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Tolkien had a lot of influence from religion, mythology and geography as mentioned here to create what seems like an entire literary universe. It's also not uncommon for authors to be influenced by certain people they know or meet.

Is there a character(s) in the Tolkien universe who was based on a real-life person (eg. family member, close friend etc)?

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    Comment not an answer since I don’t have a source for it: I have heard that the Balrog was a reference to some member of the illustrious Hungarian Balogh clan, whom Tolkien had known at Oxford and not particularly liked. I was told this by a friend who was close to a descendant Balogh a couple of generations down the line; so I can’t vouch for how much truth, if any, it contains. – PLL Nov 30 '15 at 17:25
  • @PLL - That is indeed very interesting! Would be great if you found any evidence of this :) – user35594 Dec 3 '15 at 23:46
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    Googling just a little, Lord Thomas Balogh (1905–85) seems to fit the bill perfectly. He was a political economist, and a prominent don in Oxford from the 40’s onward; the first biographical sketch I found mentions that he made many enemies, and “had a conspiratorial nature and deliberately kept to the shadows”; another longer one says “his hero was Don Giovanni […] because of the lack of regret with which he descended into the infernal regions.” No hard evidence, but seems awfully plausible… – PLL Dec 4 '15 at 23:35
  • @PLL - Fantastic, much appreciated. You should consider posting that as an answer as it is, as you mentioned, very plausible :) – user35594 Dec 5 '15 at 0:21
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Beren and Lúthien

Beren and Lúthien's story, from the Silmarillion, was based on Tolkien's wife Edith dancing for him in the woods near the military hospital where he was recovering after he was invalided out of WWI. She was Lúthien, he was Beren.

The Tale of Beren and Lúthien was regarded as the central part of his legendarium by Tolkien. The story and the characters reflect the love of Tolkien and his wife Edith. Particularly, the event when Edith danced for him in a glade with flowering hemlocks seems to have inspired his vision of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien. Also some sources indicate that Edith's family disapproved of Tolkien originally, due to his being a Catholic. On Tolkien's grave, J. R. R. Tolkien is referred to as Beren and Edith is referred to as Lúthien.
- Wikipedia

And:

Lúthien was largely inspired from Edith Bratt and Tolkien often referred to Edith as "my Lúthien." It is mentioned that around 1917, while Tolkien and Bratt went walking in the woods at Roos, Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock. This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien.
- Tolkien Gateway

And:

The Fall of Gondolin (and the birth of Eärendil) was written in hospital and on leave after surviving the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The kernel of the mythology, the matter of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren, arose from a small woodland glade filled with 'hemlocks' (or other white umbellifers) near Roos on the Holderness peninsula – to which I occasionally went when free from regimental duties while in the Humber Garrison in 1918.
- The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Letter #165

And:

I have at last got busy about Mummy's grave. .... The inscription I should like is:
EDITH MARY TOLKIEN
1889-1971
Lúthien
: brief and jejune, except for Lúthien, which says for me more than a multitude of words: for she was (and knew she was) my Lúthien.

July 13. Say what you feel, without reservation, about this addition. I began this under the stress of great emotion & regret – and in any case I am afflicted from time to time (increasingly) with an overwhelming sense of bereavement. I need advice. Yet I hope none of my children will feel that the use of this name is a sentimental fancy. It is at any rate not comparable to the quoting of pet names in obituaries. I never called Edith Lúthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos...

For ever (especially when alone) we still met in the woodland glade, and went hand in hand many times to escape the shadow of imminent death before our last parting.
- The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Letter #340, to his son shortly after his wife's death. Emphasis in the original.

Their shared headstone features the names Beren and Lúthien:

enter image description here


Samwise Gamgee

Samwise Gamgee was modeled on the batmen Tolkien knew in WWI.

My ‘Samwise’ is indeed (as you note) largely a reflexion of the English soldier ...the memory of the privates and my batmen that I knew in the 1914 War, and recognized as so far superior to myself.
Unpublished letter from JRR Tolkien to H. Cotton Minchin

enter image description here


The Sandymans

For those who don't recall, the Sandymans, Ted and his father, were the millers of Hobbiton, who conspired with Sharkey. According to Tolkien Gateway:

It is possible J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by the miller's son at Sarehole mill, Warwickshire, England.

