These sessions are not for those who rush to join bandwagons based on meaningless politicized terms such as “woke” or who advance the anti-intellectualism prevalent in groups where any academic is suspect, and expertise (whether of academics or fans) is ridiculed. These sessions, as always, are for open discussions and debates by faculty, students, independent scholars, and fans who are interested in the complexities of Tolkien’s works and how they are received, enjoyed, and critiqued around the world.
I make these prefatory comments because of a recent backlash against the Tolkien Society’s free online Summer Seminar theme, Tolkien and Diversity. Of the various incoherent negative comments made on social media, some of which just mock paper titles without knowing what will be said in the presentations, I can discern a couple of repeated objections: a few critics immediately assume the intent is to “tear down” Tolkien or to disavow his Catholic beliefs. Because I have participated in Tolkien studies conferences for years, I feel confident in saying that these are not the intentions of the organizers.
This doesn’t mean that Tolkien will be treated as a saint (some people literally believe he should be sainted!). It also doesn’t mean that Tolkien “the man” will be the last word on his works. Yes, scholars are certainly interested in what he had to say, and that includes how he developed his ideas or changed his mind or contradicted himself; but he does not represent a static set of rigid ideas, as some of the objectors seem to believe.* In any case, what Tolkien has written has gone out into the world and, like any influential literature, it is being read, interpreted, used — for good and for ill — in various ways by readers around the globe. Trying to understand this about Tolkien’s work, as with any other works of literature, is a standard part of literary research, which leads to a better understanding of our contemporary culture.
The Seminar is free, so anyone can actually listen to the ideas being presented, decide if they agree or not, ask questions and discuss — or if they want to express their views in more detail, they can propose a paper for the next meeting in order to present a coherent and informed discussion. Of course, no one is being forced to listen to any new ideas or learn any new facts; we are all free to read Tolkien as we wish.
Tolkien Society Summer Seminar, July 3-4
The Tolkien Society Summer Seminar will take place online on July 3-4. For more information and a list of presentations, see here.
International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, July 5-9
The Tolkien Society Seminar usually takes place a day or two before the International Medieval Congress, normally held at the University of Leeds, but conducted online this year. The IMC typically features a number of Tolkien sessions. This conference requires registration and a fee; unfortunately, it may be too late to register at this point.
Check out the list of Tolkien-related presentations, including paper abstracts, at Tolkienists.org.
I’m looking forward to speaking about Tolkien’s alliterative poetry in “The Homecoming” on Thursday, 8 July, in the “Medieval Roots and Modern Branches” session.
The Tolkien Symposium usually takes place in Kalamazoo, Michigan a day or two before the International Congress on Medieval Studies begins at the University of Western Michigan. This year, both events were held online, with the Symposium taking place on May 8. This year’s Symposium began with a memorial session dedicated to Tolkien scholar Richard West, who passed away earlier this year, and then continued with a day-long slate of presentations, including mine on “Tolkien the Playwright,” in which I discussed his verse drama, “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.”
You can watch the video recording of my talk here:
In the Q & A after my presentation, I mentioned that I would post my references here on my blog; I also mentioned that my co-authored article with Rebecca Foster would be available soon in the Journal of Tolkien Research. The best way to get a full list of our references (and to learn more about “The Homecoming”) would be to read our article, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Homecoming’ and Modern Alliterative Metre” which has now been published in the free and open-access JTR.
Conference season is upon us again, and just like last year’s sessions, the meetings I’m interested in are being held online. While nothing can replace sitting on a university patio in the summer sun drinking mead with new and old conference friends, we’ll have to make do with virtual reality. As I’ve said before, the one advantage is that we can listen to many more papers and “attend” many more conferences than we typically would have done, especially for those who do not have travel funding to go far afield to specialist meetings.
I think that in a fit of overcompensating for last year’s pandemic lockdown and research slowdown, I have offered to give three conference papers and one roundtable discussion this spring and summer. In order to make sure I remember where I want to be and when, I’ve compiled a list of conference sessions on Tolkien that I’m either involved in or just interested in attending from May to July.
