Unrecognized borrowings


Active Member
Before we leave Anduril and Sting behind, I wanted to point out that Tolkien is borrowing from Norse legends again in plain sight. Many will recognize the story of the sword broken and reforged by the original owner's descendant as the story of Gram ("Wrath"), Sigmund's sword in the Volsung Saga. Sigmund dies when Odin deliberately shatters his sword while he is in a battle. His son Sigurd eventually has the pieces reforged. I might further point out that the story of Beren and Finrod imprisoned in Sauron's fortress and seeing their companions killed one by one comes from the Volsung Saga as well. King Siggeir of Gautland captures Sigmund and his nine brothers, and his shapeshifting mother (!) comes into their cell as a werewolf each night and murders them one by one until only Sigmund is left.

But the real kicker I wanted to point out is where Gram comes from. Odin appears in person at the wedding of King Siggeir and drives a sword into the tree at the center of the hall (Ancient Norse halls were often built around trees) and announces that the man who can remove the sword will have it as a gift. Only Sigmund can get it out of the tree. (This is later re-used by other myth-makers as the 'sword in the stone' of Arthurian legend, so Tolkien is not alone in recycling ideas!)

Bilbo doesn't appear in a hall full of people, he is alone with Frodo. But he does drive the sword into a beam, which is a large chunk of a tree, announcing it is a gift. And we aren't explicitly told that Frodo 'drew the sword from the tree' but clearly he did if he accepted it.

The elements of the Volsung Saga are all there, but re-arranged. I don't know if any recognizable elements from the Norse Sagas are touched on in the gift of a suit of armor, but it seems quite likely.

Philology note: "Gram" is cognate with the English adjective "grim".