Humphrey Carpenter wrote in his biography of Tolkien:

There were two millers [at Sarehole Mill, near Tolkien's childhood home], father and son. The old man had a black beard, but it was the son who frightened the boys with his white dusty clothes and sharp-eyed face. [Tolkien] named him 'the White Ogre'. When he yelled at them to clear off they would scamper away from the yard...
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter, quoted on Tolkien Gateway

And Tolkien himself wrote:

I never liked the looks of the Young miller, but his father, the Old miller, had a black beard, and he was not named Sandyman.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Foreword to the Second Edition"


The Dead Marshes

Not a character, obviously, but worth mentioning - Tolkien fought in the disastrous Somme Campaign in WWI, and this nightmarish, shattered landscape of mud and corpses formed the basis of The Lord of the Rings' Dead Marshes.

Personally I do not think that either war (and of course not the atomic bomb) had any influence upon either the plot or the manner of its unfolding. Perhaps in landscape. The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.
- The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Letter #226

enter image description here

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    Chief pan -> chief part. Also Sandyman. – Deer Hunter Nov 29 '15 at 22:19
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    @DeerHunter - do you have a hardcopy of the Letters? I'm using a PDF and I want to know if it is incorrect. Both words make sense in context, but I can't find a definitive source for either "pan" or "part". Thanks for the tip – Wad Cheber Nov 29 '15 at 22:37
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    @JK. - No, "invalided" means "discharged from military service due to wounds or illness", in this case, Trench Fever. Towards the end of the Somme Campaign, Tolkien caught Trench Fever and was invalided to a military hospital in Britain. – Wad Cheber Nov 29 '15 at 23:01
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    Don't you mean the Sandymen? As in "ProudFEET!" ;-) – Rand al'Thor Nov 29 '15 at 23:08
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    @WadCheber - Gosh blimey, very nice answer, thank you! Particularly The Dead Marshes reference, harrowing stuff! – user35594 Dec 3 '15 at 23:42
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Treebeard's voice was based on that of Tolkien's good friend C.S. Lewis.

From Humphrey Carpenter's J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p. 258:

When work was resumed, Tolkien drew up outlines for the end of the story - which he did not imagine was more than a few chapters away - and began to sketch the episode where two of the hobbits encounter Treebeard, the being who was the ultimate expression of Tolkien's love and respect for trees. When eventually he came to write this chapter (so he told Neville Coghill) he modelled Treebeard's way of speaking, 'Hrum, Hroom,' on the booming voice of C.S.Lewis.

Faramir was partially based on Tolkien himself!

Tolkien wrote in a letter to a fan (Tolkien's Letters, Letter 232):

As far as any character is 'like me' it is Faramir - except that I lack what all my characters possess (let the psychoanalysts note!) Courage.

[...]

For when Faramir speaks of his private vision of the Great Wave, he speaks for me. That vision and dream has been ever with me - and has been inherited (as I only discovered recently) by one of my children.

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins?

It has often been postulated that the Sackville-Baggins family was based on the real-life family of Sackville-West. Specifically, Lobelia may have been partially inspired by Vita Sackville-West. I've been unable to find a primary source for this; the best I have is this discussion thread, quoting this discussion thread in Swedish, quoting Simon Tolkien as saying:

Vita Sackville-West has long been considered the source for the character Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Besides being q [sic!] popular writer, she was one of England's greatest gardeners, and her rose garden is the highlight of the tour at her former home.

However large a pinch of salt you may want to take with this, we do have Word of God evidence for another inspiration for Lobelia. From Tolkien's Letters, Letter 177, in which he writes to his publisher about various critics and their commentary on Lord of the Rings:

My correspondence is now increased by letters of fury against critics and the broadcast. One elderly lady - in part the model for 'Lobelia' indeed, though she does not suspect it - would I think certainly have set about Auden (and others) had they been in range of her umbrella...

