WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR A MEMORY OF LIGHT
By Ruriha Sedai
The Lord of the Rings is, of course, one of the defining novels of fantasy whichever way you look at it. It is probably safe to say that every modern fantasy author owes at least something to Tolkien, and you would be very hard pressed to find one who hadn’t at least read the books. But some things in the Wheel of Time have a more Tolkienesque flavour; it is possible to see, if you look closely, these subtle – and not-so-subtle – references to the people, stories, and places of Middle Earth that Robert Jordan has placed into his work. This article looks at those. A warning; this article contains a lot of seriously major Lord of the Rings spoilers, so if you haven’t read or finished the book, come back later, or continue At Your Peril.
The Initial Plot of The Eye of the World
Are any of your characters or cultures designed to pay specific homage to any particular work or author?As Robert Jordan states above, he deliberately attempted to make the start of his series like Tolkien, to give people a sense of familiarity in the pastoral countryside, the sudden threat and flight, and the mysterious mentor. Of course, from there he just went all over the place.
No. In the first chapters of The Eye of the World, I tried for a Tolkienesque feel without trying to copy Tolkien’s style, but that was by way of saying to the reader, okay, this is familiar, this is something you recognise, now let’s go where you haven’t been before…I must admit that I occasionally drop in a reference…
-Glimmers Interview, July 2002
The Third Age
It has been noted that both Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time take place within the Third Age of their separate worlds and end in the Fourth, although the latter series has seven Ages that repeat, whereas the former does not as far as is known. The Ages also correspond - the First for both stories was a time of myth and legend, now barely remembered. The Second was ended in both by the return of a Dark Lord and a cataclysmic battle against him which stopped but did not destroy him. The Third was pretty boring until the end, when all sorts of prophesied adventures leapt up and the Dark Lord had to be fought and defeated again. The Fourth in The Lord of the Rings was a golden age - what it will be in The Wheel of Time is left to RAFO...
In both The Wheel of Time and The Lord of the Rings, the resident Ultimate Evil is aided by his lieutenants, who he corrupted the last time he held power, and have waited around for the next Age, with the leader causing occasional havoc among the people of the world (Ishamael's returns for the Trolloc Wars and Artur Hawkwing, the Witch-King of Angmar's rule). Respectively, these are the Forsaken and Ringwraiths. Both also have an annoying habit of returning - the Nazgul after the Ford of Bruinen and after Legolas shot one's steed, the Forsaken getting transmigrated. Apart from their roles, though, they do not share much in common. The Forsaken are rebellious, the Ringwraiths are under Sauron's total control.
Sauron and Ishamael
There are similarities between Sauron and Ishamael. Sauron was Morgoth/Melkor's lieutenant and took over corrupting the world after his master was vanquished. Sauron had his hand in every major downfall of the Second Age: the Fall and destruction of Numenor, the sending of Ar-Pharazon's armies to Aman, the creation of the Rings of Power and the Fall of the Nine Numenorean Princes/Kings. Ishamael is the Dark One's favoured Forsaken and Regent (Naeblis). He furthered the Dark One’s corrupting cause after the Dark One's incarceration – the establishment of the Black Ajah bound by new Three Oaths, the sending of Hawkwing's armies across the Aryth Ocean, the siege of Tar Valon…Moridin and Sauron each perished after their side lost the fight in the Pit of Doom, although Moridin was content to die.
Frodo and Rand both lived in insular areas where it was rare to leave at all and fled secretly at night as part of a small group pursued by black riders. The group sets out to try and save the world from a dark lord. This group includes a hidden monarch (Aragorn, Lan) who has great knowledge of history, bushcraft and war, and a mentor magician (Gandalf, Moiraine) who sacrifices him/herself to ensure the safety of the saviour and returns ‘from the dead’ much later in the story. The beloved mare Bela who accompanies them is a parallel of Bill the pony.
