The roots of The Hobbit – Art by Brothers Hildebrandt
February 19, 2015
Thursday at 7:30 pm

Wheaton College
Marion E. Wade Center
351 E Lincoln Ave
Wheaton IL 60187

This free event is
open to the public.
No tickets or reservations are required to attend.

A Lecture on The Hobbit's Mythic Sources

For the second printing of The Hobbit, author J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that the cover blurb be altered to include this line:
The Hobbit has riddles, runes, and Icelandic dwarves; and though its world of magic and mythology is its own, a new land of lore, it has the atmosphere of the ancient North.
Tolkien's original art for the first edition of The Hobbit (1937)
When the novel was first released in 1937, reviewers immediately recognized its roots in Norse mythology, Icelandic saga, German legend and Old English literature. In The Horn Book, Anne Carroll Moore described The Hobbit as
A refreshingly adventurous and original tale of dwarfs, goblins, elves, dragons, trolls, etc., in the true tradition of the old sagas… It is firmly rooted in Beowulf and authentic Saxon lore… There is sound learning behind The Hobbit, while a rich vein of humor connects this little being, described as smaller than a dwarf, with the strange beings of the ancient world and the world we live in today.
The Swedish edition of The Hobbit (1962)
Art by Tove Jansson (of Moomintroll fame)
A great number who now read The Hobbit are unaware of the literary heritage that stands behind the novel. How many American children in today's public schools have read Snorri Sturluson's Edda, Icelandic sagas, the Nibelungenlied or Beowulf? As our temporal distance from 1937 grows ever greater, Tolkien's novel is increasingly considered a completely original creation. Its roots have been covered over and largely forgotten.

This multimedia presentation will show how The Hobbit leads readers on a tour through the age of Northern European myths and legends with Bilbo Baggins as an anachronistic stand-in for the person of today. Gandalf's description of the hobbits in The Quest for Erebor can also be understood as a description of those of us who live in the modern world:
They had begun to forget: forget their own beginnings and legends, forget what little they had known about the greatness of the world. It was not yet gone, but it was getting buried: the memory of the high and the perilous. But you cannot teach that sort of thing to a whole people quickly. There was not time. And anyway you must begin at some point, with some one person. I dare he say he was ‘chosen’ and I was only chosen to choose him; but I picked out Bilbo.
Georg von Rosen: Odin the Wanderer (1886)
In like fashion, Tolkien "picked out Bilbo" to travel with us into the half-forgotten heritage of northern myth and legend. With Bilbo, we meet Tolkien's versions of the Norse god Odin, dwarves of the Eddas, trolls of northern folklore, dragons of saga and many other legendary characters and creatures. We discover ancient runes and riddle-contests, mystic armor and Mirkwood. Without realizing it, we are introduced to the myths of what Tolkien called "that noble northern spirit."

This lecture will uncover The Hobbit's mythic sources for the audience and, hopefully, encourage those who attend to further explore the wonderful prose and poetry of the past that Tolkien himself so greatly loved.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Marion E. Wade Center and the Wheaton College Tolkien Society.

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

Karl is a Norse mythologist and musician in Chicago. He teaches courses on Norse myth, J.R.R. Tolkien and Richard Wagner for Newberry Library's Continuing Education Program. He taught Norse myth at Loyola University Chicago and Norse religion at Carthage College, where he was founder and faculty advisor of the Tolkien Society.

Karl's website, The Norse Mythology Blog, was named the world's Best Religion Weblog in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is the first religion blog to enter the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame. In addition to original articles and interviews on myth and religion, the site features projects such as the Worldwide Heathen Census 2013, a first attempt to estimate current numbers of adherents of the modern iteration of Norse religion.

Karl wrote all definitions relating to Ásatrú (Norse religion) in the Religion Newswriters Association's Religion Stylebook and has been featured as a writer and lecturer on myth and religion at Interfaith Ramadan, the Joseph Campbell Foundation, the Wagner Society of America and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has been interviewed on myth and religion by History Channel, OnFaithPRI's The World, Strings Magazine, Chicago Public Radio's Morning Edition, Raven Radio, Viking Magazine and Wired Magazine.

Karl holds degrees in literature and music from University of California at San Diego, University of Wisconsin at Madison and University of Texas at Austin. He studied literature and art history at Loyola University Chicago Rome Center in Italy and has taken Icelandic language courses through University of Iceland's distance learning program. He recently received an academic scholarship from University of Chicago Divinity School and is now working on an MA in Religion under advisor Bruce Lincoln.

Parking & Public Transportation

Free parking is available behind Edman Chapel; click here for Wheaton College map. The campus is a 10 to 15 minute walk from the College Avenue Metra station.


Contact Dr. Seigfried by clicking here.