Although I wish I could be in Leeds this coming week to see friends and attend Tolkien sessions in person, I will be settling for the next best thing, zooming in from home. Two events occur annually in Leeds, and this year they are both in hybrid formats: the Tolkien Society Seminar on Sunday, July 3, and then a series of papers at the International Medieval Congress from July 4 – 7.
Tolkien Society Seminar: Tolkien and the Gothic
The Tolkien Society Seminar is free — more information is here. If you miss registering for the event, you will eventually be able to see the papers on the Society’s YouTube channel. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Gothic. A keynote will be given by Nick Groom speaking about “Eldritch Tolkien: The Impossible Complexities of a Gothic Middle-earth.” The other presenters are as follows (times are listed on the Tolkien Society Seminar 2022 page).
Victoria Holtz, Encountering the Undead: They will Not Leave You Unscathed
Mahdî Brecq, Tolkien’s Gothic: a poetic resurgence?
Steven Brehe, Speculations: The Influence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula upon Tolkien
Sofia Skeva, (Re-)Writing The (Monstrous) Body in 20th Century Fantasy Literature: The Construction of the Stranger in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Andrew Higgins, ‘Mommie Dearist’ An Exploration of an Intriguing Tolkienian Gothic Crux
Duane Watson, “The forest is queer” – The Fantastic and the Gothic in The Lord of the Rings
Journee Cotton, The Gothic and Environmental Bioethics: The ‘Creepy’ Bodies of Middle-earth
Giovanni Carmine Costabile, “Where now Bucephalus and the proud Eormanric?” – The interplay of Gothic and Classical references as a tacit background behind “The Wanderer”, Tolkien’s Anglo-Saxon source
Michael Dunn, Tolkien’s Triptych: Ecological Uncanny, Double Dualism Personified, and the Language of the Literary Gothic
Kristine Larsen, Beware Melkors Bearing Gifts: The “Tale of Adanel” as Gothic Fiction
International Medieval Congress
Registration for the IMC closed some time ago, but if you’re interested in seeing what Tolkien scholars are talking about, I’ve included the schedule of papers below. Of course, if you’ve registered, you can take in these sessions online or in person. The full IMC schedule, from July 4 – 7, can be found on the Congress webpage. The following Tolkien sessions were organized by Andrew Higgins and the Centre for Fantasy & the Fantastic, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow.
MONDAY JULY 4
J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots & Modern Branches
Andrzej Wicher, An Attempt to Re-Examine the Dialectic of the East and the West in Tolkien’s Selected Works
Victoria-Holtz Wodzak, Of Dust Motes, Trees, and Golden Flowers: Tolkien and Duns Scotus’ Haeccitas.
Andrew Higgins,, Glossopoeia through Letter Writing: The Role of Early Reader and Author Responses in the Development of the Elvish Languages
Tolkien and Medieval Poets: A Session in Memory of Richard West
Andoni Cossio, The Revivalist Critic and the Alliterative Poet: An Unexpected Collaboration
James Tauber, Computing the Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings
Kristine Larsen, ‘Pearls’ of Pearl: Medieval Appropriations in Tolkien’s Mythology
Tolkien as a Gateway to Interdisciplinary Teaching: A Roundtable Discussion This roundtable discussion will feature talks by teachers on how they have used the works of Tolkien to introduce and engage students with new fields of study and disciplines. Participants include Andrew Higgins, Deidre Dawson, Dimitra Fimi.
WEDNESDAY JULY 6
Borders between Life and Death in Tolkien’s Legendarium
Cami Agan, Memories of Borders: On the Borders of Memory – Beleriand as Elegiac Landscape
Amy Amendt-Raduege, Beyond the Circles of the World
Gaëlle Abaléa, Undead or Undying: Limits of Immortality in Tolkien’s Work
Family, Orientation, Transgression, and Crossing Borders of Middle-earth
Deidre Dawson, Tolkien’s Orphaned Heroes
Yvette Kisor, Chrononormativity and Queer Time: Crossing Temporal Borders in Tolkien’s Middle-earth
Alke Haarsma-Wisselink, ‘Finding out what lies beyond the borders of the Shire’: Applying Tolkien’s Fantastic Texts in and to Madness – The Transgressive Experience of Psychotic Thinking
Olivia-Kate Burgham, ‘Lay your head in my lap’: Homoerotic Tension and Possibility on Mordor’s Border in The Lord of the Rings
THURSDAY, JULY 7
Crossing Borders in Middle-earth
Aslı Bülbül, Light: The Key to Cross the Spatiotemporal Borders in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Secondary World
Sara Brown, Interrogating the Liminal Space: Vampires and Werewolves in Middle-Earth
Aurelie Bremont, Time Travel, Astronomy, and Magic Mirrors: How the Borders between Reality and the Otherworld in Middle- Earth Are Influenced by Celtic Mythology and Science (Fiction)
Two events for this month will feature online presentations on Tolkien. The first is a free event to be held on Saturday May 7th, the Tolkien at Kalamazoo Symposium. A program and link have not yet been published, but I will post it here as soon as the information is available. [May 4 edit: the pdf program is posted here. If you’re interested in attending, contact Yvette Kisor at firstname.lastname@example.org]
Next week, the International Congress on Medieval Studies will take place online once again this year. There is a registration fee for this one, which gives you access to papers and various kinds of sessions and book sales as well as recordings of most sessions for two weeks after the conference. You can find more information here. The Congress takes place May 9-14.
