31 Days of Tolkien: Thug Notes will explain the Hobbit, Beowulf, Odysseus and Dune to you – gangsta style

YouTube artist Sparky Sweets, PhD, has set himself one of the toughest tasks out there: Explaining literary classics in five minutes offering both a summary and an analysis people need to listen to! Luckily he hasn’t only worked on The Hobbit but also some of the biggest inspirations for J.R.R. Tolkien such as Beowulf and representing Greek tragedy, Odyssey by Homer. To finish off this entertaining set of videos is Sweets’ very own view of the one science fiction classic which mirrors Tolkien’s influence and success – Dune by Frank Herbert. Enjoy!

We will start off, of course, with The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is particularly useful to watch this video right now to give you an idea about the essential themes Tolkien dealt with in this children’s literature classic and how they are represented in the film version. Keywords: sacrifice, destructive nature of greed, coming of age, Richard Wagner’s ‘Rheingold’, courage, wisdom. [On the issue of Wagner please have a look at Renée Vinks Wagner and Tolkien: Mythmakers and Christopher MacLachlan’s Tolkien and Wagner: The Ring and Der Ring.]

Beowulf has been a life-long inspiration to J.R.R. Tolkien and several elements of this story have found their way into The Hobbit. However, Tolkien also dealt with this outstanding piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry on an academic level and both his lecture series Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics and his essay On Fairy-Stories show its influence on both the professional as well as the creative side of the Oxford don. P.S.: I LOVE the hysterical opening: “Beowulf by … ahem …?”


You may ask yourself why Homer’s Odyssey has made it onto this list – for one reason: it is representative of the influence ancient Greek stories have had on J.R.R. Tolkien who started off as a student of the ‘Greats‘, i.e. Classics. If you really need to see the influence Greek tragedy has had on him simply have a look at Túrin Turambar – if  there is a tragic hero in his writings, it is Túrin, mixed up with Kullervo of the Kalevala as well.


And last but not least one of my favourite books of all times – which happened to be published around the same time as The Lord of the Rings, brought to life an universe detailing histories, cultures, languages and was so epic in scope it continues to influence modern literature in another genre: Science Fiction. I am talking of Dune, of course, by Frank Herbert. Keywords: the power of transformation and being transformed; the infinite unknown; change can only come from within.

Picture credit: (c) Thug Notes

Marcel R. Bülles

A Tolkien fan for thirty years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert