Tolkien conference season 2016


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Here are some Tolkien conferences coming up in the spring and summer — prime conference season! I can’t claim to list every event that’s going on, so if you’d like to add something to the list, please let me know in the comments section. If you want to know about Tolkien-related events around the world, not necessarily just conferences, I’d suggest the public Facebook group International Tolkien Fellowship List of Events. Also, Troels Forchammer’s monthly Tolkien Transactions usually catches more items than I’m aware of. But here are the conferences that I do know about:

Popular Culture Association (PCA)

Popular Culture Association logo

Seattle, Washington
March 22 -25, 2016

The preliminary program, organized by Robin Reid, can be viewed here. The speakers include Martin Barker presenting on the World Hobbit Project; an academic editors’ roundtable discussion with Leslie Donovan, Janet Croft, Brad Eden, Janice Bogstad, and Martin Barker; and numerous other papers on adaptation, translation, reception, and more. The nice thing about the online PCA program is that you can dig down into each session and read the abstracts of all the papers. There are eight sessions in the Tolkien Studies area, another successful year for this new subject area at the PCA national conference.


13th Annual Tolkien in Vermont conference

Tolkien in Vermont conference

Burlington, Vermont
April 8 – 9, 2016

This year’s theme is “Tolkien and Popular Culture,” with keynote speaker Robin Reid. A program will be available on the Tolkien in Vermont website. This small conference, organized by Chris Vaccaro, is always a friendly mix of faculty, students, and independent scholars.


Tolkien’s Philosophy of Language

13th Seminar of the Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft (DTF)
The Friedrich Schiller University Jena and Walking Tree Publishers
May 6 – 8, 2016

A link to more conference information can be found here.


Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo campus swan pond

International Congress on Medieval Studies
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Michigan
May 12 – 15, 2016

I’ve already posted a schedule of sessions on Tolkien and medievalism as they appeared in the preliminary program. There are seven sessions dealing with Tolkien, mostly organized by Brad Eden and a few others. This year, one of the plenary speakers will be Jane Chance talking about “How we read J.R.R. Tolkien reading Grendel’s mother.” The ICMS is a huge conference, usually drawing around 3,000 participants in sessions on all aspects of the Middle Ages and medievalism.


Tolkien Among Scholars: 7th Unquendor Lustrum Conference 2016

Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society and the Dutch Tolkien Society Unquendor.
June 18, 2016

The keynote speakers for this international conference will be Thomas M. Honegger and Paul Smith. The program will be posted on the conference website.


Tolkien Society Seminar 2016

Tolkien Society

Leeds, UK
July 3, 2016

The theme of this year’s seminar is “Life, Death, and Immortality,” and if you’re interested in giving a paper, there’s still time: March 25 is the deadline for submissions. You can find the Call for Papers and more information here. The Seminar takes place the day before the International Medieval Congress begins at Leeds University, where you’ll find more Tolkien sessions (see below).


International Medieval Congress


Leeds University
July 4 – 7, 2016

Dimitra Fimi has organized two sessions on Tolkien for this conference. Like Kalamazoo, the Leeds conference draws thousands of medievalists every year. The program will be posted on the conference website.


New York Tolkien Conference


Baruch College, New York City
July 16, 2016

This conference, organized by Jessica Burke and Anthony Burdge, is back again after last year’s successful inaugural event. The special theme for this year’s conference is “The Inklings and Science,” with guests of honour Kristine Larsen and Jared Lobdell. The call for papers has not yet been posted, but keep checking the conference site for information as it becomes available.


Mythcon 47

Mythopoeic Society

Mythopoeic Society
San Antonio, Texas
August 5 – 8, 2016

The special theme for this year’s conference is “Faces of Mythology: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.” The Scholar Guest of Honour is Andrew Lazo and the Author Guest of Honour, Midori Snyder. You can find a call for papers here; the deadline is May 1st to send proposals to Jason Fisher, the papers co-ordinator for this conference.


That’s my list for now. Clearly, the field of Tolkien Studies is thriving. I wish I had unlimited funds to travel to every one of these meetings!



