Kalamazoo: Tolkien Symposium and ICMS Conference


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The program for the  International Congress on Medieval Studies  is now online, and there are numerous sessions for those interested in Tolkien and medievalism.  I’ve copied these from the preview program; of course, you should read the final program to double check the accuracy of this list.

The Congress has been cutting back the number of sessions available to the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group, so to counteract that, a pre-conference Tolkien Symposium has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 10 in the Western Michigan University Library. I’ve previously posted the schedule, but it’s posted again below in case you’re planning to attend the ICMS and can add on the Symposium, which will occur on the first afternoon that the Congress opens its doors. The theme of the Symposium is Tolkien Anniversaries.

Please note: you will not find the Tolkien Symposium schedule in the Congress program. This Symposium is not connected with the Congress organization.

Tolkien Symposium.  Wednesday, May 10. 1:00 – 5:00. Western Michigan University Library

Western Michigan University Library

1:00-1:30 p.m.
Kristine Larson, Ragnarok and the Rekindling of the Magic Sun

1:40-2:10 p.m.
Sandra Hartl, The Ainur and the Greek Pantheon: From The Book of Lost Tales to The Silmarillion

2:20-2:50 p.m.
Christopher Vaccaro, Christian Neoplatonic Mythopoeia: Alain de Lille’s De Planctu Naturae, Anticlaudianus, and Tolkien’s Legendarium

3:00-3:30 p.m.
Michael Wodzak, An Auto-Ethnographic Study of Bilbo’s Party

3:40-4:10 p.m.
Andrew Higgins, Mapping Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales: Exploring ‘I Vene Kemen’ (‘The Ship of the Earth’)

4:20-5:00 p.m.
Victoria Holtz-Wodzak, ‘On Golden Grove Unleaving’: Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the Inscape of Middle-earth

You can find abstracts of the papers here.

Tolkien Unbound.  Thursday evening, May 11.  Kalamazoo College Recital Hall.

[This item added here Feb.2nd] Another event that will not appear in the Congress program is Tolkien Unbound, an annual night of entertainment that last year moved out of the Congress-approved sessions and into nearby Kalamazoo College, where it will be held again this year. The 2017 program features:

A dramatic reading of Leaf by Niggle, directed by Thom Foy
Maidens of Middle-earth VII: Treaty Brides. A musical performance by Eileen Marie Moore.

ICMS sessions on Tolkien and on medievalism, May 11 -14.

Kalamazoo campus swan pond

Organization of this list: 1. sessions devoted entirely to Tolkien studies; 2. sessions that include Tolkien; 3. sessions on medievalism, starting with the ones sponsored by the International Society for the Study of Medievalism; 4. an invitation to a rogue workshop (also not in the official program) on Whiteness in Medieval Studies; and 5. Kristine Larsen’s Astrolabe Workshop

1. Sessions devoted entirely to Tolkien Studies

Friday 10 a.m.
“Eald enta geweorc”: Tolkien and the Classical Tradition
Sponsor: Dept. of Religious Studies and Philosophy, The Hill School
Organizer: John Wm. Houghton, Hill School
Presider: John Wm. Houghton

  • The “Other” Classicism: Tolkien, Homer, and the Greek Novel. John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville
  • The Winnowing Oar: Odysseus, Frodo, and the Search for Peace. Victoria Holtz Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.
  • The Politics of Tragedy: Plato’s Athenian Atlantis, Tolkien’s Numenorian Atalante, and the Nazi Reich. Joshua Hren, George Fox Univ.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien and Plato’s Timaeus. Christopher T. Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont

Saturday noon: Tolkien at Kalamazoo business meeting. Bernhard 106

Saturday 1:30
402 FETZER 1010
Tolkien and Language
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider: Brad Eden

  • “O’er the Moon, Below the Daylight”: Tolkien’s Blue Bee, Pliny, and the Kalevala. Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
  • Music: The One Language in Which the Noldor Were Not Fluent.Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.
  • Elvish Practitioners of the “Secret Vice.” Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
  • Tolkien and Constructed Languages. Dean Easton, Independent Scholar

Saturday 3:30
454 FETZER 1010
Asterisk Tolkien
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider: Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.