And please scroll down for reminders about July’s conference events. You’ll have to register this week for the Leeds medieval conference if you intend to take part!
Below are the sessions on Tolkien taking place at the International Congress on Medieval Studies from the University of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. An asterisk by the session number indicates that the session will be recorded.
121* Tuesday, May 10, 5:00 p.m. EDT Medieval Understandings of the Nature of Evil as Depicted by J. R. R. Tolkien
Sponsor: D. B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership, Viterbo Univ. Organizer & Presider: Michael A. Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.
Cosmic Catastrophe of History: Augustinian Theology of History and Patristic Angelology in Tolkien’s “Long Defeat” — Edmund Michael Lazzari, Marquette Univ.
Dante’s Paradiso and the Fall of Melkor: Tolkien’s Preoccupations with Culpability and Purgation — Michael David Elam, Regent Univ.
A Clamorous Unison: Musical Evil in the Middle Ages and the Ainulindalë –Joshua T. Parks, Princeton Theological Seminary
226* Thursday, May 12, 9:00 a.m. EDT Tolkien and the Medieval Animal
Sponsor: Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, Univ. of Glasgow Organizer & Presider: Kristine A. Swank, Univ. of Glasgow
Mammoth, Mûmak, and “ The old fireside rhyme of Oliphaunt”: Tolkien’s Contributions to the Medieval Bestiary Tradition — Marc U. Zender, Tulane Univ.
From Classical to Medieval: A Reflection on Bats in Tolkien’s Works — Fiammetta Comelli, Univ. degli Studi di Milano
Of Foxes and Dancing Bears — John Rosegrant, New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center
Tolkien’s Dragons: Sources, Symbols, and Significance — Camilo G. Peralta, Fort Hays State Univ.
275* Thursday, May 12, 7:00 p.m. EDT J. R. R. Tolkien and Medieval Poets: A Session in Memory of Richard C. West
Sponsors: Tolkien at Kalamazoo; Pearl-Poet Society. Organizer: Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont. Presider: Jane Beal, Univ. of La Verne
Tolkien and Dante on the Musical Nature of “Sub-creation” — Paul L. Fortunato, Univ. of Houston–Downtown
The Lost Roads of Old English Poetry: Dramas of Time Travel in Tolkien’s Works — Anna Smol, Mount St. Vincent Univ.
Strange Sounds, Strange Scenes: Alliterative Metre and Personification in J. R. R. Tolkien’s “ The Lay of the Children of Húrin” — Gavin Foster, Dalhousie Univ.
Tolkien, Beowulf, and Gawain: The Myth of Alliteration — John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville
360 Friday, May 13, 7:00 p.m. EDT Medieval Tolkien and the Nature of Middle-earth (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo. Organizer: Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College. Presider: Deidre Dawson, Michigan State Univ.
A roundtable discussion with Edward L. Risden, St. Norbert College; Sutirtho Roy, Univ. of Calcutta; Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont; Yvette Kisor; John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar
421* Saturday, May 14, 5:00 p.m. EDT New Readings of the Lord of the Rings Presider: Luke J. Chambers, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
The Fisherman’s Ring of Power: Masculinity, Castration, and the Great Quest in The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings — Consuelo M. Concepcion, Independent Scholar
The Dragon is Not an Allegory: Reading Tolkien’s Monsters in Medieval Contexts — Ruthann E. Mowry, Univ. of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign; Cait Coker, Univ. of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
Samwise: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Practical Boethian — Brian McFadden, Texas Tech Univ.
Tolkien, Augustinian Theodicy, and Lovecraftian Evil — Perry Neil Harrison, Fort Hays State Univ.
A couple of Tolkien papers will appear in more general sessions:
394* Saturday, May 14, 3:00 p.m. EDT C. S. Lewis and the Middle Ages I: Dante and the Lewis Circle (In Honor of Marsha Daigle Williamson)
Heavenly Models of Desire in Dante, Lewis, and Tolkien — Curtis Gruenler, Hope College [paper withdrawn – May 4 edit]
418* Saturday, May 14, 5:00 p.m. EDT Medievalism in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literary and Cinematic Adaptations of Beowulf
The Existential Dragon: Adapting Beowulf in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and John Gardner’s Grendel — Andrew Phillip de Carion, Univ. of Houston
Of course, if you have an interest in medieval or medievalism studies, there are hundreds of other sessions to choose from.