Tolkien Symposium, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Coming up are the sessions which are usually held in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which begin with the one-day Tolkien Symposium, sponsored by the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group. These sessions will be held on May 8 from 10:30 a.m. EDT to 5:00 p.m. EDT, with 9 papers, rounding up the day with a musical performance. To see the full schedule, go to Tolkienists.org. The Symposium is free; email Dr. Christopher Vaccaro for the link [Christopher.Vaccaro@uvm.edu].
My paper is scheduled on May 8. Did you know that Tolkien published a play? And that it is his only piece of historical fiction? My talk is on “Tolkien the Playwright” and deals with his verse drama, “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.”
International Congress on Medieval Studies, University of Western Michigan
There are a number of sessions on Tolkien and medievalism at this conference, to be held May 10 – 15. Registration is required and so is the payment of a fee, scaled to your income. Each session includes two or more papers; below are the session topics and dates and times. For details about the presenters and their paper titles, go to the Tolkienists.org site or search the program and register at the ICMS site.
Monday, May 10, 1:00 p.m. EDT Tolkien and Manuscript Studies
Monday, May 10, 5:00 p.m. EDT Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien-Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption (A Panel Discussion)
Tuesday, May 11, 9:00 a.m EDT Christopher Tolkien, Medievalist (a roundtable)
Tuesday, May 11, 3 p.m. EDT Tolkien’s Chaucer
Thursday, May 13, 11:00 a.m. EDT Tolkien and Se Wyrm
Thursday, May 13, 3 p.m. EDT Tolkien’s Medicinal Medieval World: Illness and Healing in Middle-earth
Friday, May 14, 1 p.m. EDT Medieval World-Building: Tolkien, His Precursors and Legacies
Saturday, May 15, 11:00 a.m. EDT Tolkien’s Paratexts, Appendices, Annals, and Marginalia (a roundtable)
Popular Culture Association
From June 2 – 4, we have the PCA (Popular Culture Association) conference. Conference registration for non-presenters will open on May 1sthere. The Tolkien Studies Area is organized by Robin Reid.
Tolkien Studies I: Environmental Ethics and Leadership Theory in Tolkien’s Legendarium Wednesday, June 2, 11:00 a.m. – 12:20 EDT
Amber Lehning. Elf-Songs and Orc-Talk: Environmental Ethics in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, from Beowulf to Peter Jackson
Michael Joseph Urick. Theories of Leadership in Middle-earth
James Eric Siburt. Rendering Visible an Understanding of Power in Leadership in Tolkien’s Creation Mythology: Ainulindalë and Akallabêth
Tolkien Studies II: Multi-Disciplinary Approaches to Tolkien’s Legendarium Wednesday, June 2, 12:30-1:50 p.m. EDT
Meaghan Scott. The Nimrodel and Silverlode: Lothlórien as a Secondary World
Rebecca Power, Tolkien’s Penchant for Alliteration: Using XML to Analyze The Lay of Leithian
Anna Smol, Tolkien’s New Old English Genre: “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth”
Kristine Larsen, “I am no man”: Game of Thrones’ Lyanne Mormont as Borrowed Tolkienian Canonicity
On June 2, I’ll be talking about what critic Chris Jones calls “New Old English” poetry and how Tolkien’s “Homecoming” and other poems can be viewed as part of an alliterative verse history of the twentieth century.
