Fridtjof Nansen was intimately involved with the great changes of the twentieth century - in society and politics, as well as in science and in travel.  He began his career as a pioneer in science, the first to show that nerve networks were made up of inter-communicating individual cells, rather than one continuous structure.  His scientific results, gathered on board the Fram as she drifted through the Arctic, are still of interest as they provide a baseline for estimates of the affect of global warming on the rapidly melting ice.  So much so that his six volume set of results was reprinted by an American university towards the end of the twentieth century.  Fridtjof Nansen was actively involved in Russia just before the First World War and as Communism was adopted throughout the Russian Empire.  He  wrote a book on his travels through Siberia in Tsarist Russia as well as two on his travels in the Caucasus after the revolution.  He regarded the Eskimo he met in Greenland as living in a truly communistic society.  Both Lenin and the last Tsar read his book on Siberia.  He helped obtain Norwegian independence from Sweden.  Although a republican, Fridtjof Nansen was instrumental in persuading a Danish prince to become the first modern king of Norway.

In his youth he ‘dropped out’ of university to go hunting seals on a sailing ship.  And yet, by the time his journal of this period was published as a book, Nansen wrote of his opposition to whaling - in the very year that his countrymen sent the first ever factory-whaler to the South Atlantic.

Nansen's pioneering work with the millions of refugees at the end of the First World War resulted in his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Fridtjof Nansen, his wife, Eva, and daughter, Liv, behind.
E. Nesbit makes four references to the Arctic, two to Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, two to dogs and sledges.  We do not have to look far for her inspiration, as we also find one substantial reference to a Viking, two to Norway, and three to Fridtjof Nansen...  Read more 
Arthur Ransome was the next writer to publish work which used Fridtjof Nansen's books as the basis for his narative.   E Nesbit invented the modern fantasy genre while Arthur Ransome made it seem utterly real.  We can assume that Arthur Ransome read Nesbit's writing as she was the leading children's author of her time.  Whether he got the idea from E Nesbit for using Fridtjof Nansen's writings in his own stories we cannot be sure.  However, he repeatedly  cites Nansen's books. Read more
The recent publication of JRR Tolkien's Roverandom throws light on those who influenced him.  In this early and previously unknown work, JRR Tolkien refers directly to E Nesbit's creation, the Psammead.  Tolkien therefore wrote of a character invented by Nesbit, the Psammead, and didn't change the name.  I reveal here that JRR Tolkien also borrowed from Fridtjof Nansen, through character and plot, and in very great measure.  Tolkien, however, never acknowledged the fact - at least not directly. Read more
1861  Oct 10 Fridtjof Nansen born near Christiania [now called Oslo].

1881  Student in zoology at Oslo University.

1882  March to July on sealer Viking to Arctic.  On his return appointed Curator in the zoology department, Bergen Museum.  [Diaries from this trip became Hunting and Adventure in the Arctic].

1884  Ski trip from Voss to Christiania and back.  [Writes influential article for Norwegian newspaper which promotes the sport of skiing and later becomes part of Sporting Days in Wild Norway].

1886  Studies at marine biological station in Naples.

1888  Nansen's Greenland Expedition.  [The basis for The First Crossing of Greenland].

1888-9  Over-winters in Greenland.  [Gathered material for Eskimo Life].

1889  Marries Eva Sars.  Curator at the Zoological Institute of Christiania University.

1893 The specially designed boat, Fram, leaves Norway for the Arctic and is deliberately frozen into the ice.  For three years she is carried by the ice across the Arctic Ocean.

1895  Farthest north on ski by Nansen and Johansen. April 7 reached 86 degrees 14 minutes North.

1896  Nansen meets Jackson in Franz Josef Land.  [On his return publishes Farthest North].

1897  Professor of Zoology at Oslo.  Work on result of Fram expedition.  Lecture tours in Europe and America.

1900  Member of the International Committee on Oceanography.

1905  Fridtjof Nansen takes a leading role in the movement for Norwegian independence from Sweden.  As part of this publishes Norway and the Union with Sweden.  To London in 1905 - Norwegian minister to Britain 1906-7.

1907  Death of Eva Nansen.

1908  Professor of Oceanography.

1911  In Northern Mists published after five years of preparatory work.

1913  Trip through the Arctic Ocean to Siberia, up the Yenisei River, and rail across the continent to the Pacific Ocean at Vladivostok.  [Provides material for Through Siberia - The Land of the Future].

1917  In Washington leading commission negotiating trade and food agreement for Norway.  Deals with seizure of Norwegian ships by  U.S.A. on entry of latter into the war.

1919  President of the Norwegian Union for the League of Nations.  In Paris and London to discuss Norway's entry into League of Nations.  Nansen marries his second wife, Sigrun Munthe.

