What a day for Tolkien news!


, , ,

Tolkien's BeowulfThis morning, in the midst of grading and preparing class notes and answering student emails, I happened to glance at my twitter feed to find that the long-awaited Beowulf translation by Tolkien is about to be published on May 22! Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary is another in a series of publications by the author’s son, Christopher Tolkien, who has also recently edited his father’s The Children of Húrin (2007), The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (2009), and The Fall of Arthur (2013).

This latest book will also include the story “Sellic Spell” (which is Old English for “marvellous story”). Here is what Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond have to say about that story in their J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide:

In the early 1940s Tolkien wrote a story, Sellic Spell (unpublished), as an attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk- or fairy-tale element in Beowulf…. He felt, however, that in many points it was not possible to do so with certainty, and in some points the tale was not quite the same. The ‘principal object’ of Sellic Spell,Tolkien wrote in a late note, was ‘to exhibit the difference of style, tone and atmosphere if the particular heroic or historical is cut out’ (Tolkien Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford). In 1945 Tolkien’s friend Gwyn Jones, Professor of English at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, saw Sellic Spell and remarked that it should be prescribed for all university students of Beowulf.

It certainly sounds like something that I would prescribe for my university students, but any more posthumous publications and I will need several more weeks in the semester to cover everything that I would like!

Brief notices about the book have appeared in The Guardian, The Telegraph, and elsewhere, and John Garth reports that he will have a preview feature in the Guardian Review this Saturday.

But that wasn’t all the Tolkien news of the day.

After I had Journal of Tolkien Research logofinished teaching my evening class, I came home to find an announcement for a new, peer-reviewed, open access journal, The Journal of Tolkien Research, to be edited by Brad Eden at Valparaiso University, with Douglas A. Anderson as the book reviews editor. The aims and scope of the journal are as follows:

The Journal of Tolkien Research (JTR) has the goal of providing high-quality research and scholarship based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and on transformative and derivative texts based on his work to a wide and diverse audience. This journal will focus on multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches to Tolkien studies, including gaming, media and literary adaptations, fan productions, and audience reception.

A unique feature of this journal is its aim to include not only studies of Tolkien’s texts but also of fan productions and other adaptations, and audience reception — a broad scope that has the potential to bring in scholars from diverse fields and extend our ideas about the reach and impact of Tolkien’s work. The fact that the journal is completely free and open access means that the articles that will be published there will have the potential to find a wide readership. I’m looking forward to the first issue!

The Tolkien Encyclopedia & Reader’s Diary: A Look Back


, , , , , ,

J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical AssessmentThe J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment is now available in paperback and Kindle version, making this reference work much more affordable than the $100-plus Canadian and US hardback edition (with similar pricing in the UK). The Encyclopedia, edited by Michael D.C. Drout, includes entries by well-known critics such as Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, and so many more. I think that the Encyclopedia contains a great deal of valuable information, though I agree with some reviewers who point out that the entries can be uneven in quality. I hope, though, that readers will find my contributions to the Encyclopedia useful — I wrote the entries for “Gender in Tolkien’s Works,” “Sexuality in Tolkien’s Works,” and “History, Anglo-Saxon” (as it applies to Tolkien’s works). I’m also very proud of the fact that one of my students, Aline Ripley, wrote “Feminist Readings of Tolkien” and that her entry was singled out for praise in a Tolkien Studies review (the reviewer did not know that Aline was an undergraduate student at the time she wrote her entry).

