Why Tolkien was an ISTJ

The first thing I’d like to make clear is that Tolkien does not write like an INFP. Though he was known for not finishing projects he started on and for working in “idea bursts,” his writing does not express an Ne-style creativity. If you want a better example of very INFP writing, look to Neil Gaiman as your (exaggerated) example.

Having studied medieval literature at the university level, it is clear to me that Tolkien did not come up with most of his “ideas” himself. Almost all of the cultures and concepts found in Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the Silmarilion are literally borrowed aspects of the medieval era literature he was obsessed with. If you need evidence of this, here you go:


  • Wergild: the individual naming of weapons and treasure found in Anglo Saxon culture, wherein each treasure was unique and one of a kind. Where do you think Sting, the Arkenstone and Mithril came from?

  • Riddles: Anglo Saxon people commonly played riddles as a form of entertainment. 94-97 of these riddles (depending on how they are divided) have been preserved in the Exeter Book (the book that lives in Exeter and has no title).
  • The Monster Quest: Monsters in Old English culture were individuals with personalities, incredible intelligence and distinct names (sound like Smaug, or Shelob to you?) The whole Hobbit story follows a hero who is faced with a bunch of seemingly random quest-tasks, tests and monsters that he must outsmart. It might as well be Beowulf with a happy ending.
  • Homosocial Comitatus: The whole storyline in The Hobbit follows a group of male-only heroes who are incredibly loyal to their alpha male leader (Thorin) who are upset because their original alpha male leaders were killed like…a thousand years ago. This is a perfect example of Celtic Comitatus.


  • Elegiac: An Elegy is basically an old english funeral song that expresses deep mourning and loss. This not only shows up in actual songs that the dwarves sing in The Hobbit, but also shows up in the entire attitude of Middle Earth (ex. the world is dying, the elves are leaving and the time of men is coming, so sad). If you look at any portion of the Lord of the Rings, you will see an overwhelming sense of loss carried by almost every character.
  • Liminality: The name “Middle Earth” is a direct reference to celtic liminality, which is basically any time, space or event that could be considered middle, or in-between this world and the next. In these spaces, Celtic literature commonly featured appearances from mystical beings or Gods. Ex. Aragon is met by the dead in a cave (which is a liminal space because it’s neither considered part of the earth, nor the underworld).


  • The Return of the King: Arthurian Legends of the Middle-Ages were all about the return of just kings to save a people in a time of chaos and corruption. Most of the major Arthurian Lore revivals that occurred in Medieval history (namely those brought on by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory, and Henry Tudor VII) happened at times when England was in a state of utter chaos and was in need of a great king (for instance, during the Wars of Roses…which we might parallel to the fact that Aragorn is supposed to be King, but some other blokes in Gondor are fighting over it).
  • Horses: The horse people (Rohirim) directly references the importance placed by Pagan culture on horses.
  • The Woman Warrior: Pagan culture treated women with far more respect than many other cultures throughout history (including ours). Women could fight in war, and were looked to for power in many situations that interestingly enough, were not sexual. Sound like Éowyn? Or maybe Galadriel and Arwen coming to save all the helpless men? Tolkien writes his female characters using very Pagan archetypes –it was very common in celtic literature to see female character coming to the rescue when the men were at a loss for what to do.


  • Names: The names Tolkien gives to his characters and places (Éowyn, Théoden, Galadriel, Mithrandir, Lothlorien, Minas Tirith, Helm’s Deep etc.) bear the markings of medieval languages.
  • Kennings: cleverly juxtaposed compound words used to create alliteration, puns and allegorical meaning in Anglo-Saxon poetry. (Ex. Worm-tongue, Tree-beard, Witch-king, Hammer-hand, Weather-top).

You get the point.

An INFP writer would probably have come up with all this crap himself (upper-Ne), rather than borrowing it from factual knowledge studied at a university (upper-Si). And just to be clear, I am in no way claiming that Tolkien was plagiarising other works. I think what he’s done here was genius –I just know an intuitive writer probably wouldn’t have done this.

Some people look at this and say, gee, that bloke had one singular obsession for his entire life, and so they conclude INFJ. However, to me, this is not INFJ writing. INFJ writing attempts to convey a singular underlying philosophy, while what Tolkien is doing is relaying his knowledge of medievalism. That is SiTe writing. 

Tolkien was first and foremost, an expert in linguistics and medieval studies. He wrote about Middle Earth because he wanted somewhere to use that knowledge (Te). His middle earth world is almost more about the details of world building than it is about storyline, and the fact that it’s so ridiculously detailed points directly to an upper Si function.