  • The “Third Spring”: New Discoveries and Connections.Brad Eden
  • “He came alone, and in bear’s shape”: Tolkien’s Attempt at Correcting the Thwarting of Bodvar Bjarki. Michael David Elam, Regent Univ.
  • Landscape as Character in The Lord of the Rings. Robert Dobie, La Salle Univ.
  • Tolkien’s Monsters: An Asterisk in his Translation of Beowulf. Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College

2. Sessions that include Tolkien

Thursday 7:30 p.m.
161 BERNHARD 210
The Teaching of Old English (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Old English Forum, Modern Language Association
Organizer: Matthew T. Hussey, Simon Fraser Univ.
Presider: Robin Norris, Carleton Univ.

  • A Course in Beowulf and Tolkien. Paul Acker, St. Louis Univ.
  • Teaching Old English in History of the English Language. Heide Estes, Monmouth Univ.
  • Assignments to Enliven a Dead Language. Jacqueline A. Fay, Univ. of Texas–Arlington
  • An Anglo-Saxon Sampler. Damian Fleming, Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ.–Fort Wayne
  • Material Culture and Old English Pedagogy. Breann Leake, Univ. of Connecticut
  • Reading Like Anglo-Saxons. Erica Weaver, Harvard University

This next one is interesting: a performance of Leaf by Niggle (in the same evening as a “filthy French farce”)  A one-man Leaf by Niggle show was a hit last year in the UK; it will be interesting to hear how this version is performed.

Thursday night 8 p.m. Gilmore Theatre Complex

  • Leaf-by-Niggle . Univ. of Maryland
  • It’s a Miracle! The Harlotry Players, Univ. of Michigan–Ann Arbor
  • Cooch E. Whippet (Farce of Martin of Cambray). Radford Univ.

$15.00 General Admission. $10.00 presale through online Congress registration
Shuttles leave Valley III (Eldridge-Fox) beginning at 7:15 p.m.

A triple bill featuring a Tolkien fairy tale staged in a medieval style, a florilegium of fakery from the Harlotry Players, and a filthy French farce.

Saturday 1:30
434 SCHNEIDER 2355
Teaching the Edda and Sagas in the Undergraduate Classroom: Strategies and Approaches (A Roundtable)
Organizer: Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, Grand Valley State Univ.
Presider: Rachel S. Anderson, Grand Valley State Univ.

  • Using Tolkien as a Gateway to the Edda and Sagas in the Undergraduate Classroom. Lee Templeton, North Carolina Wesleyan College
  • “I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take this council”: Teaching College Writing and Research Using the Eddas. Gregory L. Laing, Harding Univ.
  • Teaching Germanic Mythology 101. Johanna Denzin, Columbia College
  • Material Culture and Norse Mythology. Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar

3. Sessions on medievalism

International Society for the Study of Medievalism

Thursday 7:30
157 BERNHARD 204
Performing Medievalisms (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism
Organizer: Amy S. Kaufman, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
Presider: Carol L. Robinson, Kent State Univ.–Trumbull

  • The One True Hero: Performing Medievalism in ABC’s The Quest
    Susan Aronstein, Univ. of Wyoming
  • Negotiating the Future: Subversive Southern Medievalism in The House behind the Cedars. Alexandra Cook, Univ. of Alabama
  • “An Indifferent Nebula”: Fantasy Role-Playing Games, Leisure Culture, and the Simulated Middle Ages. Gerald Nachtwey, Eastern Kentucky Univ.
  • Playing Chaucer: Performance, Adaptation, and Its Importance in Fandom in Medieval Studies. Hillary Yeager, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
  • Habits and Habitus: The Western Martial Arts Revival and Embodied Hermeneutics. Robert Rouse, Univ. of British Columbia

Friday 10:00
The United States of Medievalism
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism
Organizer: Susan Aronstein, Univ. of Wyoming
Presider: Susan Aronstein