The Encyclopedia almost didn’t make it into print at all, having been caught in the turn-over in publishers from Routledge to Taylor & Francis. Michael Drout explained some of the resulting editing and publication difficulties in a 2006 blog post. I, however, was happily unaware of what was going on behind the scenes and had a marvellous experience participating in an online Encyclopedia working group consisting of several contributors from TheOneRing.net’s Reading Room discussion board, where I used to be a regular. (And just saying that makes me nostalgic for those days and puzzled why I can’t get back to the Reading Room more often). I had never experienced more rigorous fact-checking and editing in any other previous scholarly endeavour than I had in that working group, which had no official ties to the Encyclopedia editors or publishers. Although a few of us in the group were professors and librarians, the rest consisted of well-informed Tolkien readers with an interest in research and, often, many years of experience in the close reading of Tolkien’s works. The Encyclopedia working group was further proof to me — my time in the Reading Room had already taught me this — that any attempt to set up boundaries between professional academics and general readers or fans or independent scholars — use what term you will — can lead to a false sense of the knowledge and skills of one group or the other. In the online working group, we would share our rough drafts and wait for comments, corrections, or just corroborations that we were on the right track and weren’t omitting anything important. I was grateful for the intense scrutiny.

It was also fun for me to work with other people on a project, since in my field it is more usual to work alone. Well, I say “fun” now, though I’m sure I must have complained about having to meet deadlines and get the work done. I discovered that writing encyclopedia entries was not easy: yes, they are short, but into that brief space you have to cram all of the available knowledge on your topic. In any case, our collaboration in the working group paid off because the contributions of group members were generally well researched and well written — and if this sounds like boasting, read Michael Drout’s May 2006 blog post “Who is Really a Scholar” in which he mentions “Squire,” one of our group, and compares one of his entries that did not need a single correction to a piece written by a “big name” in the field that was full of errors. Two or three of our group members dedicated a great deal of time to commenting, editing, and proofreading everyone’s entries, and anyone who was willing to listen to their feedback benefitted from their relentless attention to detail. As Drout pointed out, “Squire and his TheOneRing.net compatriots are [scholars]. Maybe they are scholars with day jobs, but they are scholars nonetheless.”

Once the Encyclopedia was published, that same Squire launched a massive online project, The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader’s Diary, in which he planned to review every entry in the Encyclopedia. Joined by another of our Encyclopedia group members, “N.E. Brigand,” and by Jason Fisher, the three worked their way through the Encyclopedia commenting on the research, writing, and editing in each piece. (Squire and N.E. Brigand did not review the entries of the TORn working group; they were left for Jason Fisher as the outside eye). They ended up producing a valuable supplement to the Encyclopedia for professional scholar and general reader alike.

Their systematic commentary examines each entry far more carefully than any general review can; in fact, I believe that the Reader’s Diary should be read in conjunction with the Encyclopedia. The reviewers sometimes add information about other sources or comment on different approaches to the subject, thus expanding the ways in which each topic can be viewed. Take Jason Fisher’s commentary on my entry, “Gender in Tolkien’s Works” — he suggests, for example, a fascinating idea about the gender of Eru which had not occurred to me at that time but which could provide further ideas for anyone interested in the topic. If you want to look further and read other opinions, the Reader’s Diary site also contains links to other reviews of the Encyclopedia, including a long excerpt from the one that appeared in Tolkien Studies.

In spite of the difficulties in getting the Encyclopedia edited and printed, it is nevertheless a valuable resource that summarizes information and suggests further readings on many topics.* Here you can read Verlyn Flieger on “Barfield, Owen” or Tom Shippey on “Old Norse Language.” If you read Tolkien scholarship or belong to a Tolkien scholarly association you’ll recognize many of the contributors’ names: John Garth, Thomas Honegger, Marcel Bülles, Janet Brennan Croft, Merlin DeTardo, Leslie Donovan, David Oberhelman, Dimitra Fimi, Marjorie Burns, Carl Hostetter, Douglas Anderson, Gergely Nagy, Brian Rosebury…the list is over 100 names long, and I’m sorry I can’t acknowledge everyone. But you should also take a look at entries by people whose names you might not recognize, such as Don Anger’s “Report on the Excavation of the Pre-historic, Roman and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire” or Alice Campbell’s “Maps” or John F.G. Magoun’s “The East.”

Now that the price has dropped, the Encyclopedia is finally more accessible to a wider audience — which is appropriate, given that parts of it were written, edited, and then meticulously reviewed by “scholars with day jobs.”