Tolkien & medievalism at K’zoo 2016: sneak peek


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The preview of the conference program for the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies has now been posted. Although there may still be changes made to the program before the final version is published in February, I’m always eager to see what sessions have been accepted and to plan how I’m going to spend my days in Kalamazoo this year.

The conference runs from May 12 – 15 at Western Michigan University. Keep in mind that the following are excerpts from a preliminary program; for the final version and most accurate information, check out the published schedule when it comes online here.

I’ve highlighted sessions on Tolkien and on medievalism. Even with this narrowing down, you can see that it’s impossible to attend every panel that might be of interest.

Sessions on Tolkien

The conference always features two plenary addresses.  This year, one of those lectures will be delivered by Jane Chance, speaking on Tolkien.

Friday 8:30 a.m. Plenary Lecture:
How We Read J. R. R. Tolkien Reading Grendel’s Mother.  
Jane Chance (Rice Univ.)

Other sessions focusing on Tolkien:

Thursday 10:00 a.m.
Fathering, Fostering, Translating, and Creating in the Works of J. R. R. Tolkien
Session 11 Fetzer 1040
Sponsor: Organizer: History Dept., Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce; Presider: Anne Reaves, Marian Univ.

  • Medieval Fostering in the First and Third Ages of Middle-earth: Elrond as Fóstri and Fóstr-son. Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
  • A Stylistic Analysis of Fatherhood and Fostering in The Silmarillion. Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
  • Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation of Scholar and Poet. Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College
  • Imagined: Tolkien in the Mind of God. Skyler King, College of the Desert

Thursday 1:30 p.m.
Tolkien and Beowulf
Session 58; Fetzer 1040
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
. Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ. Presider: Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar

  • “A Tight Fitt”: Strategies of Condensation in The Lay of Beowulf. John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville
  • Tolkien’s “Freawaru and Ingeld”: A Love Story? Christopher T. Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont
  • The Christian Singer in Tolkien’s Beowulf. Michael D. Miller, Aquinas College
  • Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary as a Teaching Text. James L. Baugher, East Tennessee State Univ.

Thursday 3:30 p.m.
In Honor of Verlyn Flieger (A Roundtable)
Session 107; Fetzer 1040
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo. Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ. Presider: John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar

  • Tolkien’s “On Fairy-stories” as a theory of literature. Curtis Gruenler, Hope College
  • The Well and the Book: Flieger and Tolkien on “the Past in the Past”. Deborah Sabo, Univ. of Arkansas–Fayetteville/Arkansas Archeological Survey
  • So Many Wonders: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight according to Tolkien and Flieger. Amy Amendt-Raduege, Whatcom Community College
  • “Linguistic Ghosts”: Anglo-Saxon Poetry as Tolkien’s Tether between Past and Present. Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
  • An Elf by Any Other Name: Naming, Language, and Loss in Tolkien’s Legendarium. Benjamin S. W. Barootes, McGill Univ.

Friday 10:00 a.m.
Tolkien and Invented Languages
Session 219; Bernhard 209
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo. Organizer & Presider: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.

  • From Goldogrin to Sindarin, or, How Ilkorin Supplanted the “Sweet Tongue of the Gnomes”. Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.
  • Early Explorers and Practicioners of a Shared “Secret Vice”. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
  • “Art Words”: Tolkien’s “Secret Vice” Manuscripts and Radical Linguistic Experimentation. Dimitra Fimi, Cardiff Metropolitan Univ.
  • Tolkien’s Concept of “Native Language” and the English and Welsh Papers at the Bodleian LibraryYoko Hemmi, Keio Univ.

Saturday 10:00 a.m.
Asterisk Tolkien: Filling Medieval Lacunae
Session 345; Fetzer 1060
Sponsor: Dept. of Religious Studies and Philosophy, The Hill School. Organizer and Presider: John Wm. Houghton, Hill School

  • The “Lost” Language of the Hobbits. Deidre Dawson, Independent Scholar
  • “To Recall Forgotten Gods from Their Twilight”: Tolkien, Machen, and Lovecraft. John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar
  • “Backdreaming” Beowulf’s Scyld Scefing Legend. Anna Smol, Mount Saint Vincent Univ.
  • Bred in Mockery. Michael Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.