The International Medieval Congressat Leeds University will host 7 Tolkien sessions in the program. The conference takes place July 4-7, 2022. This is a hybrid event, enabling online or in-person attendance. Deadline for registration is Friday May 6. As with the other large medieval conference from the University of Western Michigan, there is a fee for registration.
I’ll post the July programs closer to the time of these events.
Every year to mark the downfall of Sauron on March 25, the Tolkien Society announces a theme for reading, discussion, and celebration. Let’s hope that this year’s theme, Love and Friendship, will lead to positive appreciations of the variety of loving relationships that Tolkien represents in his fiction.
I’ve written some articles on male relationships, mainly in The Lord of the Rings, and particularly how experiences in the First World War pushed male friendships beyond what contemporary heteronormative society might consider conventional behaviours. For example, in looking at Frodo and Sam’s relationship in a 2004 article (available below), I found that their gentle hand-holding and caring gestures could be seen in the context of what historian Santanu Das has described as sometimes occurring among WWI soldiers. The love and friendship in such relationships could exist on a continuum that would be difficult to pinpoint as one clearly-defined identity. As Das puts it: “A new world of largely nongenital tactile tenderness was opening up in which pity, thrill, affection, and eroticism are fused and confused depending on the circumstances, degrees of knowledge, normative practices, and sexual orientations, as well as the available models of male-male relationships” (Das 52–53).
For this year’s theme, though, I would like to pick up on some thoughts that I presented at a Tolkien conference in 2013 at Valparaiso University. I had previously written about friendships in war, but I wanted to explore what happens to friends after the war, after lives lived in peace with wives and children. How does Tolkien represent the death of friends?
Tolkien fans will recognize the gravesite of John Ronald and Edith, marked by a shared headstone over the place where husband and wife are laid together. As we know, Tolkien arranged to have the names “Beren” and “Lúthien” carved there under their names, thus associating himself and his wife with this romantic couple. They are buried together in Wolvercote Cemetery, which shouldn’t be surprising to us, given that husbands and wives are frequently buried together in western culture.
One might very well wonder, then, why another couple patterned after Beren and Lúthien — Aragorn and Arwen — do not end their days in the same place, in the same tomb. In Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn’s death is described: he says farewell to Arwen and tells her not to despair as he falls asleep. The story tells us “And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world” (RotK, App. A). Arwen, though, does not choose to die by his side. She says farewell to her loved ones and leaves Minas Tirith for silent and lonely Lórien, where Galadriel and Celeborn no longer live. Her last resting place is there: “There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea” (RotK, App. A).
Aragorn, however, does not lie in his tomb alone in Minas Tirith. In Appendix B, we are told that at the passing of King Elessar, the resting places of Merry and Pippin are moved beside the king’s. In fact, Merry and Pippin had previously left their homes – as the chronicle tells us, “they handed over their goods and offices to their sons and rode away over the Sarn Ford, and they were not seen again in the Shire” (RotK, App. B). Merry travels to be with Éomer before he dies, and then he and Pippin spend their last few years in Gondor, “until they died and were laid in Rath Dínen among the great of Gondor” (RotK, App. B). Later, they are moved to rest beside Aragorn. The death of the king also prompts Legolas to sail over the Sea, “and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf” (RotK, App. B). And of course, Samwise Gamgee, after the death of his wife Rose, leaves his children and his home and, according to his family tradition, goes to the Grey Havens and passes over the Sea – this final reunion with Frodo being what was hinted at near the end of the Return of the King by Frodo himself, the possibility discussed in the unpublished epilogue to the book, and also stated in Appendix B.
In other words, Merry and Pippin leave their families and are finally laid to rest together, then moved to lie beside Aragorn; Legolas and Gimli pass out of this world together, and Sam leaves his family to end his days with Frodo – or so we are led to believe. In the cases of Legolas and Gimli and Sam and Frodo, Tolkien won’t confirm with any certainty in the story that they ended their days in one place, but Tolkien’s unmistakable desire to have them together in death leads him to give us very strong hints that this is what might have happened.
We have examples of the desire of friends to be together in death, in some cases even leaving families to do so, not only in Tolkien’s fiction but also in historical facts. Many of the following examples come from a book by Alan Bray called The Friend, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2003, which has made me look at the concept of friendship, especially the death of friends, in Tolkien’s work in a new light.
Ancient and medieval texts describe the close bonds between men, sometimes as sworn brothers. In Homer’s The Iliad, the ghost of Patroclus visits his dear friend Achilles in a dream and says to him – and here I give you Stephen Mitchell’s translation:
But there is one more
thing that I have to ask, and I hope you will do it.
May my bones not be buried apart from your bones, Achilles.
May they lie together, just as we grew up together
when my father brought me from Opois to your house
It was then that Lord Peleus welcomed me in his home,
and he brought me up kindly and let me be your attendant.
So may one urn hold the bones of us both together. (23.80-90)
Here is a representation of lifelong companions and friends and one’s desire for burial together after death – to mingle their very bones in the same place.
