How Anglo Saxon’s Éarendel Inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Eärendil

Eärendil

Eärendil was a mariner
that tarried in Arverenien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in…

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (1994)

Clarification for all readers who have yet to read The Silmarillion, including myself, is here required: The character Eärendil, of whom the star of Eärendil was named, appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien Elvish mythology, and received much reference elsewhere for genealogy purposes. Below, I have consolidated the information from three sources, detailing how an Anglo-Saxon poem inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Eärendil and all that the character embodied.

When Eärendil First Appeared to J.R.R. Tolkien as Éarendel




In reading Humphrey Carpenter’s biography on J.R.R. Tolkien, I stumbled across a name which rung a familiar tune. The name was Éarendel. Found in the Anglo-Saxon religious poems, entitled the Crist of Cynewulf, Éarendel was the one significant Anglo-Saxon influence of only a spare few Anglo-Saxon influences seen in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. And what Tolkien drew and created from this inspiration formed the significance behind Elrond, Ruler of Rivendell, and all his kindred.

But let me not jump ahead. First, an explanation on how young Ronald Tolkien found this name: It happened during Tolkien’s time spent studying at Oxford University. In-between his lengthy essay writings, he took some time to delve more deeply into “the West Midland dialect in Middle English,” as described in Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: a biography (2000, p. 72). When he read the Cynewulf lines, he felt an awakening, or something more akin to an enlivenment of his inner imaginative being.

Eärendil Origins As Seen in the Meaning Behind Éarendel




The Cynewulf lines contained definite religious context, explaining why Ronald Tolkien interpreted Éarendel as symbolizing John the Baptist, the prophet proclaiming the coming of Jesus Christ. However, as Carpenter discovered from his own research on J.R.R. Tolkien, the up-and-coming scholar and author “believed that ‘Éarendel’ had originally been the name for the star presaging the dawn, that is, Venus” (Biography, 2000, p. 72). To decipher the certain meaning behind the possibly-Germanic-origin name is presumably impossible, as noted in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (2000).

Both interpretation and personal belief scream out the origins behind Tolkien’s Eärendil. Because Eärendil had an Elvish mother and a Mortal father, he would father children who could choose immortality or mortality. An Elf species, such as the half-elf Elrond, that could choose Middle-Earth over the voyage into the immortal land. The clearest example existed in Elrond choosing to voyage to the next land, while his daughter, Arwen, chose mortality to stay behind with Aragorn.

As for Eärendil being exiled to shine brightly as a star, representing to all as a beacon of hope…. Well, I would think the connection to J.R.R. Tolkien’s astronomical belief about Éarendel representing Venus – a star to the earth, for all intent and purposes – to be evident.

How J.R.R. Tolkien Used Eärendil, Seen in a Christian Perspective




For those who haven’t made the connection yet, Éarendel is the same name as Eärendil, only the latter is in the Elvish language. One language, I’ve heard, of the 10 or 12 languages that Tolkien created. Along with creating languages, Tolkien used Christian theology, in an uncommon way, to portray faithful Christians in their walk with God in The Lord of the Rings. An example in mind is Tolkien’s idea of both immortality and mortality being gifts from the One God.

Though J.R.R. Tolkien is known for his devoutness to God, a note in The Letters teased that the idea of mortality being a Godly gift is nothing but ‘bad theology.’ However, in continuing to read this particular letter, the reader learns about how Tolkien desired to show the beauty in Christians staying faithful to God and practicing His Will, while still living on earth.

Then comes the symbolism where Eärendil shines as the brightest star: The star gives Men, Elves, and all the good species hope for a brighter future, free from the slavery to darkness. Much like how John the Baptist gave the hope of Christ to a dying world, enslaved to sin.

Concluding Thoughts on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Eärendil




I, too, can appreciate the phonetic beauty in both names, Éarendel and Eärendil. This appreciation led to a discovery on how J.R.R. Tolkien truly tied his epic fantasy to Catholicism, and on how Christians ought to live during their time on earth. But much more symbolism lies in wait, I am sure, of what Christian living ought to look like. And with that, I hope to make deeper connections with the Holy Bible itself.

Please feel free to comment below. This is a study in progress, and all helpful commentary is gladly welcomed. Thank you for reading, and I hope you will join me as the journey through Middle-Earth continues.

Or, start on this journey’s beginning here.

