Forthcoming: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger


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I’m very happy to announce that one of my essays will be part of a festschrift for Verlyn Flieger, a renowned Tolkien scholar and someone I admire very much. The book, A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger, is edited by John Rateliff. He’s recently posted the table of contents on his blog, Sacnoth’s Scriptorium, and I’ve copied it below as an image and here as a downloadable pdf. The book should be available by the end of the year in both print and ebook format from a new independent publisher, Gabbro Head Press. I’m looking forward to reading the work of the other contributors!

I plan to post more information about my essay, “Seers and Singers: Tolkien’s Typology of Sub-creators” in the next few days.

A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger




Tolkien sessions in Leeds, 2017


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The Tolkien meetings in Vermont, San Diego (the PCA/ACA), and Kalamazoo are now over and conference season is in full swing. Next stop, Leeds!

The Tolkien Society Seminar is held one day before the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, which also sponsors some Tolkien sessions. So, details about the Seminar first. I’m pleased to say that I’ll be attending for the first time and giving a paper.

Tolkien Society Seminar

July 2nd, The Hilton Leeds City. Read more about booking here.

The program is now on the Tolkien Society website. Registration starts at 9:00, with papers running from around 9:30 to 5:00, with the opportunity for a convivial gathering at a nearby pub afterwards.

The special theme of this year’s Seminar is “poetry and song.”

  • Brad Eden, The scholar as minstrel: Music as a conscious/subconscious theme in Tolkien’s poetry
  • Michaela Hausmann, Lyrics on Lost Lands – Constructing Lost Places through Poetry in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
  • Andrew Higgins, Poetry and Language Invention: The Interconnected Nature of Tolkien’s The Qenya Lexicon and His Early Poetry
  • Penelope Holdaway, Fair and Perilous: The Women of Tolkien’s non-Middle-earth Lays and Legends
  • Bertrand Bellet, Aurelie Bremont, Dimitra Fimi, Tolkien and Breton poetry:  What layers lie behind Tolkien’s lays?
  • Stuart Lee, Tolkien and The Battle of Maldon
  • Kristine Larsen, “Diadem the Fallen Day”: Astronomical and Arboreal Motifs in the Poem “Kortirion Among the Trees”
  • Szymon Pindur,  The magical and reality-transforming function of Tolkien’s songs and verse creations
  • Irina Metzler, Singing the World into Being: The Creative Power of Song in Tolkien’s Legendarium and Real-World Mythology
  • Massimiliano Izzo, In search of the Wandering Fire: otherworldly imagery in The Song of Ælfwine
  • Anna Smol, Seers and Singers: Sub-creative Collaborators in Tolkien’s Fiction.

International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds

The IMC is a huge conference that begins the day after the Tolkien Seminar. I won’t be able to attend this year, though for a happy reason: my family will be in the middle of a European vacation, and Leeds can only be a one-day stop for us. However, if you’re looking for presentations on Tolkien, there are four sessions this year organized by Dr. Dimitra Fimi. The following is an abridged version of the conference program; follow the links for more information on the speakers and for abstracts of the papers.

Session 242: J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches.
Monday 3 July 14:15-15:45
Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Andrew Higgins

  • Yvette Kisor, Tolkien’s Beowulf: Translating Knights
  • Anahit Behrooz, Mappa Mundi to Mappa Middle-Earth: Positioning J.R.R. Tolkien’s Cartography between Medieval and Modern Practices
  • Aurélie Brémont, Tales of the Corrigan: From Folklore to Nationalist Reinvention
  • Victoria Holtz-Wodzak, Treebeard’s Priesthood and the Franciscan Sanctity of Tolkien’s Natural World

Read more information about the speakers in this session and their abstracts here.

Session 342: “New” Tolkien: Expanding the Canon
Monday 3 July 16:30-18:00

Organiser and Moderator: Dimitra Fimi

  • Brad Eden, Mirkwood as Otherness: ‘New’ Tolkien and the Liminal Forest
  • Kristine Larsen, Magic, Matrimony, and the Moon: Medieval Lunar Symbolism in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun and The Fall of Arthur
  • Andrew Higgins, A Secret Vice, the 1930s, and the Growth of Tolkien’s ‘Tree of Tongues’

Read more information about the speakers in this session and their abstracts here.