We can find other examples in medieval literature. Take the Middle English romance about two friends, Amis and Amiloun. These two young men pledge their fidelity to each other as sworn brothers, a pledge that is tested severely in later life in this romance, when one of them sacrifices his own children to save his “trewe” brother (don’t worry — the children are miraculously brought back to life afterwards). The two sworn brothers die together on the same day and are laid in the same grave:
Both on oo day were they dede
And in oo grave were they leide,
The knyghtes both twoo;
And for her treth and her godhede (goodness; virtue)
The blisse of hevyn they have to mede, (as their reward)
That lasteth ever moo.
In the ballad of Bewick and Graham, collected a few centuries later, we have again two sworn brothers. They are forced to fight each other, but they vow that if one of them dies in the fight, the other will kill himself, which is exactly what happens. After the death of Graham the last words from Bewick are : “Nay, dig a grave both low and wide, / And in it us two pray bury;”
In these fictional examples, the claims of one’s sworn brother are often set in conflict with kinship claims but nevertheless surpass them.
But it’s not just in fictional texts that we – and Tolkien – could find representations of men closely bound in ties of friendship, often with the wish to be buried together. Alan Bray examines several examples, mainly in pre-18th century traditional society, of gravestones or memorials commemorating two friends together, usually with the same iconography one would expect in tombs of married couples, and he discusses the evidence for ceremonial pledges of friendship between men (and in one interesting instance between two women in the nineteenth century). These rituals occurred in public, in church usually, before witnesses and with the two friends taking communion together to seal their pledge of fidelity to each other. The public countenance of friendship could be visible in various practices in the course of a friendship: exchanging the kiss of peace, the giving of gifts, the sharing of food, and the sharing of beds (in life and in death).
For example, Tolkien would have seen the 14th-century brass memorial in the chapel of Merton College in Oxford for John Bloxham and John Whyttonarranged in the familiar iconography of a married couple, side by side with hands in prayer. The tomb was designed by Whytton after Bloxham’s death for the both of them, commemorating their friendship of more than 20 years.
Or, I wonder if Tolkien ever noticed this gravesite when as a young boy he and his mother and brother rented rooms in a postman’s cottage in Rednal that sat at the edge of the grounds belonging to the Birmingham Oratory. According to his biographer Humphrey Carpenter, “The cottage lay on the corner of quiet country lane, and behind it were the wooded grounds of the Oratory House with the little cemetery adjoining the chapel where the Oratory fathers and Newman himself were buried. The boys had the freedom of these grounds, and further afield they could roam the steep paths that led through the trees to the high Lickey Hill.” (37). In that cemetery through which Tolkien and his brother roamed lies the shared grave of John Henry Cardinal Newman and Ambrose St John, an arrangement that Newman had been careful to insist on. These two friends are flanked in their final resting place by two others: Joseph Gordon and Edward Caswall. These three friends Newman referred to as “three great and loyal friends of mine” (Bray 294) who died before Newman and whose pictures he kept beside his altar in his room, an arrangement that was replicated in their final resting places.
Recognizing the importance of friendship in these past examples adds insight to the significance of friendship in Tolkien’s work. In The Silmarillion, for example, we have the story of Maedhros and Fingon. After Maedhros is captured by Morgoth, his lifelong friend Fingon set out to search for him. We are told that Fingon had been “close in friendship with Maedhros” and that “the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart” (Sil. 124). In a rescue scene that is a precursor to Sam’s rescue of Frodo in the tower, Fingon begins to sing, and Maedhros answers. Fingon manages to find and to save his friend Maedhros, who waives his claim to kingship over the Noldor, to the disapproval of his brothers.
A similar bond of friendship can be seen in The Children of Húrin in the characters of Beleg and Túrin. Beleg is devoted to Túrin’s welfare, searching alone for him in the wilderness, leaving his own people to be with Túrin. At his death, he is called “truest of friends” (CH 156) and Túrin’s grief over Beleg’s death “was graven on the face of Túrin and never faded” (CH 156).
A couple of the friendships Tolkien describes involve not only this kind of lifelong loyalty in the face of peril, but also some kind of ritual or oath to mark the friendship. Take the example of Felagund and Barahir in The Silmarillion. Barahir comes to King Finrod Felagund’s aid in battle. In return, Felagund “swore an oath of abiding friendship and aid in every need to Barahir and all his kin, and in token of his vow he gave to Barahir his ring” (Sil. 176). Oaths can be problematic in Tolkien’s fiction, as we well know from Fëanor’s oath, but Felagund nevertheless makes a vow of friendship. This kind of sworn relationship creates a new, voluntary kinship, the outward sign of which is the ring that is given to Barahir. The oath of friendship extends to Barahir and all his kin, one of whom, Beren, will make a claim on that bond, with the result that Felagund will leave behind his family, renounce his kingship, and sacrifice his own life to save Beren from certain death.