  • Philadelphia’s Medievalist Jewels: Bryn Athyn Cathedral and Glencairn. Kevin J. Harty, La Salle Univ.
  • The Vikings are Due on Main Street: Norse Incursion into Minnesota’s Literary Imagination. Glenn Davis, St. Cloud State Univ.
  • Robin Hood’s Greenwood in Texas: Sherwood Forest Faire. Lorraine Kochanske Stock, Univ. of Houston
  • Orlando: Theme Park Medievalisms. Tison Pugh, Univ. of Central Florida
  • Las Vegas: Getting Medieval in Sin City. Laurie A. Finke, Kenyon College; Martin B. Shichtman, Eastern Michigan Univ.

Friday 1:30
270 BERNHARD 208
Medievalism and Immigration I
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism
Organizer: Amy S. Kaufman, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
Presider: Pamela J. Clements, Siena College

  • Images of Immigration and Notions of Nation in Early Modern Medievalism. Sarah A. Kelen, Nebraska Wesleyan Univ.
  • Medieval Religion in New France: Marie de l’Incarnation and the Ursuline Nuns of Québec. Nancy Bradley Warren, Texas A&M Univ.
  • Arthur Hugh Clough’s Mari Mango, or, How to “Victorianize” The Canterbury Tales. William C. Calin, Univ. of Florida

Friday 3:30
329 BERNHARD 208
Medievalism and Immigration II
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism
Organizer: Amy S. Kaufman, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
Presider: Elizabeth Wawrzyniak, Marquette Univ.

  • Medievalism, Brexit, and the Myth of Nations. Andrew B. R. Elliott, Univ. of Lincoln
  • “I’m 20% Viking”: Englishness, Immigration, and the Public Reception of Histor­ical DNA. Michael Evans, Delta

Other sessions on medievalism

Friday 10:00
190 SCHNEIDER 1225
Growing Up Medieval: The Middle Ages in Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Sponsor: Tales after Tolkien Society
Organizer: Helen Young, Univ. of Sydney
Presider: Geoffrey B. Elliott, Independent Scholar

  • The Dream Frame of Baum’s Wizard of Oz. William Racicot, Independent Scholar
  • Women Piercing through the Medieval Fantasy Genre: A Look at Tamora Pierce’s
    Influence on Women in Medieval Fantasy.
    Rachel Cooper, Univ. of Saskatchewan
  • Heralds of the Queen: Upholding and Subverting the Medieval Ideal through
    Girl Power, Sexuality, and le Merveilleux in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Series
    Carrie Pagels, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame

Saturday 10:00

389 BERNHARD 210
Atmospheric Medievalisms/Medieval Atmospheres (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies
Organizer: Myra Seaman, College of Charleston
Presider: Myra Seaman

  • Anglo-Saxon Atmospheres. Edward J. Christie, Georgia State Univ.
  • The Water Subtext of The Book of the Duchess. Brantley L. Bryant, Sonoma State Univ.
  • An Atmosphere of Anxiety in Late Medieval English Drama. Christina M. Fitzgerald, Univ. of Toledo
  • The Air of Fiction. Julie Orlemanski, Univ. of Chicago
  • Racialized Sound. Molly Lewis, George Washington Univ.
  • Airing Out the Senses. Richard Newhauser, Arizona State Univ.

Saturday 1:30

440 BERNHARD 209
Medievalism and Pedagogy
Sponsor: Medieval Association of the Midwest (MAM)
Organizer: Audrey Becker, Marygrove College
Presider: Audrey Becker

  • Play, Games, and the Medieval World: Teaching Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company. Robert Sirabian, Univ. of Wisconsin–Stevens Point
  • Teaching Westeros: Medieval Studies, Medievalism, and George R. R. Martin. Carol Jamison, Armstrong State Univ.
  • “Medieval” Rhetoric, ISIS, and the Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Lesson for Teaching Political Medievalisms in the Undergraduate Classroom. Erin S. Lynch, Medieval Institute, Western Michigan Univ.
  • “Have you ever heard of Robin Longstride?”: Anachronism, Authenticity, and Teaching Robin Hood. Christian Sheridan, Bridgewater College

Sunday 8:30 a.m.
527 BERNHARD 158
Medievalism and Disability (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages
Organizer: Joshua Eyler, Rice Univ.
Presider: John P. Sexton, Bridgewater State Univ.

