Lovecraft and Tolkien: Lovecraftian Horrors in Middle-earth?

This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.

In the twentieth century, some authors rose to greatness, and a handful became household names. 


J.R.R.Tolkien by Morgor-MFAVF:

But few writers’ words haunted the hearts and minds of successive generations. Few found their works being reinterpreted from one age to the next, like the mythic traditions that form the mental framework of humanity. Few achieve such accolades in their lifetimes.

When a divine spark catches in the imagination of one man, it catches fire in the multiplied minds of millions. One such author was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973).

More common are post-humorous ascents to the Olympian heights. Authors become literary gods, as out of the ashes of their deaths, Phoenix-like, they arise to shining new lives and immortality. Such was the belated elevation of Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) and his works to the Literary Pantheon. Lovecraft, a pauper in life, became the prophet of the Old Ones in death. His dreams shaped mankind’s nightmares, for his generation and beyond.

And Lovecraft’s cosmicism defined the landscapes of our imaginations. Humanity longs for, but finds no comfort, hopes for, but finds no purpose in Lovecraft’s Universe. To HPL, nostalgia for bygone illusions clouds our ability to perceive reality as it is. A derivative definition of “Lovecraftian” is “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

In this essay, I would first like briefly to touch on how Lovecraft and Tolkien’s rigorous adherence to their literary sensibilities shaped later cultural expressions of myth and the macabre. Second, I would like to sample evidence of whether Lovecraft influenced elements of Tolkien’s grand tales.

My Literary Heritage:

My own journey into the worlds of fantasy and speculative fiction paralleled my journey into all things Lovecraft. I read Clifford D. Simak intensively: Way Station (1963), The Goblin Reservation (1968), Enchanted Pilgrimage (1975), Shakespeare’s Planet (1976), Where the Evil Dwells (1982), and Special Deliverance (1982) to name a few. I also read books with bleak, apocalyptic futures such as Alas Babylon (Pat Frank) and The Earth Abides (George R. Stewart). I sampled Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars) and devoured Robert E. Howard (Conan, Solomon Kane, King Kull, Bran Mak Morn, and Turlogh Dubh O’Brien). Finally, I could not stop reading both trilogies of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever (Stephen R. Donaldson).

From Their Personal Aesthetics grew an Aesthetical Movement:

Inevitably, my reading led to J.R.R Tolkien.

Tolkien was a High God of Fantasy literature (alongside greats like Robert E. Howard). Tolkien’s tales are enjoyed by lowbrows and respected by highbrows alike. He wrote of that experience:

“…Being a cult figure in one’s own lifetime I afraid is not at all pleasant. However I do not find that it tends to puff one up; in my case at any rate it makes me feel extremely small and inadequate. But even the nose of a very modest idol…cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense…” (1).

In the 1960s, Hippies identified with Hobbits. Opponents of the Vietnam War united around the antiwar themes and counterculture they saw in Tolkien’s tales. In the 1970s, before electronics, The Lord of the Rings inspired countless Dungeons and Dragons scenarios, with Tolkien’s orcs, dwarves, elves and wizards heavily influencing the cadre of characters one could role-play or oppose.

Yet, Tolkien did not set out to please a fickle public when he authored The Lord of the Rings and related works. Instead, he sought to give expression and achieve satisfaction of his own personal Aesthetic:

“Nobody believes me when I say that my long book [The Lord of the Rings] is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real. But it is true” (2).


H.P. Lovecraft by AresNeron:

At the same time, Lovecraft began to come into his own. In the late 60s, H. P. Lovecraft was the name taken by an American psychedelic rock band from Chicago, inspired by HPL’s macabre writings. Later, like Tolkien’s Sauron, HPL’s Cthulhu and other gods became the evil Dungeons and Dragons aficionados tried to overcome. And in the 1980s, Lovecraftians like Dr. Robert M. Price began to explore HPLs writings both as scholars and as fans in zines such as Crypt of Cthulhu

As Tolkien, Lovecraft wrote to satisfy his own aesthetic standards. In his estimation, few people possessed the intellectual and imaginative facilities to appreciate what he tried to achieve in his writing:

