Seers and Singers: Tolkien’s Typology of Sub-creators


, , , , , , , , ,

A Wilderness of Dragons Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger
A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger, edited by John D. Rateliff.

I was very pleased to have an essay recently published in A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger, edited by John D. Rateliff and published by Gabbro Head Press, not only because I’m in fabulous company – take a look at the table of contents! – but mainly because I’m a great admirer of Verlyn Flieger. 

My essay, “Seers and Singers: Tolkien’s Typology of Sub-creators” discusses three of Tolkien’s works, “The Notion Club Papers,” “Leaf by Niggle,” and Smith of Wootton Major. I talked about some of my ideas when I gave a paper at the 2017 Tolkien Society Seminar, but this essay goes into much more detail and is part of a larger project I’m working on about Tolkien’s typological imagination.

I’ll quote from my introduction and give a summary of my main points in the hopes that you might be interested in buying A Wilderness of Dragons and reading more.

The Great Music sung by the Ainur gives rise to a vision of Arda and, attracted by what they have sung into potential existence, the Powers descend into the world to achieve its creation. Music and Light are of the essence of this created world, and as time goes on these primordial elements splinter into ever diminishing recapitulations. Music becomes manifest in song, in words, in voices, in the sound of waters flowing. Light illuminates the sky, the earth, the vision of creatures. As Flieger points out, “Both words and light are agents of perception” (Splintered Light 44) and both “can be instruments of sub-creation” (Splintered 46). Light and Music become manifest as vision and language, or image and word – either or both acting as the catalyst in the sub-creative process as described by Tolkien …. The seers and singers in these stories represent a typology of sub-creators – a repeated categorization of types – who demonstrate the powers of splintered music and light, word and image.”

(“Seers and Singers,” A Wilderness of Dragons, p. 258)

The Sub-creative Process

Tolkien, The Hills of the Morning
Tolkien, “The Hills of the Morning”

The three stories that I picked for commentary deal with the sub-creative powers of light and music or image and word by describing how different characters create art, whether it be through language, storytelling, vision, painting, blacksmithing, singing, and even baking. These activities always occur in collaboration with someone else; Tolkien does not subscribe to an image of a lone, heroic artist. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” reinforces much of what we see in these three stories.  I also include in a discussion of Smith of Wootton Major how Tolkien used the cooking metaphor in some of his unpublished essays and how it might apply to this story.

Faërian / Elvish Drama

Tolkien, "The Elvenking's gate from across the river"
Tolkien, “The Elvenking’s gate from across the river”

All three stories take us into faërian or elvish dramas so that we can examine their characteristics.  I discuss the faërian drama as a palimpsest, allowing the participant a kind of double vision. All three stories also suggest that participants are guided in their experiences by an often unseen force.

Genealogy / Tradition

Tolkien, "The Tree of Amalion"
Tolkien, “The Tree of Amalion”

All three stories establish what I call a “genealogy of sympathy,” ensuring that the subcreative inspiration is passed on, thus creating a tradition.  The inheritance is not always within a family, and the inspiration and valuing of sub-creative powers is not often appreciated by others.

Typological Patterns

Tolkien, detail from Three Friezes
Tolkien, detail from “Three Friezes”

Tolkien loved repeated patterns. In discussing typology, I’m discussing the narrative patterns that Tolkien establishes in his work. In this essay, I’m focusing on the seers and singers who are sub-creative collaborators. As I state in my conclusion:

Because of its recurrence in various texts, a type accumulates significance. Each seer and singer is a distinct character in a unique narrative, but each also partakes of a repeated pattern of meaning in Tolkien’s fiction. The appearance of a type brings into the narrative its associated meanings.”

(“Seers and Singers,” A Wilderness of Dragons, p. 277).

Anyone who has read Verlyn Flieger’s work will recognize the immense influence she has had on my views. This volume compiled in her honour by John Rateliff proves that she is the inspiration for a long and wide-ranging genealogy of students and scholars following in her footsteps.

Tolkien, detail from Three Friezes
Tolkien, detail from “Three Friezes”

The book is available in hardcover and paperback and will soon be available as an e-book as well. Gabbro Head ships through to anywhere in the world.

Image sources: Most of the pictures above by Tolkien appear in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, HarperCollins: “The Hills of the Morning,” fig. 1; “The Tree of Amalion,” fig. 62; details from “Untitled (Three Friezes),” fig. 59. “The Elvenking’s gate from across the river” appears in The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, also by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, HarperCollins, fig. 50.

Tolkien in New York


, , , , , ,

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth at the Morgan Library and Museum

The Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition has moved to New York’s Morgan Library where a series of talks and events has been planned. The programs for both children and adults have been so successful that they are pretty well sold out.

Here is the Morgan program, which started in January with Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s talk on “Tolkien and the Visual Image” on January 31. The New York Tolkien Conference and Fellowship is organizing a symposium on “Tolkien and Inspiration” on March 16-17 with some great speakers — unfortunately, also sold out. The only available tickets seem to be VIP passes to the Shire-themed “Long Expected Party.” Let’s hope that some videos or reports emerge from all these activities!

The New York Times reviewed the exhibition here. If you go to the New York Tolkien Fellowship Facebook page, you can see their photos of the exhibition.

Viewing and Re-Viewing Tolkien’s Art


, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition in Oxford last summer and now at the Morgan Library in New York turns a spotlight on Tolkien as an artist. Being able to see a range of his work, from his patterned doodles on newspaper crossword pages to his Hobbit illustrations, demonstrates how visual art was integral to his creative imagination. There’s something special about seeing the art in person, as if you can move one step closer to the actual hand that produced the work. And sometimes a visit can give you a chance to see the artwork in a new light.