Frodo and Rand have father figures who are not their biological fathers who give them a special sword. In their youth each ‘father’ was one of those few who did leave their homeland in search of adventure. Frodo is shadowed by Gollum/Smeagol and Rand by Fain/Mordeth and both are wounded by their ‘shadows’.
Both are saviours of their worlds and endure much for the sake of their worlds - Frodo loses a finger, Rand a hand and they both gradually become insane; Rand from the taint, Frodo from the Ring.
Frodo stood on Amon Hen with the ring on and attracted Sauron’s attention. Gandalf had to strive against Sauron, whilst pushing Frodo to remove the ring. Rand has attracted the Dark One’s attention a couple of times by mentioning his name and stood on Dragonmount and despaired under his link to Moridin. Perrin witnessed him breaking away from this despair (Towers of Midnight, Men Dream Here). (Also see the Rand essay)
Karldin Manfor, the Asha’man travelling with Loial, adopts a pseudonym that is certainly not original.
"Why are you so interested in them, Master Underhill? Is that an Andoran name?"All that is needed is to look at this line from The Fellowship of the Ring:
Ledar threw back his head and laughed, a booming sound that filled the room.
-Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue: Glimmers
"…you[Frodo Baggins] will have to go, and leave the name of Baggins behind you. That name will not be safe to have…I will give you a travelling name now. When you go, go as Mr. Underhill."Ledar[Loial]’s laughter at the question suggests that he knows the story of The Lord of the Rings, or something like it, and it was he who suggested the name to Karldin. The truly amusing thing is that Andor is, of course, also a name from Middle-Earth! Perhaps Robert Jordan had just been to see The Fellowship of the Ring when he wrote this; after all, as he says in the interview…
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Shadow of the Past
" I thought the movie was most excellent! At the moment, I would have to say my favourite movies are Fellowship of the Ring[sic] and Excalibur…Perrin and Mat
-Glimmers Interview, July 2002
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s two closest friends (Sam is a servant) are Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck, commonly known as Pippin and Merry. Rand’s two best friends are Perrin and Mat, names which sound very close to the former two; close enough that on occasion, people have been known to accidentally confuse them. Their destinies match vaguely in that Pippin and Merry get separated from Frodo and go on to do great things on their own, as Perrin and Mat are doing; however personality-wise, Merry was the more serious and responsible one in contrast to the mischievous Pippin. A parallel could perhaps be drawn between Pippin’s stealing of the palantir of Orthanc, which results in him going off to Minas Tirith, and Mat’s taking of the Shadar Logoth Dagger which results in him being taken to Tar Valon, already established as an analogue to Minas Tirith.
Moiraine, in several ways, is a parallel to the wizard Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. Both are rather mysterious and extremely powerful (at first, for Moiraine) magic-using figures; both have the same job, that of guide to the main characters. Both work closely with a warrior (Lan/Aragorn). In The Eye of the World, Moiraine uses a staff, as Gandalf does, although unlike him, her staff is merely a tool of concentration while his is a symbol of office and necessary – and Moiraine throws hers away. The most important storyline parallels between the figures involve disappearances. Gandalf vanishes before Frodo leaves the Shire and returns in the nick of time to meet him at Rivendell and he dies in truth in the fight with a monster, the Balrog, and is sent back naked by the Valar as Gandalf the White, much more powerful, to finish his quest to rally the West for this last battle against Sauron. Moiraine leaves Rand’s storyline thrice, and returns all three times: at Falme, in the fight in the Stone of Tear, and through the doorway into *elfin land. The latter was a death as far as the other main characters were concerned and led her into monstrous danger. While in *elfland she lost much of her channelling power and gained an angreal to compensate. She was brought back naked to aid Rand in uniting the nations against the Shadow.
The names Aelfinn and Eelfinn are similar to Elf/Elfin. Time passes differently in Elven lands and in the lands of the *elfinn folk. The full motivation of the *elfinn creatures themselves is more unfathomable than that of the Elves.
