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Tolkien and the Icelandic Sagas

J.R.R Tolkien, the author of Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, and more amazing tales studied the Icelandic language, read the Icelandic Sagas, and heard of the fantastic stories of trolls, hidden people, and elves in Iceland from an Icelandic au-pair, Arndís Þorbjarnardóttir. IR# I100206. She lived with the family in 1929 and 1930.

Tolkien, a Professor of Anglo-Saxon, believed that the Old Icelandic and Old Norse languages and literature were very important for medieval studies. He founded "Kolbítar" (Coalbiter) in 1926 as an organization dedicated to the reading and study of Icelandic and Norse sagas. The name "coal biter" means someone who sits so close to the fire in the winter that they could bite the coal from the stove. Imagine Tolkien and fellow professor at Oxford, C. S. Lewis, sitting around a fire telling about the grand adventures of our Icelandic ancestors of the Sagas in the cold, damp weather of winter. The word Kolbítar can also be a character from the sagas who was an unlikely hero. This person starts out like a normal person or even someone that lives a frivolous and meaningless life. In the end, they rise up to become the hero in the story – sort of like the Hobbits! Many names and places in the stories by Tolkien and Lewis have their origins in the Icelandic Sagas. In 1927, Lewis wrote, "spent the morning partly on the Edda."

Snorri Sturluson is IR# I134368. He authored noteworthy Icelandic Sagas including the Prose Edda - Norse mythology, and the Heimskringla - sagas covering the Kings of Norway and the introduction of Christianity to the people of the North.

As Tolkien read the sagas and his family heard the exciting Icelandic stories about trolls, elves, and the hidden people from their nanny, characters for Lord of the Rings developed. The Hobbit by Tolkien was published in 1937 and the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings came in 1954-1955. Lewis wrote the seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia series between 1950 and 1956. Now we have books, movies, games,

Wouldn't it be fun to have a group chat with Snorri, Tolkien, and Lewis? Icelandic Roots has Samtal Hour every two weeks, many seminars, webinars, our blog posts, newsletter, and various social media channels. Online educational classes, meetings, chats, and sharing information in seconds with people all over the world was certainly not possible back in the days of the Kolbítar club.

Have you read the sagas? In the Icelandic Roots Database, we will soon have all those written in English connected to the pages of the people and places mentioned in the Sagas thanks to the incredible work of our IT, Places, and Saga Team members. Stay tuned for Jason's upcoming presentation on the 10th. This is a very exciting project to celebrate our upcoming 8 year anniversary.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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