FDR the SF fan and JRR Tolkien the plagiarist?

That great one-liner of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” (well, he actually said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” but it has since passed into immortality as previously quoted), is strikingly similar to the following quote from a book from 1922:

“Nor is aught to fear in such [apparitions], save the fear itself wherewith they strike the simple.”

Take out the pseudo-Shakespearean language and you’ve got FDR.  So, here’s what’s interesting: the book quoted above is The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison (London: Jonathan Cape, 1922; p. 52), a book long held to be a cornerstone of fantasy writing.

Coincidence?  Maybe, but here’s another striking one on the very next page (53).

“Therewith came forth that offspring of perdition…the face of it like no fowl’s face of middle-earth but rather a gorgon’s out of Hell.”

Did you notice the key word there: “middle-earth”?  This is precisely the name that J.R.R. Tolkien would use as a setting for his Lord of the Rings books.  This notion, to those curious, goes back to ancient medieval times, when it was variously spelled “mydell erth”, “middle erde”, or “middel erthe”, and even the great Bard himself used it (see Johnson).  However, be that as it may, Eddison, with his unique grammar and spelling, may have been the first to hyphenate it (never mind that Eddison’s work is set on the planet Mercury; “middle-mercury” is hard to say.)  Tolkien, though he doubtless read Ouroboros, was assuredly familiar with the medieval term, so we’ll let him off the hook.  Not so sure about FDR, though!