  • Thank you, I never knew Tolkien had based himself somewhat as Faramir. Then again, I didn't think he based himself as any character! Also, I'll upvote your other great answers with a few minutes in between in case the upvotes get registered as 'fraud' ;) – user35594 Dec 3 '15 at 23:44
  • Hehe will do! And thanks, you made me realise that my computer clock was apparently 15 minutes behind so I've updated it :) – user35594 Dec 3 '15 at 23:59
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  • Gerontius "The Old" Took, whose longevity (his sole defining character trait, given that he never appears in the book) was based on Tolkien's grandfathers:

    [The Old Took] has part of his origin in the fact that both my grandfathers were longeval. My father's father was in his eleventh year when Waterloo was fought; my mother's father, a much younger man, was born before Queen Victoria came to the throne, and survived till his ninety-ninth year, missing his 'hundred' (with which he was as much concerned as Bilbo was to surpass the Old Took) only because he mowed a large lawn that spring and then sat in the wind without a jacket.

    Unsent letter to Mr. & Mrs. Kloos. Published in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Reader's Companion

  • Gaffer Gamgee was based on an old man who lived in Lamorna Cove, in Cornwall, where Tolkien once had a holiday:

    It started with a holiday about 30 years ago at Lamorna Cove (then wild and fairly inaccessible). There was a curious local character, an old man who used to go about swapping gossip and weather-wisdom and such like. To amuse my boys I named him Gaffer Gamgee, and the name became part of family lore to fix on old chaps of the kind. At that time I was beginning on The Hobbit.

    The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 257: To Christopher Bretherton. July 1964

  • Though perhaps reaching a bit, in 1945 Tolkien started writing a novel called The Notion Club Papers, about an arts discussion club at Oxford, an affectionate parody of Tolkien's own writing circle, the Inklings. The main character of the book, an English professor named Lowdham who has lucid dreams about Númenor, was possibly based on Tolkien's friend Hugo Dyson

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    Side note: Lamorna Cove is still wild and fairly inaccessible, as far as it's possible to be so in 21st-century England. – Rand al'Thor Nov 30 '15 at 0:22
  • Thank you, I also found Gaffer Gamgee quite a funny name! – user35594 Dec 3 '15 at 23:49
20

Tom Bombadil was named after Tolkien's son's doll.

E.g. from here:

Tom Bombadil was originally a Dutch doll also belonging to Michael Tolkien. John, his brother, put the doll down a lavatory. Bombadil was rescued and Tolkien wrote The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, originally published in Oxford Magazine in 1934.

The original source for this seems to be in Tolkien's Letters, Letter 19 (cited e.g. here).

14

Did Tolkien create any characters based on people he knew?

He did indeed create some which were very obviously modelled on his own family. Not in the Middle-Earth legendarium, but since neither the title nor text of your question specifies that particular world, let's look at ... Roverandom!

From the publisher's official description:

In 1925, while the Tolkiens were on holiday at Filey in Yorkshire, four-year-old Michael lost his beloved little lead dog on the beach. To comfort him, J.R.R.Tolkien wrote Roverandom, a story about a real dog, Rover, who is turned into a toy by a wizard. When dropped on the beach by a small boy, the toy is transported to the moon along the path of light the moon makes when it shines over the sea. The Man in the Moon renames him ‘Roverandom’ and gives him wings.

So we have a character, known in the book as "little boy Two", who's very obviously based on Tolkien's second son Michael; and the boy's mother, who buys Roverandom from the shop for sixpence, who's similarly based on Tolkien's wife Edith.

If you count toys, then the eponymous main character of Roverandom is based on Michael's little toy dog which he lost on the beach.

0

I believe I have found something really quite interesting indeed when researching my family tree.

J. R. R. Tolkien lived at Gipsy Green, on the Teddesley Park Estate, near Penkridge in 1916 where he formed his ideas for lord of the Rings. He and Edith would probably picked up heir provisions from the Grocers in Acton Trussell. I have a William (Bill) Mellor Wall being the grocer there in 1901 dying in 1928. He was born at Gipsey Green (1851 Census) to a single woman Rebecca Wall. She being the daughter of Teddesley Hay (Gipsey Green) born 1823. She being the daughter of Samuel (Sam) Wall of Teddersley Coppice (Gipsey Green) Farm Labourer . Also in the family are Sam Wall Woodman 1810 1872 of Woodbank Cottage his son a Gamekeeper. Joseph Wall 1813 1882 head Agricultural labourer, Joseph Wall 1837 -1882 Gamekeeper

There is also George Wall born about 1845 admitted to the asylum in 1896.

