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:

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  • 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.

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  • 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).

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  • 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.

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  • 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?

67 thoughts on “Why Tolkien was an ISTJ

  1. No, no, no. Tolkien is as INFP as it gets. Maybe you’re misunderstanding creative writing and its processes. It’s super irrelevant from where did Tolkien draw inspiration. Ne doesn’t mean we have to think about things that never existed, we just absorb ideas like crazy, and they can very well come from another time in human History. Look, for example, Shakespeare, another INFP writer. A large number of his plays are historical fiction.
    The style and the content of the writings may vary a lot from person to person — and, in fact, it probably will, because of the high sense of individuality of every INFP. Fi determines’ a person’s values, and these can change a lot. The personal values are what guides an INFP in everything — and Tolkien’s works overflow with that.
    You can’t compare Tolkien to Neil Gailman and then say Tolkien is not an INFP because his writing don’t align with Gailman’s. Tolkien, Shakespeare, Gailman, Mikhail Bulgakov, Varlam Shalamov, George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, Aesop, John Milton… Each one of them has different styles, from poetic to very cut and dry, from concise to prolific, and they write about totally different things — but things that are important for them, personally.
    By the way, being fond of tradition, as a reinforcement of his personally chosen values, is not strange to an INFP. We have Si too and it’s responsible for nostalgia. Tolkien’s fondness of the Medieval Times can be fully explained by his Roman Catholic beliefs (in a Protestant country).
    As for using Te in writing, I think people forget INFPs can have properly developed Te and, in fact, the area it is easier for us to use it is in our work, in service of our Fi and Ne.
    Tolkien could still use a lot of Si and Te in his writing and it wouldn’t mean he’s not an INFP writer. Both the tradition, his studying (of language and literature, see?) and his organization and detailing were in service of a new, fictional and fantastic world he created (Ne) in which he could portray his concepts of good and evil and re-enact how he felt people should act in the world (Fi). Add to this the unfinished projects, the refusal of editing — both can be considered signs of a restless Ne that doesn’t want to settle — and his intent of writing for himself, friends and family first, not giving so much importance to large scale publication (as a person with high Te probably would) and you have a full-on INFP.

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