One exhibit that surprised me was Tolkien’s sketchbook opened to the picture, “Alder by a stream.”  I had seen the reproduction in Hammond and Scull’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator (fig. 7) and it’s in Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth (page 129).  Seeing it in real life, though, revealed a smaller notebook than I had imagined, which made the actual watercolour a lovely little pastoral image. (It measures 90 x 130 mm / 3.5 x 5.2 inches). And it was only then that I realized that it was painted around 1906, when Tolkien was still in his early teens.

This image of “Alder by a stream” by Anthony Burdge comes from the New York Tolkien Conference Facebook page. You can see many more photos of the New York show on their public site.

And here’s another image that I wish I could go back to re-view, Tolkien’s illustration of Rivendell.

"Rivendell" by Tolkien
Rivendell, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Those of you who can go to the Morgan Library in New York to see it in person, or even those of us who will make do with a reproduction now have another fact to incorporate into our viewing.  Recently in brief comments by Christopher Tolkien on the occasion of his visit to the Aubusson tapestries illustrating some of Tolkien’s artwork – another event that recognizes Tolkien as an illustrator – he told a story of how one night when he was a child he came to his father while he was painting the image of Rivendell and what happened then. You can hear the story at 3:45 in the video below (in French, with English and Spanish subtitles).

Christopher Tolkien and the “Aubusson weaves Tolkien” project

How can we look at “Rivendell” without thinking of the child’s tear and the father’s patient kindness that are forever part of the image now, for me anyway. I wonder if some people visiting the Morgan Library will think of this late-night scene between Christopher and his father when looking at “Rivendell.”

Detail from Rivendell

Edit, Feb. 18: I have heard from some people that they are finding it difficult or impossible to read the English subtitles in the above video. For a transcript of the subtitles as they appear in the video, click here.

The Morgan Library along with the New York Tolkien Fellowship are sponsoring a series of talks to accompany the exhibition, and I’ll post details of these along with a few other commentaries on the exhibit in a day or two. For now, though, I’ll take one more look back at the Bodleian version of the exhibition, where a series of talks also took place. One of these featured myth specialist Marina Warner and Tolkien scholars Dimitra Fimi and Verlyn Flieger. Their discussion was wide-ranging: language and mythology and the history of fantasy and so many other things. But at one moment in the Q & A, the talk turned to Tolkien’s artwork and its influence on his writing.

At around 1:07:10 in the video linked below, the speakers discuss the importance of maps and other images to Tolkien’s creative process, and then in a response to a question about the role of images, Verlyn Flieger (at around 1:09:45) gives a brief example to explain how Tolkien “is writing to the image.”

Oxford Podcasts: Mythopoeia: Myth-Creation and Middle-earth.

I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence, but Professor Flieger’s example of the sketch of Cirith Ungol drawn in the margins of a manuscript draft is exactly the image that my co-author Jeff MacLeod and I discussed in our Tolkien Studies article, “Visualizing the Word: Tolkien as Artist and Writer” (vol. 14, 2017, pp. 115-31). As Professor Flieger is one of the editors who oversaw the publication of our article, I’m hoping she was channelling our argument!  You can read more about our essay here

For more on the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibit, see my previous post a few days ago, “Tolkien’s Favourite Landscape Artist?” and from last June, “Tolkien Art Exhibit at the Bodleian.”

Tolkien’s favourite landscape artist?


, , , , , , , , , ,

It’s finally time to wake this blog up. Last semester’s heavy teaching load, some eldercare responsibilities, and research commitments meant that I had to focus on other things, but I foresee a more reasonable schedule now.  I have so many hoarded items I’ve been meaning to write about, so let’s start pretty much where I left off last summer – with the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition at the Bodleian, now recently opened at the Morgan Library in New York.

I had the good fortune to visit the exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford last summer. By all accounts, it was a huge success, running from June to October 2018. Tolkien archivist Catherine McIlwaine organized this exhibition of Tolkien’s paintings, letters, photos, maps, doodles, and other memorabilia. Once in the main exhibition hall in the Weston Library (part of the Bodleian network), you could wander at will or sit and gaze, and linger as long as you liked. Seeing Tolkien’s original paintings was a rare treat – up to now, a sight reserved for very few people. I was impressed by how finely detailed and precise his watercolours were. It was fun to see his desk and colouring pencils – on display was a full case of Polychrome coloured pencils in various shades of green – somehow I would have expected that. On another shelf, we could see his jars of Reeves’ poster colours.

One item that I found intriguing were the pictures that were hanging on the wall by his desk, loaned to the Bodleian by the Tolkien family.  According to Catherine McIlwaine’s magnificent book, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, which catalogues the exhibition, Tolkien bought these prints by William Russell Flint when a student at Oxford and kept them for the rest of his life. They depict the Oxfordshire countryside and originally illustrated Matthew Arnold’s The Scholar Gipsy and Thyrsis. According to McIlwaine: “Tolkien continued to look at the paintings for the rest of his life and they hung in his rooms wherever he resided. They were among a select group of personal items which he took to his last residence, a small flat in Merton Street provided by Merton College in 1972” (p. 284).

