The Making of Middle-Earth, by Christopher Snyder | Literature Review

The book details the inspirations behind J. R. R. Tolkien’s mythocosmography Middle-Earth which is where the Lord of the Rings series takes place. It includes his inspirations from his personal life, mythologies, and history. It follows the chronology of his own life to the inspirations of his series. That includes the Silmarillion which is like the history book to Middle-Earth. As for the latter, I can definitely see why Snyder chose to end with finding inspirations to the Silmarillion. He himself acknowledged that it is tedious to read.


The important inspirations for Middle-Earth come from histories and mythologies of the English, Scottish, Celtic, Finnish, Norse, and Greek. More specifically, Tolkien narrowed his focus on ancient and medieval histories. He also developed inspiration from children’s stories by Rudyard Kipling, Andrew MacDonald, and Andrew Lang. This was to provide the fantastical settings of Middle-Earth. Tolkien also provided the realism that comes from history and the supernatural workings from mythologies. This showcases the importance among fantasy writers–and indeed everyone else–to synthesize information into truly unique combinations.

There is a lot of historical context provided in Tolkien’s own life and historical events. The important part of these descriptions of history is the interaction between the Saxons, Norse, Normans, and Britons. That conflict ultimately shapes the mythocosmography of Middle-Earth.

Tolkien came up with Middle-Earth from a very early age. This would definitely be where practice would be important. He would have had more than 10,000 hours of studying various languages, histories, cultures, and mythologies along with materializing Middle-Earth. This was definitely in his letters to his own children. He described various characters who would become inspirations to his Middle-Earth characters; such as Father Christmas being the inspiration to Tom Bombadil. This is very similar to the similarities between George R. R. Martin’s earlier works and Westeros.

What definitely inspired Tolkien was finding a gap in the historicity of Saxons’ mythology prior to the migration to Britain. In Andrew Lang’s influence, Tolkien argued for a secondary world which is where children and adults can feel welcome. This highlights the importance of unique objectives of any creative person, either by finding any gaps or lack of creative conversation.

Community definitely helped Tolkien to develop an interest among the broader Oxford University faculty and undergraduates. The Inklings were among those clubs. As a result, students inclined to learn philology as a result of Tolkien’s community. He also developed a sense of community when as a boy. Tolkien surrounded himself with peers also fascinated by legends and languages. It is clear to me, upon reading Tolkien’s life, that he had extroversion among his peers yet none with the rest of the world, whether they were American fans or publishers who wished to see more of Middle-Earth.


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was actually born in South Africa when it was a British colony, then he grew up in England where he went to school and eventually to university. He served in World War I where many of his own childhood friends died, which was quite saddening for Tolkien and would have been motivated to write the Lord of the Rings series. Although he lived for the rest of his life as an Oxford professor, he distanced himself from the fame he attracted from his fantasy series.

The book gets into detail about Tolkien’s personal life and how much influence it has in his fantasy series. Although he consistently disagreed with the connection between the forces of Sauron and his experience serving in World War I, there were subtle similarities.

The book also describes how much of an intergenerational conversation Tolkien had with the works of the Eddas, the Kalevala, the Morte d’Arthur, the Chanson de Roland, and other ancient and medieval works. Although he borrowed heavily from Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology and history, he did not have a favorably opinion of Arthurian legends and Celtic myths even though he borrowed from them as well. This definitely shows the dynamics of either defying or accepting older texts for what they were.

Writing Style

Tolkien is referred to throughout the book as his middle name Ronald in order to differentiate him from the other members of the Tolkien family. I did think this was important, since I would have been confused about which Tolkien Snyder was talking about.

There is definitely a lot of linguistic information in this book as it pertains to the inspirations behind the fictional languages, such as Elvish and Rohirrim. I found this important not just because Tolkien was a philologist, but also because it can make the names and words easier to understand, in that they are not just random words or sounds but that they have etymologies. Throughout the book, languages real and fictional abound throughout the book and enliven Snyder’s style of writing.

Real World Application

Every author unavoidably applies inspiration from their own personal life into the fabric of their own story. It is an imparting lesson, which is that every person thinks that they have complete ownership over their own memories and that ownership can ultimately creep into the creative works.

Research is also incredibly important for creative and non-creative works, since it is in any work either in the surface level or in the subtleties. In one such subtlety in the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf called the elves good people. In Irish Gaelic, it is the euphemism for fairies. So it is not just a teacher, but anyone can see if you really did your homework.

Another important point to make is the issue of community and gathering around yourself a group of people with the same interests in order to succeed. It does not have to be for a fantasy series. It could be for the love of languages, which was why Tolkien was well-revered in Oxford University while simultaneously being revered outside of the university for his fantasy series.

Suggest This To…

Any fantasy lover, since they may have already read Lord of the Rings and would have a valuable amount of information to truly see the muses behind Tolkien’s mythocosmography. As I mentioned before with the Silmarillion, I am not completely sure that it would benefit any non-creative personalities, since they may be more interested in the process of creativity and not the complex history of Middle-Earth.


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