Tolkien Studies III: A Roundtable on Tolkien Reception Studies Wednesday, June 2, 2:00 – 3:20 p.m. EDT Presenters: Maria Alberto, Cordeliah G. Logsdon, Dawn Walls-Thumma, Cait Coker, Robin Anne Reid
Tolkien Studies IV: Race and Racisms in Tolkien’s Secondary and Our Primary Worlds Thursday, June 3, 3:30-4:50 p.m. EDT
Robert Tally. More Dangerous and Less Wise: Racial Hierarchies and Cultural Difference in Tolkien’s World
Alastair Whyte. Scales of malice: The banal evil of Middle-earth’s tyrant-history
Craig N. Franson. Where Shadows Lie”: Middle-earth and Neo-fascist Metapolitics
Robin Anne Reid. Race in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings And in Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor
M. Lee Alexander. “Heroes of the North”: Tolkien and Finnish Fandom
Dawn Walls-Thumma. The Pillar and the Vastness: A Longitudinal View of the Tolkien Fanfiction Fandom
Cordeliah G. Logsdon. “What care I for the hands of a king?“: Tolkien, Fanfiction, and Narratives of the Self
Maria Alberto. Mathom Economies? Fan Gift Culture and A Tolkien Fic Exchange Event
Tolkien Studies VI: A Roundtable on the Future of Tolkien Studies Friday, June 4, 11:00-12:20 EDT Presenters: Craig N Franson, Rebecca Power, James Eric Siburt, Amber Lehning, Anna Smol, Kristine Larsen
On June 4, I’ll be taking part in this roundtable to discuss the study of Tolkien and 20th and 21st century poetry.
Tolkien Studies VII: The Council of Tolkien Studies Friday, June 4, 12:30-1:50 p.m. EDT Presenter: Robin Reid.
Tolkien Society Summer Seminar
Looking ahead to July, we have the weekend Tolkien Seminar sponsored by the Tolkien Society, which always takes place just before the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. This year, the Tolkien Society has expanded its Seminar series to include three seminars; one has already taken place last February, and the Summer Seminar is scheduled for July 3-4. The theme of the Summer Seminar is Tolkien and Diversity. The call for papers has just passed, so we still have to wait to see the schedule, but the place to keep up to date is on the Summer Seminar page. These talks will be free for all.
International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds
The IMC at Leeds will be online this year again. Registration is required, with a deadline of May 10, and the full program is available here. The organizer of the Tolkien sessions, to be held July 8-9, is Dr. Andrew Higgins, and you can find details and updates about the Tolkien papers on his blog, Dr. Wotan’s Musings.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches Thursday, July 8. 14:15-15:45 BST
Jan A. Kozak. Borders on the Otherworld: Warrior Maidens, Mounds, and Ancestral Swords in The Lord of the Rings and in the Old Norse Hervar Saga
Brian Egede-Pedersen. Flocking to the Serpent Banner – Decolonising The Lord of the Ring‘s Workshop’s Table-Top War Game
Joel Merriner. The Raven and the Map: Decoding Gyözö Vida’s A Gyürük Ura
Anna Smol. Tolkien’s Alliterative Styles in “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son”
My talk on July 8 will analyze Tolkien’s expert composition of alliterative verse in various styles, from colloquial and informal to highly stylized verse, following the Sievers scheme of alliterative patterns.
Tolkien and Diversity: A Round Table Discussion Thursday, July 8. 19:00-20:30 BST Participants: Deidre Dawson, Sultana Raza, Christopher Vaccaro
Medieval Climates, Cosmologies and EcoSystems in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (I) Friday, July 9. 14:15-15:45 BST
Andrzej Wicher. The Importance of Geographical Directions in the construction of Tolkien’s Middle-earth
Aurelie Bremont. King Elessar in Middle-earth: Strawberry Fields Forever?
Kristine Larsen. “Carry on My Wayward Sonne (and Moon)”: Common Cosmological Quirks in the Norse Fimbul-Winter and Tolkien’s Early Legendarium
Gaëlle Abalea. Political Climate in the “The Fall of Numenor”
Medieval Climates, Cosmologies and EcoSystems in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (II) Friday, July 9. 16:30-18:00 BST
Helen Lawson. The Myth of the Mother – Retracing the Roots of Motherhood in Tolkien’s Decaying Middle-earth
Sara Brown. Situating Middle-earth: Reconsidering Tolkien’s Relationship with the Landscape
Andrew Higgins. Language Invention, Climate and Landscapes in Tolkien’s GnomishLexicon
Sultana Raza. How Alan Lee’s Landscapes Outline the Climate of Plot and Tolkien’s Mind-scapes
There will also be a Tolkien Sessions business meeting at some point during the conference week.
