Tolkien inspiration - The Saga of Eric BrighteyesThe Saga of Eric Brighteyes

A book that inspired Tolkien

The Professor’s Bookshelf Book #6

H. Rider Haggard
Illustrated by Lancelot Speed
First published 1891.
Introduced by Cecilia Dart-Thornton

‘Rider Haggard is one of a handful of Victorian and Edwardian writers whom Tolkien acknowledged by name.’ 

Jason Fisher

So states Jason Fisher in Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays.

Professor Tolkien once said in an interview, “I suppose as a boy [Rider Haggard’s novel] She interested me as much as anything.” He added with enthusiasm that one of Haggard’s other novels, Eric Brighteyes, was “as good as most sagas and as heroic”.

Eric Brighteyes is an action-packed adventure filled with Viking feasts duels, battles on land and sea, romance, treachery, magic, beautiful women and brave men.

In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn has grey eyes, as do most of the elves, while elven hair is described in detail; gold, silver, auburn and dark.

Hair and eye colour was as important to Haggard as to Tolkien. He writes that Eric ‘was strong and great of stature, his hair was yellow as gold, and his grey eyes shone with the light of swords.’

This is one of the many striking motifs in Haggard’s stories that inspired the great work of Tolkien.

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About the Author

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, KBE (22 June 1856 – 14 May 1925) was an English author.

He wrote adventure novels in exotic settings, chiefly colonial Africa, where he lived, worked and travelled for several years.

His stories were the first in the ‘Lost World’ literary genre, which influenced popular American pulp writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Philip José Farmer, and Abraham Merritt.

Tolkien greatly enjoyed Haggard’s novels, in particular ‘She’ (1887)and ‘Eric Brighteyes’ (1891). It can be imagined that he would have been interested in the other three titles in the immensely popular ‘She’ series when they appeared – ‘Ayesha: The Return of She’ (1905),’ She and Allan’ (1921), and ‘Wisdom’s Daughter’ (1923).

Fantasy author H.P. Lovecraft, too, praised Haggard.

To 21st century readers parts of Haggard’s work may seem ‘politically incorrect’. He was a man of his time, as we are men and women of ours. His books are not devoid of racism, sexism and ruthless exploitation of wild animals; it is best, however, to with-hold judgement and not allow it to spoil the pleasure of reading literary classics.

Haggard’s protagonists, like Tolkien’s, make long journeys, endure painful ordeals, travel underground and are often swept into wars. They encounter beings who are either impossibly long-lived or immortal.

Landscapes

Several of Haggard’s books contain references to volcanoes. Reading them, one is reminded of Tolkien’s descriptions of Mount Doom.

In ‘She’, Haggard depicts marshlands reminiscent of the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings.

Landscape, rock formations and geography play a vital role in Haggard’s adventures, as they do in Tolkien’s work.

ISBN: 9780987555441 (paperback)

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