On the whole Tolkien’s Elves do not take part in the war of the Ring directly, though they did aid Gandalf and the Fellowship of the Ring. The Elves gave advice and ‘magical’ items. The *finns don’t take part in the war against the Shadow, and appear to have harmed Gandalf’s equivalent, Moiraine, and Mat too. The *finns answered questions and gave ‘magical’ items.
Lan is in several ways a parallel to Aragorn, the Ranger and King of Gondor. Both work closely with the guide figure (Moiraine/Gandalf.) Both are kings, but not rulers; Lan is the Uncrowned King of Malkier, a Borderland dedicated to fighting the Shadow, and Aragorn is "the crownless again shall be king", of Gondor, which guards against and fights Mordor. In Towers of Midnight Lan accepted his place and duty as a monarch and rallied the Borderlands to fight. He played a major role as a general and a soldier in the Last Battle. In The Lord of the Rings, the battles were a diversion to keep Sauron from noticing Frodo and the ring creeping through Mordor. In The Wheel of Time, the military battles and Rand’s psychological and theological battle were equally important, had one or the other been lost, the Shadow would not have been vanquished and the Land would not have been healed.
Aragorn and Lan are very good with a sword and help protect the main characters. Both also have issues regarding the one they love; Aragorn is forbidden to marry Arwen until he claims his throne, Lan keeps refusing to marry Nynaeve on the grounds that he has his fight with the Shadow. However, Aragorn regains the throne and then is permitted by Elrond to wed his rather passive daughter who has been waiting around for this; Nynaeve goes off and fights the Shadow in her own fashion, then tells Lan he is marrying her, and gets her way.
Tam And Bilbo
Assuming Frodo and Rand are similar, being the main characters with the most responsibility, and that they start out in roughly similar circumstances, their 'parents' are similar. Both have left their own homelands: an event rare in both the Shire and Two Rivers. Both Bilbo and Tam are not the biological parents of their 'sons'. And both Bilbo and Tam give a gift of a sword with special enchantments in it: Sting, Frodo's sword, is enchanted elvish work which turns blue when orcs are near; Rand's is a rare power-wrought blade engraved with herons.
The Two Rivers And The Shire
The homelands of the main characters are also very similar: rural districts that are technically part of a larger kingdom, but have not truly been considered part of it for many years. Both areas are highly isolated from the rest of the world and both contain about three or four villages, with the inhabitants of the furthest removed – riverside villages - often thought of as strange: Taren Ferry and Brandy Hall. The Shire and the Two Rivers both have a very agrarian background, with no industrialisation, and lack the technology of the rest of the land.
The Shire inhabitants have little knowledge of the outside world, apart from a village nearby - Bree - which is considered a bit "strange", and is the furthest almost all inhabitants have ever gone. Bree could be like Baerlon, since in both places the saviour behaves recklessly, attracts the notice of agents of the Dark One and has to flee, pursued by evil forces (Nazghul and Shadowspawn respectively).
However, the Two Rivers folk are not intended to be equivalents of hobbits:
For Cooner 1987, I don't think there is any similarity between Hobbits and the Two Rivers folk. The Two Rivers people are based on a lot of country people I have known, and among whom I did a lot of my growing up. I did try to make the first roughly 100 pages of EYE seem somewhat Tolkienesque. I wanted to say, "This is the place you know, guys. Now we're going somewhere else." But I didn't take it to the point of trying to make the Two Rivers folk seem like Hobbits. I mean, I love The Lord of the Rings and have read it at least a dozen times, but when you have too many Hobbits together, they can be so bloody cute that I need a stiff drink.In the outside world, the Shire is known only for its production of pipeweed as is the Two River of tabac, which is the equivalent of pipeweed.
- RJ on his blog
The two regions also play slightly similar roles story-wise in that both are invaded while the heroes are away and a/the hero(es) have to come back and save their home - although this occurs at a vastly different point in the storyline, the Scouring of the Shire being almost the last chapter of The Lord of the Rings. Also, the heroes know that something is up with their home due to respectively a lot of pipeweed being found outside the Shire, and a lack of Two Rivers tabac for trade outside it. The ta'veren and the hobbits all smoke pipeweed/tabac, too - in pipes.