Session 442: The Road Goes Ever On: The Future of Tolkien Scholarship – A Round Table Discussion
Monday 3 July 19:00-20:00

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Carl L. Phelpstead

Read the abstract here.

Session 1019: Otherness in Tolkien’s Medievalism
Wednesday 5 July 9:00-10:30

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Kristine Larsen

  • Irina Metzler, Disability in Tolkien’s Texts: Medieval ‘Otherness’?
  • Thomas Honegger, Tolkien’s Other Middle Ages
  • Sara Brown, The Invisible Other: Tolkien’s Dwarf-Women and the ‘Feminine Lack’
  • Gaëlle Abaléa, Our World, the Other World, and Those In-Between: Community with and Separation from the Dead in Tolkien’s Work

Read more about the speakers in this session and their abstracts here.

Widsith, D&D, Fanworks, and Films: Another Year in ENGL 4475


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ENGL 4475: the year in review

I’ve filed away my course notes and given out the final grades. ENGL 4475: Tolkien & Myth-making is officially over for the 2016-17 academic year. The project proposals, annotated bibliographies, abstracts, research papers, and exams are all done now. What’s left is my delight at the many ways my students found to explore Tolkien’s fiction in relation to adaptation, medievalism, and fandom.

ENGL 4475 gift of lembas

Gift of lembas by a student from ENGL 4475

Our last class of the year is a celebration of the work students have done. We set up in a party room with snacks and drinks and read excerpts from each other’s essays. After all, it’s more interesting if you’re writing for your peers and not just for your teacher. My students then present their research projects to the rest of the seminar. I give them a range of general options for these projects, from studying Tolkien’s adaptations of texts such as Beowulf to producing their own adaptations based on Tolkien’s fiction. Because this is a senior-level English course, all of the projects require a written researched analysis of the texts and, if relevant, of the students’ process of adaptation or their participation in fandom.

On presentation day, the class had assembled around the seminar table but for one student, who at the last moment made quite an entrance in full costume, much to our delight. Gavin Rollins’ project was about cosplay, but he didn’t just write about it; he arrived as a living example of his research. (He also brought us some delicious lembas).

ENGL 4475 cosplay Gavin Rollins

Part of Gavin Rollins’ cosplay project

Gavin’s paper dealt with the immersive, communal experience of cosplay and the intertextuality of Tolkien’s fiction and Jackson’s films.

A couple of other students were thinking along the same lines when they conducted their study of Dungeons and Dragons gaming. Andrew Potter used his and his friends’ experiences to investigate the question, can a D&D adventure feel like a “faerian drama“?  Andrew’s answer is maybe, and certainly more likely than the experience of playing a video game or watching a film.

Luke Hammond and his D&D research team

Luke Hammond (centre) and his D&D research team

Luke Hammond created his own D&D-style adventure based on Tolkien’s Mines of Moria episode and experimented with his friends in a campaign lasting several hours to see how Tolkien’s place descriptions worked (they worked well) and what kind of choices would be made by players who didn’t know the books or the movies. (Turns out the Frodo-character put on the Ring every chance he could get!). Luke’s analysis also considered how the role-playing genre could fulfill Tolkien’s ideas expressed in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” about fantasy, recovery, escape, and consolation.

D&D dice from

Image from

It would take too long to summarize every student’s project, but at least I can give you a taste of the variety we enjoyed. Courtney Francis wrote about Legolas/Gimli fanfiction; Megan Bruce about surveillance in The Lord of the Rings, including her poem about Galadriel’s mirror as a surveillance tool. Nicole Martina tackled Tolkien’s descriptive landscapes and his artistic style. And Allyson Roussy adapted the Old English poem “Widsith,” in which a widely-travelled poet recounts all the great rulers and places he has been, thus recording legends and histories in his verse. Allyson transposed the style of “Widsith” to the history of Middle-earth, beginning with Silmarillion tales and ending with The Lord of the Rings. Her speaker is Gandalf, someone who has travelled widely and seen a great deal in Middle-earth. Although she does not attempt to write consistently in alliterative verse, she typically captures the four-beat style of her Old English model. Here is a passage spoken by Gandalf:

…I acted as guide in the war against Sauron.
I counselled men and elves and exiles,
sought those who desired to aid our cause,
who strengthened the armies of Middle-earth.
I was with Aragorn, of the House of Isildur,
Beren’s mirror, with Barahir’s ring,
last heir to the throne of Gondor and Arnor,
A true leader with patience and humility,
The hands of a healer and the hands of a king….

