Introduction: The Beverages of Middle Earth

A great many of us are familiar with the various races and kingdoms of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the world in which The Lord of the Rings are set. Tolkien’s work was in many ways a parable of European society and history and accordingly he based certain races and polities on European states and cultures, although curiously he always stated his dislike of allegory, even though his work is suffused with it. Rohan, for instance, cannot but be compared with France, while the Shire where the hobbits hail from is clearly analogous to England. Tolkien admitted himself in a letter of 1951 that he based the kingdom of Gondor on the Byzantine Empire which succeeded the Eastern Roman Empire.

One of the more subtle elements of this development of cultures and regions reflecting European society and history was in their drinking habits. The hobbits of the Shire love beer and ale, mirroring England’s traditional beverage of choice in medieval times. But elsewhere further afield as the hobbits leave the Shire and head for the metaphorical continent they begin to encounter wine more and more as any intrepid traveller setting off from England to France and beyond would have in medieval times

Tolkien was not alone in this and his close friend and colleague at Oxford, C. S. Lewis, also deployed wine as a symbolic element within his seven books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia. Here we look at wine in The Lord of the Ringsand The Chronicles of Narnia.

C. S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia

C. S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia

The Lord of the Rings: A Brief Recap

Before delving into all things of the grape, let’s briefly recap for the uninitiated on The Lords of the Rings. In a nutshell, the story revolves around Frodo Baggins, a hobbit from the quaint Shire whose idyllic rural life is shattered when he comes into possession of the One Ring, the most powerful of all the Rings of Power which were fashioned eons ago. Lord Sauron, the dreadful slumbering lord of Mordor, is determined to retrieve the One Ring and so Frodo has to set out with some friends and allies to try to throw the ring into the volcanic lava of Mount Doom, destroying it in the process.

As the books (of which there are three or six depending on how you define them) proceed, war breaks out between the armies of Sauron and the kingdoms of men, with great battles occurring at places like Helm’s Deep in Rohan and Minas Tirith in Gondor. We won’t spoil the ending. High jinks ensue and there’s a lot of orcs killed. Overall The Lord of the Rings is viewed as the paragon of the fantasy genre and a landmark in its development. [Text Box 1]

The Lord of the Rings was not the full extent of Tolkien’s work on Middle Earth. He essentially considered himself to be building a world which was an alternate version of the past drawing on his work as a medieval scholar and so there were many other texts produced by Tolkien such as The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. In these additional details about wine and the lands from which specific types of Middle Earth wine hailed from are provided.[1]

Wine in the Lord of the Rings

Wine features throughout The Lord of the Rings. For instance, when the wizard Gandalf appears to Bag End, the residence in the Shire of both Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins, he is offered a local wine brand by the name of ‘Old Winyards’ which has been extensively aged having been placed in a cellar there by Bilbo’s father Bungo many years earlier.[2]

A notable type of wine described by Tolkien was Dorwinion wine. This was wine which had come from Dorwinion, a land which lay near Gondor, the most powerful of the human kingdoms, but which had been swallowed up in times gone by the expansion of Mordor. Dorwinion wine was produced from grapes grown in the great gardens of this kingdom and was said to be so strong that even the all-knowing and sombre elves could get drunk from drinking it and fall into a deep sleep. Dorwinion wine also features in the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, in which we learn how Bilbo Baggins came to possess the One Ring in the first place.[3]

The Marketing of LOTR Wines

Wine does not have as extensive a meaning in Tolkien’s work as it does in that of Lewis, who, as we will see presently, used wine as a plot device in some central Biblical motifs which stretched across his Narnia series. Instead for Tolkien it was a means of world building and allegory to distinguish different cultures within the world of Middle Earth.