“The opinions of the masses are of no interest to me, for praise can truly gratify only when it comes from a mind sharing the author’s perspective. There are probably seven persons, in all, who really like my work; and they are enough. I should write even if I were the only patient reader, for my aim is merely self-expression. I could not write about ‘ordinary people’ because I am not in the least interested in them. Without interest there can be no art. Man’s relations to man do not captivate my fancy. It is man’s relation to the cosmos—to the unknown—which alone arouses in me the spark of creative imagination. The humanocentric pose is impossible to me, for I cannot acquire the primitive myopia which magnifies the earth and ignores the background. Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty. Like the late Mr. [Oscar] Wilde, ‘I live in terror of not being misunderstood’” (3).

How pervasive have Lovecraft and Tolkien invaded culture?

In certain sectors of society, words have been coined to signify when a piece of art, literature, film, etc. contains features that appear to be influenced by Tolkien or Lovecraft. For example, if themes inspired by Tolkien appear in a Fantasy novel, the book might be termed Tolkienesque:

“Tolkienesque – of or reminiscent of the novels of J. R. R. Tolkien, especially with reference to the fantastical characters and dramatic landscapes that they portray” (4).

In the same vein, if a work touches on themes espoused by HPL, it may be called Lovecraftian. There is a lack of agreement on a general definition of Lovecraftian. The best I found states that to be Lovecraftian involves:

“- Terrible beings so grotesque and alien they can hardly be described

– A protagonist who finds himself gripped by madness by the story’s end

– Talk of other worlds or dimensions, generally replete with monstrosities that could break through and annihilate humanity at any given time

– A strong emphasis on the fact that humanity, in general, is fleeting and pointless” (5).

To sum up the impact of Tolkien and Lovecraft on society, Matt Cardin observed:

“The works of J. R. R. Tolkien and H. P. Lovecraft…represented a new landmark in the formation of the Gothic Aesthetic. Their works laid the foundations of the contemporary culture of nightmare consumption and facilitated the nightmare’s penetration into everyday life, allowing it to exert a huge influence over the minds of millions. . . The rise of the Gothic Aesthetic in the 1990s occurred through a coincidence of several trends …that had started to emerge in the late 1970s. The birth of Gothic rock coincided with the peak of Tolkien’s popularity due to the translation of The Lord of the Rings into most European languages. These events had clear social consequences: Gothic rock produced the Goth youth subculture…Howard Phillips Lovecraft, whose prose was instrumental in promoting a fascination with nightmares, were also used…for role-playing games in the early 1980s…His works gained true popularity in the late 1980s-early 1990s, when computer games were developed. Works by Tolkien and Lovecraft made a unique contribution to the rise of the Gothic Aesthetic, influencing the minds of millions of readers, users and viewers.

In the 1980s, the nightmare gradually began to transform into a necessary drug for the mass consciousness; the public was not aware of its addictive effect until it began to require equine doses of direct and vulgar nightmares in order to achieve the desired effect. Over the last 20 years the nightmare has become the most desirable psychological state, and indeed any product on the pleasure market that does not imitate it seems to the contemporary consumer to be insipid and unreal…” (6).

Towards a Common Creative Heritage:

“‘We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin’s folk, Gimli son of Glóin. Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dûm: too well he knew them all. Ever up now we went, until we came to the Endless Stair’” (7).

Among the words of J.R.R Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, the preceding passage has caught many with an eye for Lovecraftian details. Why? For one, Tolkien was a man enamored with naming things, individuals, and phenomenon in his Middle-earth. A man devoted to details, Tolkien seldom left a denizen of his world undefined. So, when Tolkien wrote, “…the world is gnawed by nameless things…Even Sauron knows them not…” his use of Nameless Things is highly reminiscent of Lovecraft.