Film adaptations of Tolkien’s work also provided fertile ground for analysis. Kimia Nejat studied Jackson’s film representations of Frodo and Sam. Samantha VanNorden, starting with the premise that Middle-earth is a character in The Lord of the Rings, analyzed Jackson’s representations of certain landscapes. And Alexandra Rudderham examined Tolkien’s representation of Galadriel along with the film adaptations by Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson. Tolkien’s handling of gender and women has long been a topic of debate, and Alex further asked, have filmmakers captured all of Galadriel’s qualities as a beautiful, perilous, powerful queen? Compare for yourself; first, Bakshi’s animated 1978 version:

and then Peter Jackson’s 2001 Fellowship of the Ring:

Fan Studies in the Classroom

I’ve had an opportunity to write about the kind of work I ask my students to do in this course. My essay “Adaptation as Analysis: Creative Work in an English Classroom” is forthcoming in the book Fan Studies in the Classroom, edited by Katherine Howell, to be published by the University of Iowa Press. In this essay I discuss the theory behind my ENGL 4475 assignments, the practical details of how they’re done, and why I think the assignments  encourage intertextual engagement, creativity, and textual analyses. I’ll post more when the book is published. In the meantime, some of my former students’ assignments can be seen on the ENGL 4475: Studies in Medievalism – Tolkien & Myth-making course page.

Selected Bibliography

This is not meant to be a complete bibliography by any means, but I thought that a few readers might like to sample some of the sources, especially those dealing with fandom and adaptation, that my students have read as part of their research. I’ve culled one or two sources from each essay in case anyone wants to look further into some of the topics my students have written about.

Abrahamson, M.B.  “J.R.R. Tolkien, Fanfiction, and the Freedom of the Reader.” Mythlore, vol. 32, no. 1, 2013, pp. 53- 72.

Allington, Daniel. “‘How Come Most People Don’t See It?’: Slashing The Lord of the Rings.” Social Semiotics, vol. 17, no. 1, Mar. 2007, pp. 43–62.

Amendt-Raduege, Amy. “Dream Visions in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien Studies, vol. 3, 2006, pp. 45-55.

Barker, Martin. “Envisaging ‘Visualisation’: Some challenges from the international Lord of the Rings audience project.” Film-Philosophy, vol. 10, no. 3, 2006, pp. 1-25.

Battis, Jes. “Gazing upon Sauron: Hobbits, Elves, and the Queering of the Postcolonial optic.” Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 50, 2004, pp. 908-26.

Clark, George. “J.R.R. Tolkien and the True Hero.” J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-Earth, Greenwood Press, 2000, pp. 39–52.

Cohen, Cynthia M. “The Unique Representation of Trees in The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien Studies, vol. 6, 2009, pp. 91-125.

Croft, Janet Brennan and Leslie Donovan, editors. Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Mythopoeic Press, 2015.

Enright, Nancy. “Tolkien’s Females and the Defining of Power.” Renascence, vol. 59, Issue 2, 2007, 93-108.

Ewalt, David M. Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play It. Scribner, 2013.

Gygax, Gary. “The Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien on the D&D and AD&D Games.” Dragon, vol. 95. March 1985. pp. 12-13.

Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull.  J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. HarperCollins, 2004.

Haydock, Nickolas. The Imaginary Middle Ages: Movie Medievalism. McFarland, 2008.

Hellekson, Karen and Kristina Busse, editors. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays. McFarland, 2006.

Hutcheon, L. with S. O’Flynn. A Theory of Adaptation, 2nd ed, Routledge, London and New York.

Jenkins, Henry. “About: Aca/Fan Defined.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Bridgend, Seren, 2005.

Rahman, Osmud, Liu Wing-Sun, and Brittany Hei-Man Cheung.  “’Cosplay’: Imaginative Self and Performing Identity.”  Fashion Theory-The Journal Of Dress Body & Culture, vol. 16, no. 3, Sep 2012, pp. 317-342.

Rateliff, John. “Tolkien Moot 2008 MerpCon IV John D. Rateliff  solo speech History of the Hobbit author.” YouTube, 28 Jun 2012.