You can find pictures of the prints on page 285 of McIlwaine’s book.  Below, you can view them as illustrations in a 1911 American edition of Arnold’s book, available through the Hathi Trust Digital Library. (Note that the colours of the book illustrations look darker than the pictures in McIlwaine’s book).

Images:  William Russell Flint watercolour illustrations for Matthew Arnold’s The Scholar Gipsy and Thyrsis. Top left: “The stripling Thames at Bob-Lock-Hithe”; Top right: “The Line of Festal Lights in Christ Church Hall”; bottom left: “Its Fir-Topped Hurst, its Farms, its Quiet Fields”; bottom right: “And the Eye Travels Down to Oxford’s Towers.”  (Click on individual images to enlarge).

What instantly struck me when looking at the pictures – though I had to peer through glass at a far wall to see them – was that the style could have influenced some of Tolkien’s early watercolour landscapes. As it turns out, the same thought had already occurred to Catherine McIlwaine, who comments in her book that there’s a resemblance to Tolkien’s “King’s Norton from Bilberry Hill” (painted in 1913) and “Lambourn. Berks” (1912). The latter, according to Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, was a sketch Tolkien made on a walking tour (Artist & Illustrator, p. 17) and the former was an outdoor sketch as well. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare a young man’s sketches with a professional artist’s published work, but take a look at the two pictures below. What do you think? Is there a distinct influence, or is it a general stylistic resemblance that would have been shared by many watercolour landscape artists of the time?

Images:  left: Tolkien, Lambourn, Berks. Watercolour. Artist & Illustrator, fig. 11; right: Tolkien, King’s Norton from Bilberry Hill. Watercolour. Artist & Illustrator, fig 16. (Click on individual images to enlarge).

I’ll be posting more snippets about the exhibition, both in Oxford and New York, in the days ahead, but if you’re interested in a more extensive account (or if you’re looking forward to the New York version), I don’t think you can find a more thorough description than this post on the Tolkien Collector’s Guide, “Tolkien’s Maker of Middle-earth Exhibition at The Bodleian – A Retrospective.”

For further reading:

Catherine McIlwaine. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2018.

The standard work on Tolkien’s art is Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. HarperCollins, 2004.

In Scull and Hammond’s J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (pp.1483–1503), they included a list of published art by Tolkien, which they updated in July 2018 to include items in the Bodleian exhibition publications.  “Published Art by J.R.R. Tolkien, From the J.R.R. Tolkien Companion & Guide. Revised July 2018” [pdf]

Tolkien Calls for Papers – upcoming deadlines


, , , , , , , , , , ,

The two largest medieval conferences — in Kalamazoo and in Leeds — have upcoming deadlines for paper proposals. There are plenty of sessions for those involved in Tolkien studies. The International Conference on Medieval Studies has pre-approved sessions looking for participants. The International Medieval Congress in Leeds works differently; the organizer, Dr. Dimitra Fimi, has to submit abstracts for each proposed session and wait for approval.

Deadline August 31: ICM Leeds 2019

100-word proposals are due for the following sessions. See the organizer Dr. Dimitra Fimi’s blog for more details.

  1. “New” Tolkien: Expanding the Canon
  2. Materiality in Tolkien’s Medievalism I
  3. Materiality in Tolkien’s Medievalism II
  4. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches I
  5. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches II
  6. New Voices and New Topics in Tolkien Scholarship (a roundtable)

The IMC takes place July 1-4, 2019 at the University of Leeds.

Deadline: September 1: ICMS in Kalamazoo

There are a number of options for Tolkien scholars in Kalamazoo. Dr. Chris Vaccaro and Dr. Yvette Kisor have volunteered to take over the organization of  the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group, previously led by Dr. Brad Eden for several years.  In addition to the three approved sessions sponsored by Tolkien at Kalamazoo, there are several other independent sessions, as well as a couple of sessions sponsored by the Tales After Tolkien Society.

A convenient round-up of all of these panels can be found on Luke Shelton’s blog.

Tolkien at Kalamazoo sponsored sessions: abstracts to Chris Vaccaro <>  or Yvette Kisor  <>.

  1. Tolkien and Medieval Constructions of Race: Paper session.

The question of Tolkien’s engagement in and use of medieval constructions of race represents a timely question, perhaps unfortunately so. Whether we consider the hierarchical structure of the created races of Middle-earth, the linguistic and cultural similarities between Dwarves and Jews, or his granting of eastern or African features to specific races such as the Easterlings or the Haradrim, we find Tolkien working with medieval constructions of race, such as the notion of the Saracen. This paper session invites considerations of Tolkien and medieval constructions of race.

  1. Tolkien and Temporality:  Medieval Constructions of Time:  Paper session.

Given the presence of both immortal Elves and mortal Men in Middle-earth, time is experienced and represented in multiple ways. The timeline of history is expressed as consecutive ages tracing the emerging and residual dominance of two peoples, Elves and Men. This timeline of Arda moves from a creation to a final end, and in this teleological conception, medieval notions of time and history, particularly Christian notions, can be seen. This paper session encourages explorations of how medieval constructions of time enter Tolkien’s legendarium.

  1. Misappropriation of Tolkien’s Medievalism:  Roundtable/panel session

Many white supremacists love Tolkien. An uncomfortable statement, and certainly not the whole truth, but the reality is that self-identified white nationalists have embraced and appropriated aspects of Tolkien’s medievalism since the late 1930s. In many cases, these are misunderstood aspects, and such individuals are embracing a Middle Ages that never existed, but in the created world of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, it is more complicated. It is often the medieval-derived aspects of Tolkien’s creation that are most appealing to such groups and individuals. This roundtable invites participants to consider the misappropriation of Tolkien’s medievalism, from how and why it happens, to what aspects of Tolkien’s work seem to attract this and why, and finally how to respond to it.

