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Gollum. Photo: Stine Netman - The National Museum of Denmark

The fantastic creatures

A number of fantastic and scary creatures populate Tolkien’s universe. A solitary and central figure is Gollum, who was once a hobbit, but has been corrupted and given an unnaturally long life by the One Ring. It is not unheard of for lust to destroy a man in medieval literature. Or even to change his appearance. In Vølsungesaga, Fafner’s lust for gold and treasure are the reason he turns into a dragon and is eventually slain. Like the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, he guards an immense gold treasure. 

Dragons play an important role in medieval mythology – both Christian and Norse. Best known is perhaps St George fighting the dragon, which symbolises the battle of good versus evil. The Devil therefore takes on the shape of a dragon. 

In The Hobbit, we also meet the shape-shifter Beorn, who turns into a bear. In Norse mythology, there are a great many stories about gods who can turn into animals. Medieval literature tells of people who are cursed; for example, werewolves. Tolkien has thus been able to draw on medieval stories and illustrations, which are full of fantastic creatures and monsters, and Norse mythology’s tales of giants, trolls and larger, older and more ferocious creatures such as the sea serpent of Middle-earth, which winds its way all around the earth on the ocean floor.