Reid, Robin Anne. “Thrusts in the Dark: Slashers’ Queer Practices.” Extrapolation, vol. 50, no. 3, 2009, pp. 463–483.

_________.  “Tree and flower, leaf and grass: The Grammar of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings.”  Fantasy Fiction into Film.  Edited by Stratyner, Leslie and James R. Keller.  McFarland, 2007.

Russell, Gary.  The Lord of the Rings: Art of the Fellowship of the Ring.  HarperCollins, 2002.

Shank, Nathan. “Productive Violence and Poststructural Play in the Dungeons and Dragons Narrative.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol 48, no.1, 2015.

Smol, Anna. “Oh…Oh…Frodo!’: Readings of Male Intimacy in The Lord of the Rings..” Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 50, no. 4, 2004, pp. 949–979.

Two Calls for Papers in Fan Studies


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These calls for papers in fan studies have recently come my way.

The first is for a special issue of the Journal of Tolkien Research, The editors, Kristine Larsen and Robin Reid, have put out a call for proposals “for fan studies scholarship on any aspect of fan production, creation, or activities relating to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium and/or Peter Jackson’s live-action film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.” Read more in the Call for Papers: Tolkien Jackson fan studies [pdf].

The other call is for a special issue of the Journal of Fandom Studies on disability, pedagogy, and identity in fan studies classrooms. The guest editor, Katherine Howell, summarizes the aims of this special issue: “to investigate the intersection of disability studies and fan studies. We welcome all explorations of this intersection, but are especially excited about discussions of how the pedagogy we employ, as well as the texts we teach and identities we embody, impact our students and our teaching.” For more details, see the  Call for Papers: Disability Pedagogy and Identity. [pdf]


Tolkien Studies at PCA/ACA 2017


Popular Culture Association logo

It’s springtime, and that means that Tolkien conference season is picking up momentum. If you can’t attend the Tolkien in Vermont conference this weekend, then maybe California is closer or more convenient. The annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference will be held April 12-15 this year in San Diego, with the Tolkien Studies area organized once again by its founder, Robin Reid. The Tolkien sessions are scheduled for April 13-14.

There’s a public Facebook group where you can keep up with announcements or contact others in the Tolkien Studies area. More conference information is available on the PCA/ACA site. I’ve copied the list of Tolkien sessions from the PCA/ACA Tolkien Studies conference schedule page.

Thursday, April 13, 2017 – 8:00am to 9:30am (Torrey Pines 3)
Session chair: Victoria L Holtz Wodzak


  • The Real Business of Bilbo; the Dreams of Conan: Sword and Sorcery, Epic Fantasy, and the Rhetoric of the Ordinary. Jason Ray Carney
  • Strange Bedfellows: Tolkien and Eddison. Peter Grybauskas
  • There Was a Merry Band of Men, A Gardener, an Invalid, and the Lords Who Loved Them So: The Portrayal of Soldier-Servant Relationships and Their Reflections of War. Alicia Fox-Lenz
  • Tolkien Underground: Reimagining World War I Bunkers and Tunnels. Victoria L Holtz Wodzak


Thursday, April 13, 2017 – 9:45am to 11:15am (Torrey Pines 3)
Session chair: Brad Eden


  • The Dreamflower: Lothlorien in Middle-Earth Space-Time.  Brian Walter
  • Tolkien and Pre-Vatican II Catholicism 101. Michael Wodzak
  • The ‘Third Spring’: a neglected thread of Tolkien scholarship. Brad Eden


Thursday, April 13, 2017 – 11:30am to 1:00pm (Torrey Pines 3)
Session chair: Kristine Larsen

Presenters: Kristine Larsen, Brad Eden, Stephen Yandell, Robin Anne Reid


Friday, April 14, 2017 – 8:00am to 9:30am (Torrey Pines 3)
Session chair: Mikhail Skoptsov


  • Making or Creating: Fans Transforming Orcs. Robin Anne Reid
  • Deconstructing Durin’s Day: Science in the Service of Fan-Scholars. Kristine Larsen
  • Lord of the Rings and Fans panel. Maggie Parke
  • The Hobbit Variations: Publication, Adaptation, and Fan Revision. Mikhail Skoptsov

Friday, April 14, 2017 – 9:45am to 11:15am (Torrey Pines 3)
Session chair: Janice Bogstad