A formal vow and the giving of a gift as its token marks the covenant of friendship between Felagund and Barahir that creates new relations between their families. In The Lord of the Rings, the nine members of the Fellowship do not swear any formal vows to support each other or to accomplish their tasks – Elrond allows for the operation of free will in this momentous matter – but I do think that Tolkien adapts an old ritual of fidelity in the story of Frodo and Sam that is a mark of their unique friendship and, seen in the light of other practices of sworn friendship, helps to explain events once they return home. I’ve described that pledge in a previous post. Suffice it to say that it involves another scene of tender hand-holding on Mount Doom in which Frodo and Sam reenact the medieval ritual of homage.
I think that that scene marks a private pledge of loyalty and love – the friendship that we see in so many other examples – that has a bearing on the lives of Frodo and Sam when they return home. Frodo assumes that their bond will continue to keep them together, never questioning the possibility that Sam would not want to move into Bag End with him. When Sam expresses his concerns over being “torn in two” (RotK, VI, 9) by his relationship with Rosie and with Frodo, we glimpse how the strength of the bond of friendship can be perceived as equivalent to that of marriage. And when Frodo bequeaths “all that I had and might have had” (RotK, VI, 9) to Sam, making him his heir, we see the workings of the voluntary kinship ties that the institution of friendship could create. Sam becomes like kin to Frodo, who gives him everything as a token of their friendship.
Lastly, we see the desire of friends to end their lives together. Although Frodo knows that Sam cannot sail west with him (at least not right away), he does ask Sam to arrange for some time to go with him to the Grey Havens. Finally, Sam understands the reason why:
Where are you going, Master?” cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening. “To the Havens, Sam,” said Frodo. “And I can’t come.” “No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens……
“Come now, ride with me!”
(RotK, VI. 9.)
I think that when Frodo says to Sam, “Come now, ride with me!” he is in effect saying that he wants to have his friend by his side in what will be equivalent to Frodo’s death scene, his passing out of his world and into a new one.
The bond that spurs one friend to leave behind home and family to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other, the creation of new relationships that establish a different kind of kinship, sometimes marked by vows or rituals, and the desire to face eternity together, sometimes side by side in the same grave — these are elements of friendship that we can find in Tolkien’s fiction as we can in other texts and historical examples. These practices and rituals of love and friendship are old and varied, and could have a deep significance for the generations that have come before us.
Some of the texts I’ve cited:
Alan Bray, The Friend. University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Anna Smol, “Male Friendship in The Lord of the Rings: Medievalism, the First World War, and Contemporary Rewritings.” The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 conference: 50 years of The Lord of the Rings. Vol. 1, edited by Sarah Wells, Coventry:UK, 2008, pp. 320-326. Mount Saint Vincent University’s E-Commons.
Here is a wonderful book, beautifully written, by Amy Amendt-Raduege: “The Sweet and the Bitter”: Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Kent State UP, 2018. Winner of the 2020 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies. This book doesn’t deal with the death of friends in the same way I’ve outlined above, but it does discuss the topic of death and dying in far broader terms, examining the manner of death, memorials of the dead, and ideas about what happens after death throughout The Lord of the Rings.
I sometimes like to listen to the Sounds of the Bodleian Library while working. The soundscapes transport me back to happy days researching in the library, where I hope to spend time again one day. In the meantime, a howling snowstorm is keeping us indoors here in Nova Scotia, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to connecting with people online, dreaming of spring and summer, and listening to some great ideas on Tolkien in upcoming seminars.
First up is the Online Midwinter Seminar on The Inklings and Horror: Fantasy’s Dark Corners, sponsored by a Mythopoeic Society group, taking place this coming weekend on February 4th and 5th. You can see a list of speakers and topics on the Mythopoeic Society blog, including a number of papers on Tolkien. Friday night is reserved mainly for social activities, and the presentations are tentatively scheduled for Saturday. You can register for the seminar here. This is the first of midwinter seminars that the Mythopoeic Society is hoping to hold in the future.
18th Annual Tolkien in Vermont Conference, April 2, 2022. The theme is the idea of history and the keynote speaker will be Dr. Gergely Nagy. This event is planned as a hybrid conference, with in-person attendance at the University of Vermont as well as online participation. The schedule of speakers has not yet been announced, but I assume that more information will be forthcoming on the Tolkien in Vermont Facebook page.
The Popular Culture Association online conference will take place April 13-16, 2022. The final schedule has not yet been posted, but we do know that the Tolkien Studies area will have the following sessions: 1. Literary and Cultural Approaches to Tolkien; 2. Queer and Critical Race Approaches to Tolkien; 3. Multi-Disciplinary Approaches to Tolkien; 4. Roundtable on Teaching Tolkien; 5. Race, Racisms, and Tolkien; 6. Religion, Spirituality, and Tolkien; 7. A Roundtable on the Future of Tolkien Studies. Each session will have 4 or 5 speakers. I’ll have more details when the final program is out. The deadline for early registration is February 11.