* I always recommend the Encyclopedia along with Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull‘s J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide as two essential reference works for anyone interested in the scholarly study of Tolkien. This post is already long enough without going into the considerable merits of the Hammond and Scull text — but maybe another time.

Tracking Tolkien conference listings


In the past I’ve tried to list all of the Tolkien-related conferences that I knew of in the coming year, but now I’ve discovered that I don’t have to. Marcel Aubron-Bülles at The Tolkienist has compiled a wonderful list of Tolkien-related meetings throughout Europe and North America, more extensive than anything I would do! So just go to The Tolkienist and look at Tolkien-related events in 2014 if you’re interested in finding a meeting of Tolkien fans and/or scholars in the months ahead.

I was equally pleased to find that John Rateliff over at Sacnoth’s Scriptorium has extracted a list of the Tolkien sessions at this year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, something that I also try to do every year, if only for my own convenience — it’s hard to keep track of the Tolkien at Kalamazoo sessions out of the hundreds of panels on offer every year!  Now you can read the 2014 Tolkien at Kalamazoo schedule and More Tolkien at 2014 Kalamazoo (including C.S. Lewis) on John’s blog.

CFP: Humour in and around Tolkien’s work


, , ,

This call for papers just came in. The original deadlines have been extended. Proposals are now due on March 3 and, if accepted, final papers by June 30.

Call for Papers:
Humour in and around the works of Tolkien

Tolkien has until recently been seen primarily as a writer of epic fantasy, a genre usually not associated with humour. If humour had been the subject of academic inquiry at all, then the authors focused mostly on the shorter works (e.g. Schneidewind on Farmer Giles of Ham) or the treatment of humour was incidental or part of a larger argument (e.g. Tom Shippey’s discussion of orcish humour in LotR in his paper on the nature of evil). The proposed collection of essays therefore aims at a critical re-examination as well as an expanded view of the use of humour in and around Tolkien’s works. In order to study the diversity of these texts, we would encourage contributors to apply contemporary approaches towards humour and also take into account, where appropriate (e.g. humour in parodies), recent publications in adaptation studies.

We invite contributions including – but not limited to – the following topics:

•      What are the humorous elements and their function within the various textual genres (i.e. literary, poetic, academic, and epistolary texts)?

•      Tolkien’s understanding of humour and related phenomena such as irony or satire and their conceptual relevance for his works.

•      Concepts and relevance of humour in the context of a mythology written by a modern author.

•      Adaptation and transformation of Tolkien’s humour in Tolkienian fan-fiction.

•      Adaptation and transformation of humour in interpretations of Tolkien’s works in other media (comic/graphic novel, drawings/paintings, film etc.)

•      Strategies of humour in parodies of Tolkien’s work.

With this outline for possible fields of examination, we hope to encourage a diversity of topics and theoretical/methodological approaches, highlighting the complexity of Tolkien’s works and their poetics. Please pass on this call for papers to anyone who may be interested.

~ • ~

If you would like to contribute to this volume, to be published by Walking Tree Publishers in 2015, please submit an abstract (200-300 words) outlining your proposed article by 03 March, 2014. Upon acceptance, full essays are due by 30 June, 2014. All contributions should be submitted in English. Please send your abstracts, inquiries and suggestions by email to:

Dr. Thomas Honegger
Email: Tm.honegger@uni-jena.de


Dr. Maureen F. Mann
Email: babeltower@sympatico.ca

Please visit the Walking Tree website to learn more about the publishers:


CFP: Tales After Tolkien: Medievalism and Genre in the Twenty-First Century


The following call for papers came through the Studies in Medievalism email list. You can find some information about the Tales After Tolkien Society on their website, which outlines their formation at the 2013 International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo.

CFP:  Contributions are sought for an edited collection titled Tales After Tolkien: Medievalism and Genre in the Twenty-First Century. The collection explores the ways popular genres engage with the history and literature of the Middle Ages, and with the very idea of ‘the medieval.’ What are the intersections of medievalism and genre in modern popular culture?

