“It depends on what you mean by use”: teaching and learning in the arts now


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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.

Floral drawing by Tolkien

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:

Tolkien studies: 

“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.

Medieval studies:

“Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography” by Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski. postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, vol. 8, 2017, pp.500–531. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41280-017-0072-0. Also available here: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1057%2Fs41280-017-0072-0.pdf

’Black Death’ Matters: A Modern Take on a Medieval Pandemic” by M. Rambaran-Olm. Medium.com, 5 June 2020.

Fan studies:

Lori Morimoto, @acafanmom on Twitter.  This thread includes reading suggestions on decentering whiteness in fan studies.  https://twitter.com/acafanmom/status/1268873028370382849?s=20

Canadian writers and issues:

A Different Booklist: A Canadian Multicultural Bookstore Specializing in Literature from the African and Caribbean Diaspora and the Global South. https://adifferentbooklist.com/

“35 Books to Read for National Indigenous History Month.” CBC.ca https://www.cbc.ca/books/35-books-to-read-for-national-indigenous-history-month-1.5585489

Tolkien Society meetings go online


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Most of our spring and summer conferences on Tolkien and on medieval studies have been cancelled, so this is a bit of good news for those who are thirsty for some discussion of Tolkien. Two of the Tolkien Society’s meetings will be available online. While we’d all like to be there in person, the online meetings will give us, especially those of us who wouldn’t normally be able to go to Leeds or Oxford, a chance to listen in on the discussions and participate in some activities.

The Tolkien Society Seminar, usually held in Leeds the day before the International Medieval Congress, will have a daylong slate of papers presented on Zoom on Saturday, July 4. The theme of the Seminar is adapting Tolkien, and the papers will discuss art, music, language, and science. Included in the day’s presentations is a panel discussion paying tribute to Christopher Tolkien’s contributions to Tolkien studies. You can find more details and a schedule of presentations here: https://www.tolkiensociety.org/events/seminar-2020/.

Oxonmoot, usually held in Oxford in September, will also go online this year on September 18-20. Oxonmoot Online will not only feature a series of talks but will also attempt to reproduce many of the other activities that usually take place on this weekend. Details are still being worked out, so keep checking this link: https://www.tolkiensociety.org/events/oxonmoot-online/ for further news.

Registration and further details will be available at the above Tolkien Society links. Don’t miss this opportunity to attend, no matter where you are!

Tolkien Reading Day: Online Get-togethers


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As we’re all getting accustomed to new ways of living through this pandemic — working from home; or going to work with, hopefully, new safety procedures; or sadly for many, losing jobs completely because of shut-downs and layoffs — we need some cheering up and sense of community. Tolkien Reading Day, held every March 25, is often a time when local Tolkien groups get together to read, discuss, and party, though that is unlikely to happen — should not happen!– in these self-isolating times.

A lot of Tolkienists have also felt bereft of their usual conference get-togethers. Cancellations so far include the Tolkien at Vermont conference, Popular Culture Association conference, and Tolkien at Kalamazoo events. We’re still waiting to see what will happen with the Leeds get-togethers, where both the International Medieval Congress and the Tolkien Society Seminar are scheduled for early July.

Tolkien Reading Day Unofficial Online Gathering

But we do have an online community that can celebrate Tolkien Reading Day. Jeremy Edmonds, over at TolkienGuide.com, has decided to organize an unofficial online gathering for Tolkien Reading Day. You will be able to pop into a livestream event all day long to chat, or to read if you like, or to listen to the scheduled readers. You will need a free account on Discord, or you will be able to access the livestream on YouTube. Go to TolkienGuide.com for the full details on how and where to get connected and to see the impressive schedule of readers.

Silmarillion Writers’ Guild Lockdown Instadrabbling

Dawn Walls-Thumma, over at the Silmarillion Writers’ Guild, is hosting an online celebration of fanworks for Tolkien Reading Day in order to, as she says, “spend time with fellow fans (while practicing social distancing!) and bring art and joy to the world at a time when it very much needs it.” The event will take place on the Silmarillion Writers’ Guild Discord server; to join, you will need to send an email to moderator@silmarillionwritersguild.org. For more details, go to the Silmarillion Writers’ Guild Lockdown Instadrabbling site.