The Story Of Aridhol
When Moiraine tells the story of how Aridhol became Shadar Logoth, a couple of the names she mentions sound familiar. In particular, Thorin, Caar One-Hand and a place called "Aleth-Loriel."
"How Thorin’s son, Caar, came to win Aridhol back to the Second Covenant…how Prince Caar came to be called Caar One-Hand. How he escaped the dungeons of Aridhol and fled alone to the Borderlands with Mordeth’s unnatural assassins at his heels. How there he met Rhea, who did not know who he was, and married her, and set the skein in the pattern that led to his death at her hands, and hers by her own hand in front of his tomb, and the fall of Aleth-Loriel."Readers of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion will see in Caar’s story a resemblance to that of Beren, as well as a descriptive name – Beren too was named One-Hand. Thorin, of course, was the leader of the dwarves in The Hobbit - the exiled King-Under-the-Mountain, where Thorin al Toran al Ban was King of the Mountain Home. And "Aleth-Loriel" sounds a lot like "Lothlorien", the forest realm of the Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. Of course, any other similarities cannot be judged because we know nothing of this place except its name – it was neither a large city nor a country of the Ten Nations.
-The Eye of the World, Shadow’s Waiting
The city of Aridhol also has links with the dead city of Minas Morgul in The Lord of the Rings. Both cities were once mighty and fell to the side of evil, whether that was to Mordor or Mordeth. Minas Morgul is also home to the Wraiths and the Witch-King, whereas Mashadar and Mordeth are very wraith-like.
And in Knife of Dreams, another man with a name derived from Thor – Rand’al’Thor - also lost his hand and later in The Gathering Storm, had to escape from a Forsaken, parallels of the Nazghul.
Padan Fain And The Shadar Logoth Dagger
The whole situation with Padan Fain and the dagger from Shadar Logoth bears some distinct resemblances to Gollum/Sméagol and the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Both Gollum and Fain are unwilling servants of the dark power. Both carry an object of great power that corrupts everything and everyone it touches. Both were taken to the stronghold of the dark power (Barad-dûr for Gollum, Shayol Ghul for Fain) and there tortured. Both have wounded the main character – Fain giving Rand the wound in his side, Gollum biting Frodo’s finger off – and both have some part to play in the end of the story, or at least so it is assumed for Fain. Like Gollum, Fain moved through a blighted area towards the Dark Lord’s stronghold to intercept the saviour. However Gollum and the Ring are central to The Lord of the Rings, whereas Fain and his dagger were a side issue.
Fain the Dark’s wild card duelled Mat, the Light’s wild card. Jordan liked to show Light and Dark versions of trope figures and have them contend with each other. He also had minor characters mirroring a major character in their predicament eg Gaul, follower of Perrin, comes between two women, one he loves, one he doesn’t, and Perrin is the bone of contention between his beloved Faile and Berelain.
Gollum perished within the volcano of Orodruin, which collapsed in an eruption. Fain/Mordeth was killed by Mat on the slopes of Shayol Ghul. It was Moridin, the Shadow’s Champion, who died in place of Rand after the Bore was sealed and Shayol Ghul closed.
The Nine Rings Inn
In The Great Hunt Rand stays at an inn with a rather familiar name:
"The inn, at the very top of the hill, was stone like every other building in the town, and plainly marked by a painted sign hanging over the wide doors. The Nine Rings. Rand swung down with a smile and tied Red to one of the hitching posts out front. "The Nine Rings" had been one of his favourite adventure stories when he was a boy; he supposed it still was.This is, naturally, a reference to the "nine rings for mortal men doomed to die" in the famous header poem of The Lord of the Rings, and the story. One has to wonder – is Rand actually supposed to have read the book, or just a story that’s a version of it?