Nevertheless, it has been marketed extensively in recent years since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films based on the books. One doesn’t need to look far today to find numerous different Lord of the Rings wines which capitalise on the appearance of wine throughout the book, notably Vignobles Bardet’s Lord of the Rings wine range, while Hobbit wines have also appeared in many countries, especially New Zealand where Jackson hails from and where the films were shot.[4]

J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of The Lord of the Rings

J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of The Lord of the Rings

The Chronicles of Narnia: A Brief Recap

The Chronicles of Narnia comprised a similarly grand work to Tolkien’s. Unlike with The Lord of the Rings, though, the Chronicles begin in the real world with the characters discovering an entry-point into Narnia, a fantastical parallel universe through a wardrobe, hence the name of the first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Once there the children who have discovered Narnia encounter a world of noble creatures led by the lion Aslan, but one which is threatened by malevolent forces led by the White Witch. There they defeat her and become kings and queens of the land. The subsequent books in the series are relatively self-contained in that they usually involve the children returning to Narnia at different points, often with centuries or even millennia having passed in Narnia for the passage of a year on earth.[5]

Wine in the World of Narnia

Lewis’s books are suffused with symbolism and discussion of wine. Take, for instance, the third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Here we see the crew of the eponymous ship, The Dawn Treader, enjoying a feast of roasted goat and strong wines from Archenland on one occasion.

The pattern continues throughout the books. It is particularly significant in the second book of the seven, Prince Caspian, where Lewis introduced the character of Bacchus, named for the Roman god of wine-making and religious ecstasy. Here we repeatedly hear of the revivifying effects of wine as offered by Bacchus to various figures, notably to Caspian’s nurse where it is described as “the richest wine, red as red-currant jelly, smooth as oil, strong as beef, warming as tea, cool as dew.”[6]

Lewis’s Use of Wine for Symbolic and Allegorical Purposes 

Lewis’s use of wine in The Chronicles of Narnia is multi-faceted. On the surface this is simply a device which he is employing as one would many other things to create a fantastical world. It was not simply the character of Bacchus, for instance, that was drawn from Greco-Roman mythology. Other characters were influenced in one shape or another by Greek and Roman mythology, as well as elements of British and Irish Celtic myths and folklore.[7]

But in some ways wine was incorporated as it fit more within the central allegory of Lewis’s work. Lewis was something of a born-again Christian, having been raised in the church, but having renounced his faith early in life, before returning to Christianity in the 1930s, fittingly enough through Tolkien’s influence, the pair being closes friends and colleagues at the University of Oxford. Accordingly, many have speculated that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the wider Narnia chronicles as a whole are something of a Christian parable, with Aslan being a surrogate Jesus figure.

Eucharistic imagery is found throughout the seven books and consequently wine is central to the core message which Lewis was trying to convey. For instance, much of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with its Eucharistic symbolism was based on elements of John’s gospel in the New Testament.[8] Thus, wine is omnipresent throughout Lewis and Tolkien’s works, as a plot device, as a point of cultural demarcation in their world-building and as a central component of the allegorical meanings of their work.

Text Box 1 – The Evolution of the Fantasy Genre

Both Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are quintessential examples of the fantasy genre. The genre has been around in one form of another for thousands of years. One could argue that the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey or the story of Jason and the Argonauts are all early fantasy epics with their tales of heroes in search of the secret of eternal life, their homeland or a fabled relic.

Yet the major roots of it lie in medieval literature in works like Sir Thomas Malory’s contributions to the Arthurian Cycle and the quest for the Holy Grail or Amadis de Gaula in Spain. Cervantes’s Don Quixote was in many ways a satirized version of these, while in the eighteenth century writers like Voltaire used the genre to question social mores within the context of the European Enlightenment in Candide and other writings.

In more modern times the genre spawned new offshoots, specifically in the form of science fiction and also horror novels, with writers like Mary Shelley and Jules Verne borrowing many of the tropes used in earlier fantastical epics. However, modern fantasy was largely shaped by the works of a number of key writers in the twentieth century, chief amongst them Tolkien, with Lewis just a rung below him, while latterly writers like Raymond E. Feist, Terry Brooks, Tad William, Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin have been some of the many proponents of a widely popular genre.[9]

Further Reading:

C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: 7 Books in 1 (London, 2005).

Nancy-Lou Patterson, ‘“Miraculous Bread…Miraculous Wine”: Eucharistic Motifs in the Fantasies of C. S. Lewis’, in Mythlore, Vol. 22, No. 2: C. S. Lewis Centenary Special Issue (Summer 1998), pp. 28–46.

Patrick Pazdziora and Joshua C. Richards, ‘Balder, Adonis, Bacchus, Aslan: Frazer and Sacrament in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian’, in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center, Vol. 34 (2017), pp. 83–108.