The questions chapters might ask include, but are not limited to: how genre conventions shape the use of medieval material and vice versa? In what ways do contemporary social, cultural and political issues intersect with the medieval in popular genres? How do authors approach the Middle Ages and medieval material? What is the role of audience expectations and beliefs? Is historical authenticity important, to whom does it matter, and how is it defined?

Chapters may focus on any popular genre, but contributions exploring romance, horror, mystery, science fiction and historical, westerns, cross-genre works or comparing genres are especially welcome. They may focus on works in any medium, e.g. fiction, film, television, graphic novels, and games, or consider multi- or transmedia medievalisms. Chapters exploring fan communities, audiences, and adaptations are also welcome. They should focus on works first published in the twenty-first century, although series which began before that date could also be considered, as could comparisons of recent works with earlier publications.

Chapters will be 6,000 to 7,000 words, including all footnotes, references etc, with first drafts due 1st June 2014, and final versions on 1st October 2014. The volume will be offered to Cambria Press, which has expressed interest in seeing the manuscript proposal.

In the first instance, an abstract of approximately 300 words along with a brief CV should be sent to Helen.Young@sydney.edu.au by 8th January, 2014. Any queries may be directed to the same address.

Tolkien Studies at PCA: sessions announced


Here is the list of Tolkien Studies sessions that have been approved for the 2014 Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association conference in Chicago in April. The dates and times of the sessions will be posted on the PCA/ACA website in February. As you can see, there was an excellent response to this year’s first trial run of the Tolkien Studies area — with no small thanks to Robin Reid, who did a great deal of publicizing, encouraging, and organizing to make this happen!

For my own part, I’m looking forward to participating in the roundtable discussion on the Marquette Tolkien Archive when I plan to talk about the potential of the archive for the study of Tolkien fandom.

Take a look at the variety of presentations to come:


Noms de Guerre: The Power of Naming in War and Conflict in Middle-earth
Janet Croft

Gollum’s Great Chain of Hearing: The Great War and Tolkien’s Last Alliance
Peter Grybauskas

The War Wounded in the Prose Tradition of The Children of Húrin
Margaret Sinex (moderator)

Illustration as Translation: Assertion of National Identity in Tove Jansson’s Illustrations of Tolkien’s The Hobbit
M. Lee Alexander

The Disabled Hero: The Ethics of the Wound in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings
Todd Comer

Ruins and Dreams: Environmental Visions within The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
William Korver

Tolkien and the Multimodal Text: Narrative Transformational Strategies
Janice Bogstad (moderator)

Tolkien and Literary Cartography: Spatiality, Fantasy, Modernity
Robert Tally

Constructions of Middle-earth in Tolkien’s Legendarium
Robin Reid

Breaking the Dragon’s Gaze: Revealing Commodity Fetishism in Tolkien’s Middle-earth
Steven Kelly

Darkness Amid the Day: Eclipses in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien
Kristine Larsen (moderator)


Frodo is Overrated: Why Samwise Gamgee is the True Hero of The Lord of the Rings
Kathryn Allen

The Making of a Hero: Success and Failure of Heroic Characters in Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings
Rachel Syens

Tolkien’s Unfallen Man: Tom Bombadil as an Image of Humanity’s Ideal State
Brian Kenna

Tolkien and the Buddhist influence: thoughts and perspectives
Brad Eden (moderator)


Brad Eden
Janet Brennan Croft
Christopher Vaccaro
David Bratman
Robin Reid (moderator)

William Fliss
Amy Amendt-Radugue
Anna Smol
Richard West
Robin Reid (moderator)


Kathryn Allen
Cait Coker
Brad Eden
Kristine Larsen
Robin Reid
Robert Tally
Michael Elam (moderator)


Tolkien Studies Business Meeting

Film Viewing: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

AAU Teaching Showcase: Voicing Interpretations


, , ,

Each year, the Association of Atlantic Universities sponsors a Teaching Showcase, a conference on a specific theme dealing with teaching and learning. This year’s conference theme at Mount Allison University in Sackville New Brunswick was “Assessment: Teaching, Learning, Quality.”  As always, the conference provided plenty of opportunities to reflect on what I do in the classroom and to come away with new ideas. I also gave a paper on a project that I regularly assign in my introductory English course and that I think works very well in making students assess their skills and learn from each other. Following is the published abstract of my presentation; the full program and abstracts of other presentations can be found on the AAU Teaching Showcase 2013 site.  Proceedings from previous years are available online.