Trying to work out time zones in your area? This has become an important question with these online sessions around the world. I have found this Time Zone Converter to be very handy when trying to figure out what time of day a virtual paper in another country will be given, and you can find lots of other guides and converters online.
Tolkien conference sessions don’t end with the IMC at Leeds in early July. There is more to come later this summer and fall — such as Mythcon and Oxonmoot. Stay tuned for more details later this summer, and feel free to point out in the comments other conferences this May – July season that you’re interested in.
This week offers quite a range of talks by Tolkien scholars, and all online of course, so even if we can’t meet in person, we can attend sessions that would normally be out of reach.
The Tolkien at Vermont conference is back this year with a one-day event on the theme of Tolkien and the Classics. The keynote speaker is the Very Rev. John Houghton, who will be giving a talk on “Tolkien’s calques of classicisms: Who Knew Elvish Latin, what did the Rohirrim read, and why was Bilbo cheeky?”
Other papers at the conference trace Tolkien’s connections to Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, and more. The conference takes place on Saturday, April 10, from 8:30 – 6:00 EST, free on Zoom. Check out the full schedule and how to request the Zoom link on the Tolkienists.org website.
Also on Saturday, April 10, the Tolkien Society AGM will feature Professor Verlyn Flieger as the annual guest speaker, talking about “Waiting for Earendel.” Members of the Society will get a Zoom link, but the general public will be able to watch on Facebook and YouTube. Go to the Tolkien Society announcement for more details.
From the classics to modern literature: earlier this week, Signum University sponsored an author chat with Dr. Holly Ordway, author of the recently published Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth beyond the Middle Ages. Dr. Ordway discusses the importance of acknowledging Tolkien’s interest in contemporary literature. You can find this Signum Symposium on YouTube.
Although we’re probably all weary with our various restrictions and lockdowns, one positive consequence of moving conferences online is that they are now open to a far greater audience. The Tolkien Society, which in the past has sponsored a seminar day in Leeds in July, is now offering Seminar 1 (how many will there be?) on Saturday, February 13. It will be free for everyone either through Zoom or live-streamed on the Tolkien Society YouTube channel. The theme of the Seminar is “21st-century receptions of Tolkien,” and the presentations will be given by both non-academics and researchers. Go to the Tolkien Society Seminar 2021 page for the schedule of talks and information about how to tune in. If you’re in North America, prepare to get up early on Saturday!
The regular International Medieval Congress in Leeds is cancelled, but it’s being replaced by a pared-down virtual IMC, or vIMC. While many presentations have been withdrawn, there is still a healthy program of sessions from Monday to Friday, July 6 – 10 being offered online. Please note that registration is free but closes this Friday, June 26.
Although it’s still a draft program that may change, currently two Tolkien sessions remain, with a truly international roster of speakers. And of course, the times listed are in British time, so you’ll have to calculate the equivalent in your own time zone.
Monday 6 July from 14:15-15:45:
BORDERS IN TOLKIEN’S MEDIEVALISM, I Organiser: Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton Moderator: Kristine Larsen, Geological Sciences Department, Central Connecticut State University
The Liminality of Tolkien’s Non-Human Species Andrzej Wicher, Zakład Dramatu i Dawnej Literatury Angielskiej, Uniwersytet Łódzki
Warrior Maidens, Mounds, and Ancestral Swords in Lord of the Rings and in the Old Norse Hervarar Saga Jan A. Kozák, Institutt for lingvistiske, litterære og estetiske studier, Universitetet i Bergen
Foraging for Sources: Sir Orfeo as the Origin of Medieval Romance Topoi Present in Mirkwood Andoni Cossio, Facultad de Letras, Universidad del Pais Vasco – Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, Vitoria-Gasteiz
Monday 6 July 16:30-18:00:
BORDERS IN TOLKIEN’S MEDIEVALISM, II Organiser: Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton Moderator: Alaric Hall, Institute for Medieval Studies / School of English, University of Leeds
The Walls of the World and the Voyage of the Evening Star: The Complex Borders of Tolkien’s Medieval Geocentric Cosmology Kristine Larsen, Geological Sciences Department, Central Connecticut State University
The Limits of Subcreation Lars Konzack, Institut for Kommunikation, Københavns Universitet
A Preliminary History of Deadly Splinters Victoria Holtz Wodzak, School of Humanities, Viterbo University, Wisconsin
Registration will give you access to lots of other sessions on diverse medieval topics. And make sure to check out the book fair, which will have discounts from a number of publishers, as well as the other markets and presentations that will soon be confirmed. As registration is free, this is a great time to experience the conference for those who wouldn’t normally be able to attend, and it’s at least some consolation for those who were originally planning to go.