Saturday noon
Tolkien at Kalamazoo business meeting. Bernhard 212.

Saturday 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Off-campus session sponsored by Tolkien at Kalamazoo:
Tolkien Unbound
Kalamazoo College, music recital hall, 2-5 p.m.  (Come to the business meeting to arrange transportation)

  • Readers’ theater performance of Tolkien’s Kalevala
  • Eileen Moore, Maidens of Middle-earth 6.


Other sessions on medievalism

Thursday 10 a.m.
Looking Back at the Middle Ages. Presider: Audrey Becker, Marygrove College. Session 35.

  • Discovering and Inventing Early Medieval Lincolnshire, 1710–1755. Dustin M. Frazier Wood, Bethany College
  • A Corruptly Nostalgic Crusade: Horace Walpole’s Medievalism of the Crusades in The Castle of Otranto. Rachel Landers, Univ. of Alabama–Birmingham
  • “Better than Anything Ancient”: Artifce, Authenticity, and William Morris’s Created Scandinavian Past. Mimi Ensley, Univ. of Notre Dame

Thursday 3:30 p.m.
Digitally Teaching the Middle Ages: Case Studies (A Poster Session)
Sponsor: Medieval Electronic Multimedia Organization (MEMO). Organizer: Carol L. Robinson, Kent State Univ.–Trumbull
. Presider:Pamela Clements, Siena College

  • Teaching with King’s Quest Part I
. Kevin A. Moberly, Old Dominion Univ.
  • Teaching with King’s Quest Part II
. Jessica Dambruch, Old Dominion Univ.
  • Game Theories and Teaching Medieval Literature. John McLaughlin, East Stroudsburg Univ.
  • Teaching with Lord of the Rings Online. Carol L. Robinson
  • Role-Playing Games and the Multimedia Wife of Bath Project. Daniel-Raymond Nadon, Kent State Univ.

Friday 1:30 p.m.
Medievalism and Labor (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism. Organizer and Presider: Amy S. Kaufman, Middle Tennessee State Univ. Session 276.

  • Adjunct Serfs in a Feudal Academy?. Michael R. Evans, Delta College
  • Life in Another Castle: Medieval Studies and Game Design. Serina Patterson, Univ. of British Columbia
  • King’s Scab: Economic Chivalry and Immaterial Labor in the Age of the Sharing Economy. Brent Addison Moberly, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington, and Kevin A. Moberly, Old Dominion Univ.
  • Should I Put This on My C.V.? Medievalism and Academic Labor in Graduate School. Usha Vishnuvajjala, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
  • Contractions and Expulsions of the Retro-medieval toward the Female Body. Carol L. Robinson, Kent State Univ.–Trumbull

Friday 3:30 p.m.
Medievalism and Anti-Semitism
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism. Organizer: Amy S. Kaufman, Middle Tennessee State Univ. Presider:Martin B. Shichtman, Eastern Michigan Univ. Session 328.

  • Medieval Heritage and Nazi Rituals: Historical Pageants in the Upper Palatinate. Richard Utz, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • William Dudley Pelley: An American Nazi in King Arthur’s Court. Kevin J. Harty, La Salle Univ.
  • Medievalism in Contemporary American Anti-Semitism. Paul B. Sturtevant, Smithsonian Institution

Friday 3:30 p.m.
Medieval Studies and Medievalism, Past and Present
Organizer: Christina M. Heckman, Augusta Univ. Presider: Martin K. Foys, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison. Session 295.

  • Gower among the Protestants: A Medieval Poet, Post-reform. F. Yeager, Univ. of West Florida
  • The Wreck of the Anglo-Saxon: Transatlantic Literary Traffic and Racial Anglo-Saxonism in Georgia, 1850–1870. Edward J. Christie, Georgia State Univ.
  • Church History and the Sound of Words in N. S. F. Grundtvig’s Brunanburh and Phoenix Ballads. Robert E. Bjork, Arizona State Univ.

Saturday 1:30 p.m.
A Session of Ice and Fire: Medievalism in the Game of Thrones Franchise
Sponsor: Tales after Tolkien Society Organizer: Helen Young, La Trobe Univ. Presider: Geoffrey B. Elliott, Oklahoma State Univ.–Stillwell. Session 417.