  • Urs Graf ’s Daughter Courage: Violence and Disability in Late Medieval Europe. Jess Genevieve Bailey, Univ. of California–Berkeley
  • A Visual Database for Medieval Disability. Christopher Baswell, Barnard College
  • Impaired in Camelot: An Analysis of Ableism in Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. Tirumular Narayanan, California State Univ.–Chico
  • Trope or Truth? Medievalism and the Ubiquity of Disability. Kisha G. Tracy, Fitchburg State Univ.
  • Life Was Like That: The Grotesque Medieval in the Modern Imagination. Elizabeth Wawrzyniak

Sunday 10:30
549 SCHNEIDER 1225
Settlement and Landscape II: Textual Approaches to the Medieval in the Modern
Organizer: Vicky McAlister, Southeast Missouri State Univ.; Jennifer L. Immich, Metropolitan State Univ. of Denver
Presider: Jennifer L. Immich

  • Approaching the Medieval in Comic: How the Adventures of an Arthurian Knight are Appropriated for a Contemporary Audience. Annegret Oehme, Univ. of Washington–Seattle
  • Hive Minds: Interdisciplinarity in Research and Pedagogy. Lahney Preston-Matto, Adelphi Univ.
  • America’s “Poisoned Landscape”: Medievalism and the Alt-right. Mary A. Valante, Appalachian State Univ.

Finally, I’m signal-boosting this workshop and invitation:

4. Rogue Workshop (not in the official program)

Saturday, 6:00-7:30 p.m. Fetzer 1005

From In the Middle: Whiteness in Medieval Studies: a rogue workshop on racial politics that will explore how medievalists in all areas of study can be effective allies for diversity and inclusion within our institutions and across our field.

 5. Kristine Larsen’s Astrolabe Workshop

[This item added here Feb. 2] Tolkien scholar and astronomer Kristine Larsen has run a very popular astrolabe workshop for several years now at the Congress, and she’s at it again this year.

Friday 9:30 p.m. A Hands-On Introduction to Astrolabes: Valley III Eldridge 309
Calculating Traditional Prayer Times in the Christian Monastery (A Workshop)
Organizer: Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
Presider: Kristine Larsen
A hands-on workshop on the use of a medieval astrolabe to calculate the Christian monastery’s traditional times of prayer. The first 50 participants will receive a cardboard astrolabe that can be taken home.


Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed something that belongs in this list. I’m not planning to go to Kalamazoo this year, but, my friends, please blog and tweet all kinds of reports from these sessions!  And have an extra dance for me.

Note: This post was edited on February 2nd to add information on the Tolkien Unbound session, listed above, and on item 5. Kristine Larsen’s Astrolabe Workshop

CFP: Romances in Middle-earth


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Tolkien in Vermont conferenceThis call for papers comes from Chris Vaccaro, one of the organizers of the annual Tolkien at UVM Conference in Burlington, Vermont.

14th Annual Tolkien at University of Vermont Conference
Saturday April 8th, 8:30am-5:30 p.m.

Theme: Romances in Middle-earth

Organizers of the Tolkien at UVM Conference are now accepting abstracts for the 2017 conference until the February 1st deadline.

We welcome papers on every topic but will give priority to those addressing the theme. Tolkien wrote that he had the romances of William Morris in mind when writing The Lord of the Rings. We also know he was inspired by the Arthurian romances of England, Wales, and France. Tolkien’s own interlacing narrative style is very much derived from this medieval genre (while also anticipating the Post-modern). Additionally, Tolkien wrote of numerous romances of great intensity and poignancy within his narrative framework. Papers might consider these within the context of miscegenation, gender fluidity, or the homo-erotic, or they might explore other areas of interest.