-The Great Hunt, The Nine Rings
Bili Under The Hill
After being told of the redstone door ter’angreal in the Stone’s Great Holding, and what happens when you step through it, Elayne thinks:
"Elayne's first thought was for the children's tale Bili Under the Hill, but only because of the three answers"This sounds rather like the episode in the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins plays a riddle game for his life with the creature Gollum, in a cave deep under the Misty Mountains.
-The Shadow Rising, Doorways
The Mountains Of Mist
We all know the Mountains of Mist, in the west of the land of Andor, where the fabled city of Manetheren once lay. Reputedly, a place of danger. It is probably total coincidence that in The Lord of the Rings we see the Misty Mountains, a large mountain range which is very hard to cross, where Orcs live. Or maybe not coincidence.
The Mountains of Dhoom and Shayol Ghul
And speaking of mountains, it is interesting to note that the mountain range bordered by the Borderlands – in the heart of the Blight – is called the Mountains of Dhoom. This name parallels Mount Doom, Orodruin, the fiery mountain in the heart of Mordor which is the object of Frodo’s quest. The parallels continue: Shayol Ghul, where the Dark One lies imprisoned, is also an active volcano in the middle of the Blight as Orodruin is in the middle of Mordor. Mordor is bounded by a mountain range, too, like the Blight.
The very name Andor itself is from, not The Lord of the Rings, but another of Tolkien’s works: The Silmarillion.
"A land was made for the Edain to dwell in, neither part of Middle-Earth nor of Valinor…That land the Valar called Andor, the Land of Gift…"Physically and historically, of course, Numenor/Andor of Middle-Earth bears no relation to our Andor; it was a large island which was destroyed in a huge cataclysm some 3000 years before The Lord of the Rings began. This may be due to the fact that both Tolkien and Jordan used the same source (the Old Testament) for the name Andor but in quite different ways. In 1 Samuel 28:3-25, the witch of Endor conjured up the spirit of the prophet Samuel for Saul. In fact, Jordan’s Andor is closer to the Bible than to Tolkien, since Andor has the long tradition of sending the Daughter-heir to be trained with Aes Sedai (witches from a Whitecloak point of view) and now has a full Aes Sedai as Queen.
- J.R.R.Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Akallabeth
The city of Tar Valon – in name and partly in function – is very close to a city in Middle-Earth, the city of Minas Tirith.
"…the men of Gondor changed the name of their remaining tower…to Minas Tirith, the "Tower of the Guard". This proved to be an appropriate name; for over a thousand years Minas Tirith stood on guard against the evil forces that threatened to entirely destroy Gondor…In 1900, the city was strengthened by the building of the White Tower…"So we have a city named Tower of the Guard, with a famous White Tower. Tar Valon means, in the Old Tongue, Tower of Guard, and is home to the White Tower. Minas Tirith guarded for many years against Sauron; the Aes Sedai, in part, guard against the return of the Shadow. Just look at the Green Ajah; that is their entire purpose. One can stretch the parallels even further; both cities were never taken in battle. Both have declined over the years to a shadow of what they once were. Both were ruled by rulers who were unknowingly under the influence of the Shadow; Denethor through his palantir, Elaida through Alviarin. Minas Tirith was rescued from decline and evil by the arrival of the rightful ruler (with an army), and under him experienced a renaissance. Tar Valon was rescued from Elaida and the Black Ajah by Egwene’s arrival, and under her will experienced a turnaround. As Elaida Foretold: "The White Tower will be whole, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever."
- David Day, Tolkien, the Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Geography
Mesaana brought her Black Ajah to attack the Tower in Tel’aran’rhiod but was defeated by Egwene; the Witchking brought his army to take Minas Tirith and was killed by a woman and a hobbit. Egwene encapsulated both roles being a woman from the Shire-like Two Rivers.
The similarities don't end there, however. The most interesting similarity is that, in The Silmarillion, Tolkien informs us that the Minas Tirith we see in The Lord of the Rings is not the first city in his world that bore the name. Before the great battle that ended the "quenta silmarillion," there existed another city in Beleriand named Minas Tirith, near the Northwestern Pass into Anfauglith.