In fact, HE REFUSED TO EDIT HIS WORK because he didn’t want to remove any of the details (that, when looked at from a literary perspective, are completely unnecessary and bog his writing down). Thus, we get The Two Towers, in which, Frodo and Sam travel (that’s it? Yeah, pretty much. You might want to skip that one and just read Return of the King).

The reason that Tolkien did not finish his projects had nothing to do with an Ne-distraction tendency, but more to do with the fact that he insisted on including so many details in his stories. This is the same reason that my ISTJ brother cannot finish the drawings he starts –because he wants to go slowly and get every detail perfect.

His writing, albeit poetic, is very factual. He tells more of what happened, than what the characters felt about it, which is why I’m lead to believe that his Te was more dominant than his Fi. People who mistype Tolkien as an INFP do so either because they assume ISTJs are not creative, or because they have recognised the right jungian functions in his work, but in the wrong hierarchy.

Anyone still not convinced?

50 thoughts on “Why Tolkien was an ISTJ

  1. INFP (aspiring) author here, and for what it’s worth, I have yet to actually READ the Lord of the Rings books. A major reason for this is because, yes, I was getting put off by all of the details! It was kind of difficult for me to sort past all of that to get to the actual story.

    Though I admit, I admire his ability to have created such a complex, detailed world. I actually struggle with coming up with a set of rules/systems for the worlds I create in my own stories. I’m more apt to just jump straight into character development and make everything else sort of secondary and just fall into place as the characters become more real to me.

    I’m not saying he isn’t an INFP, I haven’t decided that yet (as usual, thanks Ne!). But just from the perspective of myself, as just one INFP writer (it isn’t much to go off, I know), I focus way more on character development than on lots of little details that I consider mostly irrelevant.


  2. I know this is an older post, but just wanted to share that I am an ISTJ that found Tolkien’s books rather boring. I much prefer The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter to The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings any day. I enjoy detail and the connections between the past and present, but I do also enjoy an interesting and fast-paced story.


  3. As an INFP author, I’m not sure you have a rock-solid case for Tolkien not being an INFP based on the fact that all the elements of his work came from the medieval literature he loved. Case in point: me. I write primarily historical fantasy, and also primarily retellings, because I don’t feel capable of building a whole convincing secondary world and would rather use the wealth of detail available in real-world settings; or because I feel I’m not original enough to come up with my own plots. I share that with Tolkien (but then, I have pretty well-developed lower functions).

    That said, I have long lol-ed at the idea of Tolkien being an INFP. Impossible: the man found it so important to make sure that the moon was always at the right phase for the date of each scene. No INFP would ever have the patience for that. As an INFP author, my main focus is on embodying an authentic expression of my deepest convictions (Fi) in striking metaphor (Ne), not so much on constructing an internally coherent secondary world.


  4. Tolkien was much too imaginative and innovative to be a sensor (sorry, sensors, but it’s true). He made up languages and it’s obvious from commentary, he had intuitive thought. Most ISTJs I know are not very creative… they can be thoughtful and caring in a way but innovative? Not in that sense. I think that intuitives can be interested in sensory details that have to with the past BECAUSE, if it connects to something they have intuitive thought about. I like history and sensory details but that doesn’t mean I’m a sensor. Rather, I have intuitive thought about the sensory things I like. Even more what I really like.


    • Did you read the umm…part where I mentioned that he borrowed all the creative stuff from well known medieval and celtic literature?

      I also enjoy history and sensory details, but I don’t make them the crucial aspect of my literature. In other words, I like the history FOR the literature, whereas Tolkien was writing the literature FOR the history.


  5. Fascinating piece–and, from what I know of medieval literature, I definitely agree that Tolkein’s stories/concepts are quite similar.

    Here’s something interesting for you. My father is an ISFJ–so, like Tolkein, a Si-dominant with a (to me) quite incredible capacity for attention to detail. He wasn’t much into reading fiction as a kid or a teenager, but he really, really loved “Lord of the Rings,” and guess which book was his favorite? That’s right–“The Two Towers.”


      • Yes! His copy had been read so often, it was literally splitting down the middle of the spine by the time I saw it. Everybody’s different, huh? ;-)

        I’ve never read any LotR, myself–I quit Tolkein after “The Hobbit” because it just didn’t appeal to me. I don’t know why, exactly . . . I LOVED Narnia, though.


      • There are people who do. Not many of us, yet still there, hiding in the shadows…
        Reminded me of how much I hated The Return of the King compared to the other ones, though. Especially book six was a nightmarish heroism overload.