Indeed generations of the Wall family were estate workers of Teddesley Hall. they are listed here: Tenants and Workers on the Teddesley Estate, along with the Bagnall and Cotton Tolkienesque surnames.

There are links to Freemasonry in the family plus Fanny Wall 1852-1924 married a Stone Mason Charles Atkins 1851-1895. being from a line of stone masons. Haywood Butts, Colwich (Next to The Ring see below) One of the sons being William H Atins born 1859 a gardener at Deans Hill in 1881. Fanny is my 3rd Great Aunt connecting to my Idiens family with connections to freemasonry.

I also came across some local history in Great Haywood: The Ring, Great Haywood.

Lord Hatherton moved all his estate workers into a construction called The Ring in 1810, demolished in 1965 but very much a feature of the village before then and almost certainly known about by Tolkien. He also owned Hatherton Colliery where many of the workers ended up. In other words...."The Ring to Rule them All and in the darkness bind them."

Someone must have noticed this connection before.

Thanks for the original poster for asking the question and prompting me to dig a little deeper. I stumbled on this question whilst looking up something else technical on this website.


Update 2017 Rebecca Wall went on to marry a John Dawson (1832-1890) They lived at Gypsey Green according to the 1881 census. The Teddesley Hall records have a John Dawson as the keeper 1863-1867. His son's baptism records confirms him as gardener in 1891. She had 7 legitimate children with him. Her daughter Anne Dawson (1849-1874) married a William Sollom (1850-1920) in 1873 but dies in 1874.(Sollom sounds a bit like Gollum a bit tenuous but read on)

Her son Thomas Dawson (1859-1939) was at Gypsey Green in 1881 then lived next door at Lords Wood as a Waggoner, he had 5 children. His son Thomas William (Bill) Dawson (1891-1915) was groom at Teddesley Hall stables but died in France during WWI (9 May 1915). His brother Edward John Dawson (1900-1918) also died in Belgium during WWI.

Her other son Fred Dawson (1902-1965) (sounds a bit like Frodo) married the Postmaster Edwin Cope(1855-1928)'s daughter Hilda Jane Cope (1905-1986) in 1929 becoming the postmaster himself sometime between 1905 and 1911 where Edwin Cope becomes a gardener.

So the young Fred would have been trusted with Tolkien's mail whilst his brother's died in battle. His half brother William Wall (Bill see above) would have been supplying him tatters. This is during the time Tolkien was convalescing at Gypsey Green where he had time to imagine his future works.

Update Feb 2018

Sam is definitely family to Tolkien s well.

From the Census:-

Samuel Wall

1851 Gipsey Green, Penkridge, Staffordshire, England ( J.R.R Tolkien was to later live here when he wrote/formulated Lord of the Rings, he is also related via his sister Mary Wall (1781-1864) marrying John Bagnall (1779-1859) his brother William (Bill) Bagnall marrying Ann Jackson (1776-1810) their son Randle Bagnall marriage to Sophia Shirley (1798-1856) in Brewood her mother Ann Winfield(1765-) 2nd marriage to John Brooks (1762-1847) his brother Edward Edward Brooks(1764-1802) (great Grandfather of Edith Tolkien) via Alice Brooks (1796) married to Francis Bratt (1797-1864) his son William Bratt (1822-1862) his daughter Frances Bratt (1859-1903) Edith Tolkien's mother.

1851 Farm Labourer and Head with Hannah son Joseph 35 Farm Labourer Robert 25 farm Labourer Elizabeth 19 Grandson William 8 Granddaughter Ann 1

4 Jan 1854 Gypsey Green, Teddesley Coppice,Acton Trussell and Bednall, Staffordshire, England Lord Hatherton's Journal This morning an old Teddesley labourer, Samuel Wall, had his hand torn off by machinery at the farm. Lister and MacKenzie attended him and took his arm off below the elbow.

10 Jan 1854 Gypsey Green, Teddesley Coppice,Acton Trussell and Bednall, Staffordshire, England Lord Hatherton's Journal We walked through the snow to see old Samuel Wall at Gypsy Green who has had his arm amputated. He is 59 and bore the operation remarkably well and is going on well.