Most of our spring and summer conferences on Tolkien and on medieval studies have been cancelled, so this is a bit of good news for those who are thirsty for some discussion of Tolkien. Two of the Tolkien Society’s meetings will be available online. While we’d all like to be there in person, the online meetings will give us, especially those of us who wouldn’t normally be able to go to Leeds or Oxford, a chance to listen in on the discussions and participate in some activities.
The Tolkien Society Seminar, usually held in Leeds the day before the International Medieval Congress, will have a daylong slate of papers presented on Zoom on Saturday, July 4. The theme of the Seminar is adapting Tolkien, and the papers will discuss art, music, language, and science. Included in the day’s presentations is a panel discussion paying tribute to Christopher Tolkien’s contributions to Tolkien studies. You can find more details and a schedule of presentations here: https://www.tolkiensociety.org/events/seminar-2020/.
Oxonmoot, usually held in Oxford in September, will also go online this year on September 18-20. Oxonmoot Online will not only feature a series of talks but will also attempt to reproduce many of the other activities that usually take place on this weekend. Details are still being worked out, so keep checking this link: https://www.tolkiensociety.org/events/oxonmoot-online/ for further news.
Registration and further details will be available at the above Tolkien Society links. Don’t miss this opportunity to attend, no matter where you are!
Tolkien studies is a busy academic field. Here are a few calls for conference papers or essays that have come my way in the past few weeks. I don’t expect to keep up with every single call, but if you’re interested, you can search for the open Facebook page “Tolkien CFPs.” You can also find listings of conferences and more informal gatherings of fans around the world in the Facebook group “International Tolkien Fellowship,” a public page run by Becky Dillon.
My list is arranged according to the deadlines for proposals.
Tolkien Society Seminar
Leeds, July 4-5. Theme: Adapting Tolkien. Deadline for proposals: April 5. Details here.
[May 12 edit: The Seminar will go online on July 4. Look for more details in a later blog post or check the link above]
German Tolkien Society Seminar
University of Augsburg, October 23-25. Theme: Tolkien and Politics. Deadline for proposals: April 30.Details here.
Tolkien Society Oxonmoot 2020
St. Anne’s College, Oxford, September 3-6. Open theme. Deadline for proposals: April 30. Details here.
[edit June 6: Oxonmoot is going online. Check the link for more details about Oxonmoot Online, which will now take place September 18-20]
Mythopoeic Society / Mythcon 51
[edit May 12: Postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19]
Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 31- August 3. Theme: The Mythic, the Fantastic, and the Alien. Deadline for proposals: May 15. Details here.
Walking Tree Publishers: Cormarë Series
Theme: The Romantic Spirit in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, a publication to be edited by Julian Eilmann and Will Sherwood. Deadline for proposals: May 31. Details here.
We don’t often think of Tolkien as a playwright. Fantasy novelist — of course. Poet, scholar, artist – yes. But we shouldn’t forget that Tolkien also wrote one published play, “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” – let’s call it “The Homecoming” for short – which was produced by BBC Radio and has been read or performed at various times.
