The hobbits versus Hitler

July 15, 2005

The hugely popular Lord of the Rings films have inspired a generation of young German academics to research the linguistic roots of J. R. R.

Tolkien's mythic world and ponder the politics surrounding his novels.

Researchers from universities in Mainz and Jena presented their findings at Leeds University's International Medieval Congress on Monday to an audience of academics and Tolkien experts from around the world.

"I think young German students are getting more interested in Tolkien's work because of the movies," said Alexandra Velten, of Johannes-Gutenberg University, Mainz. "Even if at first you just buy the merchandise, you might read more of the literature - many of my students have done."

Ms Velten, who has carried out research into the Old English lyrics of the films' soundtracks, presented a paper to conference on the origins of the culture of the Rohirrim, a mythical race of people who appear in the Lord of the Rings trilogy .

There is much scope for future research. Tolkien, who was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, "filled his books with in-jokes for philologists," Ms Velten said.

Rainer Nagel, also from Mainz, lectured on how Tolkien derived his character and place names from Old and Middle English. The word "hobbit" is likely to have been taken from the Old English word hölbytla , meaning hole-dweller, he argued.

Thomas Honegger of Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena said Tolkien's novels offered a powerful alternative view of Germanic culture to that presented by the Nazis.

"His work is an important contrast to the perverted depiction in Hitler's Germany," he said.

Professor Honegger quoted a 1941 letter from Tolkien to his son, in which the author wrote: "I have in this War a burning private grudge against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler.

"Ruining, perverting, misapplying and making forever accursed that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."

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