International Congress on Medieval Studies, University of Western Michigan, May 9-14, 2022. This conference is online once again this year, with plans to move to a hybrid model in 2023. A Sneak Preview of the program has now been posted on the conference homepage. Sessions on Tolkien include: 1. Medieval Understandings of the Nature of Evil as Depicted by Tolkien; 2. Tolkien and the Medieval Animal; 3. Tolkien and Medieval Poets: A Session in Memory of Richard West; 4. Medieval Tolkien and the Nature of Middle-earth (a Roundtable); 5. New Readings of The Lord of the Rings. Each of these sessions includes 3 or 4 presenters. Other sessions on medievalisms also include single presentations on Tolkien. I’ll post more details after the final program is published. You can find registration and other information on the Congress website.
Just before the International Congress on Medieval Studies, the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group sponsors a one-day symposium, to be held this year on May 7. This year’s theme is “Missing Mothers.” I expect more details to become available soon about this event. One place to find out more information as it becomes available is at the Tolkien at Kalamazoo Symposium 2022 link on the Tolkienists.org site, which includes emails for the organizers.
Of course, once summer arrives there will be more: in July, the Tolkien Society Seminar, the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, and the Once and Future Fantasies conference at the University of Glasgow; in August, the Mythopoeic Society, and, in September, Oxonmoot. But for now, I’ll work on the papers I’m scheduled to give this spring (at PCA and ICMS) and I’ll look forward to connecting with Tolkien scholars in our virtual world.
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.
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.
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.
I was going to write to celebrate Tolkien Reading Day (March 25) as I usually do, with a post on “Leaf by Niggle,” one of the texts recommended by the Tolkien Society for this year’s theme of Nature vs. Industry. However, as we were approaching Tolkien Reading Day, COVID-19 cases started to pop up in Canada, with the result that my university closed on-campus classes on March 13th, and by the 19th they had entirely locked down the campus. So within a matter of days, we had to shift our last three and half weeks of classes and three weeks of exams into virtual operations.
Those weeks were chaotic and stressful, and a Tolkien Reading Day post was abandoned. Students were moving home, sometimes to far-distant time zones; others were taking care of children who were out of school or daycare; some were dealing with the sick and worst of all, with the death of family or friends. Some had no Internet access, or nothing more than a cell phone with limited data to try to connect to their online classes. Most lost their jobs. We missed seeing our students in person, especially our graduating students who would be leaving without an in-person good-bye celebration.
As faculty, we had to rethink how to teach course concepts online and quickly learn new technologies within a matter of days, while triaging student problems. Many faculty had additional challenges at home with childcare or having to share one home computer. Relatively speaking, though, my position has been a privileged one indeed. I have a home and the companionship of my husband while in lockdown (and we each have our own laptops to work on); I can work from home in a safe job with a continuing salary. My adult children, while never far from our minds, are managing (for now) to get by independently. And yet —
And yet, it has been an unsettling and anxious time, filled with uncertainty. Among other concerns, the research and writing that I would normally be immersed in at this time have been relegated to irregular jabs at getting going. My ambitious research project recedes further and further into the distance.
Niggle was a painter. Not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do. Most of these things he thought were a nuisance; but he did them fairly well, when he could not get out of them: which (in his opinion) was far too often.”
(“Leaf by Niggle,” page 93)
I won’t push an allegorical equivalence with Niggle much farther, although as the banner on top of this blog reveals, I do enjoy and identify with parts of that story, and I would dearly love to learn the secret of his time management lessons without having to go to the same “workhouse.” However, as my attention shifted to our new pandemic living conditions, I was brought back to an important element of Tolkien’s story, the value of art.
I think he was a silly little man,” said Councillor Tompkins. “Worthless, in fact; no use to Society at all.” “Oh, I don’t know,” said Atkins, who was nobody of importance, just a schoolmaster. “I am not so sure: it depends on what you mean by use.” “No practical or economic use,” said Tompkins. “I dare say he could have been made into a serviceable cog of some sort, if you schoolmasters knew your business.”
(“Leaf by Niggle,” page 116)
In the midst of this pandemic anxiety, chaos, and for some, even boredom, how often have people turned to the arts? Movies; tv shows; livestreams of theatre, opera, dance, concerts; Zoom choirs and songs and YouTube parodies; online communities sharing readings; political graffiti or a child’s sidewalk chalk drawings, books and storytelling — the arts have provided us with comfort, distraction, entertainment, enlightenment, information, and calls to action. The fact that most of the artists producing these arts are now out of jobs while society eats up their work should lead us to consider the “use” of art in our Tompkins-led world. How do we use art? How do we use artists?
“It depends on what you mean by use” says the schoolteacher, who is considered “nobody of importance,” and who pushes back (albeit feebly) against Tompkins, who criticizes the teacher for not factory-producing people as “serviceable cog[s]” for some larger economic machine.
It is shocking how often that view is expressed in our Primary World, even in my own world of the university. We have witnessed in numerous places professors being considered simply as “content providers” to students who are imagined as empty buckets – fill them all with the same information, and we’re done; they are “educated”; then churn them out the assembly line into a job. Putting our “content” into online format is easy, as one Tompkins-administrator told a group of students in my university a mere five days after the decision to move classes online, assuring them in her usual perky, uninformed style that everything was fine — “Of course your professors have everything all set online by now!” — completely oblivious to the careful thought that needs to go into teaching effectively in a digital world.
