Tolkien Studies at PCA 2014, part one

Popular Culture Association logoA couple of weeks ago, I attended my first Popular Culture / American Culture Association national conference, held in Chicago April 16-19. It was also the first year in which the PCA was undertaking a trial run of Tolkien Studies as a special topic. After next year, the organization will decide whether Tolkien Studies should become a permanent subject area in the conference. Judging by the full day of Tolkien sessions and the full audiences throughout the day, the prospects must be good for Tolkien Studies to become a permanent part of the PCA annual event in the US. What is especially promising is that there seems to be no limit on the number of sessions in any area, unlike this year’s cutbacks at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, which would not allow more than four sessions for sponsoring groups, effectively cutting the Tolkien panels in half.  The idea for the Tolkien Studies area and the organization of the successful program are all due to the energy and enthusiasm of Robin Reid (U. of Texas A&M, Commerce), who was in effect the organizer and co-ordinator of the event.

ChicagoWith stacks of ungraded papers and exams sitting on my desk, I won’t have time to outline each presentation that I heard – and I heard them all! — starting at 8 a.m. and going through seven sessions until 8:15 p.m., when a viewing of the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey closed off the day. It was challenging to find meals, to line up for the washroom, to check in for the next day’s flights home, or simply to stretch one’s legs with only 15 to 20 minute breaks, but each session was as interesting and rewarding as the next. I heard many good presentations and came away with some new ideas to mull over.

In my limited time what I can manage, though, is to describe two of the roundtables, which both dealt directly with researching and publishing on Tolkien — one that I participated in on using the Marquette University Tolkien archives (to be posted in a couple of days, I hope) and one on the state of Tolkien studies scholarship (following).

Roundtable on the State of Tolkien Studies Scholarship

Robin Reid brought together an impressive panel for this discussion. While all of the following presenters have written on Tolkien, here are their credentials as editors and conference organizers (as far as I know; please excuse if I’ve missed something important):

Brad Eden’s Journal of Tolkien Research is the latest development in the field. Hosted by Valparaiso University, JTR will be entirely open access, publishing articles as they are accepted; at the end of the year, they will be bundled together and given a volume and issue number. Janet Brennan Croft informed us that she has hopes that in the near future Mythlore will become available online with a one-year embargo, an increasingly common move for scholarly periodicals that have to balance accessibility with sales. Several of the speakers who are librarians advocated that scholars keep the rights to their research whenever possible; they recommended speaking to your university librarian before signing away any copyrights and to ask about the “SPARC Addendum” which as far as I can tell is relevant in the US and in Canada (Canadian information here).

Chicago 2Some discussion also took place about the scope of various Tolkien journals. David Bratman talked about how his Tolkien Studies co-editors are always grappling with the question of how far afield from Tolkien’s writings can they go; for instance, should they publish articles about Tolkien’s influence on other fantasy writers? Janet Brennan Croft pointed out that even though Mythlore focuses on Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams, around 50% of the journal content is on Tolkien. Brad Eden aims for JTR to be interdisciplinary in its coverage, and in addition to articles on Tolkien’s works, it will accept articles on adaptations, gaming, fan productions, and audience reception.

After discussing periodicals, the conversation turned to potential book publishers. Janet Brennan Croft pointed out that submissions can be made to the Mythopoeic Press. Other editors on the panel spoke about publishing with McFarland and found the company efficient and clear in its directions. (I did add a comment to this discussion, though: while I know that McFarland has published many good books, I would caution young academics who are looking for promotion. McFarland does not use external peer reviewers, and for some university promotion and tenure committees, external peer review is essential.)

The panellists emphasized the need to do sufficient research before submitting any scholarly work for publication. As David Bratman pointed out, we have “The Year’s Work,” now written by Merlin DeTardo and published in Tolkien Studies. Janet Brennan Croft presented the idea that essay anthologies could include older, “classic” articles along with new ones. Scholars can also check out the Mythlore Index for the first 102 issues; subsequent issues are indexed on the website. For reviews of older sources, recommendations were also made to look at “Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and a look back at Tolkien criticism since 1982” published in Envoi 9 by Michael Drout and Hilary Wynne and Richard West’s Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist, published by Kent State UP.

Chicago 3Finally, the panel was asked what areas of scholarship they thought could use development in Tolkien studies. And of course, various answers were given: Tolkien’s style (Robin Reid); Tolkien’s relation to the modernist canon (David Bratman); bodies in Tolkien’s work and the application of contemporary theories to Tolkien’s work (Chris Vaccaro); Tolkien as a theorist (Janet Brennan Croft); Tolkien and multimodal texts (Janice Bogstad). Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.

If I’ve missed any important points from this informative panel, please let me know. I’ll post a summary of the roundtable on using the Marquette Tolkien archive in a couple of days (hopefully). In the meantime, if anyone is interested in staying informed about the conference, there’s a Facebook group, Tolkien at Popular Culture/American Culture Association, which is open to interested members.


5 responses to “Tolkien Studies at PCA 2014, part one”

  1. Thanks for the report! The Mythlore Index hasn’t been offered in print since issue #102, but an electronic version titled Mythlore Index Plus (in fully searchable PDF format) includes up through the current issue, plus the early Tolkien Journal, published Mythcon conference proceedings, and anthologies printed by Mythopoeic Press. Go to to order, and we’ll send you updates twice a year.


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