I’d be happy to hear about other online gatherings in the comments. And remember:

hand washing technique with Ring verse

Adaptation as Analysis, part 3: “Misty Mountains” video


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This is the third post showcasing the work of some of my students in my Tolkien and medievalism class this year. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 at these links. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I give my students the option of creating an adaptation in any medium of Tolkien’s work or of a medieval text and then writing an analysis of what they have done.

Today’s feature is by Rebecca Foster, whose video, “Misty Mountains,” appears here with her permission. Rebecca takes as her inspiration the song “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold” in The Hobbit. She wanted to represent how the song takes Bilbo into his imagination, which she illustrates with her watercolours to accompany the poem. Her essay discussed Tolkien’s ideas on imagination, the relation between Primary and Secondary worlds, and included research on Tolkien’s artwork — perhaps you’ll detect his influence!

“Misty Mountains.” Copyright Rebecca Foster. Posted with permission.

More calls for papers


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Tolkien studies is a busy academic field. Here are a few calls for conference papers or essays that have come my way in the past few weeks. I don’t expect to keep up with every single call, but if you’re interested, you can search for the open Facebook page “Tolkien CFPs.” You can also find listings of conferences and more informal gatherings of fans around the world in the Facebook group “International Tolkien Fellowship,” a public page run by Becky Dillon.

My list is arranged according to the deadlines for proposals.

Tolkien Society Seminar

Leeds, July 4-5.
Theme: Adapting Tolkien. Deadline for proposals: April 5. Details here.

[May 12 edit: The Seminar will go online on July 4. Look for more details in a later blog post or check the link above]

German Tolkien Society Seminar

University of Augsburg, October 23-25.
Theme: Tolkien and Politics. Deadline for proposals: April 30. Details here.

Tolkien Society Oxonmoot 2020

St. Anne’s College, Oxford, September 3-6.
Open theme. Deadline for proposals: April 30. Details here.

[edit June 6: Oxonmoot is going online. Check the link for more details about Oxonmoot Online, which will now take place September 18-20]

Mythopoeic Society / Mythcon 51

[edit May 12: Postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19]

Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 31- August 3.
Theme: The Mythic, the Fantastic, and the Alien. Deadline for proposals: May 15. Details here.

Walking Tree Publishers: Cormarë Series

Theme: The Romantic Spirit in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, a publication to be edited by Julian Eilmann and Will Sherwood. Deadline for proposals: May 31. Details here.

Tolkien the Playwright


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We don’t often think of Tolkien as a playwright. Fantasy novelist — of course. Poet, scholar, artist – yes. But we shouldn’t forget that Tolkien also wrote one published play, “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” – let’s call it “The Homecoming” for short – which was produced by BBC Radio and has been read or performed at various times.

Tolkien wrote other plays, though we don’t have the manuscripts any more, to my knowledge. As a young man, he wrote plays as holiday entertainments when spending time with his Incledon relatives; he probably wrote a farce, Cherry Farm, in 1911 and in the following year, The Bloodhound, the Chef, and the Suffragette (also playing one of the parts).  He performed in plays while at school: in 1910 acting as the Inspector in Aristophanes’ play The Birds – in Greek! and also in Greek the following year, taking the role of Hermes in Aristophanes’ Peace. Near the end of 1911, his performance as Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals was praised as “excellent in every way” (Scull and Hammond, Reader’s Guide 313-17).

Tolkien as Hermes in 1911
Tolkien (centre) as Hermes in Aristophanes’ Peace, 1911. Photo from the cover of Tolkien Studies, vol. 11, 2014. The full photograph is reproduced on page 9 in John Garth’s article in that volume.

And of course, all of his debating experience, often in humourous speeches, during his years at King Edward’s and then at Oxford would require a sense of the dramatic in taking up a persona and a position in argument (See the Scull and Hammond Chronology for reports of these debates).  John Garth surveys these and other of Tolkien’s early comedic and parodic compositions, pointing out:

By thus limbering up in his early exercises as a writer, he was later able to apply the same skills—more finely tuned, of course—to the most serious topics and with the utmost gravity.”

