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Norse Mythology in Tolkien's Middle Earth (1/?)

October 7 2022

From the One Ring to Smaug, to Gandalf and Aragorn's sword, Tolkien's Middle Earth is a treasure trove of Easter eggs in Norse mythology. However, to spot them requires the reader to be well-versed in Norse mythological texts, so we thought we'd save you some time and point them out so you could skip the hard part and get right to enjoying the references.

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The One Ring

The One Ring (and by extension the Rings of Power) is based on Andvaranaut, a ring in Norse mythology that creates gold but is cursed to bring its owner grief and misfortune. Its origin story is found in a tale called The Otter's Ransom, where the curse is first cast and the ring claims its first set of victims. The ring also plays a huge part in the Saga of the Völsungs (a mythological series of tragedies following a family through its generations), being the catalyst for many of the tragedies that take place. In the Saga of the Völsungs, the ring features most prominently in the stories of Sigurd the Dragonslayer, complete with a retelling of the ring's origin from the point of view of one of the first victims (Fáfnismál).

Andvaranaut also appears in the Nibelungenlied, a very similar Germanic epic poem featuring the dragonslayer Siegfried and Odin’s Germanic doppelgänger, Wotan. 

In the 1870s the Nibelungenlied was made into an opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen, by Richard Wagner. In the opera, Andvaranaut's Germanic incarnation is meant to control the Rhinemaidens, much like how the One Ring controls the bearers of the lesser Rings of Power.

Andvaranaut's origin is roughly as follows:

Odin, Loki, and another god called Hoenir are out one day when Loki “accidentally” kills Otter (one of the three sons of a farmer-magician called Hreidmar). To be fair to Loki, Otter was literally in the shape of an otter at the time, and the God of Mischief legitimately didn't know he was killing a person. But kill a person he did, and Hreidmar, Otter's father, demands that the trio of gods make things right by either paying by covering Otter’s body in gold or having their lives be forfeit as ransom for the murder. 

Seeing that

a) they don’t wanna die 

and

b) Otter’s, well, an otter, and therefore not that big

Loki is sent to acquire the necessary gold.

He goes to Andvari’s Fall, where a dwarf called Andvari, who was cursed to live as a fish, lives. Loki basically mugs poor Andvari, demanding he give up all the gold he has so Loki won't kill him. (Why Loki thought a fish would have a stash of gold lying around, let alone why said fish DID have a stash of gold is anyone's guess).

Andvari directs the god to a cave behind the waterfall and his mugger quickly bags up the loot. Loki notices Andvari trying to hide a gold ring and demands that it too is to be handed over. The dwarf begs to keep it, because the ring, Andvaranaut, has the power to create more gold (which one wouldn’t think would be a matter of great interest to a fish, yet here we are). 

Upon being forced to hand it over, the dwarf declares that misery and tragedy shall come to any who own the Ring. Alas, that doesn't deter Loki in the slightest, since he doesn't intend to keep the ring for himself. 

While covering Otter’s body, Odin comes across the Ring. Overcome with greed (*cough* dragon sickness *cough*) he tries to sneak it away for himself. However, it turns out that one of Otter’s whiskers isn’t fully covered, so Odin has to reluctantly give up Andvaranaut to cover it.

Once he and his friends have their skis back on, Loki turns repeats Andvari's warning and the gods ski away.

Right after they leave, the three family members go all Gollum on each other: the dad gets killed, one son (Regin) gets kicked out of the house, and the brother who gets to keep the bling (Fafnir) turns himself into a dragon to watch over his giant pile of cash (as you do).

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Note: The ring depicted as Andvaranaut in our image above is a real Norse ring that was found among cheap costume jewelry. The photo was taken by Vestland County Municipality.

 

 

 

By Alice Flecha (Volunteer Blogger)

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