Two events for this month will feature online presentations on Tolkien. The first is a free event to be held on Saturday May 7th, the Tolkien at Kalamazoo Symposium. A program and link have not yet been published, but I will post it here as soon as the information is available. [May 4 edit: the pdf program is posted here. If you’re interested in attending, contact Yvette Kisor at email@example.com]
Next week, the International Congress on Medieval Studies will take place online once again this year. There is a registration fee for this one, which gives you access to papers and various kinds of sessions and book sales as well as recordings of most sessions for two weeks after the conference. You can find more information here. The Congress takes place May 9-14.
And please scroll down for reminders about July’s conference events. You’ll have to register this week for the Leeds medieval conference if you intend to take part!
Below are the sessions on Tolkien taking place at the International Congress on Medieval Studies from the University of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. An asterisk by the session number indicates that the session will be recorded.
121* Tuesday, May 10, 5:00 p.m. EDT Medieval Understandings of the Nature of Evil as Depicted by J. R. R. Tolkien
Sponsor: D. B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership, Viterbo Univ. Organizer & Presider: Michael A. Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.
Cosmic Catastrophe of History: Augustinian Theology of History and Patristic Angelology in Tolkien’s “Long Defeat” — Edmund Michael Lazzari, Marquette Univ.
Dante’s Paradiso and the Fall of Melkor: Tolkien’s Preoccupations with Culpability and Purgation — Michael David Elam, Regent Univ.
A Clamorous Unison: Musical Evil in the Middle Ages and the Ainulindalë –Joshua T. Parks, Princeton Theological Seminary
226* Thursday, May 12, 9:00 a.m. EDT Tolkien and the Medieval Animal
Sponsor: Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, Univ. of Glasgow Organizer & Presider: Kristine A. Swank, Univ. of Glasgow
Mammoth, Mûmak, and “ The old fireside rhyme of Oliphaunt”: Tolkien’s Contributions to the Medieval Bestiary Tradition — Marc U. Zender, Tulane Univ.
From Classical to Medieval: A Reflection on Bats in Tolkien’s Works — Fiammetta Comelli, Univ. degli Studi di Milano
Of Foxes and Dancing Bears — John Rosegrant, New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center
Tolkien’s Dragons: Sources, Symbols, and Significance — Camilo G. Peralta, Fort Hays State Univ.
275* Thursday, May 12, 7:00 p.m. EDT J. R. R. Tolkien and Medieval Poets: A Session in Memory of Richard C. West
Sponsors: Tolkien at Kalamazoo; Pearl-Poet Society. Organizer: Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont. Presider: Jane Beal, Univ. of La Verne
Tolkien and Dante on the Musical Nature of “Sub-creation” — Paul L. Fortunato, Univ. of Houston–Downtown
The Lost Roads of Old English Poetry: Dramas of Time Travel in Tolkien’s Works — Anna Smol, Mount St. Vincent Univ.
Strange Sounds, Strange Scenes: Alliterative Metre and Personification in J. R. R. Tolkien’s “ The Lay of the Children of Húrin” — Gavin Foster, Dalhousie Univ.
Tolkien, Beowulf, and Gawain: The Myth of Alliteration — John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville
360 Friday, May 13, 7:00 p.m. EDT Medieval Tolkien and the Nature of Middle-earth (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo. Organizer: Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College. Presider: Deidre Dawson, Michigan State Univ.
A roundtable discussion with Edward L. Risden, St. Norbert College; Sutirtho Roy, Univ. of Calcutta; Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont; Yvette Kisor; John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar
421* Saturday, May 14, 5:00 p.m. EDT New Readings of the Lord of the Rings Presider: Luke J. Chambers, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
The Fisherman’s Ring of Power: Masculinity, Castration, and the Great Quest in The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings — Consuelo M. Concepcion, Independent Scholar
The Dragon is Not an Allegory: Reading Tolkien’s Monsters in Medieval Contexts — Ruthann E. Mowry, Univ. of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign; Cait Coker, Univ. of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
Samwise: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Practical Boethian — Brian McFadden, Texas Tech Univ.
Tolkien, Augustinian Theodicy, and Lovecraftian Evil — Perry Neil Harrison, Fort Hays State Univ.
A couple of Tolkien papers will appear in more general sessions:
394* Saturday, May 14, 3:00 p.m. EDT C. S. Lewis and the Middle Ages I: Dante and the Lewis Circle (In Honor of Marsha Daigle Williamson)
Heavenly Models of Desire in Dante, Lewis, and Tolkien — Curtis Gruenler, Hope College [paper withdrawn – May 4 edit]
418* Saturday, May 14, 5:00 p.m. EDT Medievalism in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literary and Cinematic Adaptations of Beowulf
The Existential Dragon: Adapting Beowulf in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and John Gardner’s Grendel — Andrew Phillip de Carion, Univ. of Houston
Of course, if you have an interest in medieval or medievalism studies, there are hundreds of other sessions to choose from.