More Tolkien sessions:

4.  The Medieval Roots of Tolkien’s Fall of Gondolin. Organized by Bill Fliss, Marquette University. Proposals to

The upcoming publication of Tolkien’s The Fall of Gondolin (August 2018) makes available what Tolkien called “the first real story of this imagined world” (Letter 163), the story of the fall of a great hidden Elven kingdom that occupied Tolkien throughout his life. It forms the basis for much of his early legendarium of Middle-earth and incorporates many aspects of medieval themes and topics. This paper session invites considerations of the medieval roots of Tolkien’s tale.

5. Tolkien’s Legendarium and Medieval Cosmology. Organizer: Judy Ford, Texas A&M Commerce.  Abstracts to

6.  Medieval Song, Verse and Versification in Tolkien’s Works. Organizer: Annie Brust. Abstracts to

Tales After Tolkien Society

Two sessions, including The Legacy of Tolkien’s Medievalism in Contemporary Works. See Luke Shelton’s blog  or the Tales After Tolkien Society blog for more details.

The ICMS takes place May 9- 12, 2019.  Submission procedures and forms can be found here.




July Tolkien conferences – Leeds & Mythcon


, , , , , , ,

The summer conference season is in full swing. A couple of weeks ago, Leeds was the site of the Tolkien Society’s one-day seminar, hosted by Anna Milon, followed by the International Medieval Congress sessions on Tolkien, organized by Dr. Dimitra Fimi.  Dr. Fimi did an amazing job keeping up with each presentation, posting notes on what was being said. You can catch a glimpse of each presenter’s main points by looking at Dr. Fimi’s Facebook post: Tolkien at IMC Leeds 2018 round-up.  If you scroll down on her Twitter feed, @Dr_Dimitra_Fimi, you’ll also find notes from the Tolkien Society Seminar talks as well.

Tolkien at Leeds 2018 closing dinner

Tolkien at Leeds 2018 closing dinner

All of the presentations in Leeds were given to packed audiences, to the point that people had to sit on the floor in some sessions, and a few of the later panels had to be moved to larger rooms. Lots of interest in Tolkien! We’re hoping that the same number of sessions will be approved for next year’s IMC conference. (The Tolkien Society Seminar, on the other hand, will be suspended for next year, as attention will be focused on the big Tolkien 2019 conference in Birmingham later in the summer.)

From Leeds in the UK, Tolkien conference activity now moves to Mythcon 49 in Atlanta in the US, from July 20 to 23, with the theme “On the Shoulders of Giants.”  The keynote speakers are Dr. Robin Anne Reid, the scholar guest of honour, and Donato Giancolo as the artist guest of honour.  The Mythcon 49 Schedule page includes a list of speakers and topics.  “What do you do with a drunken hobbit?”  — you have to be there to find out!


Tolkien art exhibition at the Bodleian


, , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which comes first: is it the illustration and then the text, or does the text come first and then the illustration?

That’s a question posed by Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodleian’s Tolkien Archivist, as she reviews some of Tolkien’s artwork with illustrator Alan Lee. And that’s exactly the question that my co-author Jeff MacLeod and I asked in our recent article published in Tolkien Studies (“Visualizing the Word: Tolkien as Artist and Writer“), which I’ve written about here.

You can see Catherine McIlwaine and Alan Lee looking at some of Tolkien’s paintings in the video below, celebrating the Bodleian Library’s new exhibit, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth.  The conversation about Tolkien’s art occurs from around 0:52 to 2:22, but the entire video contains enticing glimpses of what is now on display at the Weston Library (one of the Bodleian Libraries).


Those who were lucky enough to attend the launch and visit the Library in these first few days have published excited reports that seem to confirm what we’ve been reading in the reviews: that this is, as John Garth put it, “a once-in-a-generation” exhibition of artifacts, documents, and artwork. There’s lots to see, but one part that I am especially looking forward to is the original artwork, something that only very few people are normally allowed to examine in the Tolkien Archive.

Jeff and I have written about one example that demonstrates how Tolkien used his sketching to draft his text and the general interplay between image and text in his work. We only had room to discuss one manuscript example, but there would be many others. We also discussed, among other points, how Tolkien’s prose style and the expression of his theories are shaped by his visual practice. In other words, we argue that image does not necessarily come after text but that both image and text are integrally related in Tolkien’s creative imagination.

I’ll be in Oxford next month when I’ll be fortunate enough to see Tolkien’s original work, from doodles to finished art pieces. In the meantime I’ll be posting occasionally some reviews and information about the exhibit and Tolkien’s art.

How to find our article:

Jeffrey J. MacLeod and Anna Smol. “Visualizing the Word: Tolkien as Artist and Writer.” Tolkien Studies, vol. 14, 2017, pp. 115-131. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/tks.2017.0009.

Tolkien Studies is an annual publication that can be purchased from West Virginia University Press. If your library has a subscription to Project Muse, you can get a copy that way. If you don’t have the means to get a copy of the article, please let me know.


Tolkien Reading Day: the hope of hobbits


, , , , , , ,

March 25, the downfall of Sauron, is the date chosen by the Tolkien Society to celebrate Tolkien Reading Day.  This year’s theme is “Home and Hearth: the many ways of being a Hobbit.”  Around the world different groups will be holding events celebrating Tolkien’s work — see the Tolkien Society page for reports from some of them — or individuals will simply be reading their favorite passages at home. Check out the #TolkienReadingDay hashtag on Twitter or Instagram to see what people are reading today.

