One of the most common opinions about Asatru (and there are many) is that it’s the “Lord of the Rings” religion. After all, a reading of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda will invoke many of the creatures and images used by J.R.R. Tolkein in his legendary novels: dwarves, elves, giants and trolls to name but a few.
But to understand the fallacy in this logical leap, one must know a bit about Tolkein himself. A South African by birth, he spent his childhood playing in the English countryside. As WW1 broke out, he joined the British Army fighting the forces of Kaiser Wilhelm in major battles in France including the Battle of the Somme. Resigning his commission in 1917 due to health reasons, he returned to the United Kingdom and took up a professorship at the University of Leeds. While there, he worked on several middle-English manuscripts including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. His mastery of the language, and his deep knowledge of early Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Nordic histories made him a much sought-after lecturer. He accepted a fellowship at Pembroke College and, along with teaching English literature and history, began writing his famed novel The Hobbit.
In writing his novels, J.R.R. Tolkein leaned heavily on the histories and folk tales of the early European societies. Numerous sub-plots (such as the ‘one ring’ itself) were borrowed from well known Germanic tales. Even his descriptions of Middle Earth (itself an English translation of the Nordic word Miðgarðr) relied heavily on the Eddas as well as Middle Ages poems like Beowulf. Some have postulated that his time at war was also formative in his writings – a fact Tolkien disregarded citing his love of ancient folk tales as a primary inspiration.
Which brings us to the contemptuous accusation that Asatru is a religion for “medieval reenactors and Lord of the Rings nerds”.
In point of fact, modern heathen beliefs are a restoration of tribal religions that existed throughout the Iron Age; some even tracing back to the Bronze Age and likely carried forward via oral recitation by Indo-European clans during the 1st and 2nd migratory expansions. The Aesir and Vanir as we know them today aren’t modern fictional constructs; nor are elves, dwarves or giants. Stories of the nine worlds and the beings that inhabit each – and all connected by the greatest of trees – have been told throughout time with the earliest tales able to be traced back to the Nordic Stone Age.
Tolkein’s tales are stirring epics and rightfully beloved by many; but they don’t in any way represent heathenry or its beliefs. Those were cultivated long ago and continue to be rediscovered to this day.