The International Medieval Congressat Leeds University will host 7 Tolkien sessions in the program. The conference takes place July 4-7, 2022. This is a hybrid event, enabling online or in-person attendance. Deadline for registration is Friday May 6. As with the other large medieval conference from the University of Western Michigan, there is a fee for registration.
I’ll post the July programs closer to the time of these events.
Every year to mark the downfall of Sauron on March 25, the Tolkien Society announces a theme for reading, discussion, and celebration. Let’s hope that this year’s theme, Love and Friendship, will lead to positive appreciations of the variety of loving relationships that Tolkien represents in his fiction.
I’ve written some articles on male relationships, mainly in The Lord of the Rings, and particularly how experiences in the First World War pushed male friendships beyond what contemporary heteronormative society might consider conventional behaviours. For example, in looking at Frodo and Sam’s relationship in a 2004 article (available below), I found that their gentle hand-holding and caring gestures could be seen in the context of what historian Santanu Das has described as sometimes occurring among WWI soldiers. The love and friendship in such relationships could exist on a continuum that would be difficult to pinpoint as one clearly-defined identity. As Das puts it: “A new world of largely nongenital tactile tenderness was opening up in which pity, thrill, affection, and eroticism are fused and confused depending on the circumstances, degrees of knowledge, normative practices, and sexual orientations, as well as the available models of male-male relationships” (Das 52–53).
For this year’s theme, though, I would like to pick up on some thoughts that I presented at a Tolkien conference in 2013 at Valparaiso University. I had previously written about friendships in war, but I wanted to explore what happens to friends after the war, after lives lived in peace with wives and children. How does Tolkien represent the death of friends?
Tolkien fans will recognize the gravesite of John Ronald and Edith, marked by a shared headstone over the place where husband and wife are laid together. As we know, Tolkien arranged to have the names “Beren” and “Lúthien” carved there under their names, thus associating himself and his wife with this romantic couple. They are buried together in Wolvercote Cemetery, which shouldn’t be surprising to us, given that husbands and wives are frequently buried together in western culture.
One might very well wonder, then, why another couple patterned after Beren and Lúthien — Aragorn and Arwen — do not end their days in the same place, in the same tomb. In Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn’s death is described: he says farewell to Arwen and tells her not to despair as he falls asleep. The story tells us “And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world” (RotK, App. A). Arwen, though, does not choose to die by his side. She says farewell to her loved ones and leaves Minas Tirith for silent and lonely Lórien, where Galadriel and Celeborn no longer live. Her last resting place is there: “There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea” (RotK, App. A).
Aragorn, however, does not lie in his tomb alone in Minas Tirith. In Appendix B, we are told that at the passing of King Elessar, the resting places of Merry and Pippin are moved beside the king’s. In fact, Merry and Pippin had previously left their homes – as the chronicle tells us, “they handed over their goods and offices to their sons and rode away over the Sarn Ford, and they were not seen again in the Shire” (RotK, App. B). Merry travels to be with Éomer before he dies, and then he and Pippin spend their last few years in Gondor, “until they died and were laid in Rath Dínen among the great of Gondor” (RotK, App. B). Later, they are moved to rest beside Aragorn. The death of the king also prompts Legolas to sail over the Sea, “and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf” (RotK, App. B). And of course, Samwise Gamgee, after the death of his wife Rose, leaves his children and his home and, according to his family tradition, goes to the Grey Havens and passes over the Sea – this final reunion with Frodo being what was hinted at near the end of the Return of the King by Frodo himself, the possibility discussed in the unpublished epilogue to the book, and also stated in Appendix B.
In other words, Merry and Pippin leave their families and are finally laid to rest together, then moved to lie beside Aragorn; Legolas and Gimli pass out of this world together, and Sam leaves his family to end his days with Frodo – or so we are led to believe. In the cases of Legolas and Gimli and Sam and Frodo, Tolkien won’t confirm with any certainty in the story that they ended their days in one place, but Tolkien’s unmistakable desire to have them together in death leads him to give us very strong hints that this is what might have happened.
We have examples of the desire of friends to be together in death, in some cases even leaving families to do so, not only in Tolkien’s fiction but also in historical facts. Many of the following examples come from a book by Alan Bray called The Friend, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2003, which has made me look at the concept of friendship, especially the death of friends, in Tolkien’s work in a new light.
Ancient and medieval texts describe the close bonds between men, sometimes as sworn brothers. In Homer’s The Iliad, the ghost of Patroclus visits his dear friend Achilles in a dream and says to him – and here I give you Stephen Mitchell’s translation:
But there is one more
thing that I have to ask, and I hope you will do it.
May my bones not be buried apart from your bones, Achilles.
May they lie together, just as we grew up together
when my father brought me from Opois to your house
It was then that Lord Peleus welcomed me in his home,
and he brought me up kindly and let me be your attendant.
So may one urn hold the bones of us both together. (23.80-90)
Here is a representation of lifelong companions and friends and one’s desire for burial together after death – to mingle their very bones in the same place.