Please submit abstracts by the February 1st deadline to Christopher Vaccaro at cvaccaro@uvm.edu

New! Tolkien Symposium in Kalamazoo



Western Michigan University LibrarySomething new is coming to Kalamazoo, the site of the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, which usually includes a number of sessions related to Tolkien. Every year the Congress organizers have been whittling down the sessions sponsored by the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group (and others) so that what was once a conference with around 8 panels on Tolkien has been reduced to 3 or 4 in recent years. To increase the number of Tolkien sessions, Brad Eden, the Tolkien at Kalamazoo organizer, has had a cunning plan!

Just as the Tolkien Society holds a one-day seminar the day before the start of the International Medieval Congress in the UK, so too the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group will hold an afternoon symposium before the official opening of the medieval conference at Western Michigan University.

The theme is Tolkien Anniversaries. Brad’s description follows:

2017 is the 125th anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien, the 100th anniversary of The Book of Lost Tales, the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, and the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Silmarillion.  In order to celebrate all of these anniversaries, a one-day symposium will be held on Wednesday, May 10, from 1-5 p.m. in the library at Western Michigan University, prior to the start of the 2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS).

Lodging will be available in January for Wednesday evening through the ICMS website.  I hope that all of you attending ICMS will be able to come in one day earlier for this symposium.


If anyone has any questions, please contact Brad Eden at brad.eden@valpo.edu.

The schedule of speakers:

1:00-1:30 p.m.
Kristine Larson, Ragnarok and the Rekindling of the Magic Sun

1:40-2:10 p.m.
Sandra Hartl, The Ainur and the Greek Pantheon: From The Book of Lost Tales to The Silmarillion

2:20-2:50 p.m.
Christopher Vaccaro, Christian Neoplatonic Mythopoeia: Alain de Lille’s De Planctu Naturae, Anticlaudianus, and Tolkien’s Legendarium

3:00-3:30 p.m.
Michael Wodzak, An Auto-Ethnographic Study of Bilbo’s Party

3:40-4:10 p.m.
Andrew Higgins, Mapping Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales: Exploring ‘I Vene Kemen’ (‘The Ship of the Earth’)

4:20-5:00 p.m.
Victoria Holtz-Wodzak, ‘On Golden Grove Unleaving’: Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the Inscape of Middle-earth

You can find abstracts of the papers here.

In addition, several sessions on Tolkien will take place as part of the official International Congress on Medieval Studies program. More details on these panels will follow later.




Feed me!

Starving blogMy starving blog is crying for food! It seems incredible to me that the flow of posts has completely dried up since August. But piles of work this semester combined with increasing eldercare responsibilities have taken all the time that I could stay awake every day. Luckily, there’s a lull in the action — a couple of conference announcements are on their way!

Talks on Tolkien II: Dimitra Fimi on Tolkien & Childhood Studies


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This week’s talk by Dimitra Fimi applies concepts from childhood studies to Tolkien’s fiction. She begins by pointing out that the concept of childhood is a social construction that varies in different cultures and times, and then goes on to examine Tolkien’s ideas about  childhood in  “Laws and Customs of the Eldar,” The Children of Hurin, and The Lord of the Rings.

Dr. Fimi’s forthcoming monograph is on Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy, which is part of the Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature series (http://www.palgrave.com/de/series/14930). In the book, Dr. Fimi explores the Celtic sources and perceptions of “Celticity” in the works of authors such as Lloyd Alexander, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Jenny Nimmo, and Pat O’Shea, as well as much more recent works by Henry H. Neff, Catherine Fisher, Kate Thompson.

Dimitra Fimi’s other books deal directly with Tolkien: Tolkien, Race, and Cultural History (Palgrave, 2008) and most recently the co-edited book with Andrew Higgins, A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages (HarperCollins, 2016). You can find out more about her research and teaching on her website, http://dimitrafimi.com.

Her presentation, “Constructions of Childhood in Tolkien’s Legendarium,” was given at Oxonmoot in September 2015 and can be found on the Tolkien Society YouTube channel.