How often have students taking an Arts degree, either to learn to produce and/or to analyze the arts, been asked, “what use is that?” Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m glad when our B.A. students can get – and they do get – good jobs, despite popular misconceptions that Arts graduates don’t do as well as, say, Business students. But even within my university, a Business professor recently wrote in a university-wide document, citing reports by a national bank, that one of the main goals of higher education was “to produce business leaders of the future.” Tompkins is everywhere.
Thankfully, many of my colleagues countered that they believe, instead, that the aim of a university education is to encourage the development of socially responsible global citizens. Yes, we need scientists and social scientists to help solve our problems, but we also need artists and people educated in the humanities to help analyze our world and communicate some truths. Arts courses aim to give students a broad, multifaceted understanding of the world they live in and how it came to be that way. And these courses, at least where I teach, try to do that by having teachers engaging with individual students, exchanging ideas with them, developing their understanding and our own understanding as teachers as we analyze the world together beyond our doors, using novels, poetry, speeches, essays, plays, films, dance, music – the stuff of the arts, that illuminate the world for us.
And let me emphasize together. Good teachers are always learning along with their students. We don’t just dump our “content” onto a webpage and call that “teaching.” And I, like many other teachers, have to continually remind myself that I have to keep learning, to look beyond the comfort and security of my home office to read, watch, and listen to what is going on in our society, and to question continually how it affects what we do and what we teach.
And right now, with protests against systemic racism around the world, in the midst of a global pandemic, our society, while in dire need of many things, also could use the transformative power of the arts – the analysis, commentary, expression, solace, and communication that artists and those educated in the arts can provide.
So yes, “It depends on what you mean by use.”
Work Cited “Leaf by Niggle.” Tree and Leaf, including Mythopoeia. HarperCollins, 2001, pp. 93-118.
I have a lot of learning to do in the next few months. Here are some resources that I’ve been using as starting points for my particular areas of interest:
“Race in Tolkien Studies: A Bibliographic Essay” by Robin Anne Reid. In Tolkien and Alterity, edited by Christopher Vaccaro and Yvette Kisor, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 33-74.
You can find the submission guidelines here. Different sponsoring groups have different deadlines. For example, the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group would like proposals by September 1st (tomorrow!) while the final deadline for ICMS proposals generally is September 15th — though no one is advised to wait that long. You can search the complete call for papers for the Congress here.
Tolkien at Kalamazoo is sponsoring 3 sessions:
Tolkien’s Paratexts: Appendices, Annals, and Marginalia (Roundtable) Following the medieval manuscript tradition, Tolkien’s literary fiction includes charts, maps, annals and other paratextual elements, many found in the Appendices. These elements deserve further critical study. Taking his father’s lead, Christopher Tolkien has been meticulously editing J.R.R. Tolkien’s manuscripts, supplying commentary and emendations concerning the many cruxes within the notes and typescripts. As medievalists, we will bring this often ignored back matter and marginalia to the foreground.
Tolkien and Se Wyrm Tolkien admits to being influenced by the dragons of Beowulf and the Volsungasaga. In those medieval epic texts, the dragon is monstrous but somewhat uncanny and familiar to human kind; distinctions are blurred. Something similar happens in Tolkien’s fictions, presenting exciting new considerations on the subject of monstrosity. Papers could explore the interdisciplinary relationships between the dragons of medieval legend and those of Middle-earth.
Tolkien’s Chaucer With the upcoming publication of Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer (edited by John M. Bowers, Oxford University Press, 2019) readers of Tolkien have the opportunity to explore how Tolkien read Chaucer as well as how that reading influenced his fiction. This paper session might explore fourteenth-century ideas of romance, neoplatonism, self in relation to society, constructions of gender, etc., as they related to Tolkien’s texts.
Proposals for the above sessions should be sent to:
Dr. Christopher Vaccaro Email: email@example.com
You can also send Chris a proposal for the Tolkien Symposium which takes place on the Wednesday before the start of the conference. While the official CFP will come out later with a January deadline, the Symposium usually has an open theme and you can propose a paper now.
University of Glasgow, Fantasy Research Hub
Medieval World-Building: Tolkien, his Precursors and Legacies The recent volume Sub-creating Arda: World-building in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works, its Precursors, and Legacies (2019), edited by D. Fimi and T. Honegger, examines the importance of invented story-worlds as spaces for primary-world social commentary, or as means for visualizing times and places not accessible to the reader. Tolkien was one of the foremost proponents of literary world-building, what he called “sub-creation,” and his Middle-earth has had unrivaled influence on subsequent world-building efforts. Yet, Tolkien’s own sub-creations were born from medieval story-worlds such as Beowulf,Kalevala, Volsungasaga, and others. This paper session examines the emergent, interdisciplinary research field of world-building through Tolkien’s Middle-earth, its medieval precursors, and/or its modern legacies. Papers might be on such topics as mythopoeia, design, systems of magic, geology, geography, cartography, cosmology, ecology, sociology, demographics, cultural anthropology, materiality, religion, philosophy, language—literally anything that goes into world-building—in conjunction with the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, or his medieval/medievalist precursors, or his worldbuilding legacy in literature or other fields. Papers on interdisciplinary topics are welcome.