  • The Sacred Nature of Enchantment and Loss: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit as an Ecotheology of Transformation. Kellianne H Matthews
  • Wood and Water, Stock and Stone: Rediscovering English Landscapes through Walking. Christopher Cameron
  • Visually Monstrous: Jackson’s Iconic Revisualizations of Hobbit Heroes and Villains. Janice Bogstad


Friday, April 14, 2017 – 11:30am to 1:00pm (Torrey Pines 3)
Session chair: Sarah Coates


  • Whispers of a Tenth Walker: Lord of the Rings Fanfiction and Feminine / Feminist Interventions in Middle-Earth. Eva Wijman
  • Bagginshield: An Exploration of Portrayals of Romantic Relationships between Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield in Fanfiction. Sarah Coates


The PCA conference is a huge event. If you’re interested in popular culture, you’re sure to find sessions of interest, even outside the Tolkien Studies area — browse the conference webpages to find out more.

Tolkien in Vermont 2017: Romance in Middle-earth



Tolkien in Vermont conferenceThe program for the 14th annual Tolkien in Vermont conference has been posted. This year’s theme is Romance in Middle-earth, and the keynote speaker is Corey Olsen. There’s a modest registration fee, except for University of Vermont students and high-school students, who get in free. This is a small and friendly conference where everyone — whether professor, student,  fan, or independent scholar —  gets a chance to talk to each other and listen to each other’s presentations.
Check out the Tolkien in Vermont website for this year’s and previous years’ programs. You can also join the Facebook event page. This year’s program information is copied below.

Registration fee: $25; $15 for students. UVM students and high-school students are free.

Friday, April 7th, 2017
Lafayette Hall L207: 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Friday evening Tolkien fireside readings 2017
Organized and hosted by The Tolkien Club of UVM

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Lafayette Hall L207: 8:00 – 5:00 p.m.

8:00 – 8:30: Continental breakfast with coffee & tea

8:30 – 9:00: Session #1

Freawaru and Tolkien’s Beowulf
Dr. Christoper T. Vaccaro • Senior Lecturer • University of Vermont

The broken sword, a meme: Beowulf, Arthur, and Elendil
Zachary Dilbeck • Columbus State Community College

9:30 – 10:45: Session #2

The tale of Turin, a hapless helpless boy with a doom for failed romance
Gerry Blair • independent scholar

Ill-met by moonlight: Aredhel and Eöl as the upside down of Beren and Lúthien
Katherine Neville • Signum University

“Thus wrote Pengolodh”: Historical bias, its evidence, and its implications in The Silmarillion
Dawn M. Walls-Thumma • Coventry Village School

10:45 – 12:00: Session #3

Realistic or fantastic narratives in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Peter Kao • National Chung Cheng University

“I have loved you, and that love shall not fail”: Tolkien’s philological explorations of friendship, love, and romance in The Lord of the Rings
Dr. Marc Zender • Assistant Professor • Tulane University

“And with him was Elrond Half-Elven”: The high king and his herald (still a better love story than Twilight)
Dr. Kristine Larsen • Professor of Physics and Astronomy • Central Connecticut State University

12:00 – 12:45: Keynote

• The turning point in Tolkien’s career
Dr. Corey Olsen • Signum University

12:45 – 1:45: Lunch

1:45 – 3:00: Session #4

Dispelling misogyny in Tolkien’s women — through reflection of Medieval lyric and personal relationships
Annie Brust • Kent State University

Sounds in the dark: Assimilation and continuity in The Hobbit: An unexpected journey
Jeffrey Bullins • SUNY Plattsburgh

Weberian “vocation” in The Lord of the Rings
Paul Fortunato • University of Houston-Downtown

3:00: Coffee and tea

3:00 – 4:30: Session #5

“Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars” — Tolkien’s exploration of courtly relationships through the Lady Galadriel
Andrew Peterson • Harvard University

Romance and romance
James Williamson • Senior Lecturer • University of Vermont

The evolution of the animal to magical beast in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Heather Dail • Instructor • University of South Alabama

Tolkien Reading Day: 2 poems to memorize


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March 25th is a significant date in Tolkien’s secondary world, the downfall of Sauron. Since 2003, the Tolkien Society has celebrated by naming March 25  Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. You can check out the Tolkien Society website to see what various individuals, groups, libraries, and museums around the world are planning for this day, or look for #TolkienReadingDay on Twitter, Instagram, or any number of other sites such as Facebook.