  • Forging and Reforging Valyrian Steel: The Role of Arthurian Sword Motifs in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Alexandra Garner, Bowling Green State Univ.
  • Peaceweaving in Westeros. Carol Parrish Jamison, Armstrong State Univ.
  • Dragons, Alliances, Power, and Gold: Disruptor Beam’s Game of Thrones Ascent. Shiloh R. Carroll, Tennessee State Univ.

Saturday 1:30 p.m.
Childhood/Innocence in Victorian Medievalism
Organizer: Daniel Najork, Arizona State Univ.; Eileen A. Joy, BABEL Working Group Presider: Daniel Najork. Session 386.

  • Alice, Dream Visions, and Victorian Childhood. William Racicot, Independent Scholar
  • Victorian Medievalism and the Construction of the Innocent Male Body in the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Cheryl Jaworski, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara
  • Medieval Fantasy and the Neo-Victorian Child in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia Heather L. N. Hess, Univ. of Tennessee–Knoxville

Saturday 3:30 p.m.
In Fashions Reminiscent: The Overlapping Objects, Discourses, and Ideas of the Sixties and the Middle Ages
Sponsor: punctum books. Organizers & presiders: Geoffrey W. Gust, Stockton Univ.; John F. O’Hara, Stockton Univ.; Eileen A. Joy, BABEL Working Group
Geoffrey W. Gust, John F. O’Hara, and Eileen A. Joy. Session 465.

  • Chaucer in the Stoned Age. Candace Barrington, Central Connecticut State Univ.
  • Trees Again: Time Travel with Plants. Lara Farina, West Virginia Univ.
  • Medievalism and the End(s) of Empire in 1960s Science Fiction: Frank Herbert’s Dune and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Scott Wells, California State Univ.–Los Angeles
  • Sounds of Silence: Popular Existentialism and Medieval Autofiction. Christopher Jensen, Florida State Univ.

Sunday 10:30 a.m.
Fanfiction in Medieval Studies
Organizer: Anna Wilson, Univ. of Toronto Presider: Anna Wilson. Session 524.

  • Strange Attraction to Sacred Places: Reading Fannish Fantasies in a Copy of Mandevilles’s Travels. Alison Harper, Univ. of Rochester
  • Choose Your Own Arthur: Canon and Agency in Choice of Games’ Pendragon. Rebecca Slitt, Choice of Games, LLC
  • Code-Switching Media: Vernacular Medievalisms and the Queer Lives of Mulan. Jonathan Hsy, George Washington Univ.
  • Charlemagne Fanfiction and Collective Identity in Fourteenth-Century England. Elizabeth Williamsen, Minnesota State Univ.–Mankato


Let me know if I’ve missed any sessions on Tolkien or medievalism.


Life, Death, and Immortality in two authors


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Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

During the holiday break I can usually enjoy the leisurely reading of a novel or two other than the ones I need for my teaching and research. Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis, is one of those books I’ve read for sheer pleasure, although I initially picked it up because I thought it might suit my Classical Traditions in English Literature course, where we read works from Greek and Latin antiquity alongside later adaptations. A review I had seen mentioned that the story begins with the gods Apollo and Hermes in a Toronto bar, an intriguing enough idea to make me take a further look. I wasn’t the only one – the book has received a lot of attention lately, as it was named the winner of Canada’s largest literary award, the Giller Prize, as well as the Writers’ Trust Prize.

I enjoyed the book immensely – it’s imaginative, thought-provoking, surprising, brutal, tender, moving. The action begins with Apollo and Hermes betting on whether bestowing human intelligence on animals would make the creatures even more unhappy than humans already are, or whether even one of the animals could live a happy life. On a whim, the gods decide to give some dogs human consciousness and a language.