“something has gone crack”; Tolkien on Rob Gilson & the TCBS, 100 years ago today.


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On August 12, 1916 Tolkien wrote a letter to Geoffrey Smith, with permission to pass it on to Christopher Wiseman, trying to come to terms with the death of their friend Rob Gilson. It took some time for the news of Rob’s death on the first day of the Somme offensive, July 1st, to reach the other three, who were serving in the war in various places. They wrote to each other trying to make sense of the loss of their close friend. The four of them had been members of a group formed while they were at King Edward’s School called the TCBS — the Tea Club and Barrovian Society — but by the time they were in university the friendship and shared values of the core members — Tolkien, Wiseman, Smith, and Gilson — had inspired them with great ambitions for their future. But with the news of Rob’s death, Tolkien’s August 12th letter to Geoffrey Smith admits that he is disheartened and lonely, feeling as if the dreams of the TCBS had come to an end. Tolkien writes that he has spent the last two nights sitting and thinking in the woods near his camp: “So far my chief impression is that something has gone crack” (Letter 5).

As Tolkien scholars and readers, we usually see the story in this way, primarily as it relates to John Ronald. However, Elliander Pictures has produced a documentary on Rob Gilson which allows us a glimpse of the young man himself who was so important to the idealistic members of the TCBS.  Elliander Pictures’ previous film, Tolkien’s Great War, is also well worth watching. In both documentaries, you will see Tolkien scholar John Garth, whose book Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth is an authoritative scholarly source on the subject. You can find the previous film, Tolkien’s Great War, and information about John Garth’s work here.

ROBERT GILSON: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer from Elliander Pictures on Vimeo.


Talks on Tolkien II: Patrick Curry on Enchantment & Hypermodernity


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This week, I turn to the work of Patrick Curry, best known to Tolkien readers as the author of Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity (revised edition Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and Deep Roots in a Time of Frost: Essays on Tolkien (Walking Tree 2014); his publications also include works such as Ecological Ethics: An Introduction (revised edition, Polity Press, 2011) as well as many papers in journals and collections. He is a Canadian-born writer and scholar who has lived in London, England for over forty years. He holds a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from University College London and has been a lecturer at the University of Kent and Bath Spa University.

I’ve said that I wanted this Talks on Tolkien summer series to focus on interdisciplinary Tolkien studies, and Dr. Curry’s research is a good example. In trying to define his approach to Tolkien or his field of research, I’ve considered ecotheory, politics, cultural studies, philosophy, religious studies, history of science, literature … any one of these labels would suit and yet not cover the whole picture.

In the following talk, “The Third Road: Faerie in Hypermodernity,” recorded in 2011, Dr. Curry takes the concept of enchantment, primarily as defined by Tolkien, and examines how enchantment and disenchantment exist in our culture. Looking at the works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman, he concludes with some thoughts on “hypermodernity.”

Dr. Curry has a wonderfully informative website where you can see a list of his books and his essays, reviews, and talks, with downloadable PDFs of many of them: http://www.patrickcurry.co.uk/.


As always, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.



Talks on Tolkien II: Irina Metzler on Tolkien & Disability Studies


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Continuing in this summer series of Talks on Tolkien II, in which I’d like to highlight pre-recorded talks on new books or on different disciplinary approaches to studying Tolkien, I turn to Irina Metzler’s presentation at the 2016 Tolkien Seminar in Leeds. Dr. Metzler outlines some of the basic concepts in the growing academic field of disability studies and discusses some of Tolkien’s characters in that light.

The Society for Disability Studies defines this field of study: “Disability Studies recognizes that disability is a key aspect of human experience, and that the study of disability has important political, social, and economic implications for society as a whole, including both disabled and nondisabled people.”  Dr. Metzler, a historian of medieval culture and currently a research fellow at the University of Swansea in Wales, has written several books on disability in medieval culture, which you can read about on her blog.

Her talk demonstrates how characters from stories such as The Children of Húrin and The Lord of the Rings can be viewed through the lens of disability studies.