The implication is that the Nameless Things existed before Sauron since even the Dark Lord knows them not. That also implies that they lay outside his control and his dominion – they have a uniformity of being all their own. Sauron was originally a being of the second-highest order of Tolkien’s universe – the Dark Lord was of the Maiar, eternal spirit beings one tier below and helpers of the angelic Ainur, who shaped the formless world and its environs after Iluvatar created it. That there may have an order of existence and entities older than Sauron – perhaps the original inhabitants of the planet – may be reading too much into a small detail in Tolkien’s grand myth. However, notice the similarity in how Lovecraft used Nameless Things in two passages:

“…I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind—of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium….” (8).

“By the time I had listened a few seconds I was broad awake, for the nature of the voices was such as to make all thought of sleep ridiculous. The tones were curiously varied, and no one who had listened to that accursed phonograph record could harbour any doubts about the nature of at least two of them. Hideous though the idea was, I knew that I was under the same roof with nameless things from abysmal space; for those two voices were unmistakably the blasphemous buzzings which the Outside Beings used in their communication with men…” (9).

The inference arises, “Did Lovecraft influence Tolkien?”

Let us review one other similarity in the two giants’ works before we more fully examine the Nameless Things.

The Watcher in the Water:

Another piece of the puzzle appears in the similarities between Tolkien’s Watcher in the Water and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu


The Watcher in the Water by Tulikoura:

The Watcher in the Water (or simply the Watcher) appears in the Fellowship of the Ring. Quickly, on the Fellowship’s journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, they must pass through the Mines of Moria. To do so, they must first gain admittance through the Doors of Durin that resides next to an unnamed lake. As they attempt to open the gates, a denizen in the lake – The Watcher – attacks them, seizing Frodo with a long, pale-green, luminous, fingered tentacle, succeeded by twenty more. After they escape the Watcher, Gandalf states, “Something has crept or been driven out of the dark water under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than orcs in the deep places of the world.”

By implication, the Watcher belongs to a stratum of monsters, either epitomized by the Balrogs. Or since the Watcher is older than orcs – who themselves were Elves ruined by Melkor, the first Dark Lord of Middle-earth (10) – the Watcher may represent one of Tolkien’s nameless things, described in the prior example. Tolkien himself never defined what the Watcher was. It’s identification as a Kraken represents the artistic interpretation of others.

Lovecraft’s Own Cephalopod:

Lovecraft’s Cthulhu bears some resemblance to Tolkien’s Watcher. Both are tentacles, as HPL’s description of Cthulhu reveals:

“…If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful…” (11).

Also, both entities are quite ancient, as Lovecraft’s timeline of Cthulhu’s appearance on Earth is traced to its distant past:

“…They worshipped…the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died. This…cult…had always existed and always would exist…until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him…Mankind was not absolutely alone among the conscious things of earth…” (12).

But does a similarity in appearance and age mean the One – Lovecraft’s Cthulhu – inspired the Other – Tolkien’s Watcher in the WaterBeyond those two points, does the semblance between Lovecraft and Tolkien’s entities continue or end?

One, The Watcher in the Water displays all the traits of creaturehood – it appears to be driven by instinct, not intelligence. Conversely, while Cthulhu and the Other Old Ones entombed in R’lyeh are creatures, they are eminently intelligent, have been so for a thousand human eternities, and possess omniscience:

“… They knew all that was occurring in the universe, but Their mode of speech was transmitted thought. Even now They talked in Their tombs. When, after infinities of chaos, the first men came, the Great Old Ones spoke to the sensitive among them by moulding their dreams; for only thus could Their language reach the fleshly minds of mammals…” (13).

Two, the Watcher in the Water is an earth-bound entity. It is a creature who origins, though incredibly ancient, are relegated to this sphere. Its existence is governed by terrestrial laws. On the other hand, Cthulhu and his spawn came from Outer Space and had bodies not entirely subject to the laws of this dimension:

“…Another race—a land race of beings shaped like octopi and probably corresponding to the fabulous pre-human spawn of Cthulhu—soon began filtering down from cosmic infinity and precipitated a monstrous war which for a time drove the Old Ones wholly back to the sea…Later peace was made, and the new lands were given to the Cthulhu spawn whilst the Old Ones held the sea and the older lands…From then on…the Antarctic remained the centre of the Old Ones’ civilisation, and all the…cities built there by the Cthulhu spawn were blotted out…the Cthulhu spawn…seem to have been composed of matter more widely different from…the substance of the Old Ones. They were able to undergo transformations and reintegrations impossible for their adversaries, and seem therefore to have originally come from even remoter gulfs of cosmic space. The Old Ones, but for their abnormal toughness…were strictly material, and must have had their absolute origin within the known space-time continuum…” (14).