It’s a little like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, except that Ovid usually represents humans who are metamorphosed into animals or plants while retaining their human minds. Alexis starts with the animals as animals; his dogs retain their essential “dogginess,” though their canine nature is modified by language and the consciousness that goes with it. It’s as if Alexis has reversed the Ovidian transformation by having the animals metamorphose into almost-humans. (Although I’m drawn to comparisons with Metamorphoses, probably because I’ve just finished teaching it, Alexis identifies another genre, subtitling the book An Apologue, a type of story derived from classical literature in which animals are used to point a moral or satirize humankind). Throughout the story, the dogs interact with their own kind, with various humans, and with the gods who, as in classical stories, watch, argue, and intervene, capriciously helping or harming earthly creatures.

As I was reading, I was struck by the following passage (on page 170) in which Hermes contemplates the difference between gods and mortals:

And yet, a divide existed between them, one that the god could not breach, despite his power, knowledge and subtlety: death. On one side, the immortals. On the other, these beings. He could no more understand what it was to live with death than they could what it was to exist without it. It was this difference that fascinated him and kept him coming back to earth. It was at the heart of the gods’ secret love for mortals. Death was in every fibre of these creatures. It was hidden in their languages and at the root of their civilizations. You could hear it in the sounds they made and see it in the way they moved. It darkened their pleasures and lightened their despair. Being one of those who longed for death, Hermes found the earth and all its mortals fascinating, perhaps even at times worthy of the depths he allowed himself to feel for them.

As any Tolkienist would recognize, this is a central idea in Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories as well; death is the “Gift of Ilúvatar” to human beings, who come to fear the gift, in contrast to the deathless elves who sometimes envy the human ability to escape the created world through death. The Silmarillion legends contain many instances in which this difference plays out in the stories. Tolkien identified this theme precisely in The Lord of the Rings: “The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it until its whole evil-aroused story is complete” (Letter 186).

Tolkien also identified “death” as the “key-spring” to The Lord of the Rings in a 1968 BBC interview:

In fact, the Tolkien Society has chosen “Life, Death, and Immortality” as the theme for the 2016 Tolkien Reading Day on March 25.

Fifteen Dogs is a very different kind of book from, say, The Lord of the Rings; for one thing, Alexis does not create a complete Secondary World with its own inhabitants. But he does write a mythical story. Of course, authors in all genres can write about themes of life, death, and immortality, but the fact that both Alexis and Tolkien do so by contrasting death-full and death-less characters makes me think that mythopoeic fantasies are particularly well suited to an exploration of these themes.

There are a lot of other fascinating elements in Fifteen Dogs, such as meditations on love, power, language, the desire to communicate with other beings, the experience of time — ideas that Tolkien readers will find familiar. But read it for yourself and let me know what you think! To whet your appetite, here is André Alexis with a preview of his story:

André Alexis, Fifteen Dogs : An Apologue. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2015. The book is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook in Canada, the US, and the UK.

Tolkien’s nod to the medieval homage ritual in LotR


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As I indicated in a previous entry, I wanted to post some of the images that I used when delivering my Tolkien 2005 conference paper. That paper (without the images) is included in the proceedings now on sale by the Tolkien Society.

Back in 2005, my presentation, “Male Friendship in The Lord of the Rings: Medievalism, The First World War, and Contemporary Rewritings,” discussed the Frodo and Sam relationship in both medieval and modern contexts. I wanted to show that a tradition of male friendship, especially in war, stretches far back in time.

For example, just as Roland has his Oliver in the Song of Roland (here pictured in a 14th-century manuscript):

Roland and Oliver

and Beowulf has his Wiglaf (by J.H.F. Bacon, c. 1910):

Death of Beowulf

so too, Frodo has his Sam:

Sam Frodo Mount Doom LotR Framecap Lib

While I wanted to show how a tradition of male friendship can be traced back to the early medieval period (and I could have gone beyond that, of course, but I only had 20 minutes for my talk!), I also tried to place the Frodo-Sam relationship in a modern and contemporary context. I looked at the nature of World War One friendships, then at how Peter Jackson had portrayed Frodo and Sam in his films, and finally at how subsequent fanfic writers have generally represented the two.

But as I was thinking about the medievalized elements in Frodo and Sam’s friendship, I was struck by one moment in Return of the King when the two of them are near the end of their climb up Mount Doom. Consider this passage:

 ‘Help me, Sam! Help me, Sam! Hold my hand! I can’t stop it.’ Sam took his master’s hands and laid them together, palm to palm, and kissed them; and then he held them gently between his own.

