Tolkien Lord of the Rings and possible Zoroastrian Influences

Tolkien Lord of the Rings and possible Zoroastrian Influences

J. R. R. Tolkien, (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s academic career and his literary production are inseparable from his love of ancient languages and philology. He specialized in English philology at university and in 1915 graduated with an emphasis on Old Norse.  Tolkien was much inspired by early Germanic, especially Old English Literature, poetry, and mythology, which were his chosen and much-loved areas of expertise.

Tolkien also acknowledged several non-Germanic influences or sources for some of his stories and ideas e.g. the finish Kalevala. There is no doubt that Norse and Germanic myths, beliefs  and languages show a great kinship with the ancient iranian and zoroastian literature, poetry, and mythology; so much so that fom the early years of the Viking Age, the Arabs of  al-Andalus, in the southern two-thirds of the Iberian Peninsula, referred to the Scandinavians they encountered as al-Majus, a word  which means Magi or Zoroastrian, or “fire-worshiping pagans” directed at Zoroastrians.   Historian Ahmad al-Ya’qubi, writing in 843-844, tells of  the attack on Ishbiliyya (Seville) by the “Majus who are called Rus. ” When the Vikings slipped through the Straits of Gibraltar to raid along  the Moroccan coast, another Muslim observer records that “al  Majus may God curse them! invaded the little Moroccan state of Nakur and  pillaged it. They took into captivity all the inhabitants with the exception of  those who saved their lives by flight.”

But aside from the obvious kinship between the myths, beliefs and the language of the Old Norse and the ancient Iranian Zoroastrians, did Tolkien actually borrowed anything directly from the Zoroastrian Literature??? Is there any indication Tolkien ever even looked at Avesta ???–It is fairly common knowledge among Tolkien’s fans that Tolkien had very broad linguistic knowledge and his profession as a philologist had a big impact on his creative works, especially in his creation of invented languages. The relationship between his study of certain historical languages and his invented ones has been talked about a lot. It is rather obvious that Tolkien drew on the most ancient Indo-European sources, specifically in creating his elvish language. The most ancient Indo European sources are the twin Avestan and Sanskrit languages, which are in fact the ancestors of all the Indo-European languages of Europe.

Furthermore, Tolkien was very familiar with the works of Sir Henry Rawlinson. Rawlinson was the first who studied and decipherd cuneiform characters of ancient Iranian monuments. In the course of the two years during which Rawlinson was in Iran/Persia, he transcribed as much as he was able of the great cuneiform inscription at Behistun. The trilingual Behistun inscription which Rawlinson deciphered, dates back to the 5th century B.C.E. and is attributed to Darius the Great, this inscription provides the basis for our knowledge of Achaemenid or Old Persian language.

Now, let us examine some uniquely Zoroastrian themes in the Lord of the Rings:

The hall of fire in Elrond’s house at Rivendell has a holy fire burned continually in it. Rays of the sun should not fall on it and the hall is used for solitary contemplation, a place where sacred songs are recited, charms and powerful verses are memorized. The aforementioned description and the injunction that rays of the sun should not fall on the sacred fire  seem to match exactly the zoroastrian victorious halls of fire.

The name of Elrond, the Wise Lord of Rivendell, one of the mighty rulers of old that remained in Middle-earth in its Third Age is derived from rædan “to explain, read, rule, counsel, advise.” It is the same as Avestan ratü/ratuu (related to Old Norse raða, German. raten “to advise, counsel,” also the word riddle comes the same root.) Elrond like ratü/ratuu is known for the gift of foresight, ability to solve riddles and wise counsel. The name of the Anglo-Saxon King Æðelræd II (968-1016), which means “good or noble counsel” is from the same root. An attempted revival of the name by Scott (19c.) failed, though it is used in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”in the form of Elrond.

The black rider scene in the lord of the rings, when the Black Riders appear in the quiet lanes of Hobbiton with a hypnotic omnipresence of evil, and all noxious creatures grow from their footsteps, seem to be inspired by a passage in Hóm Yasht, namely Yasna 11.6 .

The encounter between Gandalf and Baleroc, a demon of the ancient world, shows striking similarity to the battle between the holy fire/energy and azhi dahawk in Zámyaad Yasht 46-50. It should be noted that azhi dahawk like baleroc is confined to a cave in the high mountains.

The mystical powers of Saruman, his hubris, malice and pride, his later deterioration and subsequent loss of power are all reminiscent of the shinning Yimá (Persian Jamsheed,) in the Zámyaad Yasht 30-38. (The name Yimá is related to latin geminus “twin,” Latin geminatus “twinned, equal,”  geminare “to double, repeat,” from Proto Indo European  *yem/yim- “to pair.”)

But above all it is Tolkien’s portrayal of evil that has a distinct Zoroastrian semblance. Like in Zoroastrianism, evil in Tolkien’s view, is affliction, torment and degeneration. Evil is portrayed as all death, rot, decay and stagnation. Evil is stuck, unable to progress and/or see ahead. The negative power of evil in the world is preceded by lack of vision/foresight in choices, inertia and loss of all hope.