Distances meant nothing to multi-dimensional beings like Cthulhu. Unlike Randolph Carter, whose many facets each possessed a separate personality, Cthulhu knew no such limitations. As an entity of a higher order, he was aware of all things everywhere, in one sense observed through the multiplied eyes and ears of his countless facets. There was no question of supremacy in the Old One’s myriad facets. He ruled them all, with no loss of potency, presence of mind, or unswerving purpose.

Third, perhaps the similarities between the Watcher in the Water and Cthulhu occur because they were inspired by a common myth, known to both Tolkien and Lovecraft.

The lore of Tolkien’s world is replete with references that he borrowed from Norse Mythology. For example, while the names Thorin Oakenshield, Dvalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bömbur, Nóri, Óinn, Thrór and Thrain, Fíli, Kíli, and Durin’s folk are first encountered by the general public in The Hobbit, they originated in Norse Mythology, namely:

“…the ancient poem Voluspá. The poem is so old that no-one knows precisely how old it is. It belongs to the 13th century ‘Poetic Edda’ collection from Iceland, but the poems in this collection are likely to have lived in the oral tradition for many centuries before they were written down. The name Voluspá means ‘the prophecy of the sibyl’, and in the poem a ‘Volva’ – the Norse counterpart to a sibyl – describes her visions of the beginning and end of the world…” (15).

Now, let’s extend this line of reasoning to the Watcher. One of the many Norse myths involves the Kraken, an octopus or squid so large that its body could be mistaken for an island. The Kraken first appears:

“…in the Örvar-Oddr. This is a 13th century Icelandic saga involving two sea monsters, the Hafgufa (sea mist) and the Lyngbakr (heather-back). The Hafgufa is supposed to be a reference to the Kraken…” (16).

Again, Tolkien never explicitly named the Kraken in Norse Mythology as his source for the Watcher in the Water’s inspiration. And Tolkien was not entirely comfortable with the term Nordic in association with his beloved Middle-earth:

“[Does] Middle-earth…corresponds spiritually to Nordic Europe? Not Nordic please! A word I personally dislike; it is associated, though of French origin, with racialist theories. Geographically, Northern is usually better. But examination will show that even this is inapplicable (geographically or spiritually) to ‘Middle-earth’. This is an old word, not invented by me…It meant the habitable lands of our world, set amid the surrounding Ocean. The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. But this is not a purely ‘Nordic’ area in any sense…” (17).

However, since he felt no compulsion in adding Norse Dwarves to his Middle-earth tapestry, why not their Kraken too? After all, the Watcher is a relatively minor creature added to dramatize the Fellowship’s entrance into the Mines of Moria.

Whence Cthulhu?

And what of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu? Where did Lovecraft draw his inspirations for the High Priest of the Old Ones? 


Cthulhu by NathanRosario:

Eminent Lovecraft Researcher – Dr. Robert M. Price – believes one source HPL used among the many can be found in a poem entitled “The Kraken” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (18).

I have reproduced the poem here so you can draw your own conclusions.

The Kraken

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1830).

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Wherein lies the common thread that may have inspired both Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and Tolkien’s the Watcher?

Alfred Lord Tennyson scholars state that his 1830 poem was influenced by the same myths that inspired Tolkien’s Watcher:

“The poem draws its images from the Norse legend of a gigantic sea-monster that supposedly preyed upon shipping off the coast of Norway (and was probably founded on the observation of an enormous cuttle-fish or squid), first described by Bishop Pontoppidan in A History of Norway (1752)” (19).