At this point, Frodo and Sam are very close to the end of their climb. As the Eye moves to gaze at the Captains of the West, Frodo falls to the ground as if he’s “stricken mortally.” Sam is kneeling beside him. Of course, it’s completely natural for Frodo to ask Sam to hold his hand to keep it from reaching for the Ring around his neck. And it’s quite in keeping with Sam’s previous attempts to comfort his Master by holding his hands, as he does several times before this in various situations.

But the specific actions that are described here are also reminiscent of the medieval ceremony in which a vassal pays homage to a lord. Typically, the vassal places himself in a lower position than his lord by kneeling before him. He offers his hands in a prayer gesture, palm to palm, to his lord, who places his own hands over them as a sign that he will offer protection to his vassal.

medieval homage ceremony

From a 12th-century manuscript. Act of homage

On Mount Doom, Frodo is in the lower position on the ground and Sam is kneeling above him. Frodo offers his hands as a vassal would do, and Sam takes them between his own, as if he were the superior in the relationship. I find this reversal very telling. Sam has always directed his loyalty to his “Master,” acting as his servant. Now, Frodo is acknowledging Sam’s leadership role by putting himself into Sam’s hands, both literally and symbolically. He is becoming Sam’s man, as if he were a vassal pledging himself to a lord.

This reversal only acknowledges what has already happened in the story by this point. Sam has increasingly taken the lead in their journey and made decisions for both of them in his effort to protect Frodo.

The ceremony of homage between vassal and lord existed in many European countries and over centuries in the medieval period, so it should not be surprising that variations occurred. In my 2005 article, I interpreted the scene in the light of one of these versions, in which a vassal kisses his lord’s hands in the ceremony. Because it’s Sam who kisses the clasped pair of hands, I had read that as a sign of  “a reciprocal exchange in which Frodo acknowledges the need for Sam’s leadership and protection, and Sam acknowledges his willingness to be both vassal and lord” (324). Since writing this, though, I’ve read that in some instances the lord did kiss the vassal’s hands and in others, the kiss did not occur until an oath of fealty was sworn after the homage ritual. In any case, some historians do point out that the ceremony of vassalage created a reciprocal relationship between the two parties, with equal demands on both sides.

Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth 1969

Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth 1969.

However we interpret the details, I can’t help but see the basic homage ritual (hands clasped together and enfolded in another person’s hands) as reflected in this moment between Frodo and Sam. In that light, the scene looks forward to the time when Sam will become the Master of Bag End; in fact, to me it makes that conclusion seem inevitable.


The original article in the 2005 proceedings did not have a bibliography attached. For the sake of completion, you can look at the Works Cited list here [pdf].


Roland and Oliver. Illustration from the Song of Roland. 14th century. Wikimedia Commons Image;

Frodo and Sam. Peter Jackson, Return of the King. Image from The Lord of the Rings Image Library.

From a 12th-century manuscript, Liber Feudorum Major. Wikimedia Commons Image:,_Count_of_Urgell#/media/File:LiberErmengol_Arnau.jpg

Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth 1969 investiture ceremony.


Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s LotR has arrived (for real this time)


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Approaches to Teaching Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Other WorksI can now definitively say that Leslie Donovan’s Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works is available. Back in July, I posted an announcement of the book’s August release, but it’s only this week that I’ve received my copies from the publisher and that I’ve noticed the book is available for order (and not just pre-order) on Amazon websites.

Leslie Donovan has collected a wealth of information that can be used by teachers who want to run a full course on Tolkien’s works or who want to incorporate a study of his works into various kinds of college and university courses.

In “Part One: Materials,”  Leslie describes editions of Tolkien’s works, multimedia aids for teaching, and the standard scholarly and reference works useful for the study of Tolkien. In identifying these resources, she draws on her years of experience as a Tolkien scholar and teacher, but she also had additional input in 83 survey responses received from Tolkien teachers (Preface xi). You can click on the images below to read the full table of contents.

