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 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.
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
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:
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
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]
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.
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
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
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.
You can find the submission guidelines here. Different sponsoring groups have different deadlines. For example, the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group would like proposals by September 1st (tomorrow!) while the final deadline for ICMS proposals generally is September 15th — though no one is advised to wait that long. You can search the complete call for papers for the Congress here.
Tolkien at Kalamazoo is sponsoring 3 sessions:
Tolkien’s Paratexts: Appendices, Annals, and Marginalia (Roundtable) Following the medieval manuscript tradition, Tolkien’s literary fiction includes charts, maps, annals and other paratextual elements, many found in the Appendices. These elements deserve further critical study. Taking his father’s lead, Christopher Tolkien has been meticulously editing J.R.R. Tolkien’s manuscripts, supplying commentary and emendations concerning the many cruxes within the notes and typescripts. As medievalists, we will bring this often ignored back matter and marginalia to the foreground.
Tolkien and Se Wyrm Tolkien admits to being influenced by the dragons of Beowulf and the Volsungasaga. In those medieval epic texts, the dragon is monstrous but somewhat uncanny and familiar to human kind; distinctions are blurred. Something similar happens in Tolkien’s fictions, presenting exciting new considerations on the subject of monstrosity. Papers could explore the interdisciplinary relationships between the dragons of medieval legend and those of Middle-earth.
Tolkien’s Chaucer With the upcoming publication of Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer (edited by John M. Bowers, Oxford University Press, 2019) readers of Tolkien have the opportunity to explore how Tolkien read Chaucer as well as how that reading influenced his fiction. This paper session might explore fourteenth-century ideas of romance, neoplatonism, self in relation to society, constructions of gender, etc., as they related to Tolkien’s texts.
Proposals for the above sessions should be sent to:
Dr. Christopher Vaccaro Email: email@example.com
You can also send Chris a proposal for the Tolkien Symposium which takes place on the Wednesday before the start of the conference. While the official CFP will come out later with a January deadline, the Symposium usually has an open theme and you can propose a paper now.
University of Glasgow, Fantasy Research Hub
Medieval World-Building: Tolkien, his Precursors and Legacies The recent volume Sub-creating Arda: World-building in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works, its Precursors, and Legacies (2019), edited by D. Fimi and T. Honegger, examines the importance of invented story-worlds as spaces for primary-world social commentary, or as means for visualizing times and places not accessible to the reader. Tolkien was one of the foremost proponents of literary world-building, what he called “sub-creation,” and his Middle-earth has had unrivaled influence on subsequent world-building efforts. Yet, Tolkien’s own sub-creations were born from medieval story-worlds such as Beowulf,Kalevala, Volsungasaga, and others. This paper session examines the emergent, interdisciplinary research field of world-building through Tolkien’s Middle-earth, its medieval precursors, and/or its modern legacies. Papers might be on such topics as mythopoeia, design, systems of magic, geology, geography, cartography, cosmology, ecology, sociology, demographics, cultural anthropology, materiality, religion, philosophy, language—literally anything that goes into world-building—in conjunction with the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, or his medieval/medievalist precursors, or his worldbuilding legacy in literature or other fields. Papers on interdisciplinary topics are welcome.
Please send your proposals with “Tolkien World-Building” in the subject line to: Dimitra Fimi (Dimitra.Fimi@glasgow.ac.uk) AND Kris Swank (KSwank@pima.edu).
Marquette University Archives
Tolkien and Manuscript Studies J.R.R. Tolkien the scholar studied and taught medieval manuscripts. In imitation of these, Tolkien the author incorporated fictional manuscripts into his tales. He produced an enormous quantity of his own manuscripts in the course of crafting his Legendarium, which his son Christopher and others have closely examined. In his influential essay “The Great Chain of Reading: (Inter-)textual Relations and the Technique of Mythopoesis in the Túrin Story” (2002), Gergely Nagy explains that Tolkien’s mode of narrative development was akin to that of the medieval European tradition, writing, redacting, and expanding of numerous versions.
This session proposal invites papers on the role of manuscripts (as mise-en-page and mise-en-scène) in the life and works of Tolkien.
Contact: William Fliss Phone: (414) 288-5906 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tales After Tolkien Society
Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption (A Panel Discussion)
Legacies of Tolkien’s Whiteness in Contemporary Medievalisms (A Roundtable)
Contact: Geoffrey B. Elliott PO Box 292970 Kerrville, TX 78028 email: email@example.com
IMC Leeds July 6-9, 2020
The deadline for Tolkien proposals is September 6.
Sessions 1-3: Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism – paper sessions These sessions will directly address the overall theme of the conference (“Borders”). Papers in these sessions can explore all aspects of borders in Tolkien’s works in its broadest sense. These can be explorations of geographical, conceptual, political and linguistic borders in Tolkien’s work as well as the role and impact of borders on the peoples and cultures of Tolkien’s world-building and in his other creative and academic explorations.