Interestingly, Lovecraft paints a Nordic figure – Gustaf Johansen, a Norwegian of some intelligence – as the only survivor to confront Lovecraft’s cosmic “Kraken,” Lord Cthulhu.

Again, Cthulhu is a multi-layered character referenced in more than one of Lovecraft’s tales. That why I cite that the Lord Tennyson poem, as only one source of many that inspired Lovecraft’s High Priest of the Great Old Ones.

Our Sources Shall Remain Nameless:

Beyond the common source – Norse mythology surrounding the Kraken – we just surveyed, let us return to our discussion of the Nameless Things.

Did Tolkien read Lovecraft? And did that subsequently influence the Cosmicistic themes that occasionally crop up in The Lord of the Rings and related works?

First, was Weird Tales, the magazine where the majority of Lovecraft Tales found publication, available in England during the period (between 1937 and 1949) when Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings?

In general, I would say largely not. To begin, only a small run of Weird Tales was available during the years that Tolkien wrote his Magnus Opus of Middle-earth:

“…[Weird Tales] Reprints…[were available]…in the UK [United Kingdom], where there were four different series. The first consisted of only three unnumbered and undated issues published in early 1942 by the infamous Gerald G. Swan, corresponding to abridged versions of the US issues September and November 1940, and January 1941. The second series was even briefer, with only a single issue (still unnumbered and undated) in late 1946 containing a mere three stories from the US October 1937 issue…” (20).

Next, based on the foregoing information, only one Lovecraft story may have been available to UK readers in those offerings:

“…No Lovecraft published in Weird Tales – October 1937.
No Lovecraft published in Weird Tales – September 1940.
The Mound [heavily abridged by Derleth] in Weird Tales – November 1940.
No Lovecraft published in Weird Tales – January 1941…” (21).

Notice that I say, “May have been available.”

For one, the UK November 1940 edition of Weird Tales itself was abridged. And two, the tale that was available – ghostwritten with Zealia Bishop entitled “The Mound,” – had been radically abridged by August Derleth (22). The full, original text of that story was not available to the public until 1989, well after Tolkien’s death in 1973.

So, while some Lovecraft tales – a lessor, abridged product at best – may have been in circulation in the UK during the time Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, it is highly unlikely that Tolkien read it, nor found inspiration therein.

Second, Tolkien made no mention of Lovecraft’s body of work among the writers that he read. For example, Tolkien did browse Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) and responded to literary gossip that he borrowed from Burroughs in assembling his Middle-earth Sagas – particularly surrounding the monstrous spider Shelob:

“…Source hunting is a great entertainment but I do not myself think it is particularly useful. I did read many of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ earlier works, but I developed a dislike for his Tarzan even greater than my distaste for spiders. Spiders I had met long before Burroughs began to write, and I do not think he is in any way responsible for Shelob. At any rate I retain no memory of the Siths or the Apts…” (23).

But nowhere does Tolkien mention Lovecraft, in the same way he referenced Burroughs. Were Lovecraft’s fiction more popular during the later years of Tolkien’s life, he may have forwarded a similar refutation of source hunting in regards to HPL’s influence on Middle-earth.

There is evidence that Tolkien may have read an anthology that contained a Lovecraftian tale after he wrote The Lord of the Rings. In July 1964, L. Sprague De Camp sent Tolkien a copy of his anthology Swords & Sorcery (24), which includes Lovecraft’s “The Doom that Came to Sarnath.” However, while Tolkien commented on several contributions to the anthology, he left Lovecraft’s piece without comment (25).

Perhaps Lovecraft and Tolkien’s Nameless Things theme was derived from a common literary thread.

Lovecraft thought well of Lord Dunsany (1878 to 1957). For instance, HPL characterized several of his early stories – including The White Ship – as his “Dunsanian pieces.” And Tolkien read Dunsany’s works extensively. He did so to judge the efficacy of his efforts to generate the effect/illusion of “reality” behind his Middle-earth Mythologies (26).

