New! Tolkien Symposium in Kalamazoo



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

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

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

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

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


If anyone has any questions, please contact Brad Eden at

The schedule of speakers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find abstracts of the papers here.

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




Feed me!

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

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


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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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


Talks on Tolkien II: Patrick Curry on Enchantment & Hypermodernity


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

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

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

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


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



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


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

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

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



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


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

Dr. Kristine Larsen

Dr. Kristine Larsen

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

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

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



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

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

Talks on Tolkien II: summer series. Flieger on Kullervo


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

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

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

Verlyn Flieger on The Story of Kullervo

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

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

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

Verlyn Flieger at Exeter College, Oxford. from

Verlyn Flieger talking about Kullervo at Exeter College, Oxford. 12 October 2015. Image from

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


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

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




Tolkien events in Leeds


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If you’re in the vicinity of Leeds, you can attend a number of Tolkien papers over the next few days.  On Sunday July 3, the Tolkien Society Seminar will take place in the Hilton Leeds City.  This one-day series of presentations focuses on the theme of Life, Death, and Immortality.  You can read the full program here.

The Tolkien Society has cleverly scheduled the seminar a day before the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, which runs from July 4 to 7, so anyone who is around can attend the IMC sessions on Tolkien.  You can explore the full IMC program here.  I’ve copied below the information on the sessions on Tolkien, organized by Dimitra Fimi.  Let me know if I’ve missed any others!

Session 331 J.R.R.Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches

Oganiser: Dimitra Fimi;  Chair:  Chris Vaccaro
Monday 4 July 2016: 16.30-18.00

Abstract: This session will address the complexities of Tolkien’s modern Middle Ages. Andrew Higgins will explore Tolkien’s appropriation of Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Finns in his legendarium. Aurélie Brémont will examine parallels between Tolkien’s and T.H. White’s medievalisms. Sara Brown will revisit Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings via the practice, philosophy, and symbolism of alchemy.

‘Those who cling in queer corners to the forgotten tongues and manners of an elder day’: J. R. R. Tolkien, Finns, and Elves
Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, London

J. R. R. Tolkien and T. H. White: Modern Brits and Old Wizards
Aurélie Brémont, Centre d’Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris IV – Sorbonne

Stirring the Alembic: Alchemical Resonances in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth
Sara Brown, Department of English, Rydal Penrhos School, Conwy

and one more session (updated on July 2, thanks to Kris Swank):

session 431
 ‘New’ Tolkien: The Story of Kullervo and A Secret Vice – A Round Table Discussion

Monday 4 July 2016: 19.00-20.00
Organiser and Chair Dimitra Fimi

Abstract This round table discussion will focus on works by J. R. R. Tolkien published during the last 12 months. Participants will comment on The Story of Kullervo, edited by Verlyn Flieger, a creative retelling of a tragic episode from the Finnish Kalevala; and A Secret Vice, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins, an extended edition of Tolkien’s essay on invented languages together with new material on philology, contemporary language theories, and language as art.

Participants include Brad Eden (Valparaiso University), Kristine Larsen (Central Connecticut State University), and Goering Nelson (University of Oxford


I wish I could be there, but at least I’m hoping that we’ll see some blog posts and tweets to give us an idea of what was discussed (I’m looking at you, Dimitra, Andrew, Sara, and Aurelie!).

Kzoo 2017 calls for Tolkien papers


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The approved sessions for Kalamazoo (the International Congress on Medieval Studies) have just been announced. In spite of very well attended sessions in the past and plenty of paper submissions, the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group has once again been reduced by the conference organizers, as have other groups attending the Congress.  For 2017, only two sessions were approved for the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group, and one other as a separately-sponsored session. The ICMS organizers seem determined to downsize their conference, a process that has been ongoing for a few years now. As far as I know, those proposing sessions are not given explanations for the selection or rejection of their submissions, leaving everyone to guess which topics might “go” and which might be turned down every year — and how many might be allowed.

In any case, here are the calls for papers for the three Tolkien sessions in 2017. The complete list of calls for all sessions can be viewed here.

Tolkien at Kalamazoo sessions

Tolkien and languages

This session will explore Tolkien’s contributions as a philologist of both early languages as well as the creation of his own languages.

Asterisk Tolkien

This session will examine various threads and tangents related to Tolkien studies and research.  This may include papers on influences, lacunae, and other related topics important to the field.

The deadline for submission of proposals is September 1, 2016 to Dr. Brad Eden at  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Brad.

The Hill School session

“Eald enta geweorc”: Tolkien and the Classical Tradition

“Finnish,” J. R. R. Tolkien famously commented, “nearly ruined my Honor Mods”: but even a bottom-of-the-barrel Second on the first examination in Litterae Humaniores in 1913 reflects a considerable depth of classical learning by our standards a century later. Despite his academically dangerous attraction to the northern fringes of Europe, Tolkien’s scholarly and literary projects could no more escape the intellectual relics of Greco-Roman civilization than could the Anglo Saxons whose landscape still showed its physical ruins, the “old work of giants.” This session seeks papers which will consider Tolkien the medievalist as receiver and transmitter of the classical heritage.

organizer: John Wm. Houghton
The Hill School
Dept. of Religious Studies and Philosophy
717 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464

Anyone thinking of submitting a proposal to these or any other sessions should read the information on the conference website about the forms that need to be sent in with abstracts. You can also contact the session organizers for information.