The works particularly of Tolkien and some other writers like Robert Howard and Poul Anderson are sometimes described as being influenced by "that Northern Thing", meaning mythology and medieval tales of the Germanic peoples of northern Europe.

Who introduced that expression and in what context and for what purpose was it used?

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    Are you sure it's a "thing" and not just some phrase made up by a few acquaintances of yours? Edit the question to provide some evidence.
    – Spencer
    Dec 3, 2016 at 17:55
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    While evidence would be helpful, a simple google suggests that "That Northern Thing" is, in fact, a thing. However, I wonder if "thing" refers not to a general indistinct "thing" but rather "thing", the old English/Norse/Germanic term for an assembly. Dec 3, 2016 at 18:23
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  • Doesn't the site you linked to in your comment attribute it to W. H. Auden?
    – user14111
    Dec 3, 2016 at 19:30
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    I've also seen it attributed to Tolkien himself and to Lin Carter. Which is why I was wondering if anyone knows of a confirmed source.
    – Yora
    Dec 3, 2016 at 19:41

1 Answer 1


The phrase "the [whole] Northern thing" may have its origin in the poet W. H. Auden's talk "Tolkien as a Man" at a meeting of the Tolkien Society of America in New York. Gerald Jonas reported on that meeting in his article "The Elvish Mode" in the January 15, 1966, issue of The New Yorker. Torisuda, in a comment, kindly provided the following quotation from behind the New Yorker paywall:

"Tolkien is fascinated with the whole Northern thing," Auden said. "People seem to divide—they're attracted by either the Northern thing or the Southern thing, by Scandinavia or the Mediterranean—and for Tolkien north is a sacred direction."

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