One of the ways of being a hobbit is to love songs, often songs celebrating simple homely pleasures:  “Sing hey! for the bath at close of day,” “Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go,” “Upon the hearth the fire is red,” or songs that are just meant to be fun, such as the “ridiculous song” Frodo sings at the Prancing Pony, “There is an inn,” or that Sam recites as “just a bit of nonsense,” his song about trolls.

There is one song that Sam sings, however, that is much more serious and that shows another side of being a hobbit:  the ability to find hope in the face of overwhelming odds. That song is “In western lands.” I’ve always loved this poem and especially one beautiful image in it.

The song occurs in The Return of the King in “The Tower of Cirith Ungol” chapter. Frodo has been captured by orcs, and Sam is feeling defeated, unable to find him. Suddenly, he starts singing, and gradually his voice rises and the words of the poem come to him “unbidden.” The song calls forth a response from Frodo, allowing Sam to locate him in the Tower.

In the song, the speaker situates himself in the farthest reaches of despair: “Though here at journey’s end I lie/ in darkness buried deep,/ beyond all towers strong and high,/ beyond all mountains steep” — and yet, he can imagine that this is not the entire world. “In western lands, beneath the Sun/ the flowers may rise in Spring…” He imagines a blooming world that “may” be alive, and by the end of the poem, he is certain that there is an eternal world elsewhere that is not affected by his seemingly hopeless situation: “above all shadows rides the Sun/ and Stars for ever dwell….” The final lines express his resolve: “I will not say the Day is done, / nor bid the Stars farewell.”

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

Detail from Tolkien’s “The Elvenking’s gate from across the river,” fig. 50,  The Art of The Hobbit

My favorite lines come in the first stanza: “Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night / and swaying beeches bear / the Elven-stars as jewels white / amid their branching hair.”  Tolkien’s landscapes are usually alive and active; here, the trees and stars, two recurring and significant images for Tolkien, are connected in one image of softly dancing trees whose branches seem to be wearing the jewellery of starlight as if in their hair. By the end of that first stanza, the poet’s gaze is already moving from the flowers rising from the ground up to the stars in the sky, as if getting ready for the ideas that conclude the second stanza. I remember one summer night sitting outside, looking up through tree branches at a few stars, when these lines came immediately to mind as the perfect expression of that sight.

Donald Swann set this poem to music, although I think I prefer the Tolkien Ensemble version of it. You can listen to it here:

The hope of hobbits — little people who did not think they could change the world — is a valuable thought to hold on to.

Kzoo 2018 Tolkien and medievalism sessions


, ,

Kalamazoo campus swan pondAs is my annual custom, I’m posting a list of sessions on Tolkien and on medievalism to be held at The International Congress on Medieval Studies on May 10 – 13. Conference organizers have announced that the print program has been damaged in a flood, so mailing of copies will be delayed, but the full program is posted online here.

Of course, you should always double check my list against the final program. And don’t forget that in addition to the official ICMS panels, the Tolkien Seminar will take place on Wednesday May 9 with a full day of presentations and entertainment.

Sessions devoted entirely to Tolkien

Thursday 10:00 a.m.
Session 21 SCHNEIDER 1255
Tolkien and the Celtic Tradition
Sponsor: History Dept., Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Organizer: Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: Judy Ann Ford

  • “Queer” Border, “Hidden Kingdom”: Perceptions of Wales in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Work. Dimitra Fimi, Cardiff Metropolitan Univ.
  • Bran and Brendan, and Eriol and Ælfwine. Kris Swank, Pima Community College
  • The Development of Imagery from “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun” in The Lord of the Rings. Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College

Thursday 1:30
“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: Michael A. Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.

  • The Classical Origins of Tolkien’s Elvish Language Invention. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
  • “Sing, Muse, the Wrath of Boromir, Denethor’s Son”: The Workings of Thumos and Lofgeornost in J. R. R. Tolkien. Dennis Wilson Wise, Univ. of Arizona
  • Tolkien’s Classical Beowulf. Jane Chance, Rice Univ.

Friday 1:30
Session 264 BERNHARD 209
Medievalism and Environmentalism in Tolkien’s Works
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider: John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville

  • Smaug’s Hoard, Durin’s Bane, and Agricola’s De re metallica: Cautionary Tales against Mining in Tolkien’s Legendarium and the Classical Tradition. Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
  • Tolkien’s Franciscan Environmentalism. Deidre Dawson, Independent Scholar
  • The Franciscan and Dominican Roots of Tolkien’s Environmentalism. Victoria Holtz Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.

