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The Hobbit: Tale of a Thief...Written by a Thief?

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It is said that nothing is original. That the greatest films, songs, shows, writings, performances, and fashions of our time all began as a germ of an idea that originated from some other place - maybe another masterpiece in the same line of work, or perhaps a lesser-known diamond-in-the-rough by an unsuccessful artist. Even the ‘Father’ of Modern Fantasy literature, J.R.R. Tolkien, has been subjected to critical scrutiny concerning the influences behind his acclaimed novel The Hobbit. Certainly his stories have done their own share of influencing, ultimately spawning a number of films, video games, and even stage adaptations. It is reasonable to believe that so imaginative, involved, and expansive a work as The Hobbit must have also drawn its own inspiration from outside sources - perhaps not only literary works, but real-world experiences as well. But what sort of grand stories or events could have guided the creativity of the author of such a timeless epic? Several Tolkien scholars posit that Beowulf and World War I each held significant sway over his writings, and so in this essay we will, in turn, look at the similarities between both of these and Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

In 1936, Tolkien delivered a lecture entitled Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, in which he berated the literary field for its perception of the epic poem as merely a source of Old English linguistic study and Anglo-Saxon history. He fervently argued that the story should be valued for its interesting and noteworthy elements of fantasy, and that instead of simply overlooking the ‘monsters’, heroes, and the battles between the two, the focus of students and scholars should primarily be on precisely those fictional and fantastic components. It is plain to...

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