Tolkien wrote other plays, though we don’t have the manuscripts any more, to my knowledge. As a young man, he wrote plays as holiday entertainments when spending time with his Incledon relatives; he probably wrote a farce, Cherry Farm, in 1911 and in the following year, The Bloodhound, the Chef, and the Suffragette (also playing one of the parts). He performed in plays while at school: in 1910 acting as the Inspector in Aristophanes’ play The Birds – in Greek! and also in Greek the following year, taking the role of Hermes in Aristophanes’ Peace. Near the end of 1911, his performance as Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals was praised as “excellent in every way” (Scull and Hammond, Reader’s Guide 313-17).
And of course, all of his debating experience, often in humourous speeches, during his years at King Edward’s and then at Oxford would require a sense of the dramatic in taking up a persona and a position in argument (See the Scull and Hammond Chronology for reports of these debates). John Garth surveys these and other of Tolkien’s early comedic and parodic compositions, pointing out:
By thus limbering up in his early exercises as a writer, he was later able to apply the same skills—more finely tuned, of course—to the most serious topics and with the utmost gravity.”
Even later in life, Tolkien had a flair for the dramatic. Picture him at the Oxford Summer Diversions in 1938 reciting from memory Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale. John Bowers, in his recently published book Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer, imagines the scene:
On the merrymaking occasion in summer 1938, Tolkien strode upon the stage costumed as Chaucer in a green robe, a turban, and fake whiskers parted in the middle like the forked beard shown in early portraits like Ellesmere’s.”
The performance received good reviews in the Oxford Mail, and in the following year, Tolkien returned to perform Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale, this time producing a shortened and bowdlerized version of the tale for his performance (Bowers 208-211). The poet John Masefield, one of the organizers of the event, described Tolkien’s dramatic abilities:
Professor Tolkien knows more about Chaucer than any living man and sometimes tells the Tales superbly, inimitably, just as though he were Chaucer returned.”
(quoted in Bowers 209)
Above: Geoffrey Chaucer portrait and Tolkien in the 1940s (as close as I could get to the actual date of his performance). You’ll have to imagine Tolkien’s Chaucer costume! Tolkien image from The Guardian, 22 March 2014.
Tolkien’s recitations of Chaucer aren’t the only performances that his audiences remember. His biographer Humphrey Carpenter reports how he used to start his lectures declaiming the opening lines of Beowulf in Old English (137-38). Although students complained that during lectures he mumbled and was hard to follow, these moments of dramatic performance left striking impressions.
In other words, Tolkien had experience in writing and performing dramatic pieces, and I think that he put those skills to good use in “The Homecoming.”
So why don’t we usually think of Tolkien as a playwright? I can think of several reasons. For one, we only have one publication of his in this genre, easily overlooked in the volume of fiction, poetry, letters, and essays that he wrote.
I also think that there’s a tendency to view “The Homecoming” as alliterative poetry for two voices – more like a poetic dialogue not meant for performance on a stage. I would disagree based on the manuscript evidence, but my reasons will have to wait for another time.
Maybe another reason is that “The Homecoming,” inspired by the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon,” first appeared in a scholarly journal, Essays and Studies, in 1953. Medievalists have been interested mainly in the short essay titled “Ofermod” that Tolkien appended to the play, which deals with “The Battle of Maldon,” and compares it to two other medieval texts, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But medieval scholars have not, in general, examined the play as a play.
Finally, we might not think of Tolkien as a playwright because of the negative comments that he made about drama in various letters and in his appendix to “On Fairy-Stories.” In that essay, for example, he claims that drama cannot adequately represent a fantasy world, but whether we agree or not, we should note that “The Homecoming” is different from Tolkien’s other writing. It’s not part of his Middle-earth Secondary World but is based on the aftermath of a battle that took place in 991 according to early English historical chronicles. “The Homecoming” is a work of historical fiction as well as being a play.
The play is now most readily available in the volume Tree and Leaf, tucked in after “On Fairy-Stories,” “Mythopoeia,” and “Leaf by Niggle.”