Title picture as seen in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, found at Movie Screencaps.com.


Bibliography
  1. Humphrey Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: a biography. Great Britain: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
  2. Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien The Letter of J.R.R. Tolkien. Great Britain: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings. Great Britain: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1994.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Early Years – The Lord of the Rings Backed with Cornerstones

J.R.R. Tolkien's early years




Everyone with even a slight interest in the man behind The Lord of the Rings knows J.R.R. Tolkien became, and remained, a devout Catholic all his life. Don and Author, J.R.R. Tolkien’s early years provide hints as to why he took this scholarly and literary path in life. As to his success in these pursuits, little need be said.

The third book I’ve picked up, to learn more about this great Christian Author, is Humphrey Carpenter’s biography on J.R.R. Tolkien. More questions arose in my mind about the literary giant’s parents, and how their behaviors and decisions influenced J.R.R. Tolkien for the long term. I will detail the most obvious influences, as much for my benefit, as for any young person who has yet to learn about the Most Influential Fantasy Author of this age.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Early Years – Why Hobbits Enjoy English Countrysides




Soon after young J.R.R. Tolkien turned four-years-old, his father passed away from rheumatic fever. Therefore, his mother, Mabel Tolkien, was forced to take charge for her two sons, Ronald (as J.R.R. Tolkien was then called) and Hilary. After many months of staying with her family, Mabel finally found an affordable spot in Sarhole, the English countryside.

Author Humphrey Carpenter emphasized the strong impact this move made on J.R.R. Tolkien and his imagination. He went on to describe how young Tolkien and his younger brother would trespass on their neighbors properties, including local farms. Memories from these times must have influenced J.R.R. Tolkien in writing The Fellowship of the Ring. Or, at the very least, it influenced the film makers. Merely consider how Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took joined Frodo and Sam, as they travelled to Rivendell, from the following quote:

An old farmer who once chased Ronald for picking mushrooms was given the nickname ‘the Black Ogre’ by the boys.
~ Humphrey Carpenter, as found in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Early Years – How Middle Earth’s Languages Were Born




Ever since Mabel first began to teach her sons, Ronald showed an enthusiastic interest in linguistics. Enthusiasm, and to emphasize an obvious point, GREAT aptitude. Word meanings, as well as word sounds, fascinated Ronald. And he brought this fascination with him to King Edward’s School, where he added on to his Latin, French, and English language skills.

To connect this with The Lord of the Rings requires no effort at all. Everyone who has read the books, and/or seen Peter Jackson’s movies, knows about the Elvish language. The language that J.R.R. Tolkien created himself. And, as I recently learned in my studies about the man, the Elvish language was only one of many. One of 14, was it? I will find out for certain later.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Early Years –  Why The Lord of the Rings Contains Many Christian Values




In my last article about The Lord of the Rings, many readers made the assumption that I assumed Tolkien’s great work lacked in Christian principle and meaning. This is false, for I have read and heard the Holy Bible many times, and I have a fair understanding about what the Christian values are (though, Christian values in regards to Catholicism, and all the meaning behind it, I am completely ignorant of). And, having read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I can see where the values and principles apply.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s early years ended up containing much family drama, especially in regards to religion and death. Mabel Tolkien and her sister, May Incledon, both decided to become Catholic and receive instruction, around the time Ronald entered his school years. The predominantly Baptist Tolkien relations, and Mabel’s Unitarian father, were outraged. And much funding that Mabel relied on was suddenly cut.

Suffering both from financial hardships and diabetes, Mabel crossed over to be at peace with Our Father in Heaven in year 1904. She left Ronald and Hilary orphaned at the tender ages of 12 and 10. Thus, her passing solidified J.R.R. Tolkien’s love for linguistics and Catholicism, and his love for her and all she did for her children.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Early Years – In Summary




I pray that I have done J.R.R. Tolkien justice, based on what I have written so far. I intend to learn a great man’s mind, and attempt to share what I learn with my peers. My apologies for upsetting many readers with my previous article. It surely was close-minded and presumptive.

Humphrey Carpenter has so far written plainly and comprehensively on J.R.R. Tolkien’s early years, and I can’t wait to read more! I see where humanity’s fallen nature affected the Tolkien family, but what more can we expect from people who walked the earth? I shall not cast the first stone, for I am not without sin.

Title picture as seen in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, found at Movie Screencaps.com.