Sessions 4-5: Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches – paper sessions These sessions can accommodate wider topics and new approaches to Tolkien’s medievalism, ranging from source studies and theoretical readings, to comparative studies (including Tolkien’s legacy).
Session 6 – New Sources and Approaches to Tolkien’s Medievalism This roundtable discussion provides a forum to explore new sources and approaches to Tolkien’s work. This can explore new academic work drawn from the most recent published editions of Tolkien’s work including The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun (ed. Verlyn Flieger, 2017), The Tale of Beren and Lúthien (ed. Christopher Tolkien, 2017), The Fall of Gondolin (ed. Christopher Tolkien, 2018) as well as new academic works such as Tolkien’s Library – An Annotated Checklist (Cilli, forthcoming August 2019) and Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer (OUP: Bowers, forthcoming September 2019).
If you are interested in participating:
Please submit a paper/round table contribution title and abstract to Dr. Dimitra Fimi (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Andrew Higgins (email@example.com) by 6th September
Length of abstracts: 100 words. (Papers will be 15-20 minutes long while roundtable contributions will be 10-12 minutes long). With your abstract, please include name and details of contributor (affiliation, address, and preferred e-mail address).
A note on how Kalamazoo and Leeds organizers select papers differently: for the ICMS in Kalamazoo, the session topics are first approved by the Congress organizers and then the session sponsors select presenters to fill the sessions. At Leeds, the session sponsors select presenters and send in the full session proposal to the Congress organizers to await approval. Sometimes, sessions are not approved.
On the day before the Congress begins (Sunday 5 July), the Tolkien Society sponsors a Tolkien Seminar, a full day of presentations. The call for papers will be available later this year.
I was 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
Information from organizer Brad Eden:
This conference will be a reflection on all levels of Tolkien scholarship, with Tolkien scholars leading the discussion and the opportunity to present on your current research in this area, along with ideas and thoughts about the future of Tolkien scholarship, its challenges, and its opportunities.
The conference will feature plenary speakers Douglas A. Anderson, Verlyn Flieger, Robin Reid, Dimitra Fimi, Andrew Higgins, and Brad Eden. Johan de Meij has been commissioned to compose and conduct a new symphony titled Symphony #5 Return to Middle-earth. More information on donating to help pay for this commission, as well as information on levels of donation in order to be listed in the premiere program are available on the website.
The theme is: Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens. This title has already sparked complaints, misunderstandings, and, sadly, insults on the Tolkien Society Facebook page, <*sigh*> thus proving the necessity and wisdom of the Society’s statement: “Considering the nature of the conference’s topic, delegates are encouraged to exercise restraint and be mindful of the individual beliefs of their fellow conference-goers.” I don’t know the Tolkien Society organizers, but I’m fairly certain they are not trying to suggest that Tolkien was not a Christian, which a number of commentators seem to believe.
Perhaps the title of the Seminar is slightly misleading, but I would suggest that the intent of the Seminar’s scope is better understood by looking at the Tolkien Society webpage, which lists some possible, legitimate topics that should provide productive examinations of Tolkien’s fictional characters and the reception of his work among non-Christians:
Characters’ faith and devotion within Tolkien’s narratives
Non-Christian readings of Tolkien’s fiction
Neo-pagan movements based on Tolkien’s mythology
Invented religions in fantasy fiction
After all, it’s impossible to pretend that only Christians (or believers in the “one true religion” as a couple of Facebook commentators suggest) are the only ones who read and appreciate Tolkien around the globe.
Where do the months fly by? June was busy, as I was preparing my talk for the Tolkien Society Seminar in Leeds while also putting the final touches on our family vacation itinerary in Europe — we were given a very special opportunity this year to travel to France, Italy, and Scotland, with a stop in Leeds for the Seminar. Our schedule meant that I couldn’t stay longer for the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, but maybe next year…. The Tolkien Society Seminar plus Dimitra Fimi’s organization of Tolkien sessions at the IMC certainly make Leeds a desirable destination.
Tolkien Society Seminar 2017 speakers. L to R, back row: Michaela Hausmann, Szymon Pindur, Brad Eden, Andrew Higgins, Massimiliano Izzo, me!, Kristine Larsen, Irina Metzler. Front row, l to r: Penelope Holdaway, Aurelie Bremont, Dimitra Fimi, Bertrand Bellet. Image from Tolkien Society Twitter account.
The theme of this year’s Seminar was poetry and songs, and we heard many different approaches, from individual word studies to language invention, to women in Tolkien’s works, and poetry as world-building, to individual poem analyses, to the new publication Aotrou and Itroun. You can find the program here. I was impressed by how international this one-day conference was; we had speakers and attendees young and old from Germany, Poland, the US, the UK, France, Italy, New Zealand — and Canada, of course.