(Garth 11)

Even later in life, Tolkien had a flair for the dramatic. Picture him at the Oxford Summer Diversions in 1938 reciting from memory Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale. John Bowers, in his recently published book Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer, imagines the scene:

On the merrymaking occasion in summer 1938, Tolkien strode upon the stage costumed as Chaucer in a green robe, a turban, and fake whiskers parted in the middle like the forked beard shown in early portraits like Ellesmere’s.” 

(Bowers 208)

The performance received good reviews in the Oxford Mail, and in the following year, Tolkien returned to perform Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale, this time producing a shortened and bowdlerized version of the tale for his performance (Bowers 208-211).  The poet John Masefield, one of the organizers of the event, described Tolkien’s dramatic abilities:

Professor Tolkien knows more about Chaucer than any living man and sometimes tells the Tales superbly, inimitably, just as though he were Chaucer returned.”

(quoted in Bowers 209)

Above: Geoffrey Chaucer portrait and Tolkien in the 1940s (as close as I could get to the actual date of his performance). You’ll have to imagine Tolkien’s Chaucer costume! Tolkien image from The Guardian, 22 March 2014.

Tolkien’s recitations of Chaucer aren’t the only performances that his audiences remember. His biographer Humphrey Carpenter reports how he used to start his lectures declaiming the opening lines of Beowulf in Old English (137-38). Although students complained that during lectures he mumbled and was hard to follow, these moments of dramatic performance left striking impressions.

In other words, Tolkien had experience in writing and performing dramatic pieces, and I think that he put those skills to good use in “The Homecoming.”

So why don’t we usually think of Tolkien as a playwright? I can think of several reasons. For one, we only have one publication of his in this genre, easily overlooked in the volume of fiction, poetry, letters, and essays that he wrote.

I also think that there’s a tendency to view “The Homecoming” as alliterative poetry for two voices – more like a poetic dialogue not meant for performance on a stage. I would disagree based on the manuscript evidence, but my reasons will have to wait for another time.

Maybe another reason is that “The Homecoming,” inspired by the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon,” first appeared in a scholarly journal, Essays and Studies, in 1953. Medievalists have been interested mainly in the short essay titled “Ofermod” that Tolkien appended to the play, which deals with “The Battle of Maldon,” and compares it to two other medieval texts, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But medieval scholars have not, in general, examined the play as a play.

Finally, we might not think of Tolkien as a playwright because of the negative comments that he made about drama in various letters and in his appendix to “On Fairy-Stories.” In that essay, for example, he claims that drama cannot adequately represent a fantasy world, but whether we agree or not, we should note that “The Homecoming” is different from Tolkien’s other writing. It’s not part of his Middle-earth Secondary World but is based on the aftermath of a battle that took place in 991 according to early English historical chronicles. “The Homecoming” is a work of historical fiction as well as being a play.

The play is now most readily available in the volume Tree and Leaf, tucked in after “On Fairy-Stories,” “Mythopoeia,” and “Leaf by Niggle.”

Tolkien certainly had definite ideas about how the play should be performed on BBC Radio, as his letters tell us, though he was dissatisfied with the BBC production that aired in 1954, with a rebroadcast in 1955. He recorded his own version at home in his study, distinguishing between the two characters’ voices and adding in his own sound effects. A copy of that recording was given out at the Tolkien Centenary Conference in 1992 (Scull & Hammond, Reader’s Guide 547). But you don’t need a copy of that tape to experience Tolkien’s voice dramatizations. Just listen to his reading of the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter from The Hobbit. He does a pretty good job of performing the roles of Bilbo and especially Gollum.

Above: listen to Tolkien’s voicing of Gollum in his reading of “Riddles in the Dark”

Book cover: "Something Has Gone Crack": New Perspectives on J.R.R. Tolkien in the Great War
“Something Has Gone Crack”: New Perspectives on J.R.R. Tolkien in the Great War, edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Annika Röttinger, Walking Tree Publishers, 2019.

