Tolkien and Abyssinia (The Real Middle-earth by Michael Muhling)

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Post by Eldorion on Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:09 pm

I received a very interesting message on my site today by one Michael Muhling, who has recently written a book called The Real Middle-earth: Discovering the Origin of The Lord of the Rings.  The initial review promised that it would "create controversy among Tolkien fans", which always comes across a little iffy to me, but he also mentioned that it had been favorably reviewed by Pieter Collier of the excellent Tolkien Library website (and who briefly posted here on the old forum).  I read through Mr Collier's review and was quite intrigued by his statements about it.  I haven't read the book, not having heard about it until today, but I'd be curious to know if anyone else has.

Mr Muhling makes a pretty radical claim as far as Tolkien scholarship goes -- that various elements of The Lord of the Rings were inspired by the civilization of Abyssinia (known today as Ethiopia), but it sounds very interesting.

http://www.trme.net/index.html

Michael Muhling wrote:Tolkien stated that he could not identify what had inspired him to write The Lord Of The Rings.  A big problem identifying Tolkien’s inspiration was the passage of time as he began writing The Lord of the Rings in the late 1930’s but his work was not published until 1954.  It then took time for interest in his work to grow enough to prompt queries about his inspiration.  The first question put to Tolkien about Abyssinia was in 1971.  By this time Tolkien could not recall if Abyssinia had influenced him, but he clearly remembered the Italian war.  He went on to say that a writer is inspired by a ‘leaf-mould’ of submerged memories.

Even were Tolkien alive today, his source of inspiration cannot be known with absolute certainty. However, the timing of the Italian war, his intrinsic interest in Abyssinia, and the sheer extent of the connections between Abyssinia and The Lord of the Rings prove the inspiration beyond reasonable doubt.  Exactly how Tolkien was inspired is left for the reader to decide.
http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/press/1131-real-middle-earth-discovering-origin-lord-of-the-rings.php

Pieter Collier wrote:Michael Muhling insists there is a lot more to his theory than some similar names and builds up a very strong case. He makes four key arguments as to why Tolkien’s unconscious mind resonated sharply with this ancient realm, and highlights the fact that Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia caused an international out-cry in 1935 immediately prior to Tolkien’s work. He manages to show us that it might be possible that Tolkien could have known about Abyssinia, even on a sub-conscience level, for example through the books from Sir. Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge. This was especially exciting for me, since in my collection there is a book from Wallis Budge that belonged to JRR Tolkien's personal library (so we know Tolkien did read Budge's works). Muhling identifies extensive and detailed connections between Middle-earth and Abyssinia, including incredible comparisons between the kings of Númenor/Gondor with Abyssinia’s three thousand year old Solomonic dynasty and if you read the book and come to the page where we can see a picture of the stelae of Axum you will just scream 'Isengard'. Of course you should read the book for yourself but the reign of stewards and the return of a true king in both histories is just 'to good to be true'...

There is a rich and simple logic to this theory. The Ethiopian-Italian war in 1935 created international outrage immediately before the writing of The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien had four personal reasons to take a significant interest in it. No such connections exist with The Hobbit that was written prior to the Ethiopian-Italian war. And when you have read Michael Muhling's book you will see that the connections that are there are in fact the skeletal background to The Lord of the Rings.
You can read more at both links.  I don't buy new books of Tolkien scholarship much anymore, but I'm very tempted by this one. study
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Post by halfwise on Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:28 pm

Those links don't give much to go on. The first one provides the most in the way of examples (still pretty skimpy) but from it I'm not convinced Tolkien was any more influenced by Abyssinia than he was by Egypt, Medieval Italy, etc. Any culture that ancient will have a host of parallels to what Tolkien put into middle earth.

A bit of extra connection to Abyssinia rings somewhat true in that Tolkien explicitly stated being influenced by H. Rider Haggard's She, which was set in a lost African civilization with many parallels to Numenor. And of course Coptic Ethiopia is the most ancient extant christian/judaic community in the world. But I wouldn't swallow the Abyssinia connection as the most important one.

I'd buy the book more for the fun historical value inspired by Middle Earth, not as an OMG event. I'd prefer a similar book fleshed out with historical connections from other countries, including Nordic culture, the Hobbit surnames from Appalachia, and the Arabic and Egyptian Influences.

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Post by Eldorion on Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:39 pm

My initial reaction was "lolwut?", but I've been fond of Tolkien Library for some time so seeing a positive review there is a big part of me being intrigued. Probably the most important influences on LOTR are The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, but Tolkien did come up with the better part of two Ages worth of backstory for LOTR that had not existed in any previous version of the legendarium. So there's plenty of room for possible influences there. This makes me wish that I hadn't skimped out on The History of The Lord of the Rings when I was working through the HoME series. Razz

I'm aware of the Nordic (especially Finnish) influences on The Silmarillion, but I'm not as familiar with some of the other references you mentioned. The Egypt connection is ostensibly to Gondor, right? And does the Hobbit surnames thing have to do with the long shadow that Elizabethan English cast over parts of the American South?
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Post by halfwise on Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:31 pm

The Egypt connection is mainly Numenor, look at the names of the kings near the end of its history, and of course the mummification, etc. The moorish/Arabic influence is seen in Tolkien's own drawings on Minas Tirith - there's one drawing with black and white marble which is taken directly from some chapel which was copied from Moorish designs. I was glad to see they referenced those designs in the scenes in the Hall with Denethor.

The hobbit surnames are fascinating - there was an American student Tolkien knew who was from Appalachia, and he says Tolkien made him go through the names many times. Bracegirdle and Proudfoot and the like come from there. In fact the hobbit and village names are perhaps more Appalachian than English!

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Post by halfwise on Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:44 pm

Had to go look it up. The original quote is from Letters of CS Lewis, but I found it in Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth by Bradley Birzar, which aside from going perhaps a bit overboard with his thesis that LotR is essentially a Catholic work, is a very informative read.

Allan Barnett was a classmate of Tolkien's in Oxford, who wrote "He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins[!] and good country names like that."

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Dec 09, 2013 3:56 pm

The Egypt connection is mainly Numenor- Halfwise

I though Tolkien based Numenor on Atlantis?- does he not even make an attempt to tie the two linguistically? (Lore Check please!)

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Post by Mrs Figg on Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:07 pm

seem to remember there was a huge seige of the castle of Kaffa by the Tartars, dont know if it was an inspiration for the seige of Minas Tirith.

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Post by halfwise on Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:09 pm

I was just saying that the Adunaic language sounds Egyptian, there was a fascination with preserving bodies and monumental architecture that was Egyptian, etc. Though much of this derives from She which is east African based with an immortal queen who is originally Egyptian.

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Post by halfwise on Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:10 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:The Egypt connection is mainly Numenor- Halfwise

I though Tolkien based Numenor on Atlantis?- does he not even make an attempt to tie the two linguistically? (Lore Check please!)

How do you tie a language linguistically to a non-existent country?  scratch 

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Dec 09, 2013 7:59 pm

If I bloody well knew that Halfy I wouldnt need a lore check!  Mad 

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Post by Elthir on Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:45 pm

Don't look at me I only know about the three Gs:

Galadriel, Glorfindel, Grey horses.
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:59 pm

How are the foundations of your Tower Elthir, not shaky I hope this close to awards night?


{{{Eldo heres your chance to shine and get your Tower back!!}}

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Post by Elthir on Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:04 pm

I need a Ring of Power... quick!

or some mortar and stone
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