Anna Smol.  Abstract: “Voicing Interpretations: Peer Learning and Self-Assessment in a First-Year Literature Assignment”  AAU Teaching Showcase 2013. Mount Allison University. October 26, 2013.

Most literature instructors want their students to read closely, to write clearly, and to learn how to revise, as well as to participate in class discussions or to give oral presentations. I will present a two-part assignment developed for first-year English students that works towards all of these goals. The first part consists of a conventional written analysis of a short story. In the second part, students select and rehearse a portion of their chosen story to read aloud to a small group before writing a reflection on / review of their own and another person’s performance. The voicing of a passage requires that students pay attention to the author’s words rather than silently skim the text. In preparing for their readings and listening to their peers, students learn about different and often subtle new interpretations of a closely analyzed portion of a story. The final reflection / review allows students to revise their previously written analyses in the light of these new ideas, to become more aware of techniques of oral presentation, and to assess honestly how well they and others handled their own readings. I will present the guidelines that I give to students at all stages of this assignment and illustrate with examples from student writing the kind of peer learning and self-assessment that can take place. This assignment is most relevant for literature and language students but may be applicable in other disciplines that require oral presentations and the comprehension and interpretation of literary texts.

Tolkien Conference Season in the US: Spring & Summer 2014


, , ,

This coming spring and summer will see a number of Tolkien conference sessions in the US: you might have to pace yourself carefully! I’m focusing on American conferences, since those are the ones I know best — let me know if there are others I’ve missed.  I would also love to hear about upcoming Tolkien conference sessions outside of the United States.

In April, two conferences will occur almost back-to-back. If I can scrounge up enough time and money, I would love to be able to go from one directly to the other.

Tolkien in Vermont: April 11-13, 2014

Tolkien in Vermont conferenceFirst is the 11th annual Tolkien in Vermont conference to be held April 11 – 13 at the University of Vermont. The theme of the 2014 conference is “Bombadil and other Middle-earth Mysteries” though papers on any topic will be considered. Keynote speaker Kristine Larsen is well known for her research on science in Tolkien’s works, and she has been a frequent contributor to this conference. The Vermont conference has always been an intimate gathering with a lot of student participation. It provides a great opportunity to get to know people and, besides enjoying a full day of presentations, to have some fun in the Friday night readings or the Sunday morning Springle-ring that the university Tolkien Club typically organizes. The call for papers can be found on the conference website, which is in the process of adding the list of papers given in past years: http://tolkienvt.org/.  Deadline for proposals: January 18, 2014.

Tolkien sessions at PCA/ACA: April 16-19, 2014

Popular Culture Association logoFrom the Vermont conference, you can head down the road to Chicago for the annual Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association conference, to be held April 16-19. This year, Tolkien Studies has been added as a new area on a trial basis. If sufficient interest is shown, Tolkien Studies will become a permanent field in the conference program.

The deadline for submissions has passed, and the conference program has not been posted yet, but several roundtable discussions and Tolkien sessions have been proposed.  Look for conference details on the PCA/ACA website: http://pcaaca.org/

Tolkien at Kalamazoo: May 8-11, 2014

Kalamazoo campus swan pond“Tolkien at Kalamazoo” is an informal group that has sponsored up to eight sessions annually at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. For 2014, Congress organizers decided to cut back every sponsoring group to a maximum of four sessions, much to the dismay of many participants including the Tolkien group, which has organized very well attended sessions every year. Nonetheless, there will be Tolkien sessions in 2014 on The Fall of Arthur, on Tolkien’s medieval sources, on Tolkien and science, and a “Tolkien Unbound” evening of entertainment. The conference program will be announced in February on the Congress website: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/