It must be pretty clear that I find Tolkien’s play very interesting; in fact, it’s the topic of my current research. I’ve written about “The Homecoming” as a World War One work in my recently published essay, “Bodies in War: Medieval and Modern Tensions in ‘The Homecoming’” in the collection “Something Has Gone Crack”: New Perspectives on J.R.R. Tolkien in the Great War. There, my thesis can be summarized in this way:

Like Tolkien’s better-known works of fiction, HBBS addresses issues of war and heroism that are relevant to a modern writer who is transforming his past experiences into fiction, and as is not uncommon with Tolkien, doing so through the lens of medieval literature.”

(Smol 264)

What currently interests me in “The Homecoming” is the skilful handling of alliterative metre in the play. Yes, this is a play in alliterative verses, which may sound old-fashioned and stilted, but Tolkien’s knowledge of and handling of alliterative verses is, I think, a tour de force in his creation of different styles in a demanding medium. If you’re able to attend the International Medieval Congress in Leeds , you can hear me talking about “Tolkien’s Alliterative Styles in The Homecoming” on Monday, July 6, 11:15, session 104. Look for an article as well, coming soon, I hope!

“Tolkien’s Alliterative Styles in The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth” Session 104, International Medieval Congress, Leeds, July 6, 2020.

I’d love to know in the comments if you’ve read “The Homecoming” and what you think of it. Have you ever heard or seen it performed?

Works Cited

Bowers, John M. Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer. Oxford UP, 2019.

Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Garth, John. “’The road from adaptation to invention’: How Tolkien Came to the Brink of Middle-earth in 1914.” Tolkien Studies, vol. 11, 2014, pp. 1-44.

Scull, Christina and Wayne Hammond. J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide. Reader’s Guide and Chronology. Revised and Expanded Edition. HarperCollins, 2017.

Smol, Anna. “Bodies in War: Medieval and Modern Tensions in ‘The Homecoming’.” “Something Has Gone Crack”: New Perspectives on J.R.R. Tolkien in the Great War, edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Annika Röttinger, Walking Tree Publishers, 2019, pp. 263-83.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.” Tree and Leaf, HarperCollins, 2001, pp. 121-150.

As always, if you are an independent scholar (i.e. you do not have an institutional affiliation) and do not have access to some of these resources, please send me an email and I will try to provide private research copies if possible.

Ironic Silmarillion Collectibles? Adaptation as Analysis, part 2


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This is the second in a series showcasing student projects in my Tolkien and medievalism course this year. Given the option of producing an adaptation of a medieval text or a work by Tolkien, my students can sometimes surprise me in their creative choices, as did Jordan Audas, who created Silmarillion collectible “toys” — with a touch of humour.

I’ve written about the purpose of these adaptation projects in Katherine Howell’s volume, Fandom as Classroom Practice. Further information and links can be found here.

Jordan wrote an essay on Tolkien fandom and merchandising and then considered themes of evil and death in The Silmarillion as the background for his meticulous workmanship in building his Silmarillion collectibles. Each one of his collectibles deals with an ephemeral, intangible moment in Tolkien’s legends dealing with death. Would you still want to collect them?

With Jordan’s permission, here are his collectibles:

Top row: Glaurung’s Smoke, Beren’s Hand, Morgoth and Ungoliant’s Great Darkness. Bottom row: Fingon’s Dust, Feanor’s Ashes, and the back view of all the boxes. Click on an image for the slideshow. All images copyright of Jordan Audas.

Leeds 2020: Tolkien Society Seminar CFP and IMC program


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The city of Leeds will host a variety of Tolkien presentations this summer, from July 4th to the 9th, at both the Tolkien Society Seminar and the International Medieval Congress.

The Tolkien Society Seminar has just issued its call for papers, with the theme for this annual meeting being “Adapting Tolkien.” This year, the Society is extending the Seminar to an extra half day, so the full-day program will take place on Saturday, July 4, from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. and the following morning, Sunday, July 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. As the Tolkien Society page states, this is “a short conference of both researcher-led and non-academic presentations.” Suggested topics include the following (although papers do not have to be limited to these):

  • Adapting Tolkien’s works to stage and screen
  • Fan-made content
  • Illustrating Middle-earth
  • Tolkienian pastiche
  • Other adaptations: games, merchandise and Hobbit-hole hotels

The deadline for paper proposals in April 5; to submit, follow the link on the Tolkien Society Seminar page, which is where you can find more details about registration and location.