    • Oh gosh, this is actually hilarious to me first because I am an ISTJ and “The Two Towers” was my favorite. Funny to think it could have something to do with the dominant function. Also my friend who is an ISTJ also liked “The Two Towers” best…This makes me want to start interviewing ISTJs to see what percentages like which book best.


        • I’d be curious to check out percentages of how many Si-doms and how many Ni-doms prefer Lord of the Rings over Narnia, and how many prefer Narnia over LotR.


        • So would I. Narnia was my whole world, basically, as a kid–it was MINE. I loved it. It felt almost like C.S. Lewis wrote the stories specifically for me, to be honest. (I expect that’s result of shared Ni.) Tolkein . . . well, not so much.

          (The above comment was actually mine–I forgot to put my name and so it showed up as “Anonymous.” Sorry.)


        • I had a similar experience with the Narnia series as a kid. I read them when I was six or so, and after reading something about C.S. Lewis’s connection to Tolkien, I tried to read Lord of the Rings when I was seven but got too bored with the descriptions to keep reading. I didn’t pick Lord of the Rings up again until I was about eleven or so.


        • You beat me to Narnia, then–I didn’t start the series till I was eight.

          But yeah. I never really got into LotR because I found “The Hobbit” really boring . . . and also vaguely disturbing, for some reason. I mean, it’s not technically any darker or more disturbing than “The Silver Chair,” which was my favorite Narnia book . . . but even so, I didn’t like it. I still don’t really like it. (Although Thorin’s death always makes me sad.)


        • That was my favourite Narnia book too :)

          But yes, I read the Hobbit as a bedtime story to my younger brothers because they liked it, but never really got into it myself.


        • What? No! Narnia is MINE!

          Kidding. Wow, other people had my experiences with that series!! It was read to me as a small child, and by the time my parents had gone through it twice with me I was reading on my own and devoured it. Lord of the Rings came a bit later, and I absolutely loved the story, but it took me several tries to finish the series. I refuse to compare the two, because to me, Lord of the Rings is a natural companion to Narnia. The Hobbit, however, is dead boring.


        • Possessive no?

          Did anyone think it was amusing how much Peter Jackson altered the tone of The Hobbit for his movie adaptions? I couldn’t get all the way through them. Pretty much the only choice that I approved of was the casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo.


        • Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of the Hobbit…uggh. I enjoyed the book, but the movie had too many things wrong with it. I loved Bard’s portrayal, loved Bilbo’s, but the thing was too long and the jokes were too stupid. Two movies would probably have been a better idea. The realism of LotR wasn’t really there, either. And I hated Tauriel, especially since they essentially had her reprise Arwen’s role.

          I didn’t read LotR until I was 17 (and I read the volumes in the wrong order). I re-read them several years later, after seeing the movies. It was something of an aesthetic experience for me: there was an intense beauty in the book that I probably wouldn’t have seen at a younger age. And I think it was, in part, a perception of the book’s beauty that caused C.S. Lewis to have such an intensely positive reaction to it. (But, as Lewis pointed out elsewhere, perceptions of beauty differ, and some people have intensely negative gut reactions to that sort of thing.)

          Had I read LotR at the same age I read Narnia, I probably would have liked Narnia better. At this point I like LotR better, but I enjoy both. “The Silver Chair” was great–I have trouble relating to female main characters, but I could relate to Jill–and “The Horse and His Boy” is also a good one. It seems as though Lewis got much better at characterization in the Narnia books he wrote later.


        • Yes, I would agree Bard was portrayed very well. At the same time, there was much less of him in the book. I’m definitely with you on the 1-2 movie thing though.

          Tauriel. No. Please no. As a feminist, I appreciate what they did with Arwen in the movies, but she definitely was not a warrior-type in the books.

          Also, this might be an odd question, but I’m morbidly curious. As a genderfluid person, I have no trouble relating to characters based on their gender. I suppose my question is how much does the gender of the characters affect your interest in a book?


        • *virtual high-five for fellow “Silver Chair” fan*

          Seriously, that book is phenomenal.

          Kerissa–haha, that’s okay, we can share Narnia :-)

          I haven’t seen the Hobbit movies–just a few clips here and there. But what I did find EXTREMELY amusing was the mere fact that they made three whole movies, when they could’ve just done ONE. I mean, by that logic, the Lord of the Rings trilogy should have been nine movies.


        • I completely agree with you, Arvid, about the Hobbit movies. I have yet to watch the third, and I don’t know if I could have sat through the others if it wasn’t for Martin Freeman.

          Interesting that you both like Silver Chair the best. What about it do you like? I always found Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle best.