Friday 3:30
Session 321 BERNHARD 209
Tolkien’s Re-envisioning of the Medieval Lay: The Lay of Beren and Luthien and the Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider: Brad Eden

  • The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, Breton Lays, and Gwerziou. Matthieu Boyd, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ.
  • Tolkien’s Lays: Songs of Love, Faith, and Devotion?  Aurelie Bremont, Centre d’Etudes Medievales Anglaises (CEMA), Univ. de Paris–Sorbonne
  • Matiere de Terre de Milieu: Jean Bodel’s Formula and Tolkien’s Legendarium. John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville

Saturday 12:00 noon Tolkien at Kalamazoo Business Meeting Bernhard 210

Sessions that include papers on Tolkien

Saturday 1:30
Session 407 FETZER 2020
Studies in Honor of Charles D. Wright I: Old English Poetry
Sponsor: Program in Medieval Studies, Univ. of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
Organizer: Dabney A. Bankert, James Madison Univ.
Presider: Paul Battles, Hanover College

  • The Digressions in the Old English Andreas.  Thomas D. Hill, Cornell Univ.
  • Into the Jaws of Hell: Swallowing and Damnation in Old English Poetry. Jill Hamilton Clements, Univ. of Alabama–Birmingham
  • The Wisdom Tradition and Irish Learning in CCCC 41. Tiffany Beechy, Univ. of Colorado–Boulder
  • “Éala éarendel”: Old English Euphony and Tolkien’s Hidden God. Alfred Kentigern Siewers, Bucknell Univ.

Saturday 3:30
Session 498 BERNHARD 213
Teaching Boethius (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: International Boethius Society
Organizer: Philip Edward Phillips, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
Presider: Philip Edward Phillips

  • Boethius and a Pedagogy of Imagination. Anthony G. Cirilla, Niagara Univ.
  • Boethius and the Biology of Desire. Sarah Powrie, St. Thomas More College
  • Teaching the Consolation of Philosophy in Prison. Brandy N. Brown, Rhodes College
  • The Consolation of Philosophy for Honors Freshmen. Kenneth C. Hawley, Lubbock Christian Univ.
  • Intellectual Relevance of Boethian Studies in the First Quarter of the Twenty-First Century. Noel Harold Kaylor Jr., Troy Univ.
  • Tolkien and Boethius: Chance Meetings and Doomed Heroes. Brian McFadden, Texas Tech Univ.

Sessions on medievalisms

Session 20 SCHNEIDER 1245
De Musica Vulgari Eloquentia
Sponsor: Musicology at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Anna Kathryn Grau, DePaul Univ.; Cathy Ann Elias, DePaul Univ.; Daniel J. DiCenso, College of the Holy Cross
Presider: Anna Kathryn Grau

  • “Gode is the lay, swete is the note!”: Music as a Liberal Art in Sir Orfeo. Tiffany Schubert, Univ. of Dallas; Matthew Brumit, Univ. of Mary
  • “Gaudete”: A Case of Musical Medievalism in Contemporary England. Jacob Sagrans, Independent Scholar
  • Music and Musicians, Sacred, Profane and Imaginary, in the Luttrell Psalter. Marijim Thoene, Independent Scholar

Session 60 FETZER 2030
Medievalism and the Rediscovery of Medieval Art
Organizer: Thalia Allington-Wood, Univ. College London
Presider: Imogen Tedbury, Courtauld Institute of Art/National Gallery of Art

  • Antiquarian Aesthetics and the Revaluing of Medieval Art in Early Modern Britain. Dustin M. Frazier Wood, Univ. of Roehampton
  • Anonymous Immortality: Chasing Down the Ghosts of Patrons Past. Lynley Anne Herbert, Walters Art Museum
  • Living in the New [New] Middle Ages. Matthew Reeve, Queen’s Univ. Kingston

Session 107 FETZER 2030
Architectural Medievalism
Presider: Elizabeth Emery, Montclair State Univ.

  • Southwark Cathedral’s East End: A Faithful Restoration?. Regina Noto, The Clark Art Institute
  • Between Memory and Phantasy: Re-building Frankfurt Old Town. Esther Laura Heeg, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
  • Tracing Medieval Stones. Kaarel Truu, Estonian Academy of Arts

Session 119 SCHNEIDER 1330
The “Medieval” in Popular Culture
Presider: Audrey Becker, Marygrove College

  • Constructing Demons: The Origins of Normalizing Portrayals of Marginalized Groups as Threats. Karra Shimabukuro, Univ. of New Mexico
  • Dice Rolling for Racism: White Supremacy and Role Playing Games. Donald Burke, Cerro Coso Community College
  • The Cult of the Lady: Arthurian Medievalisms in The Witcher 3 and Total War: Warhammer. Kyle Dase, Univ. of Saskatchewan

Session 123 SCHNEIDER 1350
“Lesser” English Arthuriana
Organizer: Usha Vishnuvajjala, American Univ.
Presider: Kristin Bovaird-Abbo, Univ. of Northern Colorado

  • “Muse on My Mirrour”: Precarious Reflections and Reform in The Awntyrs off Arthure. William Biel, Univ. of Connecticut
  • The Redemption of the Arthurian Queen: How the Depiction of Guinevere as a Nun in British Art and Literature of the Nineteenth Century Complicates our Understanding of British Medievalism and Its Intersection with Discourses of Gender. Ellie Crookes, Macquarie Univ.
  • “She was recouered of that that she was defoylyd”: Recuperating Dame Ragnell’s Lute. Crystal N. Beamer, McMaster Univ.
  • Heroism Both Lesser and Greater: De-Romanticizing Aristocracy in “Sir Percyvell of Gales” Randy Schiff, Univ. at Buffalo

Session 153 BERNHARD 106
Theorizing the Problematic Medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons and Popular Fantasy Narrative (A Panel Discussion)
Sponsor: Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, California State Univ.–Long Beach
Organizer: Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Stud­ies, California State Univ.–Long Beach
Presider: Ilan Mitchell-Smith

A panel discussion with Usha Vishnuvajjala, American Univ.; Edmond Chang, Ohio Univ.; Robert Rouse, Univ. of British Columbia; and Susan Aronstein, Univ. of Wyo­ming.