Please send your proposals with “Tolkien World-Building” in the subject line to: Dimitra Fimi (Dimitra.Fimi@glasgow.ac.uk) AND Kris Swank (KSwank@pima.edu).
Marquette University Archives
Tolkien and Manuscript Studies J.R.R. Tolkien the scholar studied and taught medieval manuscripts. In imitation of these, Tolkien the author incorporated fictional manuscripts into his tales. He produced an enormous quantity of his own manuscripts in the course of crafting his Legendarium, which his son Christopher and others have closely examined. In his influential essay “The Great Chain of Reading: (Inter-)textual Relations and the Technique of Mythopoesis in the Túrin Story” (2002), Gergely Nagy explains that Tolkien’s mode of narrative development was akin to that of the medieval European tradition, writing, redacting, and expanding of numerous versions.
This session proposal invites papers on the role of manuscripts (as mise-en-page and mise-en-scène) in the life and works of Tolkien.
Contact: William Fliss Phone: (414) 288-5906 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tales After Tolkien Society
Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption (A Panel Discussion)
Legacies of Tolkien’s Whiteness in Contemporary Medievalisms (A Roundtable)
Contact: Geoffrey B. Elliott PO Box 292970 Kerrville, TX 78028 email: email@example.com
IMC Leeds July 6-9, 2020
The deadline for Tolkien proposals is September 6.
Sessions 1-3: Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism – paper sessions These sessions will directly address the overall theme of the conference (“Borders”). Papers in these sessions can explore all aspects of borders in Tolkien’s works in its broadest sense. These can be explorations of geographical, conceptual, political and linguistic borders in Tolkien’s work as well as the role and impact of borders on the peoples and cultures of Tolkien’s world-building and in his other creative and academic explorations.
Sessions 4-5: Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches – paper sessions These sessions can accommodate wider topics and new approaches to Tolkien’s medievalism, ranging from source studies and theoretical readings, to comparative studies (including Tolkien’s legacy).
Session 6 – New Sources and Approaches to Tolkien’s Medievalism This roundtable discussion provides a forum to explore new sources and approaches to Tolkien’s work. This can explore new academic work drawn from the most recent published editions of Tolkien’s work including The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun (ed. Verlyn Flieger, 2017), The Tale of Beren and Lúthien (ed. Christopher Tolkien, 2017), The Fall of Gondolin (ed. Christopher Tolkien, 2018) as well as new academic works such as Tolkien’s Library – An Annotated Checklist (Cilli, forthcoming August 2019) and Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer (OUP: Bowers, forthcoming September 2019).
If you are interested in participating:
Please submit a paper/round table contribution title and abstract to Dr. Dimitra Fimi (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Andrew Higgins (email@example.com) by 6th September
Length of abstracts: 100 words. (Papers will be 15-20 minutes long while roundtable contributions will be 10-12 minutes long). With your abstract, please include name and details of contributor (affiliation, address, and preferred e-mail address).
A note on how Kalamazoo and Leeds organizers select papers differently: for the ICMS in Kalamazoo, the session topics are first approved by the Congress organizers and then the session sponsors select presenters to fill the sessions. At Leeds, the session sponsors select presenters and send in the full session proposal to the Congress organizers to await approval. Sometimes, sessions are not approved.
On the day before the Congress begins (Sunday 5 July), the Tolkien Society sponsors a Tolkien Seminar, a full day of presentations. The call for papers will be available later this year.
I was planning to be in Leeds today at the International Medieval Congress in order to attend the first sessions on Tolkien tomorrow, but bad weather diverted my flight, making me miss my UK connection, and landing me even farther away than where I started. So what do you do for an extra day stranded in a hotel room waiting for a rebooked flight? How about looking at Tolkien conference sessions coming up this summer in case you’re lucky enough to attend one of these events. Or if you’re not attending, you can see what people are working on and hopefully wait for the articles and books to come later.
The Leeds conference features 5 sessions on Tolkien. You can search through the huge online program, but it’s far easier to look at Dr. Dimitra Fimi’s blog, where she lists the speakers and papers in the sessions that she’s organized.
Another conference of note is Mythcon, taking place this year in San Diego from August 2 – 5. The scholar guest of honour is Verlyn Flieger. Keep an eye out for the program, as there are always sessions on Tolkien (and the Inklings).
The Tolkien 2019 conference promises to be a big event, with major speakers, artwork, music, and other evening activities. This event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tolkien Society will take place in Birmingham, UK from August 7 to 11. You can find the featured speakers and the list of other speakers and their presentation titles here. I’ll have more to say about my own paper in a few weeks!