J.R.R. Tolkien heavily influenced by obscure female writer?

Ever heard of Marie Corelli? She was a best-selling British novelist whose books sold more copies than the sales of contemporaries Sir Arthur Canon Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling combined.

corelli

In a remarkable essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books, U.C. Berkeley Ph. D. candidate Lili Loofbourow gives extensive evidence that J.R.R. Tolkien was heavily influenced by Corelli. Reading her essay, passages of The Hobbit look like plagiarism.

Here Loofbourow compares Corelli’s Thelma to Tolkien’s Gollum:

“Thelma begins with the adventurous Lord Errington, who takes it upon himself to stalk a chaste Scandinavian maiden named Thelma after seeing her emerge mysteriously from a cave. He makes his way to the cave after she leaves. There he finds the dwarf Sigurd, whose entrance is Gollum-like in the extreme:

[W]ith all [Errington’s] bravery, he recoiled a little when he first caught sight of the extraordinary being that emerged from the darkness — a wild, distorted figure that ran towards him with its head downwards, bearing aloft in one skinny hand a smoking pine-torch, from which the sparks flew like so many fireflies. This uncanny personage, wearing the semblance of man, came within two paces of Errington before perceiving him; then, stopping short in his headlong career, the creature flourished his torch and uttered a defiant yell.

Sigurd is described as a scarred, misshapen being, “not quite four feet high, with large, ungainly limbs out of all proportion to his head, which was small and compact […] from under his shaggy brows gleamed a restless pair of large, full, wild blue eyes.” In The Hobbit, Tolkien describes Gollum as

a small black shape […] moving with its thin limbs splayed out […] now and again it lifted its head slowly, turning it right back on its long skinny neck, and the hobbits caught a glimpse of two small pale gleaming lights, its eyes that blinked at the moon for a moment and then were quickly lidded again.

 

The similarities are not only in the structure of the story, but in Sigurd and Gollum’s language. Here is Sigurd:

“Now follow me! Sigurd knows the way! Sigurd is the friend of all the wild waterfalls! Up the hills, — across the leaping stream, — through the sparkling foam!” And he began chanting to himself a sort of wild mountain song.

 

Sound like anyone you know? Loofbourow writes that the personalities of Sigurd and Gollum are strikingly similar. Both are excellent hunters and woodsmen. She goes into more detail in her essay of the extensive correlations. So why have we never heard of the startling connection between Tolkien and Corelli? Loofbourow asks the same question:

Given how extensive the parallels are between Sigurd and Gollum, it’s hard to understand how they could have gone unnoticed until now. Much as I’d like to claim credit for being an exquisitely sensitive reader, it’s almost impossible to encounter Sigurd without seeing Gollum. And yet no one, to my knowledge, has made the connection before.

 

Wow, and all this time, I thought “women can’t write fantasy.”

Here’s another question for you: Have you heard of Loofbourow’s Los Angeles Review of Books essay? This scholar deserves massive media attention.

7 thoughts on “J.R.R. Tolkien heavily influenced by obscure female writer?

  1. Pingback: Women and Writing | Lynley Stace

  2. “Reading her essay, passages of The Hobbit look like plagiarism”.

    I’m afraid this remark is entirely inaccurate. The similarities are nothing near plagarism. Generally speaking it is well known Tolkien was heavily influenced by old Scandinavian and Gothic myths and legends, as was Marie Corelli.

    Not having a go, just making an academic point. :)

    • Hi Keith,

      Loufborrow, the academic who wrote the LA Book Review piece, never uses the word plagiarism either, but as I wrote, the parallels look like plagiarism to me, not “influences.” I am not saying Tolkien intended them but they are strikingly similar.

      Margot

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