My talk, “Seers and Singers: Sub-creative Collaborators in Tolkien’s Fiction,” covered some of the ideas that I’ve written about in my article for Verlyn Flieger’s festschrift, A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger (edited by John D. Rateliff and forthcoming from Gabbro Head Press). There’s a lot more in that article that I didn’t have time to fit into my 20-minute talk, including some ideas from Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts about alliterative poetry and his repeated use of the image of the Cook. For the Seminar, though, I outlined some of the similarities I have found in three of Tolkien’s texts that deal with sub-creation and Elvish dramas: The Notion Club Papers, Leaf by Niggle, and Smith of Wootton Major. Below is a copy of my abstract for the Seminar talk:
In Tolkien’s creation myth in The Silmarillion, the Great Music sung by the Ainur gives rise to a vision of Arda and, attracted by what they have sung into 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 visions of creatures. As Verlyn Flieger points out, “Both words and light are agents of perception” (Splintered Light, p. 44) and both “can be instruments of sub-creation (p. 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.
In this presentation, I will turn to a few stories by Tolkien that are primarily concerned with the sub-creative powers of light and music, image and the word: The Notion Club Papers, Leaf by Niggle, and Smith of Wootton Major. The Notion Club Papers explores the struggles and experiments that its characters have with dream visions and languages as avenues of memory and connections with the past. Leaf by Niggle is the story of a visual artist who paints his way into what may be perceived as a faërian drama, and Smith of Wootton Major represents another sub-creator gifted with vision and music who penetrates deeply into the mysteries of the Perilous Realm.
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. The stories function as meta-commentaries on collaborative sub-creation, exploring the entry into faërian dramas and the nature of what is experienced there. For example, when the powers of word and image are combined, as in the collaborative pairing of Lowdham and Jeremy in The Notion Club Papers or in their combined presence in Smith, the results are an impressive entry into Faëry. Although each of the stories represents characters who function in different relationships, what becomes evident in each case is that Tolkien does not present a lone heroic poet or artist-figure; instead, some kind of a pairing helps each of his sub-creators. Lowdham and Jeremy, Niggle and Parish, Smith and Alf – in each case the sub-creator relies on another. Throughout, Tolkien also creates the idea of a genealogy of sympathy that enables a tradition to form that will pass on a taste for Faëry and an ability to enter into a faërian drama.
The Tolkien meetings in Vermont, San Diego (the PCA/ACA), and Kalamazoo are now over and conference season is in full swing. Next stop, Leeds!
The Tolkien Society Seminar is held one day before the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, which also sponsors some Tolkien sessions. So, details about the Seminar first. I’m pleased to say that I’ll be attending for the first time and giving a paper.
The program is now on the Tolkien Society website. Registration starts at 9:00, with papers running from around 9:30 to 5:00, with the opportunity for a convivial gathering at a nearby pub afterwards.
The special theme of this year’s Seminar is “poetry and song.”
Brad Eden, The scholar as minstrel: Music as a conscious/subconscious theme in Tolkien’s poetry
Michaela Hausmann, Lyrics on Lost Lands – Constructing Lost Places through Poetry in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Andrew Higgins, Poetry and Language Invention: The Interconnected Nature of Tolkien’s The Qenya Lexicon and His Early Poetry
Penelope Holdaway, Fair and Perilous: The Women of Tolkien’s non-Middle-earth Lays and Legends
Bertrand Bellet, Aurelie Bremont, Dimitra Fimi, Tolkien and Breton poetry: What layers lie behind Tolkien’s lays?
Stuart Lee, Tolkien and The Battle of Maldon
Kristine Larsen, “Diadem the Fallen Day”: Astronomical and Arboreal Motifs in the Poem “Kortirion Among the Trees”
Szymon Pindur, The magical and reality-transforming function of Tolkien’s songs and verse creations
Irina Metzler, Singing the World into Being: The Creative Power of Song in Tolkien’s Legendarium and Real-World Mythology
Massimiliano Izzo, In search of the Wandering Fire: otherworldly imagery in The Song of Ælfwine
Anna Smol, Seers and Singers: Sub-creative Collaborators in Tolkien’s Fiction.
International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds
The IMC is a huge conference that begins the day after the Tolkien Seminar. I won’t be able to attend this year, though for a happy reason: my family will be in the middle of a European vacation, and Leeds can only be a one-day stop for us. However, if you’re looking for presentations on Tolkien, there are four sessions this year organized by Dr. Dimitra Fimi. The following is an abridged version of the conference program; follow the links for more information on the speakers and for abstracts of the papers.
Session 242: J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches. Monday 3 July 14:15-15:45
Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Andrew Higgins