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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit One: Introducing Tolkien and His Worlds


"Creation of the World"

Excerpt from "Voluspo,"
the first poem in the Elder Edda

Othin (Odin), chief of the gods, aware of impending disaster and eager for knowledge, calls on a certain "Volva," probably a wise-woman of the race of giants, bidding her rise from the grave and prophesy. First she tells him of the past, of the creation of the world . . . .

Hearing I ask | from the holy races,
From Heimdall's sons, | both high and low;
Thou wilt, Valfather, | that well I relate
Old tales I remember | of men long ago.

I remember yet | the giants of yore,
Who gave me bread | in the days gone by;
Nine worlds I knew, | the nine in the tree
With mighty roots | beneath the mold.

Of old was the age | when Ymir lived;
Sea nor cool waves | nor sand there were;
Earth had not been, | nor heaven above,
But a yawning gap, | and grass nowhere.

Then Bur's sons lifted | the level land,
Mithgarth the mighty | there they made;
The sun from the south | warmed the stones of earth,
And green was the ground | with growing leeks.

The sun, the sister | of the moon, from the south
Her right hand cast | over heaven's rim;
No knowledge she had | where her home should be,
The moon knew not | what might was his,
The stars knew not | where their stations were.

Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, | and council held;
Names then gave they | to noon and twilight,
Morning they named, | and the waning moon,
Night and evening, | the years to number.

* * *

Heimdall = watchman of the gods

Valfather = father of the slain = Othin, chief of the gods, so called because slain warriors were brought to him at Valhall, the hall of the slain, by the Valkyries, the choosers of the slain

Nine worlds = the worlds of the gods called the Aesir and the Vanir (Asgarth and Vanaheim), of the elves (Alfheim), of humans (Mithgarth), of the giants (Jotunheim), of fire (Muspellsheim, of the dark elves (Svartalfaheim), of the dead (Niflheim), and presumably of the dwarfs (perhaps Nithavellir, but the ninth world is uncertain)

The tree = the great ash-tree Yggdrasil, symbolizing the universe

Ymir = the giant out of whose body the gods made the world

Yawning gap = Ginnungagap

Bur's sons = Othin, Vili, and Ve

Leeks = a symbol of growth also supposed to have magic power

* * *

(adapted from the Henry Adams Bellows translation of the Old Norse Poetic Edda, also known as the Elder Edda; original text in the public domain)

Unit One Content

Comments for Teachers
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
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