1920  Norwegian delegate to the League of Nations.  League entrusts him with repatriation of war prisoners.

1921  Coordination of famine relief in Russia by the European charities.  League of Nations appoints him as High Commissioner for Refugees with care of the White Russian refugees.

1922  The 'Nansen Passport' is introduced to enable refugees to travel to host nations.  Relief work for Greek and Armenian refugees after the defeat of the Greek army by the Turks in 1922.  Instituted model village settlements.  Reciprocal repatriation of Greeks living in Turkey to Greece and Turks living in Greece to Turkey.  Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1923  Nansen speaks on the ‘Corfu Affair’ [Shelling of the Greek island by the Italian navy] in the League of Nations.  Publishes Russia and Peace advocating recognition of Communist Russia by the Great Powers.

1924  Works for admission of Germany to the League of Nations. 

1925  Leader of League of Nations Commission to Armenia and the Caucasus.  [Trip published as Armenia and the Near East and Through the Caucasus to the Volga]

1926  Rector St. Andrew's University.  [Speech published in Adventure and Other Papers]

1928  Trip to America to raise funds for Armenians.

1930  May 13. Died, aged 69, at home.

NANSEN: THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON TOLKIEN? Site established September 2005      © Copyright 2005 - 2014  Simon J Browne    Contact:
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A common criticism of J.R.R. Tolkien is that his books are out of touch with reality.  In general, almost by definition, any book which appears to occupy an invented world is regarded as total fantasy.  Here, for the first time, I reveal the evidence that Tolkien bases much of The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings on the work of a very real explorer, Nansen.  Tolkien borrows from Fridtjof Nansen’s books, through character and plot, and in very great measure. 

Tolkien is one of the most popular authors of all time.  His work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages with global sales of more than 100 million volumes.  Six enormously successful films have been made of his 'Middle-earth' books.  Many of his fans will be interested to know that their beloved fantasy has its roots in real-life adventure.  While I am certain that J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing is influenced by Fridtjof Nansen to a greater extent than any other individual, there is no recorded admission that this is the case.  The uncertainty adds to the interest!
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Fridtjof Nansen, 1896, with a portrait of his wife Eva and daughter Liv behind.  Frontispiece from Farthest North.
NOTE  This site is not affiliated with or endorsed by the J. R. R. Tolkien Estate Ltd. or any of its publishers or licensees, New Line Cinema or AOL Time Warner Inc.  It does not imply or claim any rights to Tolkien's characters or creations.  The Lord of the Rings is a registered trademark of Saul Zaentz Company trading as Tolkien Enterprises.  Copyrights and trademarks for the books, films, articles, and other promotional materials are held by their respective owners and their use is allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law.

F. Nansen and E. Nesbit are quoted freely as copyright no longer exists on their writing.  This is because over 70 years has elapsed since their deaths.   Permission for quotations from Encyclopaedia Britannica has been sought.  The quotations from Beowulf are from an edition edited by Harrison and Sharp [1893] which would have been known to Tolkien.  The full text is on the Gutenberg site and quoted under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License. All views expressed here are those of the author unless otherwise stated.  For further details and precise references please contact me at

How this site came to be created:  Many years ago, I wrote a piece for The Arthur Ransome Society on the literary connections between Fridtjof Nansen, Arthur Ransome, E. Nesbit and J.R.R. Tolkien.  I was turned down on the grounds that the article was too long.  However, it was suggested that the piece could be extended to make an interesting book.  Since then I have researched and written that book.  I hope to find a publisher.  Meanwhile I include some of my findings in these pages and I have had an extended article published in the Arthur Ransome Society Journal, Mixed Moss

Please contact me at

The influences on Tolkien's writing have been the subject of much speculation.  I suggest here, for the first time, that a major influence on J.R.R Tolkien's books - no, the single greatest influence, is Fridtjof Nansen.  A great Norwegian Arctic explorer, Nansen was also an innovative scientist, a humanitarian and a Nobel prize-winner.

It is not so much Fridtjof Nansen himself, but his books which provide the inspiration.  It is plain that it is Nansen’s publications which are of interest.  Nansen's books are quoted directly by Arthur Ransome and Edith Nesbit [See the boxes on left].  Both of these authors have their characters emulate Nansen - or his account of his actions.  J.R.R Tolkien does the same - but does not admit it - at least not directly.

I can link at least seven of Tolkien’s major characters to Fridtjof Nansen’s writing.  There are many ways to connect the books.  Tolkien left clues regarding the basis of his Hobbits - their origin is also to be found in the writing of Nansen. I have read widely in this area without coming across another reference to this remarkable occurrence.  However, I believe that J.R.R. Tolkien left enough clues to enable the connection to be made - he wanted his readers to discover Nansen!  For details click on the Tolkien link.  The Tolkien page also has genuine pictures of the forefathers of Hobbits!
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