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Established 16/3/2000

Was Lord of the Rings influenced by Irish mythology?

J.R.R. Tolkien visited Ireland regularly. Did he take inspiration from our ancient stories?

I’ve decided to establish a forum about how Irish mythology has influenced some of the major movies and stories of our time. Films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Star Wars films, and even Harry Potter contain stark similarities with incidents and stories and ideas from Irish myths and legends.

JRR Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of Middle Earth. Photo courtesy Today in Literature.

I know that J.R.R. Tolkien spent some time in Ireland. I don’t know to what extent he read the Irish literature (and there is a huge amount of it), but certainly there are many themes and characters and segments of his storyline which are echoes of ancient Irish mythology.

I don’t know if Tolkien was influenced by the Irish texts in any way, and I’m not for a second suggesting that he copied some ideas for Lord of the Rings from our old myths and sagas. The intention of this forum is to point out the similarities between the films and the myths.

There’s the Arthurian-like “cave myth” in The Return of the King, where Aragorn raises the dead army by wielding the sword of the king. I’m not an expert on Arthur, but I do know of a very similar story here in Ireland, which is detailed in the High Man section.

This story pertains to Garrett’s Fort, near Ardee in County Louth. Ardee is the location where in the epic Táin, Cúchulainn killed his friend Ferdia in close combat. According to local legend, there is a mythical enchanted army sleeping in Garrett’s Fort with their leader, a man called Garrett, or in some renditions, Gary Geerlaug, and in others, Garlic Gaolen.

A hero will come and remove a sword from the wall of the underground chamber in Garrett’s Fort. In doing so, he will rouse the sleeping army and bring prosperity to Ireland. I’m told there are other versions of this “cave myth” in different parts of Ireland, but I believe it’s scarce enough to be confined to only three or four locations.

Whether or not Tolkien was directly influenced by the “cave myths” of Britain and Ireland, we may never know. If Lord of the Rings is entirely a new creation, then it has an incredible number of coincidences with the ancient stories.

While the image of a giant fiery eye, that of Sauron, beaming across the landscape of Middle Earth from the top of a tower may seem bizarre, maybe even otherworldly, then turn to the ancient Irish myths about the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians for some similarities.

In the ancient story about the “Coming of Lugh”, who was to be a great leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and would be skilled in every craft, we read that a Fomorian king, Balor of the Strong Blows, used to live “on the Island of the Tower of Glass”. Balor was also known as “Balor of the Evil Eye”, because no-one could look at him and live. He has been compared with the Cyclops, having one giant, malignant eye in the centre of his forehead. This eye was covered by a giant eyelid, which, when lifted, caused seven degrees of burning, each hotter and more fierce than the last. In our exploration of the ancient landscape and stories, we have painted Balor as a Sun deity, whose huge eye could be compared with the Sun:

Who can stare at the Sun without hurting their eyes? Balor’s evil eye could literally burn the landscape, so fierce was its fire.

In Star Wars, the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke confronts his father, the evil Darth Vader, we see a great battle between the two in which Vader chops off Luke’s hand. This, reportedly, is taken from the ancient Irish story called the Second Battle of Moytura. During this battle, the Tuatha Dé Danann leader Nuadu had his hand chopped off, and because he was blemished, he could no longer be king of Ireland. So he had the healer, Diancecht, make him a new arm out of silver. It worked just as well as the hand he had lost, and because Nuadu was complete again, he could reign as king again. Luke Skywalker’s hand was replaced with a robotic version, akin to something you would see in the Terminator films. Anyway, George Lucas was heavily influenced by world mythology, and there’s some Irish stuff in there too.

Another of the “Ever Living Ones” (the Tuatha Dé Danann) was Manannan, who had a famous “cloak of invisibility”. Dare I mention Harry Potter?

Anyway, that’s got the ball rolling. I’d like to come up with as many comparisons as possible, focusing mainly on Lord of the Rings, but including films such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. If there are other films, feel free to suggest them.


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