[May 12 edit: The Seminar will be presented online. Check for posts closer to the date with more details.]

The Seminar is held just before the International Medieval Congress opens on the following Monday, where a number of Tolkien sessions will be held during the conference week. See this post by Andrew Higgins, one of the co-organizers of those sessions, for titles, dates, and times of Tolkien papers at IMC 2020.

[edit May 12: IMC cancelled due to COVID-19. A pared-down version of the conference will go online. Please check later for posts with more details.]

Or you can check out the session details below from the program which has just been published online and mailed out to participants; these PDFs include session abstracts, which will give you a little more information about what the speakers intend to talk about:

IMC 2020 Session 104 : J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches
IMC 2020 Session 905: New Sources and Approaches to Tolkien’s Medievalism: A Roundtable Discussion
IMC 2020 Session 1536: Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism, I
IMC 2020 Session 1636: Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism, II
IMC 2020 Session 1736: Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism, III

Looking forward to a stimulating week of discussions in Leeds!

Adaptation as Analysis: Student Projects on Medievalism and Tolkien, part 1


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As usual, students in my Studies in Medievalism course have created wonderful projects to demonstrate their engagement with our texts and to experience first-hand the process of adaptation, a main theme in our seminar.

Fandom as Classroom Practice: A Teaching Guide book cover

I’ve written about this type of assignment before in my essay “Adaptation as Analysis: Creative Work in an English Classroom” that is in Katherine Anderson Howell’s volume, Fandom as Classroom Practice: A Teaching Guide (U of Iowa Press, 2018). One of the student projects illustrated and discussed in that essay can be seen here and a review of another year in the course is posted here.

In today’s post I’d like to share, with his permission, Dillon Hughson’s adaptation project, a modernized version of the Old Icelandic poem “Hárbarðsljóð” or “Harbard’s Song” that appears in the Poetic Edda. This is a “flyting” poem — a contest of insults between two people, in this case Thor and Harbard, a ferryman who is usually identified as Odin in disguise. As do all the students in my course, Dillon had to write an analysis of the source text and explain how he adapted it. He researched the elements of a flyting and then tried to reproduce those features by placing Thor and Odin in a modern comedic context.

Enjoy his video! And watch for more student projects posted here in the weeks ahead.

With the permission of Dillon Hughson. Written and directed by Dillon Hughson. Thor: Matthew Hughson. Odin: Brennan Hughson. Copyright Dillon Hughson.

What are Tolkien scholars talking about? Previews of spring & summer conferences


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I usually post full details of various conference programs closer to the time of the events, but for now, I’ll just post session titles for an overview of the upcoming Tolkien conference season this spring and summer. Details may change over the next few months, so always follow the links to the official programs for final details.

Tolkien at Vermont: April 4

Tolkien in Vermont conference

April 4, 2020
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Organizer: Dr. Chris Vaccaro

[May 12 edit: conference cancelled due to COVID-19]

Special theme:  Tolkien and Classical Antiquities

The Tolkien in Vermont website describes the conference as “an annual weekend of academic papers, fireside readings, and bonhomie, bringing together seasoned academics, students, independent scholars, and the general public…”  — very true, in my experience.

The program hasn’t been posted yet, but this 17th annual event at the University of Vermont has announced its keynote speaker, John Wm. Houghton, well known to Tolkien scholars for his various publications and editorial work.  Go to the website for more details.

Tolkien at Popular Culture Association: April 15 – 18

April 15 – 18, 2020
Philadelphia, US
Organizer: Dr. Robin Anne Reid

[May 12 edit: conference cancelled due to COVID-19]

Tolkien Studies Area PCA 2020
Registration is open.
All of the Tolkien sessions take place on Saturday, April 18. View the schedule here.

Tolkien Studies I:  Race and Tolkien

Tolkien Studies II: The Legendarium

Tolkien Studies III: Multidisciplinary Tolkien

Tolkien Studies IV: The Future Of Tolkien Studies

Kalamazoo, Michigan: May 6 – 10

Kalamazoo campus swan pond

Tolkien Symposium

May 6, 2020
Kalamazoo, MI
Organizers: Dr. Yvette Kisor and Dr. Chris Vaccaro

[May 12 edit: conference cancelled due to COVID-19]

The Seminar is usually scheduled the day before the International Congress on Medieval Studies sessions begin. The deadline for proposals has just passed, but the program hasn’t been announced yet.

