Walking Through Rivendell

About twenty-five years ago, I went on a trip around Europe. I was living in Canada at the time and this was my first big holiday by myself, so it was a Big Deal. The trip brought its own set of challenges and experiences, most of them positive, as well as some marvellous memories.

This was the view from where I stayed
This was the view from my chalet. Pretty nice, hey?

One of the places I visited was the valley of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I stayed there for a couple of nights, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the nearby waterfall and the gentle chime of cowbells. It was an extraordinarily beautiful place, and I felt the spectacular landscape had a fairy-tale quality quite unlike anywhere else I’d been before. While I was there, I also took the cog railway up to the top of the Jungfrau mountain, taking photographs of the scenery along the way.

Ascending the Jungfrau
Ascending the Jungfrau

What I didn’t know at the time was that J.R.R Tolkien had visited the same valley in 1911, and was so taken by its beauty that he used it as the basis for Rivendell, home to Elrond and the Elves. (Apparently, on the same trip, he also picked up an illustration that inspired his description of Gandalf.) If you look at Tolkien’s painting of Rivendell (which I don’t have permission to reproduce here, so here’s a link), you can see the similarities between his fantasy world and the real one.

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau - the original Pass of Carahdras?
The glacier on top of the Jungfrau – the original Pass of Carahdras?

I recently wrote a post about the landscape that had inspired my own book, Oak and Mist. Though not quite as striking as the Lauterbrunnen valley and its towering mountains, the park near my childhood home holds both beauty and memory for me, making it the perfect starting point for my story. And this is one of the things I love about writing fantasy – blending the real world with the one I create.

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau
The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau – look familiar?

I know you can visit Hobbiton and some of the other locations for the LOTR movies in New Zealand, and that they are spectacular. However, to walk through the actual landscape that inspired Tolkien to create Middle-Earth is quite something as well (even if I didn’t realise it at the time) πŸ™‚

So how about you? Has your work been inspired by real places you’ve visited or lived in? Or have you walked in the footsteps of your literary heroes?

 

21 thoughts on “Walking Through Rivendell

  1. In the footsteps of my literary heroes – when I was in my early twenties, the author I most read was Hermann Hesse. One winter I went to Southern Germany for a week, to do some winter walking in the hills there. On the second night I walked into the small town of Tubingen, found a room for the night, and then went out for a walk. At the end of the road was a plaque on a wall stating that Hesse had worked in the bookshop there as a young man, and I had no idea at the time that was the case. Hardly Earth-shattering, but it felt like serendipity at the time.

    1. Thank you πŸ™‚ – I wanted to do a throw back post and only recently found out about the Tolkien-Lauterbrunnen connection, so it seemed a good choice. It was the most gorgeous place, I think it would inspire anyone.

  2. A beautiful country and the pictures ARE very similar. I think I can identify with your discovery as I believe I have found some of Tolkien’s ideas for locations in my own area of Wales. My family (also fans of Lord of the Rings) tolerate my suspicions but don’t encourage them.

    1. Oh yes, I definitely think he was inspired by Wales as well – when he describes the Misty Mountains that’s always the place that comes to mind. πŸ™‚ Also I think there’s a little bit of Fangorn to be found in Wales. I’d be intrigued to know which places you think correspond.

      1. I think Montgomery Castle is a bit like Minas Tirith with its sheer cliff and views over flat farmlands. And if Rodney’s Pillar on top of the highest of the Breidden Hills had an eye it could see for miles. Yesterday I went through Morda and passed the Black Gate on the way to Sainsburys in Oswestry (or Osgiliath). How about DInas Bran near Llangollen for Weathertop?
        There are other clues about, but I just had to say that I took my son to university (Birmingham) today. He gave me a bit of a tour of the older part of the campus and I found myself in a semi circle of green space looking up at an emormous tower, Old Joe, supposedly an inspiration for Orthanc.

      2. Yes, Montgomery Castle is quite imposing – you’re right! And I know Dinas Bran pretty well – my mother’s family is from Llangollen and so we’ve spent a bit of time there. I agree, a great candidate for Weathertop. And the Horseshoe Pass looking through the mountains into Wales seems a good candidate for Rohan as well. The mountains of North Wales have always seemed thick with magic and mystery to me, so perhaps Tolkien felt the same way. And I didn’t know that about Old Joe – will have to look it up!

  3. I visited as many LOTR and Hobbit spots in NZ last year, inc Hobbiton which was cool in a cheesy kind of way. As for real place my books are full of them. My next book is centred in and around central and south London which I know well.

    1. Lucky you! I lived so close to NZ and never went there, which seems mad, looking back. And of course, we draw on what we know when we write – even fantasy lands have their roots in reality somewhere. πŸ™‚

  4. Ah, Lauterbrunnen! I visited Switzerland this June and this valley left quite an impression on me! The 72 waterfalls, the cable cars and cogwheel trains, the stunning views… I actually wrote a few posts about our travels. Just the thought of it all makes me dreamy again. πŸ™‚ I didn’t know it inspired LOTR though. It’s interesting to know how different the two spots are – where it was shot (and where I have not been either – YET) and where the author drew inspiration from.

    1. Yes, it is interesting. I think Peter Jackson did a wonderful job with the locations for the film, and New Zealand is certainly filled with gorgeous scenery. Yet Lauterbrunnen has a different quality again – I remember thinking how like a fairy tale it was, even before I knew that it had inspired Tolkien.

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