Now consider a passage of Dunsany’s that both Lovecraft and Tolkien may have read. In one of Dunsany’s works – The Latest Thing – published as part of the Fifty-one Tales (1915), there appears a remarkable selection:

“I saw an unclean-feeder by the banks of the river of Time. He crouched by orchards numerous with apples in a happy land of flowers; colossal barns stood near which the ancients had stored with grain, and the sun was golden on serene far hills behind the level lands. But his back was to all these things. He crouched and watched the river. And whatever the river chanced to send him down the unclean-feeder clutched at greedily with his arms, wading out into the water. Now there came in those days, and indeed still are, certain uncleanly cities on the river of Time; and from them fearfully nameless things came floating shapelessly by. And whenever the odor of these came down the river before them the unclean-feeder plunged into the dirty water and stood far out, expectant. And if he opened his mouth one saw these things on his lips…” (27).

Was this the tale that influenced Lovecraft and Tolkien’s Nameless Things? The timeframe is correct – it was written in 1915, well before Lovecraft and Tolkien’s use of the term. Dunsany’s Nameless Things are water-borne, timeless, and unwholesome in cast.

Ultimately, its influence on Lovecraft and Tolkien is at best circumstantial. Only the imaginations of Lovecraft and Tolkien could weave a small idea – whatever its source – into such a grand cosmic, menacing theme, either at the bottom of the sea, in the bowels of an early earth, or from the timeless expanse of outer space.


Lovecraft and Tolkien have immeasurably impacted the literary, cinematic, and entertainment landscapes. Beyond those segments of culture, the figments of their imaginations have become our own. And their nightmares, ours.

Characters from their mythologies, such as Cthulhu and Sauron, have become cultural icons across the globe.

Inevitably, questions and comparisons arise when the creative efforts of such giants parallel one another. Among the many seeming conjunctures in Lovecraft and Tolkien’s literary constellations, we briefly examined two: 1) their like use of the term Nameless Things and 2) similarities in Cthulhu and the Watcher in the Water.

Rather than there being an issue of cross-pollination, where Tolkien took his horror inspirations from Lovecraft, it appears that both men drew their creative insights in the instances we surveyed from common literary and mythic sources.

As with other virtuosos, even if we could deduce each ingredient added to the literary cauldron that became The Lord of the Rings, or The Call of Cthulhu, there is a synergy to Lovecraft and Tolkien’s creative efforts – the sum of the parts is greater than its individual elements. And therein lies the mystery that surrounds each man’s larger than life genius.


End Notes:

(1) J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letter to Sir Patrick Browne, 23 May 1972.

(2) J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes,

(3) “The Defence Remains Open!” An Essay by H.P. Lovecraft, April 1921.

(4) “Tolkienesque,”

(5) “Please Personally Tell Me What Lovecraftian Horror Is?”, November 19, 2012.

(6) “Lovecraft, Tolkien, and the nightmare as ‘a necessary drug for the mass consciousness’” by Matt Cardin,, 10 Jul 2013.

(7) The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien,1937-1949.

(8) Dagon, by H.P. Lovecraft, November 1919.

(9) The Whisperer in Darkness, by H.P. Lovecraft, September 1930.

(10) The Silmarillion, Chapter 3, by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien, 1978.

(11) The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.

(12) Ibid, 1926.

(13) Ibid, 1926.

(14). At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1931.

(15) “Rings, dwarves, elves, and dragons: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Old Norse influences,” University of the Highland and Island, Centre for Nordic Studies,

(16) The Legendary Kraken,, 26 March 2013.

(17) The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, 1981, p. 375-376.

(18) “Whence R’lyeh?-Part Two,” by Terence E. Hanley,, 23 April 2014.

(19) “’The Kraken’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1830): Commentary and Notes,” The Victorian Web, Literature, History, and Culture in the Age of Victoria,

(20) Weird Tales Checklists, Galactic Central,

(21) Lovecraft’s Fiction, Publication Order,

(22) “Publication,” The Mound (Short Story), Wikipedia.

(23) J.R.R. Tolkien Letter to Richard Lupoff, (date unknown).

(24) cf. J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, p. 622.