Talks on Tolkien II: Kristine Larsen on the Inklings & Science


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In this summer series of Talks on Tolkien I’d like to highlight new/forthcoming books or different disciplinary approaches to the study of Tolkien — Interdisciplinary Tolkien, as I like to think of it.

Dr. Kristine Larsen

Dr. Kristine Larsen

Who better to exemplify the interdisciplinary study of Tolkien than Kristine Larsen, known to many as “The Tolkien Astronomer.”  Dr. Larsen is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Central Connecticut State University and someone who is a prolific Tolkien scholar. In addition, she’s written about Stephen Hawking, Neil Gaiman, Dr. Who — and astronomy, of course.She’s also the person who runs the very popular astrolabe workshops every year at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo.

The following video is from the second New York Tolkien Conference, which took place a couple of weeks ago. Kristine Larsen was one of the keynote speakers, and as is evident from the title of this talk, she likes to make them long*: “Lewis, Tolkien, and Popular Level Science: What the Well-Educated Inklings Actually Knew about the Universe (As Reflected in the Details of Narnia, Middle-earth, and Other Secondary Worlds).”  The talk concludes with a plea for “STEAM” rather than just “STEM” education.**

The video has a few buffering glitches, but with patience you can hear or understand almost the whole talk. Anyone who would like to know more about astronomy and Middle-earth can check out Dr. Larsen’s website, The Astronomy of Middle-earth.



* Dr. Larsen’s longest record-breaking title so far appeared in the Vermont Tolkien Conference program here.

**STEM = science, technology, engineering, math
STEAM= science, technology, engineering, art, math

Talks on Tolkien II: summer series. Flieger on Kullervo


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In the winter months of 2015, I posted a series, Talks on Tolkien, which consisted of presentations by Tolkien scholars that had been previously recorded and made available on the internet. As I was watching a live stream this morning from the New York Tolkien Conference Facebook page, I was reminded of how much I like being able to hear other scholars give presentations on their research, and how wonderful it is when you can get access to these talks even if you can’t travel to various conferences and special lectures around the world.

For that reason, and the fact that my previous winter series apparently appealed to quite a few viewers, I’ve decided to do a summer series. For the next couple of months, I’ll post every week a previously recorded video or podcast by a Tolkien scholar, usually with some comments and/or links to more information about the speaker and their topic. Just to be clear, I haven’t recorded any of these talks myself; as with my winter series, I’m simply collecting and curating already available videos and podcasts.

In this summer series, I’m planning to focus on new or forthcoming books and on approaches from different disciplines to the study of Tolkien.

Verlyn Flieger on The Story of Kullervo

The Story of Kullervo. J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. V. FleigerFirst up for this week is a podcast featuring the eminent Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger, who has edited Tolkien’s Story of Kullervo. This is the latest in the “new” books by Tolkien that have been published in recent years, including his Beowulf, Fall of Arthur, and Sigurd and Gudrun. The Story of Kullervo was available in the UK and Canada late last summer but only a few months ago in the US, so the book is still fairly new to most Tolkien readers.

This edition includes the unfinished story about Kullervo that Tolkien wrote as a 22-year-old, inspired by the Finnish epic Kalevala. The book also includes drafts of an essay by Tolkien on The Kalevala, as well as Professor Flieger’s commentary on the material.

Professor Flieger’s talk offers an interesting view of this early work by Tolkien. She enumerates the ways in which Tolkien discovers and exercises his creative abilities in writing this story, and she presents ideas about how the story of Kullervo influences the tales that come later in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.

Verlyn Flieger at Exeter College, Oxford. from http://www.exeter.ox.ac.uk/node/1897.html

Verlyn Flieger talking about Kullervo at Exeter College, Oxford. 12 October 2015. Image from http://www.exeter.ox.ac.uk/node/1897.html

The audio file can be found on the Exeter College site here. Or you can listen to Professor Flieger right here:


To view more about Verlyn Flieger’s many scholarly publications and editions and her creative writing, check out her website, mythus.com

For information about Tolkien’s inspiration for Kullervo, visit the Finnish Literature Society’s site on The Kalevala.