“Part Two: Approaches” consists of 29 essays describing ways of teaching Tolkien — at different levels; in large classes and small; in English departments and others; from a medieval or a postmodern perspective — I have yet to sample all of them. The contents of Part Two are divided into the following sections: Teaching the Controversies, Tolkien’s Other Works as Background, Connections to the Past, Modern and Contemporary Perspectives, Interdisciplinary Contexts, and Classroom Contexts and Strategies for Teaching. My own article is on “Tolkien in the First-Year Literature Survey Course” and is based on my teaching of English 1171 here at Mount Saint Vincent University.

To supplement all of this information, you can also check out the resources posted in the new journal Waymeet for Tolkien Teachers, where some of the essay-writers have posted their course materials.

Click on the thumbnails below to read the full table of contents.

Approaches to Teaching Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings & Other Works. Contents Part OneApproaches to Teaching Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Other Works. Contents Part Two ApproachesApproaches to Teaching Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Other Works. Contents Part Two continued

Tolkien 2005 Proceedings on sale


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Tolkien 2005: The Ring Goes Ever On ProceedingsIt’s hard to believe that the Tolkien 2005 conference — The Ring Goes Ever On — was held ten years ago at Aston University in the UK. Looking over the list of participants in the mammoth proceedings published after the event, I see names of people I had met just a little while before; some that I had known or followed online for a few years; and others I had yet to meet in the coming years. (Do I sound like I’m looking into Galadriel’s mirror?). The event, co-sponsored by the Tolkien Society and the Mythopoeic Society, packed into five days an enormous number of presentations and activities.

It was difficult deciding which papers to go to, and sometimes the rooms were so full that people had to be turned away. I remember a few highlights: having Priscilla Tolkien herself open the event by wishing that “a star would shine upon our meeting.”  Getting the opportunity to tell Alan Lee that I loved his design of Meduseld. Discovering some of my favorite fanfic authors and having the opportunity to talk to them. Going to a Q & A with Priscilla Tolkien. Listening to presentations by scholars such as Tom Shippey, John Garth, Ian Hunter (all of whom spoke to huge audiences; Ian’s talk on Lord of the Rings porn parodies was certainly an eye-opener!). Meeting up with some of my TORnsibs.

But I digress. The point of this post is to help the Tolkien Society announce that the proceedings of the conference are now on sale for 10 British pounds (approximately $20 Canadian and $15 US). So if you couldn’t be there, or if you were and would like a record of the event, this is your chance to get the enormous two-volume proceedings, with nearly 100 articles, at this discount price. Go to the Tolkien Society offer here for more details.  A full list of contents is available at the Tolkien Gateway site.

My presentation, “Male Friendship in The Lord of the Rings: Medievalism, the First World War, and Contemporary Rewritings” is included in Volume 1. Here is a summary of what I discuss in that article:

My paper explores continuities in the institution of male friendship from the Middle
Ages to the First World War and then looks at contemporary explorations and understandings of the central male friendship in The Lord of the Rings, that of Frodo and Sam. I look at some examples of medieval forerunners before examining the nature of male friendship in World War One through the perspectives of critics such as Sarah Cole, Santanu Das, Joanna Bourke, and Allen Frantzen. I focus my discussion of
The Lord of the Rings on the Cirith Ungol scene, in which Frodo and Sam sleep together, and on the Mount Doom scene, in which Frodo asks Sam to hold his hands, a gesture that I argue mimics the medieval ritual of swearing fealty to a lord. I then examine the contemporary reception of the Frodo – Sam relationship in the Peter Jackson films and in reactions to them. I conclude by considering slash fan fiction and its version of male friendship.

In the next few days, I’ll post some of the illustrations that I used when I gave my talk, and I’ll write a little bit more about Tolkien’s adaptation of the medieval ritual of homage.

Of course, my article is only a small part of a very large collection that could keep you reading Tolkien essays for some time. Go to the Tolkien Society website to order!

Travels with Tolkien; or, What I Did Last Summer


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A couple of weeks ago, my department held a reception for our students, and the event included a series of brief talks called  “What I Did Last Summer.”  Our intention was to introduce our work to our students and also to combat the popular misconception that professors have the summer “off.”