John Rateliff and Christina Scull, ‘The Hobbit and Tolkin’s other pre-war writings’, in Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, No. 30 (September 1993), pp. 14–20.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Reprint, London, 1995).

On this Day

29 July 1954 – On in this day in 1954 the first single-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien was published. Tolkien’s work is known to many. Wine and alcohol more broadly played a large role in his world-building. For instance, the hobbits of the Shire are generally beer and ale-drinkers, much like England would have been in medieval times, while it is only when Frodo and his companions leave the Shire and head out into the wider world that they begin to come across cultures where wine is consumed, much as one would have experienced travelling to the continent from Britain in the ancient past. Thus, for all that Tolkien claimed that he hated allegory, this is yet another example of how his world was an allegory of European customs and culture in the past.[10]

22 November 1963 – On this day in 1963 the British writer and literary scholar, C. S. Lewis, died at Oxford in England. Lewis was an academic and a writer who authored over 30 books, but he is primarily remembered today as the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia, a set of seven fantasy novels set in the mythical world of Narnia. Wine plays a significant role in the Narnia books, appearing regular as a beverage across the books, such as in the third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when the crew of the vessel for which the book is named enjoy a feast of roasted goat and strong wines of Archenland. However, the clearest piece of wine symbolism in the entire series is found in the character of Bacchus, who features prominently in Prince Caspian, the second book in the chronicles, and who was based on Dionysius/Bacchus, the Greek/Roman god of wine-making and religious ecstasy. As such, Lewis was very intentionally including wine symbolism in his work.[11]

Want to Read More? Try these books!

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles- From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond The Fellowship- The Literary Lives of the Inklings- J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams

References:

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Reprint, London, 1995). J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. by Christopher Tolkien (London, 1977).

[2] https://middle-earth-film-saga.fandom.com/wiki/Wine [accessed 29/9/23].

[3] John Rateliff and Christina Scull, ‘The Hobbit and Tolkin’s other pre-war writings’, in Mallorn: The Journal 9of the Tolkien Society, No. 30 (September 1993), pp. 14–20.

[4] https://brandsuntapped.com/vignobles-bardet-debuts-the-lord-of-the-rings-wine-range/ [accessed 29/9/23]; https://middleearthnews.com/2014/09/15/win-aidan-turners-the-hobbit-wine/?doing_wp_cron=1696277566.0161108970642089843750 [accessed 29/9/23].

[5] C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: 7 Books in 1 (London, 2005).

[6] R. D. Stock, ‘Dionysus, Christ, and C. S. Lewis’, in Christianity and Literature, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Winter, 1985), pp. 7–13; https://narnia.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Food_and_Beverages [accessed 28/9/23]; Nancy-Lou Patterson, ‘“Miraculous Bread…Miraculous Wine”: Eucharistic Motifs in the Fantasies of C. S. Lewis’, in Mythlore, Vol. 22, No. 2: C. S. Lewis Centenary Special Issue (Summer 1998), pp. 28–46.

[7] Amanda M. Niedbala, ‘From Hades to Heaven: Greek Mythological Influences in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair’, in Mythlore: A Journal of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and Mythopoeic Literature, Vol. 24, No. 3 (2006), pp. 71–93.

[8] Nancy-Lou Patterson, ‘“Miraculous Bread…Miraculous Wine”: Eucharistic Motifs in the Fantasies of C. S. Lewis’, in Mythlore, Vol. 22, No. 2: C. S. Lewis Centenary Special Issue (Summer 1998), pp. 28–46.

[9] https://www.nypl.org/blog/2020/05/18/hallmarks-fantasy-brief-history-fantasy [accessed 26/9/23].

[10] https://wineintro.com/movies/lotr/ [accessed 27/9/23]; https://literature.stackexchange.com/questions/1016/if-tolkien-disliked-allegory-why-are-there-so-many-allegorical-readings-of-the [accessed 27/9/23]; J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Reprint, London, 1995).

[11] C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: 7 Books in 1 (London, 2005); R. D. Stock, ‘Dionysus, Christ, and C. S. Lewis’, in Christianity and Literature, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Winter, 1985), pp. 7–13; https://narnia.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Food_and_Beverages [accessed 28/9/23].

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: February 29, 2024Last Updated: February 29, 2024

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