(25) Tolkien and Lovecraft,

(26) J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letter to Stanley Unwin, 16 December 1937.

(27) “The Latest Thing,” Fifty-one Tales by Lord Dunsany, 1915.

John A. DeLaughter M.Div., M.S., is a Data Security Analyst, Lovecraft essayist, horror, and fantasy author. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash, The Eldritch Literary Review Journal, and The Chamber. Follow John and all things Lovecraft on Twitter @HPL_JDeLaughter. The first book, Night of the Kwatee, in John’s epic fantasy trilogy, will be published by Night Horse Publishing House (upcoming). John lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi.

26 responses to “Lovecraft and Tolkien: Lovecraftian Horrors in Middle-earth?

  1. Pingback: Cthulhu e Sauron – L'Anima del Mostro·

  2. Still thinking about Lovecraft, Tolkien, and Lewis, it hit me. What’s a big, obvious thing that all of their characters spend a lot of time doing?

    They walk!

    Lovecraft’s protagonists are constantly walking the streets of New England towns full of antiquarian interest and precolonial shadows. The protagonist of Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet is introduced to us, not by name, but as the Pedestrian with a capital P; he’s Ransom, on a walking tour in the English countryside; and when he gets to the planet Malacandra, he gets almost everywhere he goes for the whole time by walking (he’s in small boats briefly, too). Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are, in the most basic way, stories of long, long walks. Lovecraft himself was a great one for walks, and Lewis and Tolkien had a walking tour to Fairford, for example, that I wrote about for Beyond Bree, the Tolkienian newsletter.

    And I think all this walking appeals to a lot of readers. Some of us are able to go for interesting walks and others who now can’t might remember when we could. Deep down, for many of us there is, I suspect, the feeling that walking is the right way for people to get around much of the time.

    But then also there’s the appeal of the great American road trip. In Lovecraft, you have the protagonist of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” traveling around on the cheap, and a major component of the story, one I relished today as I reread it, was his bus (motor coach) ride. Like I said in another place, that bus never leaves the Old, Weird America at any point on its circuit. In Lewis, there’s Jane’s delectable small-train journey between St. Anne’s and Edgestow (That Hideous Strength). Tolkien and Lewis rode inter-town trains. Lewis liked the slow train between Oxford and Cambridge that someone nicknamed the Cantab (Cantabriensis, i.e. Cambridge) Crawler.

    So I think there’s an element of nostalgia that we feel, when we read much of their writing, for walking or at least the idea of walking.

    By the way, that was a huge deal for Arthur Machen, Lovecraft’s predecessor and also contemporary in the writing of weird fiction. See his wonderful autobiography Far-Off Things that evokes walking in bygone rural Wales, and then his London Adventure relating to pre-World War 2 London. I guess there are English writers still who seek to evoke the experience of long walks, e.g. Robert MacFarlane in The Old Ways, or even Iain Sinclair in London Orbital — books I haven’t read.

    I think there’s something in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “Long Trudge” trilogy that all three of our authors (HPL, CSL, JRRT) might have liked. I refer to A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and The Broken Road. These I have read. Recommended.

    There’s a volume of Lovecraft’s essays with his travelogues, but my impression is that he doesn’t get across very much sense of what it was like for him to be out on foot; a lot is historical information he cribbed from books. Lewis’s wonderful letters include some accounts of walking tours that, for me, are among the most enjoyable of any writing I have read — truly.

    Absolutely their walking affected their writing, e.g. Tolkien’s tour of the Alps when he was a young man. Check out a photo of the Lauterbrunnen

    and Tolkien’s painting of Rivendell in The Hobbit — not an original observation of mine.

    I think we do need a photo album of Lovecraft’s Old, Weird America.

    Dale Nelson


  3. Thanks for the above recommendations, Dale; and thanks also to John, whose article has instigated such a wide-ranging and informative comments section.

    As to HPL and ‘King Kong’: I’m open to correction but I’ve not come across any reference to him having seen it. It may be mentioned in one of his many letters, of course.