We wanted to give students a glimpse of what their professors do when they’re not teaching. The talks — which had to be under 10 minutes — described various tasks that we performed over the summer, from collective bargaining on behalf of the faculty union, to the writing of short stories, to doing research for articles and conference papers. I offered to talk about my research and conference trips to Oxford and New York, but the time limit was a challenge!

I’ve already written in this blog about my research trip to Oxford and my conference trip to New York, but in case you’re still interested, here is another version of the story; I’ve recorded the talk that goes with my slides. I hope this presentation gives some insight into the main ideas that are fuelling my work these days.

CFP: Tolkien in Vermont 2016



Tolkien in Vermont conference

Conference organizer Chris Vaccaro has sent out the call for papers for the 13th Annual Tolkien in Vermont conference. This is a small, friendly event with a featured speaker and papers by professors, independent scholars, and students. This year’s theme is Tolkien and popular culture, with keynote speaker Dr. Robin Reid.

Tolkien and Popular Culture
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont
April 8-9, 2016

Abstracts should be sent by January 15th to Chris Vaccaro at

To look at previous years’ programs, you can go to the conference website.

Eala! Unlock your word hoards!


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I’ve just heard about a new project, the journal Eala, which will publish compositions in Old English and other medieval Germanic languages. The founding editor and editor-in-chief of Word Hoard Press, Richard Littauer, plans to publish the journal online and include original compositions in Old English, Old Norse, and the like, as well as translations.

I can’t help thinking that Tolkien would be pleased to see this kind of venture, as he was a proponent of writing in the alliterative verse styles of Old English and Old Norse, either in the original languages or in modern English. As readers of his recently published Beowulf know, Tolkien was adept at composing in Old English – see his prose story “Sellic Spell” in that volume as an example. Tom Shippey has written about the difficulties of counting just how many poems and fragments Tolkien wrote in alliterative meter in both modern and Old English; in his essay “Tolkien as a Writer of Alliterative Poetry” in the book Tolkien’s Poetry, Shippey counts 22 compositions in modern English alliterative meter plus “The Homecoming”; another nine complete poems and five fragments in Old English, and that’s not including modern English poems imitating Old Norse alliterative style. In other words, Tolkien wrote a lot of alliterative verse.

Although Tolkien did write in other verse forms besides alliterative meter, he believed that alliterative verse was a natural form for English speakers and advocated its use – but who was listening? Lately, though, I’ve seen signs of interest in bringing medieval poetry more in contact with modern writers. Jane Chance, for example, is hosting an “Original Medievalistic Poetry Reading and Open Mic” at next year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ll have to check it out next May in the hopes of hearing some alliterative compositions. And here’s another sign of interest from a couple of years ago: Modern Poets on Viking Poetry: A Cultural Translation Project resulted in the publication of poems in modern English, which can be downloaded here.

These last two are projects that highlight the influence of medieval poetry on modern writers, but to write “correct” alliterative verse in a medieval language like Old English is another matter entirely. I’m looking forward to seeing what shows up in Eala.

Happy Birthday, Bilbo and Frodo! #HobbitDay


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Bilbo and Frodo happened to have the same birthday, September 22nd. ‘You had better come and live here, Frodo my lad,’ said Bilbo one day; ‘and then we can celebrate our birthday-parties comfortably together.’  (Lord of the Rings, chapter 1).

Listen to Tolkien talking about the original “flash point” for the writing of The Hobbit:

Tolkien also designed the book jacket for the first edition, pictured below.

Hobbit dust jacket

Here is the book cover of the edition that I first read as a teenager, illustrated with a drawing by Tolkien.

The Hobbit. 1966

The Hobbit book cover, Unwin Books, 1966.

Since its first publication in 1937, The Hobbit has been reprinted many times and translated in 110 editions in 64 languages, according to Tolkien book collector Yvan Strelz. Check out his amazing collection of translations on his website, Elrond’s Library. You’ll find editions in languages from Albanian to Yiddish, and the book covers are fascinating in themselves. Do you remember what your first edition of The Hobbit looked like? Or if you’re a recent first-time reader of The Hobbit, did you pick your edition by the cover?


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