In honour of Tolkien Reading Day, I’d like to present two of my favourite poems from The Lord of the Rings to try to convince you that these are great poems to memorize: “Upon the hearth the fire is red” and “In western lands.”

Walking in Nova Scotia. copyright Anna Smol

Some of you may be wondering why you would want to memorize a poem when you can have it at your fingertips in a book or online. A number of reasons come to mind, but I think that the best one was summarized a few years ago in a New Yorker article, “Why We Should Memorize” by Brad Leithauser:

…you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen.

A good example of a poem that you can know in both your brain and your body is the walking poem “Upon the hearth the fire is red” (in “Three is Company” in The Fellowship of the Ring ) — especially if you recite it while walking!

I find that the 4-beat lines make the perfect rhythm for a walk. Look at the first few lines, where I’ve put the stressed syllables in caps:



Still ROUND the CORner WE may MEET


that NONE have SEEN but WE aLONE

If you lift and advance your foot on the unstressed syllable and place it down on the ground on the stressed syllable, you’ll feel the rhythm. Stand up and try it! The poem can adapt to your pace. Say it faster for a brisk walk; slow it down if you’re tired or would like to take in the scenery.

If we’re being technical, not all of the lines fit as neatly into this stress pattern. For example,

beNEATH the ROOF there is a BED

If you want to exaggerate the stress pattern and keep it consistent, you’d put more stress on “IS”  than it typically would hold. But if it feels right, go ahead. (Geoffrey Russom, in his article “Tolkien’s Versecraft,” identifies this replacement of a weak syllable where a strongly stressed one should be as fairly common practice in English poems. Read his article if you want to know about “pyrrhic substitution”).

Walking in Nova Scotia copyright Anna SmolNow, to walk and recite while looking about you, you’ll need to memorize the poem. I always find that writing out the poem by hand — not typing it — is the best way to start connecting the words to the body and the mind. Then it will require repetition. Saying the lines aloud helps. Let the rhymes remind you of what comes next. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you’ve made it your own. I admit that when I was memorizing this poem, I could be seen walking around town with a little card in my hand that contained the written poem, a memory aid for my repetitions until I could recite it confidently without props.

If you’re reading the poem aloud, you’ll notice that some lines are shorter than the opening lines in each stanza. For example, “Let them pass! Let then pass!” I find this just makes me pick up the pace a bit and fuels my energy.

It also helps to think about the structure of the poem when trying to remember what comes next. We start at home — “Upon the hearth the fire is red, / Beneath the roof there is a bed” (lines 1-2) but then we leave this comfortable place pretty quickly on a walking trip in the first stanza, heading out into the world. In the middle stanza, we realize that there are other paths that could be taken some day — “Still round the corner there may wait / A new road or a secret gate” (lines 11-12), and in the final stanza we return home to food and a good night’s sleep, “Fire and lamp, and meat and bread, / And then to bed! And then to bed!” (lines 29-30).

Elvenking's gate from across the river (detail) by Tolkien

Elvenking’s gate from across the river (detail) by Tolkien

Another reason to memorize a poem would be to have some beautiful words or images ready at hand to describe what you’re seeing or doing, or just because something reminds you of a line.  For me, “In western lands” (in “The Tower of Cirith Ungol” chapter in Return of the King) contains this beautiful image:

Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair. (lines 5-8)

[the second and fourth lines above should be indented; my program is not co-operating]

I love the way the branches of the trees are seen as strands of hair — reinforced by the image of the trees as “swaying” — and the stars that you can see through the branches become the jewels in their hair. I remember sitting out in the backyard one summer evening and looking up to see exactly what Tolkien is describing in this passage, a beautiful sight that needed his words to complete the scene.

Of course, there’s more to this poem than just one striking image. This is a poem about hope; it goes from normal life to despair and then finds a reason for going on. Sam sings this song as he despairs of finding Frodo in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, and it leads to his discovery of his friend.

I like the movement of the poem. It starts by having us look down to the earth, “beneath the Sun” to see a world starting to grow and bloom. Then we look up through the trees to the stars. In the second stanza, we’re buried deep and far from all this loveliness — “Though here at journey’s end I lie / in darkness buried deep” (lines 9-10). But even so, we know that “above all shadows rides the Sun/ and Stars for ever dwell” (lines 13-14).  The poem ends with an affirmation that no matter how deeply buried in darkness we might be, we can find hope: “I will not say the Day is done, / nor bid the Stars farewell” (lines 15-16).

