Subject and Keywords:
Beorn’s origins are not fully known. The problem might be caused by the fact that history unfolds in a manner typical of oral culture. References to the creative (not: re-creative) aspect of the story are also significant for the oral tradition. Tolkien places in this context the figure of Beorn, who is endowed with the amazing ability to “skin-shift”. Questions arise concerning the origin of this idea. I propose two possible answers. The first one refers to the Scandinavian tradition and the sagas which tell of mad warriors (berserks), often mistakenly thought to be able to change shape. The other one refers to Tolkien’s work on “Beowulf” and to the motifs present both in the poem and in Old Norse literature. The mysterious character of Beorn could be traced back to literary traditions (the sagas, Beowulf), and therefore directly or indirectly associated with Scandinavia. The manner in which the figure is introduced and characterised refers to the oral traditions. What is also significant is that Tolkien was writing ’The Hobbit’ before the concept of oral studies was introduced, so in a way he anticipated the question of orality.