This city-fortress was built by Finrod Felagund and given the name "Minas Tirith," for it was to be a border fortress against their enemy to the north. It was built on a large island called Tol Sirion, which was in the River Sirion, one of the most important rivers in the land, just like Tar Valon.
The great tangled forest north of Tear, known as Haddon Mirk, seems to parallel in name the great forest of Mirkwood in the east of Middle Earth. There is also another deep dark forest, Paerish Swar or the Darkwood west of the Mountains of Mist. One could note the fact that Haddon Mirk was occupied by the Tairen rebels (led by Darlin Sisnera) who turned into allies with Darlin’s appointment as King of Tear, and Mirkwood was mainly occupied by the Woodelves who were enemies to the dwarves and Bilbo halfway through The Hobbit, but then turned into allies at the Battle of Five Armies.
Myrddraal And Trollocs
The Myrddraal and Trollocs are in some ways much like the Nazgûl and Orcs of The Lord of the Rings. The Myrddraal, like the Black Riders, dress in black, ride black horses, chase the main characters, and inspire feelings of terror and despair. Actually, Rand, Mat and Perrin spend the beginning of The Eye of the World referring to the Myrddraal they saw as the "black rider". Both are partially human. They enter in much the same way, a lurking presence in the main characters’ home territory that is the motive for their departure to places unknown. Both command the troops of evil, although the Nazgûl, being also parallels of the Forsaken, are considerably higher up the command chain than the Myrddraal are. Both can be killed, but it takes some doing, and both keep coming back – the Myrddraal because there are so many of them, the Nazgûl because they are harder to kill. Both also bear blades which make wounds that are very hard, if not impossible, to heal.
The Trollocs are a little like the Orcs, in that they share many of the same characteristics like tirelessness, cannibalism and being bred from another species (Orcs are changed Elves; Trollocs genetically modified from human and animal genes.) Both make up the bulk of the armies of the forces of evil and are led by Black Rider-types. The word Trolloc, of course, comes from Troll and Orc, of which the orcs, at least, were popularised as a fantasy creature by Tolkien.
There are several similarities between the Ogier of The Wheel of Time and the Ents of The Lord of the Rings (see Ogier article). Both are non-human species with a deep and abiding love of trees, who spend much time caring for them. They also both have a separate language unknown to humans, and both sing. Both races are slow to anger, but deadly enemies when roused. Both are much longer-lived than humans, with a correspondingly more relaxed world-view, and have a horror of being "hasty". (A parallel could perhaps be drawn in specific between the Ent Quickbeam, who is young and hasty, and Loial the Ogier, who is young and...hasty. Both characters spend much time interacting with more main characters of the story.)
At their Great Stump, the Ogier argued about whether to participate in the Last Battle or flee it. Loial, the hasty Ogier, was the critical speaker. With the end of the world threatening, this could have been the last march the Ogier made. In The Lord of the Rings, the Ents held an Entmoot to discuss whether to attack Saruman and thus aid the war against Sauron. They believed this might be the Last March of the Ents.
The species do however have their differences - Ents look like trees, whereas Ogier are essentially humanoid, with different facial features and greater size than humans. Ents are a fading species, with no females or young - Ogier, while not as numerous as they once were, are still flourishing, and in fact have a very matriarchal society. Ents abhor axes, while long-handled axes are the traditional weapons of the Ogier. Ogier work with stone, whereas Ents are excellent at destroying it.
For this reason, it might be suggested that a better analogy to the Ents are the Nym (see Nym article). The Nym were created by the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends and the most well-known of them is the Green Man, whom we meet in The Eye of the World. Both Ents and Nym lived for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and when boiled down to their most basic components, both are walking, talking plants.
Written by Ruriha Sedai, April 2004 and updated by Linda, April 2014
Contributors: Burr, Bad Ash, Aven, Nera, Woolheaded Wilder, Quanchack, DarkSlade, Pinchy, Linda, Lord of the Golden Star, Master of Disaster