The Shadow, the chief metaphor for the evil of Mordor, is nothing but the absence of light/energy/brilliance; it has no substance, and its qualities are ambiguous even to those who perceive it. At the same time, shadows are real objects, with clearly visible shapes and edges. With the Shadow that blankets Mordor and extends outward later in The Lord of the Rings, Sauron’s evil spreads as various groups of Men and Orcs obey his gloomy and sinister will. In this sense, Sauron’s evil is not a force or a thing, but a culmination of degenerate choices. Even so, Sauron’s Darkness affects the physical world itself. The land of Mordor lies destitute and barren because of Sauron’s residence there, and the flying Nazgûl represent the physical embodiment of a sabotaging and sinister force.

The following passage from the Zoroastrian literature clearly shows the same view concerning good and evil:

9) I must have no doubt that good fortune arises from virtue/excellence, and ruin from despair, that my friend is Ahúrmazd and my enemy Ahriman, and that there is  only one way of excellence. (10) (This) one way (is that) of brilliant, bright thoughts, beautiful, wise words, and splendid deeds, (the way of) Heaven, of light and of purity, of the  Infinite Creator, Ahúrmazd, who was always and will ever be. (11) (There is also)  the other way of gloomy thoughts, vile words, and wretched deeds, (the way of)  darkness, and of the finiteness, utter misery, death, and gloom which  belong to the afflicted, stricken Spirit (Ahriman) who once was not in this  creation, and again will not be in the creation of Ahúrmazd, and who in the end  will fade away.

However, there are some major points of difference. The Tolkien’s ring, just as Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” is an undeniable physical symbol of the force of evil. The Ring not only causes its wearer to physically disappear, but it also weakens the owner’s personal sense of identity with each use. The Ring symbolizes both the power and the pride of its bearer and the physical destruction that the bearer’s false pride delivers upon himself and others. It provides a tangible point for Sauron, but, at the same time, Sauron remains only a shapeless, sinister idea behind the Eye.

In Zoroastrianism, khvarenö “brightness, good fortune” is the gift and power to make or transform the world; it resembles the ring of power, but it is ahüric and not evil at all. What sets khvarenö apart from the ring of power, is that the wondrous power of khvarenö shatters those with negative energy and afflicted spirit only.


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8 Responses to Tolkien Lord of the Rings and possible Zoroastrian Influences

  1. Dorreh says:

    good read indeed … thanks

  2. Pingback: Tolkien Lord of the Rings and possible Zoroastrian Influences

  3. ken says:

    I have just been reading about Persian mythology and so struck by parallels with LOTR, and more specifically Silmarillion that I am led here. In addition to themes noted above, I learned of the 7 bounteous immortals Lord Mazda and his six sons and daughters with specific remits over earth, water, beasts, plants, fire, and metals; the two trees that provided the elixir of life, and the seeds of all plants respectively; the demonic female principle Jabi that spread pollution and poison throughout creation and destroyed the two trees. The principle that evil cannot be controlled by the gods, that it spreads stealthily while unobtrusive, but that forced into open conflict will be defeated, and that it can therefore never succeed. The Zoroastrian world is divided between the Followers of Truth, and the Followers of the Lie. These are only my immediate initial impressions but they are strong enough to convince me that Tolkien was heavily immersed in Zoroastrianism and its influence is evident in his writings.

  4. Zhang says:

    God bless Iran

  5. Kristian Berg says:

    I have noticed other things that relate between the Silmarillion and Zoroastrianism. The Struggle Between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu is very similar between the struggle between Illuvatar and Melkor. Melkor Rejects Illuvatar’s overture or Music, and struggles to create his own, in LOTR canon, the ability to create is known as the Flame Imperishable.
    When Illuvatar creates Ea, or the world as we know it, the Maiar and Valar are asked to assume physical form and join the world in their struggle against Melkor. which is similar to Ahura Mazda’s request for humans.

  6. Haider says:

    When I saw LOTR, it reminded me of Dastan Amir Hamza which I read in my school days.
    This Dastan came from Persia to Indian subcontinent and existed in different versions. Later during British rule over India, Fort William College was established and Dastan Amir Hamza was simplified further for the use of ordinary reader (earlier people preferred to listen instead of reading Dastan). Probably from Fort William College Dastan found its way to Britian, also, during short presence of Britain in Iran Persian literature would have found its way to Britain.
    Today one translated version is available at
    Detailed review of Dastan Amir Hamza and other Dastans around 15th century is available at

    Click to access 5411-1510386404.pdf

    “Dastan-e Amir Hamza in colonial India”.


  7. Ali Alavi says:

    Great read. Thank you for this wonderful analogy and your great blog

  8. Simon Hamilton says:

    Wonderful and illuminating insights

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