Monstrous Medievalism: Toxic Appropriations of the Middle Ages in Modern Popular Culture and Thought
Sponsor: Monsters: The Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application (MEARCSTAPA)
Organizer: Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, California State Univ.–Long Beach
Presider: Larissa Tracy, Longwood Univ.

  • White Nationalism, Scottish Identity, and the Declaration of Arbroath. Mark P. Bruce, Bethel Univ.
  • The Problem of Loki, Again: Norse Mythology as a Battleground for Separatism or Inclusion. Ali Frauman, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
  • “Celtic” Crosses and White Supremacism. Maggie M. Williams, William Paterson Univ./Material Collective

Session 312 SCHNEIDER 1355
Contemporary Medieval Poetry II: Forms and Histories
Sponsor: Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, King’s College London
Organizer: Josh Davies, King’s College London; Clare A. Lees, King’s College London
Presider: Josh Davies

  • O Cadoiro: Falling into Medieval Galician-Portuguese Love Lyric. Harriet Cook, King’s College London
  • Unthought Medievalisms and the Survival of Lyric Forms: The Case of the Alba. Marisa Galvez, Stanford Univ.
  • Contemporary British Poetry and the Earliest Medieval Cultures in Britain and Ireland. Clare A. Lees

Session 348 FETZER 1005
Medievalism, Racism, and the Academy (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Fellowship of Medievalists of Color (MOC); International Society for the Study of Medievalism
Organizer: Amy S. Kaufman, Independent Scholar; Usha Vishnuvajjala, American Univ.
Presider: Wan-Chuan Kao, Washington and Lee Univ.

A roundtable discussion with Colleen C. Ho, Univ. of Maryland; Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, California State Univ.–Long Beach; Matthew Vernon, Univ. of California–Davis; Kavita Mudan Finn, Independent Schol­ar; and Pamela J. Clements, Siena College.

Session 357 SCHNEIDER 1120
Towards a Medieval Transgender Studies
Sponsor: Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS)
Organizer: M. W. Bychowski, Case Western Reserve Univ.
Presider: Micah Goodrich, Univ. of Connecticut

  • That Detestable, Unmentionable, and Ignominious Vice: Trans Women and Sex Work in Cross-Cultural and Cross-Temporal Perspectives. Alina Boyden, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Trans Knights, Then and Now. Ced Block, Independent Scholar
  • Radical Pedagogy and New Medievalisms: Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and the Medieval Imaginary. Nicholas Hoffman, Ohio State Univ.; Joy Ellison, Ohio State Univ.
  • The Future of Medieval Transgender Studies. M. W. Bychowski

Session 374 SCHNEIDER 1330
Medievalisms and Marguerite Porete: The Mirror of Simple Souls in the Age of #Resistance
Sponsor: International Marguerite Porete Society
Organizer: Robert Stauffer, Dominican College
Presider: Robert Stauffer

  • The Legacy of Marguerite Porete as Symbol of Resistance. Danielle Dubois, Univ. of Manitoba
  • Silence as Resistance in the Life of Marguerite Porete and in The Mirror of Simple Souls. Jonathan Juilfs, Redeemer Univ. College
  • The Pseudo-Mulier in an Age of #Resistance: Dismantling the Organism in The Mirror of Simple Souls. Jessica Zisa, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara

Session 378 SCHNEIDER 1350
National Medievalisms
Presider: Amber Dunai, Texas A&M Univ.–Central Texas

  • The West Remembers (Its Premodern Self). Matthias D. Berger, Univ. Bern
  • Mother Earth, Plough Monday and the Re-invention of the Germanic Farming Community: Wartime Agro-politics and Its (Mis)use of Anglo-Saxon Fertility Rituals. Karel Fraaije, Univ. College London

Session 424 SCHNEIDER 1280
King Arthur 2017 (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism
Organizer: Amy S. Kaufman, Independent Scholar; Usha Vishnuvajjala, American Univ.
Presider: Ann F. Howey, Brock Univ.

A roundtable discussion with Susan Aronstein, Univ. of Wyoming; Kathleen Kelly, Northeastern Univ.; Martin B. Shichtman, Eastern Michigan Univ.; Christine Neufeld, Eastern Michigan Univ.; Abby Ang, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington; and Ann Martinez, Kent State Univ.–Stark.

Session 462 SCHNEIDER 1120
“Can These Bones Come to Life?” II: Issues of Authority in Reconstructing, Reenacting, and Recreating the Past (and in Medieval Studies)
Sponsor: Societas Johannis Higginsis
Organizer: Kenneth Mondschein, Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies/Anna Maria College
Presider: Karen Cook, Hartt School, Univ. of Hartford

  • Experimental Archaeology as Fieldwork. V. M. Roberts, York Univ.
  • Crowd Sourcing Culture: The Death of Expertise. Michael A. Cramer, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
  • The Perception of Legitimacy: How Culture Wars Hurt (or Help) the Authority of Academic Medievalism. Kenneth Mondschein

Session 476 SCHNEIDER 1280
The New “Dark Ages”
Sponsor: International Society for the Study of Medievalism
Organizer: Amy S. Kaufman, Independent Scholar; Usha Vishnuvajjala, American Univ.
Presider: Usha Vishnuvajjala