Mythcon 45: August 8-11, 2014

Mythcon 45 logoThe call for papers has just been posted on the Mythopoeic Society website: http://www.mythsoc.org/mythcon/mythcon-45/papers/Deadline for submissions is April 15, 2014. The theme of Mythcon 45 is “Where Fantasy Fits,” and proposals can address the work of the Inklings (Tolkien, Lewis, Williams) or any other aspects of the conference theme.  Richard C. West will be the scholar guest of honour and Ursula Vernon, the author guest of honour. The conference will take place at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

Popular Culture Association: Tolkien Studies — deadline Nov. 1st


The Popular Culture Association has designated a new special topic of Tolkien Studies, which may become a permanent area in the conference if enough interest is shown.  Currently, I know of roundtables being proposed on the state of Tolkien Studies and on the Marquette Tolkien Archive, and I’ve also heard of individual papers likely to be proposed on “The Fall of Arthur” and The Hobbit films. Below, you’ll find information for a proposed session on “Authorizing Tolkien: Questions of Control, Adaptation, and Disseminating Tolkien’s Works.”  If anyone wants to propose an individual paper, a session, or a roundtable, you can do so through the PCA website. The PCA organizers are interested in any area of Tolkien studies, from any disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspective.  The CFP for Tolkien Studies and links to the submission database and to general conference information can be found here. 

The deadline for submissions is November 1st.
The conference will be held in Chicago, April 16-19, 2014.

A call for papers for one of the proposed sessions follows:

Authorizing Tolkien: Questions of Control, Adaptation, and Dissemination of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works

In 2012, Christopher Tolkien gave an interview to Le Monde, in which he describes himself as turning his head from the recent commercialization of his father’s work: “Il ne me reste qu’une seule solution: tourner la tête.” Although the degree to which adaptations of different works are “faithful” to their originals is a perennial matter for debate, one wonders if the effects of larger-scale commercial adaptations may suggest ways in which Tolkien’s works resonate with current societal concerns. Perhaps societal appetites, interested in their own self-indulgences, have appropriated his works with little concern for what they contain.

Fans and critics alike will have strong opinions about the “validity” of certain adaptations of Tolkien’s works. One might think of the Rankin-Bass animated versions of The Hobbit and Return of the King, Ralph Bakshi’s partially-rotoscoped animated adaptation, a number of video games based on Tolkien’s narratives, fan fiction, etc. While no one can force in what ways Tolkien’s works are reshaped and retold, no one would deny the impulse to judge such works in terms of authenticity—whether they maintain fidelity to the originals. Who, then, defines such fidelity? Is it possible even to authorize Tolkien at all? Does asking such questions reveal artistic merit that might be assigned to other authors of enduring English language works (Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, the dramas of Shakespeare, etc.)?

This session proposes to explore matters of control, adaptation, and dissemination of Tolkien’s works (including those of his son, Christopher), and the implications such matters have for future scholarship in the area. Discussion topics are not limited to, but can include, ideas of authority with respect to Tolkien’s intellectual “property,” (crossing) boundaries in adaptation, expanding (even potentially negative) critiques of Tolkien’s narratives, modes of retelling Tolkien’s stories, etc.

If you’re interested in submitting a proposal for this session, please let Robin Reid and Michael Elam know:


Year’s Work in Medievalism becomes open access


Page HeaderThe peer-reviewed scholarly journal Year’s Work in Medievalism has just become an open-access online publication.  One of its editors, Ed Risden, summarizes the contents of the latest volume: “This current volume includes essays by Nick Haydock on Beowulf in film, Alison Ganze Langdon on Maria Edgeworth’s “The Modern Griselda,” Nick Utzig’s on The Cloisters, William Sayers’ on James Joyce, Helen Young on race in video games, Karl Fugelso’s Seymour Chast’s graphic novel version of the Commedia, Matt Schwager’s on Amnesia:The Dark Descent, Nanette Thrush’s on Victorian miniatures, and Kathryn Wymer’s race in Arthurian film.”  In other words, a wonderful range of topics, now available to readers anywhere with an internet connection.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.