You can spend a lot of time contemplating a good poem, and there is much to say about this one that won’t fit into a blog post. If you’d like some good ideas to spur your thinking, you can try a couple of essays in the book, Tolkien’s Poetry, edited by Julian Eilmann and Allan Turner (Walking Tree Publishers, 2013).  In that book, Petra Zimmermann’s essay explores the development of “In western lands” through several drafts and discusses Sam’s creative process. And Lynn Forest-Hill’s essay looks at the connection of earthly and spiritual imagery in the poem.

If you have your own favourite poems for memorizing, let me know in the comments!


Works Cited

“Upon the hearth” can be found in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring and “In western lands” is in The Return of the King.

Tolkien’s artwork, “Elvenking’s gate from across the river,” can be found in The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, HarperCollins, 2011, fig. 50, p. 79.

The other photos are copyright Anna Smol. They were taken in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Secondary sources:

Forest-Hill, Lynn. “Poetic Form and Spiritual Function: Praise, Invocation and Prayer in The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien’s Poetry, edited by Julian Eilmann and Allan Turner. Walking Tree Publishers, 2013, pp. 91-116.

Leithauser, Brad. “Why We Should Memorize” The New Yorker  25 Jan. 2013.

Russom, Geoffrey. “Tolkien’s Versecraft in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.” J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth, edited by George Clark and Daniel Timmons. Greenwood Press, 2000, pp. 53-69.

Zimmermann, Petra. “‘The glimmer of limitless extensions in time and space’: The Function of Poems in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien’s Poetry, edited by Julian Eilmann and Allan Turner. Walking Tree Publishers, 2013, pp. 59-89.

New symphony by Johan de Meij to premiere at 2018 Tolkien Conference


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Mark you calendars! November 1 – 4, 2018 is the date for a large, international Tolkien conference to be held at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Organizer Brad Eden has commissioned a new composition to be premiered at this conference by Johan de Meij, composer of Symphony #1 (Lord of the Rings), which he conducted during the 2013 Hobbit conference at Valparaiso. You can listen to part of that performance here:


Brad has set up a  GoFundMe page to raise the funds to pay Johan for this commission. As Brad notes, “those who give $250, $500, and $1,000 or more will be listed in the program at various levels of support and forever linked to this composition.”

You can read more about Johan de Meij’s work on his website, The Music of Johan de Meij. Brad has also invited Simon Tolkien, the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, to talk about his novels, and he is currently lining up plenary speakers as well as topics and themes for papers and panel discussions. He will have more details in the next few months. If you’re attending the PCA/ACA, Kalamazoo, or Leeds conferences, be sure to ask Brad for more information.

Kalamazoo: Tolkien Symposium and ICMS Conference


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

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

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

Tolkien Symposium.  Wednesday, May 10. 1:00 – 5:00. Western Michigan University Library (revised schedule, April 19)

Western Michigan University Library

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

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

2:20-2:50 p.m.
Erik Mueller Harder, The river Swanfleet: A journey from the Misty Mountains to flat fenlands and half way back again; or, How the discovery of Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-earth by Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford extricates Pauline Baynes’ cartographic reputation from the marsh of Nîn-in-Eilph

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

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

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

You can find abstracts of the papers here (revised April 19)

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

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

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

 [added April 9]: Download the Tolkien Unbound Flyer [pdf] with directions and information about rides.

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

Kalamazoo campus swan pond

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

1. Sessions devoted entirely to Tolkien Studies

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

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

Saturday noon: Tolkien at Kalamazoo business meeting. Bernhard 106

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

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

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

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

2. Sessions that include Tolkien

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

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

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

Thursday night 8 p.m. Gilmore Theatre Complex

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

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

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

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

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

3. Sessions on medievalism

International Society for the Study of Medievalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other sessions on medievalism

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

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

Saturday 10:00

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

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

Saturday 1:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Rogue Workshop (not in the official program)

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

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

 5. Kristine Larsen’s Astrolabe Workshop

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

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

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

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

CFP: Romances in Middle-earth


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

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

Theme: Romances in Middle-earth

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

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

Please submit abstracts by the February 1st deadline to Christopher Vaccaro at