  • Religion, Science, and Conspiracy Theories: The Flat Earth in the Middle Ages and Today. Shiloh Carroll, Tennessee State Univ.
  • Not as Sexy as We Thought: Echoes of the Dark Ages in Modern Sexual Conduct for Women. Amy Burge, Cardiff Univ.
  • Medievalism, Medievalists, and Conditional Reproductive Justice. Rebecca Huffman, Univ. of Michigan–Ann Arbor
  • A Dark Stage for the Dark Ages: Medieval Theatre as Protest (Then and Now). Carol L. Robinson, Kent State Univ.–Trumbull

Session 501 VALLEY 3 ELDRIDGE 309
Medievalism: A Manifesto (A Panel Discussion)
Organizer: Daniel T. Kline, Univ. of Alaska–Anchorage
Presider: Daniel T. Kline

A panel discussion with Michael Evans, Delta College; Alexandra Garner, Univ. of Oregon; Jane Glaubman, Cornell Univ.; Lauryn S. Mayer, Washington & Jefferson College; Usha Vishnuvajjala, American Univ.; and with respondent Richard Utz, Georgia Institute of Technology.

Session 507 FETZER 1045
Teaching Medieval Studies with/without Objects and Collections (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Material Collective; TEAMS (Teaching Association for Medieval Studies)
Organizer: B. Joy Ambler, Dwight-Englewood School
Presider: Danielle B. Joyner, Southern Methodist Univ.

  • Architectural Medievalism and Undergraduate Research: Learning about Two Pasts through One Building. Jennifer Borland, Oklahoma State Univ./Material Collective
  • Objects in the Medieval History Classroom. Kelly Gibson, Univ. of Dallas
  • Manuscripts in the Undergraduate Non-Specialist Curriculum: Students Find Their “Inner-Medievalist”. David T. Gura, Hesburgh Library, Univ. of Notre Dame
  • Making Multimodal Miscellanies at a Public, Urban, Minority-Serving Institution. Katharine W. Jager, Univ. of Houston–Downtown
  • The Use, Disuse, and Abuse of Objects: Some Thoughts on Libraries and Pedagogy. Anna Siebach-Larsen, Rossell Hope Robbins Library and Koller-Collins Center for English, Univ. of Rochester

Session 533 FETZER 1045
How to Engage Now: Medieval Studies and Public Discourse in 2018 (A Round­table)
Sponsor: Material Collective
Organizer: Luke Fidler, Univ. of Chicago; Nancy Thompson, Material Col­lective/St. Olaf College
Presider: Luke Fidler

  • Craftivism as Public Medievalism: Re-Constructing Medieval Textile Work. Marian Bleeke, Cleveland State Univ.
  • All the Chaucer That’s Fit to Print. Amy Goodwin, Randolph-Macon College
  • Fuck This Shit: How Can You Not Say Something?. Eileen Joy, Punctum Books
  • Turning Academic Articles into Web and Magazine Articles. Peter Konieczny

Seeing and Studying Tolkien’s Art


, , , , , , , ,

Last week, I posted about a recently published article that I co-authored with my colleague Jeff MacLeod on Tolkien as artist and writer, and I mentioned some of the secondary sources that we used in that essay. Today, I want to supplement the bibliography in our essay with a couple of other resources and an upcoming event for anyone who is interested in seeing and studying Tolkien’s artwork.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth

The exhibition that I am very much looking forward to is Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, running from June to October this year. This event brings together manuscripts from the Oxford collection and from the Tolkien Archive in Marquette University in the US and promises to show some of Tolkien’s watercolour illustrations for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, paintings in his Book of Ishness, maps, dust jacket designs, and even some personal artefacts such as boxes of paints and coloured pencils.

While I have been fortunate enough to work with some of Tolkien’s manuscripts, his original drawings are not usually accessible to the regular scholar. This will be a rare opportunity — if not to actually handle — at least to see some of his artwork firsthand. For those who can’t come to Oxford for this exhibition, the Bodleian will be publishing in June what they describe as a “richly illustrated book.”

The Tolkien Art Index

Here’s an extremely useful new resource for the study of Tolkien’s art:  The Tolkien Art Index.  The creation of Erik Mueller-Harder at Vermont Softworks, this database aims to list every published instance of Tolkien’s artwork. Each of the 463 items has a unique accession number and identifies the Marquette or Bodleian manuscript in which it appears. Ample tags allow you to search in various ways. For example, you can find images by medium (“blue pen”); content (“mountains-hills”); location (“Mordor”), and more — you have to sample it yourself to understand the full range of possibilities! All of the published sources are listed with dates, page numbers, and notes. The only thing that is lacking at the moment is permission to include thumbnail images of all of the items. Let’s hope this will be forthcoming, but even without that, The Tolkien Art Index should be an invaluable tool for anyone studying Tolkien’s artwork. If you are attending the Kalamazoo conference this spring, you can hear Erik speak about the Art Index in the 2018 Tolkien Seminar on May 9th.

The Illustrator Mary Fairburn and Tolkien

Jeff and I were pleasantly surprised to see another article on Tolkien and art in the latest volume of Tolkien Studies right next to our essay on Tolkien as an artist and writer. Paul Tankard writes about Tolkien’s correspondence with Mary Fairburn in his essay, “‘Akin to my own Inspiration’: Mary Fairburn and the Art of Middle-earth” (Tolkien Studies, vol. 14, pp. 133 – 154). Fairburn’s illustrations were featured in the 2015 Tolkien Calendar but were not published in Tolkien’s lifetime. Tankard’s essay examines Tolkien’s views on illustration and his opinions of various illustrators. Another essay to add to your bibliography if you’re studying Tolkien’s views on art and illustration!