        • What about “The Silver Chair” did I like? Mmmmmmmm . . . I think I just really liked the overall tone and atmosphere, how it was dark and gritty and yet–somehow–still hopeful and triumphant. I was also fascinated by the whole concept of the “curse,” how Rilian lost his memory during the day but regained it each night. I really loved Jill and Eustace’s friendship–actually, I’d have to admit that I rather ship them. And the whole subplot with old Caspian, who then dies and becomes young Caspian again, was really emotional for me because I pretty much adore Caspian.

          Besides, it was all about SNOW, and snow is one of my favorite things in the world, ever.

          I really loved “The Magician’s Nephew, too. In fact, there was a point in time when I would’ve said it was my favorite of the whole series . . . but, looking back now, the one that impacted me most, and the one I have the strongest memories of, is “The Silver Chair,” so I think I’ll still go with it as my favorite.


        • In answer, I’m female and have trouble relating to most female main characters. They usually seemed less interesting when I was growing up. When I made up my own stories, the main characters were nearly always boys, and any girls that appeared were generally Feeling types with whom I didn’t particularly identify. But it was a bit of a breakthrough to read “The Perilous Gard” by Elizabeth Marie Pope, which has a very realistic female INTJ as its main character. Kate seemed strong in a way that I had only associated with male characters, and I slowly began to see that there were other possibilities.

          One qualifier…growing up, I read a lot of poor quality fiction…which didn’t necessarily have great character development, period. If adventure was the only good thing about a book, male characters usually engaged in that more actively anyway.


        • That’s quite fascinating to me. In my fiction, I tend to write from mostly male or non-binary perspectives, but I don’t necessarily have any problem writing from female perspectives when I do.

          If you want realistic female INTJs, I would highly recommend reading any one of Ayn Rand’s books.


        • My INTJ sister often has the same experiences with female fictional characters–finding them unrelatable and uninteresting. I sometimes have that problem, too, although to a lesser extent. I can easily relate to the Fe-types, for instance; but I have HUGE difficulties relating to xNFP female characters (Jo March, Anne Shirley, Scout Finch, Marianne Dashwood . . .)

          I’ve actually got a novel in the works right now with an INTJ female protagonist. Wish me luck, y’all.


        • Same for me, I think. Because in order to relate to a character, you have to feel that you’d actually make similar decisions to them, given the same circumstances . . . and if their moral values are totally opposite to yours, their decisions will end up being very, very different.


  6. This is a very interesting and, I think, accurate take on Tolkien’s personality. I must admit that I struggled with his writing, as did many of you, but since I study medieval literature and both English and Scandinavian language I find his works highly interesting from this perspective. The blend of the variety of cultural aspects and legends. A world artificially created from the basis of ours. Have you read his collection of essays ‘Monsters and Critics’? I would highly recommend it, there, his SiTe writing shows quite nicely.

    Oh, and one last thing – “INFJ writing attempts to convey a singular underlying philosophy, while what Tolkien is doing is relaying his knowledge of medievalism” – your observation is, again (I think), very accurate and also I immensely enjoyed reading your post on Tolkien in general but what would you say are the approaches of, say, INFP or INTJ writers? You pointed out INFJ quite nicely. Or could you maybe someday write your thoughts on the different write styles and final goals of the types INFJ, INFP, INTJ and INTP? Say, where they differ and how? I would love to read your observations about this topic.


  7. This is very interesting because a few nights ago my mum and I were discussing this exact topic. I was assuming that because so many type him as INFP that he might have been an INTP. I’ve read a few INFPs’ works, and they don’t compare in my opinion. My mum suggested that he might have been ISTP. Looks like she was a bit closer to guessing Tolkien’s type than I was.

    Like Tolkien, I find myself taking ideas/inspiration from other things, but unlike Tolkien (as you stated), I try to also come up with my own ideas (I’m an INTP for the record). I must say, I wish I had his knack for world building. I get very caught up making the characters perfect and making sure the plot goes some where, world building gets put to the side.

    The only thing I disagree with is skipping the Two Towers. The part with Sam and Frodo was a bit on the long side, yet I found it all rather interesting. Granted I really enjoy the more details a story has, so to each his own


  8. I appreciate it so much when you detail down the why’s and why not’s of typings in this fashion. There are few blogs and sites where people drill down to this level of analysis after some thorough questioning of their conclusions, and you still keep an open mind about correcting your typings and analyses on top of it all. I’ve really enjoyed the C.S. Lewis and Tolkien posts; in fact, I’d say I’ve come to a recent appreciation of author typings because it also shows in their work, and it makes me see their work with a completely different eye.