International Congress on Medieval Studies  

May 7 – 10, 2020
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan

[May 12 edit: conference cancelled due to COVID-19]

For more details about these sessions, you can check the sneak preview of the Congress program. Registration opens in February.

Thursday, May 7. 10 a.m.
Medieval World-Building: Tolkien, His Precursors and Legacies
Sponsor: Fantasy Research Hub, School of Critical Studies, Univ. of Glasgow
Organizer: Dimitra Fimi, Fantasy Research Hub, School of Critical Studies, Univ. of Glasgow; Kristine A. Swank, Univ. of Glasgow
Presider: Kristine A. Swank

Friday, May 8. 1:30 p.m.
Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien-inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption (A Panel Discussion)
Sponsor: Tales after Tolkien Society
Organizer: Geoffrey B. Elliott, Independent Scholar
Presider: Carrie Pagels, Independent Scholar

Saturday, May 9. 10 a.m.
Tolkien and Se Wyrm
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont
Presider: Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College

Saturday, May 9. 1:30 p.m.
Tolkien’s Paratexts, Appendices, Annals, and Marginalia (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont
Presider: Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.

Saturday, May 9. 3:30 p.m.
Tolkien’s Chaucer
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont
Presider: Christopher Vaccaro

Sunday, May 10. 8:30 a.m.
Tolkien and Manuscript Studies
Organizer: William Fliss, Marquette Univ.
Presider: William Fliss

For more details about these sessions, go to the sneak preview of Congress sessions. The final program will be posted on the ICMS site.

Leeds, UK: July 5 – 9

International Medieval Congress, Leeds

Tolkien Society Seminar

July 5, 2020

The Tolkien Society sponsors a day-long series of presentations the day before the International Medieval Congress begins. No details available yet, but check the Tolkien Society Seminar page later.

International Medieval Congress

[May 12 edit: conference cancelled due to COVID-19. A pared-down version will be available online. Check later posts for more details.]

July 6 – 9, 2020
Co-organizers: Dr. Dimitra Fimi and Dr. Andrew Higgins
Go to Dr. Higgins’s blog for more details about the program.

The special theme of the 2020 Congress is “Borders,” which explains why there are three sessions on Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism. Registration opens on February 10th.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches
Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
Organiser: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
Moderator/Chair: Deirdre Dawson, Independent Scholar
Session Day/Time: Monday 6 July (11:15-12:45)  

New Sources and Approaches to Tolkien’s Medievalism – A Round Table Discussion
Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
Organiser and Moderator: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
Session Day/Time: Tuesday 7 July (19:00-20:00)   

Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism I     
Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow 
Organiser: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar 
Moderator/Chair: Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University 
Session Day/Time: Thursday 9 July (9:00-10:30)  

Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism II 
Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow 
Organiser: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar 
Moderator/Chair: Sara Brown, Independent Scholar  
Session Day/Time:  Thursday 9 July (11:15-12:45)  

Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism III
Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow  
Organiser and Moderator/Chair: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
Session Day/Time: Thursday 9 July (14:15-15:45)  

And looking ahead to the summer:

Mythcon: July 31-August 3

Mythopoeic Society

July 31 – August 3, 2020
Mythopoeic Society – Mythcon 51
Albuquerque, New Mexico

[May 12 edit: conference postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19]

Theme: The Mythic, the Fantastic, and the Alien

Registration is now open but the call for papers and program haven’t appeared yet.

Oxonmoot: September 3 – 6

Tolkien Society

The Tolkien Society – Oxonmoot
September 3 – 6
St. Anne’s College, Oxford

[June 6 edit: Oxonmoot will be held online. Oxonmoot Online will take place September 18-20. Check the Tolkien Society website for more details as they become available.]

Registration is now open but a program will come later. The call for papers will open February 9th.

I’d be happy to hear about any conferences I’ve missed in the comments.