not belong to the Otherworld surrounding it, it does still have a spiritual nature about it. This is because hobbits have a striking esemblance to the Celts half-men (Burns). When Gandalf introduces the dwarves to Bilbo and the Shire he begins not only the journey of which Frodo will finish, but he opens Middle-Earth to a mixing of races based on the same mix of religious traditions and images Britain evolved from.
Mirkwood forest is one of the first Otherworld images in The Lord of the Rings series that shows how by removing the struggles for power between dominant religions, Tolkien is able to reflect the power struggle between internal human desires, which in the rational mind present as an evil force, and the ommon good of Middle Earth through syncretism. The forest makes an appearance first in The Hobbit; however, it sets the precedent for Frodo’s encounters in the Old Forest and Lorien later on in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Marco R. S. Post explains how Tolkien “drew much of his fictional material from medieval Germanic and Celtic folklore, myths, and romances.. [and] Tolkien’s depiction of forests, too, has not been created ex nihilo, but is the result of inspiration by and borrowing from these sources” (Post 68). The magical aspect of Mirkwood does not just add allure to the plot; it unifies most of Middle-Earth at he end of Bilbo’s journey during the Battle of the Five Armies (The Hobbit 281-287).
There are dwarves and Beorn of Norse name, elves influenced by Celtic lore, humans, etc. ll fighting against a common evil-despite each groups’ desire to obtain a claim of the treasure within the Lonely Mountain. Before this however, Tolkien depicts how Bilbo has the choice to forsake the dwarves in Mirkwood after they are captured by the Elvenking. Bilbo has an opportunity to leave Mirkwood while he is hidden by the power of the ring; though he cannot keep up with the elves to find a way out and he does think of leaving and oing off alone. But he chooses to stay, and find a way out for everyone (The Hobbit173-174).
The struggle between good and evil, choosing to stay comfortable in one way of life, or adapt to a way which benefits the whole, Tolkien uses this moral decision to pull together his characters of differing backgrounds and by combining the Celtic woods as a backdrop to the Norse idea of commtitatus he is able to synthesize two major influences of British literature’s culture through Bilbo’s character. While Bilbo experiences many instances of mixed-spirituality, it is Frodo who introduces The Lord of the Rings to an ancient and ontrasting creature in Tolkien’s mythology, Tom Bombadil.
Although the elves are ancient creatures, Tom seems to have one-upped them-he is the only race of character that is unaffected by the Ring and its power (Tolkien 150). When Frodo and the other hobbits meet Tom by chance in their mix up with Old Man Willow, the time spent with the Bombadil’s is important to Tolkien’s syncretic endeavors (Tolkien 135). As Tom “drew back the yellow curtains… the hobbits saw that these had covered the windows, at either end of the room, one looking east and the other looking west” (Tolkien 145).
In fact the realm Tom resides in exists between the two forces at work in Middle- Earth, good and evil. Tolkien states that while Tom’s home may seem to be this magical land existing parallel to the rest of Middle-Earth, “we are not in ‘fairy-land’, but in real river lands in autumn. Goldberry represents the actual seasonal changes in such lands” (Treschow 178). Tom’s wife, Goldberry, is a physical image and representation of the change that is coming to the hobbits as they venture on towards Mordor, just as the seasons will change for her.
But while these changes are happening Tom emains the same, and thus he represents the religious traditions that remain through syncretism in Britain. Therefore Tom unifies Middle-Earth as it is now to a time that no longer exists, as well as connects Britain to a distant but present past. Tom Bombadil is extremely Celtic in both appearance and character. Paul W. Lewis elaborates that Tom identifies with the natural influences of Celtic tradition by “the most common perspective about [him]… that he was a ‘merry, singing ageless little nature sprite,” who took form as a, “kind of archetypal ‘vegetation god” (Lewis 150).
While Tom Bombadil is the closest eity figure any of Tolkien’s characters have come to besides the elves; however, he is not all knowing (Tolkien 142). Tom Bombadil is the embodiment of Britain’s native Celtic and Welsh history, he is the magical presence of nature found in the Irish countryside still today, and while he has not changed since “before the Dark Lord came from Outside” he is a large part of pushing the hobbits to continue in their quest and combine forces with other races in Middle-Earth (Tolkien 149). Gandalf and Tom Bombadil are mirror images when it comes to guiding the hobbits on the right path.
And in turn, their backgrounds from different religious traditions starkly depict Tolkien’s syncretic endeavors through their unified front to help Frodo destroy the Ring. In The Hobbit Gandalf is adamant about the troop of dwarves and Bilbo staying on the path, just as Tom tells the hobbits to “keep to the green grass [and] don’t go ameddling’… he said this more than once” (Tolkien 151). Unfortunately, the hobbits and dwarves never seem to heed their warnings and end up straying from the paths; hence why it is of no surprise that in Frodo’s flight to the ford, he is once again found in troubled water.
Like the forests of Middle-Earth, the bodies of water Frodo and Bilbo cross creates another form of Otherworldly boundary. It is significant that Tolkien leaves the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring at the ford because it is verifiable that Frodo alone can only destroy the Ring. As Frodo looks “back for a moment over his shoulder… he could no longer see his friends” and the image at the very end of the chapter is Frodo alone on the other side of the ford (Tolkien 241). If it were not for the combined forces of Elrond and Gandalf, the Riders would have killed Frodo.
Tolkien is again mixing the forces of the Odinic and Celtic figure to propel the story at an opportune time. Frodo can be the only one to destroy the ring, but in Norse tradition Tolkien is inserting syncretic power to display how through human nature, there is a need for spiritual figures to guide and pull heroes through impossible feats. Tolkien’s combination of Norse and Celtic traditions unifies Middle-Earth in the quest for the destruction of the Ring and a restoration of good.
His mix of characters from different traditions, like dwarves and elves, who are enemies before Bilbo and Frodo’s stories begin , are able to put aside differences and come together—just as Tolkien attempts to bring all of the religious traditions together to create a unified mythology for Britain. Tolkien successfully synthesizes the Norse and Celtic traditions through characters like Tom Bombadil, Gandalf, and their combined relationships with other races in Middle-Earth to provide guidance of the Fellowship and Bilbo’s troop through the doorways to the Otherworldly.