1871 Acton Trussel Agricultural Worker living next to Grocers Shop

You can follow all the hops on the tree here via some very hobbity names and locations:-

https://www.geni.com/people/Samuel-Wall/6000000075964508880?through=6000000076100410973

His grandchildren stayed on the Teddesley Estate

https://www.geni.com/people/Edward-Dawson/6000000076100589210?through=6000000076101853913

https://www.geni.com/people/Thomas-Dawson/6000000076101410854?through=6000000076100589210

Edward Dawson and Thomas Dawson sadly died in WWI whilst Edith Bratt was staying there.

https://www.geni.com/people/Frederick-Dawson/6000000076101853913

Frederick Dawson was Tolkien's local postmaster at a very young age on the Teddesley Estate.

https://www.geni.com/people/William-Mellor/6000000076101715828?through=6000000076101060845

William Dawson was Tolkien's local grocer on the Teddesley Estate

His other Grandson Edwin Wall was born on the Teddesley Esate then lived at Wightwick working as a lock keeper Edith Bratt's mother was born at Wightwick just beforehand.

https://www.geni.com/people/Edwin-Wall/6000000075963789935?through=6000000075963980821

His daughter my great grandmother married my grandfather whose mother was from Cheltenham.

The other Grandson my Great Grandmother's brother was a renowned gardener first working at

https://www.geni.com/people/Charles-Wall/6000000076103214821?through=6000000075963789935

Charles Wall was Domestic under Gardener at Mount Road Tettenhall in 1901 This is on Grotto Lane next to mount road. It is at the bottom of a large cliff like the Doors of Durin but mysteriously does not lead anywhere. https://www.geni.com/photo/view/6000000016938415303?photo_id=6000000076102878069

He was made head gardener for West Park Wolverhampton by 1911 staying at the lodge there till his death.

Updated July 2018 Three Dawson brothers died during WWI (Tolkien's next door neighbour's and relatives via his wife mentioned above) This was noteworthy at the time desite the many casualties if the war. Edward Dawson was initially excuse from the army due to flat-feet and a deformed middle finger on his right hand.(Could not wear a ring??) The medical rules were then relaxed so he was conscripted. They were also members of a secret society, The Oddfellowship with secret signs and code words. The met at Teddesley Hall next door for meetings held by Catholic Lord Hatherton.

https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/cuttlestones/catalogue-id-cuttle10161/lot-7b3232e6-5efc-4279-9dfc-a8f000b5a829

Extract from the Birmingham Mail circa 1918

Birmingham Mail The Tragedy of war is sadly exemplified by the death of three sons of Mr and Mrs T Dawson of Lordswood Teddesley near Penkridge L Corps Thomas William he eldest son enlisted in the Rifle Brigade in September 1914 went to France in March 1915 and was killed in action on May 9 of that year.L corps Harry Dawson the second son enlisted in Queens Victoria's Rifles (London Regiment on November 1914 went to France on Aug 17, 1915 and was wounded July 1 1916. he returned to France in march 1917 was reported missing five months later on the 16th of August 1917) and on Jun 28 .... was officially reported as having died. Pte Edward John, the third son, was officially reported killed on the 19th July last. On attaining the age of 18 he joined the Durham Light infantry on Jan 31. He spent the first part of his training at a Midland Camp and completed it in Yorkshire, sailing to France on the 2nd of July. The Commanding Officer in a letter expressing his sympathy of the officers, non commissioned officers and men, says - "Although having been with the battalion only 14 days, he proved himself a thourgh soldier and a very efficient Lewis gunman. Prior to enlisting he was in the employ of Lord Hatherton on the in-door staff at Teddesley. All three brothers were members of the Loyal Teddesley Lodge of Oddfellows, Penkridge. Also this more recent article. https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/three-brothers-went-fight-world-14117903

I also visited Gypsey Green and was told by the farmer next door that it had been own the the Underhill family and famed for it's impressive garden.

  • 3
    I think your answer would be better if it focused less on your family history, and more on which Tolkien characters may have been based on people he knew. – Blackwood Nov 8 '16 at 22:38
  • Very interesting, thanks for your answer! Even if your answer focused on your family history, it is an interesting read! – user35594 Nov 17 '16 at 17:36

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