    I am INTJ and I have to confess: I could not finish reading the LOTR books, they really got on my nerves (not for lack of trying!). Why? I felt there were too many details that did not seem to connect in some sort of theme I personally related to, or made the plot go forward, and I guess it’s this stereotypical INTJ thing I did where my brain just skipped over the “useless” (inefficient?) elf songs and endless descriptions of the surroundings with an annoyed grunt… Until I finally dropped the whole thing and read a summary online to be done with it. In a way, I felt the main character of LOTR was Middle-earth itself, instead of the beings walking upon it, and that was just not my standard cup of tea for entertainment.

    My personal reaction and thought are not meant to diminish the quality of Tolkien’s work and the effort behind. What I mean to say is that reading what an ISTJ writing can be like made me realize it could be the reason I was unable to connect with it despite the popularity of those books.


    • On the other hand, Tolkien probably would have never finished LotR without the constant nagging of an INTJ, C.S. Lewis–who loved the book to the point that he nominated Tolkien for a Nobel Prize. I enjoy the book and know other INTJs who do–as well as INTJs who probably wouldn’t like it at all.

      Looking at the INTJ authors who have been typed here–Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, and Jane Austen–there are some pretty enormous stylistic differences. My guess is Ayn Rand could also be typed INTJ, and she’s very different from the other three (in a bad way, in my opinion…). And so on. I’m a little leery of typing authors solely on the basis of their fictional writings. Flannery O’Connor, at any rate, thought that trying to determine an author’s personality from his or her fictional writings was a bad idea. It’s not that you can’t deduce anything at all from an author’s work, but there is a limit to how much you can conclude with accuracy.

      In Lewis’s case, his fiction was based mostly on creatures from real legends and mythology, as well as mashups (or not) of real places and cultures. The two exceptions being the first two novels of his Space Trilogy. Otherwise, he did about as much borrowing as Tolkien, despite having no Si anywhere in his function stack. He was less precise about it, though (which annoyed Tolkien). J. K. Rowling–self-typed INFJ–seems to do something similar. Tons of borrowing, but not in a consistently precise way.

      I don’t know that I necessarily connect more with writers who share my MBTI type. I do get irritated by writers who ramble about emotional topics without including much actual content, but otherwise it mostly depends on the individual writer. I partly haven’t read Ayn Rand because I expect she would make me want to throw things. :P


        • Why, if you don’t mind my asking? Her objectivist philosophy seems pretty far from Descartes-style rationalism. I’m somewhat familiar with the plots of her books, but not having read them, I don’t know how much they stand on their own as fiction, and how much they exist to push objectivism.


        • I like Ayn Rand primarily because of the emphasis she places on the value of hard work.

          I tend to follow the Descartes style rationalism, but I also don’t believe that you can navigate an empirical world purely through the lens of rationalism. Descriptive ethics is useless without normative ethics. Describing reality is pointless if you can’t figure out how to navigate that reality.


      • I don’t think I connect more or less to stories solely because of the author MBTI type, though the Tolkien Si aspect really explained a lot to me why I did not enjoy the amount of details of LOTR. I’ve read one C.S. Lewis book only and it was OK, but far from being a favourite. One of my favourite books is Dune, another lengthy story with a lot of details, but it’s presented in a different way than LOTR to me. I don’t know Frank Herbert’s type at all.


  9. I think you’re probably right, it make a time since i read LOTR, but i remember reading somewhere that Tolkien´s intentions was to “rescue” old english folklore (in his opinion, England culture was being “put aside), he want to make an epic thar would honror England culture.

    ps: Sorry for the bad english, im not american. haha


  10. Whoa. As you described this, I thought: “Much of this sounds like me!” I’ve been mentally debating my type for quite a while, and I suspect I may indeed be an ISxJ.

    “An INFP writer would probably have come up with all this crap himself (upper-Ne), rather than borrowing it from factual knowledge studied at a university (upper-Si).”

    I have many creative ideas, but a lot of them are expanded from seeds others have planted. Some things I would never in a million years have come up with on my own.

    “This is the same reason that my ISTJ brother cannot finish the drawings he starts –because he wants to go slowly and get every detail perfect.”

    Sounds like me with the things I want to write or songs I want to learn. I keep my writings in a document, so I can come back to look, and re-look, and re-look, THEN copy-paste them to publish. I’ve noticed that when I write song lyrics, even my approach feels more like a science than an art.

    I think this is why I’m drawn to parodies.


  11. Have you ever read “J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century” by Tom Shippey? One of my friends recommended the book to me, and Shippey spends much of the book talking about where Tolkien got his ideas. While Shippey talks a lot about the Medieval poems you mentioned, he also discussed how Gondor, Rohan, and the Shire were based on different English cultures and other points that you might find interesting.
    Great job analyzing Tolkien’s writing.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s