    Sadly, he doesn’t seem to have had a terribly high opinion of the motion picture, not even when it comes to what we now regard as classics such as the 1931 ‘Dracula’. We do know that he saw the 1925 version of ‘The Lost World’, a truly brilliant work that was a sort of forerunner of ‘Kong’. But there is no record of his reaction to it.

    I think that in 1933, the year of ‘King Kong”s release, he saw ‘The Invisible Man’ and enjoyed it a lot — as he had with ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ in 1925. And he spoke approvingly of deMille’s ’34 ‘Cleopatra’ [Credit where it’s due Depart.: I’m using information by memory from Joshi’s collection ‘Primal Sources’ as I can’t find what I’ve done with it at the moment!]

    As to his love of ‘Berkeley Square’, I did a not-too-serious piece on that a couple of years ago in these very pages:


  4. Question for the Lovecraft experts: Had he read David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus? My impression is that he had. If so, there’s a book that Lovecraft, Lewis, and Tolkien had in common.


  5. Let me bring this discussion back a little to Lovecraft, though! An interesting topic — at least it sure is interesting to me — concerns the overlap of weird fiction authors whom Lovecraft and Lewis had both read. Some years ago I published “‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ by C. S. Lewis” in Pierre Comtois’s Fungi ‘zine. I won’t attempt to summarize that long article here, but I could mentions some weird fiction authors whom Lovecraft and Lewis read and, for the most part at least, enjoyed. These included William Beckford (Vathek), Nathaniel Hawthorne (The House of the Seven Gables), Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Henry Rider Haggard (She, etc.), George MacDonald (Lilith), William Morris (the Ballantine Adult Fantasy issue of The Water of the Wondrous Isles has a blurb from Lovecraft on the front and a blurb from Lewis on the back! — thought I guess this isn’t really weird fiction), Algernon Blackwood (extensively), Walter de la Mare (The Return), William Hope Hodgson (The Night Land), H. G. Wells (if he should be listed here), etc….. I don’t know if Lewis had read M. R. James’s Ghost Stories of an Antiquary — such an important book in weird fiction — but Lovecraft -and Tolkien- certainly had.

    Dale Nelson


  6. In my eagerness, I wasn’t clear in my previous message, as regards C. S. Lewis’s library and the titles in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series.

    What I meant was that there was a great deal of overlap between Carter’s selections and Lewis’s books except in regard to Lovecraft and Lovecraftian authors. Carter issued The Doom That came to Sarnath etc. Lewis did have some exposure to Lovecraft, but not very much so far as I can tell.
    I should also have observed that there were some original novels in the Ballantine series, and of course Lewis wouldn’t have had the chance to acquire books that hadn’t been written when he died in Nov. 1963, such as the Deryni books, Red Moon and Black Mountain, etc. If you take away the Lovecraftian books and the Ballantine originals, it’s amazing how much overlap there is. This includes, surprisingly, the Cabell books. Lewis’s library included The Silver Stallion, The High Place, Figures of Earth, Domnei, and The Cream of the Jest (as well as Jurgen and There Were Two Pirates, not in the Ballantine series). These might have been Joy’s books. I’m not aware offhand of Lewis mentioning having read Cabell. Nevertheless, there they are in his library in any event.
    What were the books in the Ballantine series that Lewis -could- have had in his library — books that -were- published before his death? I’ve never tabulated them, but I can say he doesn’t seem to have owned Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, Evangeline Walton’s The Virgin and the Swine (Ballantine title: The Island of the Mighty), or Arthur Machen’s The Three Impostors — to mention three. It would be interesting to refine things a little and figure out: of the books published in -England- that were available in Lewis’s lifetime, and that were reprinted by Carter, how many did Lewis not own?
    I think it would come to just a few.
    If Lewis had been asked by a publisher to edit a series of fantasy reprints and he had agreed, I suspect it would have looked remarkably like Carter’s. I suppose Lewis’s series might have been a bit stronger on Rider Haggard than Carter’s was. Maybe Owen Barfield’s The Silver Trumpet would have been included. I wonder if he would have tried to get Charles Williams’s novels into paperback for his series…


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