One of Tolkien’s most captivating creations are the Elves. The Elves, of all Middle Earth’s races were closest to his heart. They were the ideal beings pure, beautiful, and immortal.

The comprehensive and elegant languages of the Elves are collectively called Elvish. They are the most popular languages of Tolkien’s series: The Lord of the Rings. One of Tolkien’s primary inspirations for Elvish is a language that can still be heard today in Viena Karelia; a remote region of villages and lakes spanning the Finnish and Russian borders.

The epic song still heard here is the KaleVala which means the Land of the Heroes. The KaleVala is a voluminous work considered to be the single most important expression of the Finnish heritage. As a teenager Tolkien was enthralled by the KaleVala. He taught himself Finnish to better understand this monumental collection of ancient epic poems. Tolkien turned to the KaleVala as he began inventing the languages of Middle Earth.

“He was trying to construct languages which had a similar inner feel to something he admired. Quenya, the Elvish Latin, I think is quite clearly based on Finnish. He very much liked Finnish. He very much liked the Finnish literary tradition which attracted him from an early age.” –quoted from Tom Shippey.

Tolkien was fascinated by more than the KaleVala’s language. He found eternal themes and archetypal characters there as well. For example, the KaleVala’s hero is a wise old leader with magical powers. The obvious parallel is the wizard Gandalf. Who, like the KaleVala’s hero, employs the power of words.

The Lord of the Rings and the KaleVala share another key element. At the center of both stories is a powerful forged object. In the Finnish poem it’s called the Sampo. Like the Ring it brings its owner great fortune, but in the end is destroyed to secure peace.

I have only discussed a small section of the KaleVala and how it inspired Tolkien with not only the Elvish language but themes and characters in his books as well. I hope I’ve left you with a better understanding of Tolkien and the Finnish culture.

–all information obtained is in: National Geographic Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

by Morlothwen

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