- My thesis, entitled "Fantastic Histories: How Malory's Morte Darthur
Influenced Tolkien's The Silmarillion," argues that J.R.R. Tolkien's Silmarillion
shares distinct similarities in style and content with Sir Thomas Malory's Morte
Darthur, primarily in the lack of detail in the descriptions of characters and events, as
each attempts to create a "historical" work based on fantastical events and
It is well known that Tolkien was a medieval scholar, and that he drew a great
deal from the literature of that period. However, few scholars have written about his
connections to Malory and his Arthurian works, beyond the fact that Tolkien thought
little of them as true "fairy-story" or myth because they included Christianity. Yet,
this historical style is an important connection between two of the most well-known
writers of fantasy, one medieval and the other modem.
The first two chapters of this thesis provide historical and theoretical
background necessary for the study of the works of Malory and Tolkien. Chapter
One, "On Fantasy and Romance," provides a short history of the Romance/Fantasy
genre as an introduction to the topic of the thesis. Chapter Two, "Medieval and
Modern Theories of Authorship," looks at the idea of the author during the Middle
Ages and how that role has changed since then, comparing medieval theories of
authorship to those of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.
Chapter Three, "Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: Historicizing Arthur," is
an in-depth analysis of the historical nature of Malory's text. Specifically, I look at
Malory's historical style, particularly in his use of descriptions, characters, and
dialogue. Chapter Four, "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion: A History for Middle earth,"
follows the same structure as Chapter Three, applying the same analysis to
Tolkien's text. This thesis argues that the historical nature of each author's work is
readily evident through his lack of significant detail.
I conclude by arguing that Tolkien likely borrowed the style of Malory's text
as a model for his own history of Middle Earth. Each feels as if it is the record of a
history long past, collected and recorded by a historian, rather than a work of fantasy.
Malory's works are clearly a model for Tolkien's own writing, based on the
similarities the works of each author share. Even if Tolkien did not think these
Arthurian legends could be considered fairy-story, he still respected them as literature
enough to borrow these style elements from them.