Tolkien certainly had definite ideas about how the play should be performed on BBC Radio, as his letters tell us, though he was dissatisfied with the BBC production that aired in 1954, with a rebroadcast in 1955. He recorded his own version at home in his study, distinguishing between the two characters’ voices and adding in his own sound effects. A copy of that recording was given out at the Tolkien Centenary Conference in 1992 (Scull & Hammond, Reader’s Guide 547). But you don’t need a copy of that tape to experience Tolkien’s voice dramatizations. Just listen to his reading of the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter from The Hobbit. He does a pretty good job of performing the roles of Bilbo and especially Gollum.
Above: listen to Tolkien’s voicing of Gollum in his reading of “Riddles in the Dark”
It must be pretty clear that I find Tolkien’s play very interesting; in fact, it’s the topic of my current research. I’ve written about “The Homecoming” as a World War One work in my recently published essay, “Bodies in War: Medieval and Modern Tensions in ‘The Homecoming’” in the collection “Something Has Gone Crack”: New Perspectives on J.R.R. Tolkien in the Great War. There, my thesis can be summarized in this way:
Like Tolkien’s better-known works of fiction, HBBS addresses issues of war and heroism that are relevant to a modern writer who is transforming his past experiences into fiction, and as is not uncommon with Tolkien, doing so through the lens of medieval literature.”
What currently interests me in “The Homecoming” is the skilful handling of alliterative metre in the play. Yes, this is a play in alliterative verses, which may sound old-fashioned and stilted, but Tolkien’s knowledge of and handling of alliterative verses is, I think, a tour de force in his creation of different styles in a demanding medium. If you’re able to attend the International Medieval Congress in Leeds , you can hear me talking about “Tolkien’s Alliterative Styles in The Homecoming” on Monday, July 6, 11:15, session 104. Look for an article as well, coming soon, I hope!
I’d love to know in the comments if you’ve read “The Homecoming” and what you think of it. Have you ever heard or seen it performed?
Bowers, John M. Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer. Oxford UP, 2019.
Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Garth, John. “’The road from adaptation to invention’: How Tolkien Came to the Brink of Middle-earth in 1914.” Tolkien Studies, vol. 11, 2014, pp. 1-44.
Scull, Christina and Wayne Hammond. J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide.Reader’s Guide and Chronology. Revised and Expanded Edition. HarperCollins, 2017.
Smol, Anna. “Bodies in War: Medieval and Modern Tensions in ‘The Homecoming’.” “Something Has Gone Crack”: New Perspectives on J.R.R. Tolkien in the Great War, edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Annika Röttinger, Walking Tree Publishers, 2019, pp. 263-83.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.” Tree and Leaf, HarperCollins, 2001, pp. 121-150.
As always, if you are an independent scholar (i.e. you do not have an institutional affiliation) and do not have access to some of these resources, please send me an email and I will try to provide private research copies if possible.
The city of Leeds will host a variety of Tolkien presentations this summer, from July 4th to the 9th, at both the Tolkien Society Seminar and the International Medieval Congress.
The Tolkien Society Seminar has just issued its call for papers, with the theme for this annual meeting being “Adapting Tolkien.” This year, the Society is extending the Seminar to an extra half day, so the full-day program will take place on Saturday, July 4, from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. and the following morning, Sunday, July 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. As the Tolkien Society page states, this is “a short conference of both researcher-led and non-academic presentations.” Suggested topics include the following (although papers do not have to be limited to these):
Adapting Tolkien’s works to stage and screen
Other adaptations: games, merchandise and Hobbit-hole hotels
The deadline for paper proposals in April 5; to submit, follow the link on the Tolkien Society Seminar page, which is where you can find more details about registration and location.
[May 12 edit: The Seminar will be presented online. Check for posts closer to the date with more details.]
The Seminar is held just before the International Medieval Congress opens on the following Monday, where a number of Tolkien sessions will be held during the conference week. See this post by Andrew Higgins, one of the co-organizers of those sessions, for titles, dates, and times of Tolkien papers at IMC 2020.
[edit May 12: IMC cancelled due to COVID-19. A pared-down version of the conference will go online. Please check later for posts with more details.]
Or you can check out the session details below from the program which has just been published online and mailed out to participants; these PDFs include session abstracts, which will give you a little more information about what the speakers intend to talk about: