A Derry-based academic has uncovered evidence suggesting that the world-famous karst landscape of the Burren Region inspired J.R.R. Tolkien in his masterworks ‘ The Lord of The Rings’ and ‘The Silmarillion’.
Following a recent trip to examine the original J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts and papers at Marquette University in Wisconsin, USA, Tolkien scholar Dr. Liam Campbell will discuss his research findings and their outreach in terms of how the English writer’s acclaimed work has profound and traceable interconnections with Ireland.
Dr Campbell’s talk will feature at the Burren Tolkien Society Festival on August 15-24.
Organised by the Burren Tolkien Society and supported by Clare County Library and the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark, the festival will feature contributions from Tolkien experts, writing workshops, screenings, lectures and guided walks of the locations frequented by Tolkien, including Poll na Gollum Cave which event organisers suggest influenced the creation of one of the author’s most famous characters (Gollum).
“An unexpected body of evidence is beginning to emerge that unmasks Ireland and The Burren in particular as a significant influence on Tolkien’s creative imagination,” explained Dr. Campbell, who is a lecturer in English Literature, Language & Creative Writing at the University of Ulster and North West Regional College.
One of Campbell’s most significant contentions is that Irish myth and the landscape were deeply embedded in Tolkien’s original concept for his imagined secondary world of Middle-earth, and that this conceptual inspiration, in the wake of Tolkien’s visits to Ireland, became copper-fastened during later revisions and rewrites.
“My wider research into Tolkien, Ireland and the Burren has been given real and unforeseen direction through my engagement with these original Marquette papers. Ireland and, in particular, the Burren, it seems may have played a key role in Tolkien’s conceptual design for masterworks such as ‘ The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘ The Silmarillion’,” explained Mr. Campbell.
Tolkien visited the West of Ireland on many occasions and spent considerable time in the Burren when he held the position of external examiner to the English Department of NUI Galway between 1949 and 1959, during which time he revised and published /The Lord of the Rings/. Diarmuid Murphy, a former head of the English Department at NUI Galway, became firm friends with Tolkien during his time in Ireland.
According to Dr. Campbell: “My research has shown that some very late alterations to ‘ The Lord of the Rings’, including an entire very late passage that speaks of a risen and rugged landscape, very much mirroring the Burren in some extremely revealing and specific aspects. Having knowledge of Tolkien’s editing techniques, researched for specific evidences, and knowing of the chronology of Tolkien’s rewrites, I can place this addition to a main section of ‘ The Lord of the Rings ‘ to amongst the very last things to be added — and thus after the period he had actually experienced The Burren for himself.”
Dr. Campbell noted there are also clear parallels to be drawn between the Tuatha de Danann, Tolkien’s Elves and their lands in Tolkien’s fiction.
He continued: “Tolkien was very conversant with not just Celtic Mythology but the specifics of the Tuatha de Danann and even mentioned them to his son Christopher as an inspirational founding myth for aspects of his fiction. This relates also to the great wars between the Tuatha and the Formorians, which are echoed in and ring through Tolkien’s major narratives in very profound ways that connect the landscapes of the Burren and the West of Ireland to the landscapes of Middle-earth.”
“If we add all this to the fact that Tolkien would often take a sketch pad with him and actually created detailed drawings and even watercolours of the Irish landscape, we certainly have something noteworthy here,” concluded Dr. Campbell.