We can find other examples in medieval literature. Take the Middle English romance about two friends, Amis and Amiloun. These two young men pledge their fidelity to each other as sworn brothers, a pledge that is tested severely in later life in this romance, when one of them sacrifices his own children to save his “trewe” brother (don’t worry — the children are miraculously brought back to life afterwards). The two sworn brothers die together on the same day and are laid in the same grave:
Both on oo day were they dede
And in oo grave were they leide,
The knyghtes both twoo;
And for her treth and her godhede (goodness; virtue)
The blisse of hevyn they have to mede, (as their reward)
That lasteth ever moo.
In the ballad of Bewick and Graham, collected a few centuries later, we have again two sworn brothers. They are forced to fight each other, but they vow that if one of them dies in the fight, the other will kill himself, which is exactly what happens. After the death of Graham the last words from Bewick are : “Nay, dig a grave both low and wide, / And in it us two pray bury;”
In these fictional examples, the claims of one’s sworn brother are often set in conflict with kinship claims but nevertheless surpass them.
But it’s not just in fictional texts that we – and Tolkien – could find representations of men closely bound in ties of friendship, often with the wish to be buried together. Alan Bray examines several examples, mainly in pre-18th century traditional society, of gravestones or memorials commemorating two friends together, usually with the same iconography one would expect in tombs of married couples, and he discusses the evidence for ceremonial pledges of friendship between men (and in one interesting instance between two women in the nineteenth century). These rituals occurred in public, in church usually, before witnesses and with the two friends taking communion together to seal their pledge of fidelity to each other. The public countenance of friendship could be visible in various practices in the course of a friendship: exchanging the kiss of peace, the giving of gifts, the sharing of food, and the sharing of beds (in life and in death).
For example, Tolkien would have seen the 14th-century brass memorial in the chapel of Merton College in Oxford for John Bloxham and John Whyttonarranged in the familiar iconography of a married couple, side by side with hands in prayer. The tomb was designed by Whytton after Bloxham’s death for the both of them, commemorating their friendship of more than 20 years.
Or, I wonder if Tolkien ever noticed this gravesite when as a young boy he and his mother and brother rented rooms in a postman’s cottage in Rednal that sat at the edge of the grounds belonging to the Birmingham Oratory. According to his biographer Humphrey Carpenter, “The cottage lay on the corner of quiet country lane, and behind it were the wooded grounds of the Oratory House with the little cemetery adjoining the chapel where the Oratory fathers and Newman himself were buried. The boys had the freedom of these grounds, and further afield they could roam the steep paths that led through the trees to the high Lickey Hill.” (37). In that cemetery through which Tolkien and his brother roamed lies the shared grave of John Henry Cardinal Newman and Ambrose St John, an arrangement that Newman had been careful to insist on. These two friends are flanked in their final resting place by two others: Joseph Gordon and Edward Caswall. These three friends Newman referred to as “three great and loyal friends of mine” (Bray 294) who died before Newman and whose pictures he kept beside his altar in his room, an arrangement that was replicated in their final resting places.
Recognizing the importance of friendship in these past examples adds insight to the significance of friendship in Tolkien’s work. In The Silmarillion, for example, we have the story of Maedhros and Fingon. After Maedhros is captured by Morgoth, his lifelong friend Fingon set out to search for him. We are told that Fingon had been “close in friendship with Maedhros” and that “the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart” (Sil. 124). In a rescue scene that is a precursor to Sam’s rescue of Frodo in the tower, Fingon begins to sing, and Maedhros answers. Fingon manages to find and to save his friend Maedhros, who waives his claim to kingship over the Noldor, to the disapproval of his brothers.
A similar bond of friendship can be seen in The Children of Húrin in the characters of Beleg and Túrin. Beleg is devoted to Túrin’s welfare, searching alone for him in the wilderness, leaving his own people to be with Túrin. At his death, he is called “truest of friends” (CH 156) and Túrin’s grief over Beleg’s death “was graven on the face of Túrin and never faded” (CH 156).
A couple of the friendships Tolkien describes involve not only this kind of lifelong loyalty in the face of peril, but also some kind of ritual or oath to mark the friendship. Take the example of Felagund and Barahir in The Silmarillion. Barahir comes to King Finrod Felagund’s aid in battle. In return, Felagund “swore an oath of abiding friendship and aid in every need to Barahir and all his kin, and in token of his vow he gave to Barahir his ring” (Sil. 176). Oaths can be problematic in Tolkien’s fiction, as we well know from Fëanor’s oath, but Felagund nevertheless makes a vow of friendship. This kind of sworn relationship creates a new, voluntary kinship, the outward sign of which is the ring that is given to Barahir. The oath of friendship extends to Barahir and all his kin, one of whom, Beren, will make a claim on that bond, with the result that Felagund will leave behind his family, renounce his kingship, and sacrifice his own life to save Beren from certain death.
A formal vow and the giving of a gift as its token marks the covenant of friendship between Felagund and Barahir that creates new relations between their families. In The Lord of the Rings, the nine members of the Fellowship do not swear any formal vows to support each other or to accomplish their tasks – Elrond allows for the operation of free will in this momentous matter – but I do think that Tolkien adapts an old ritual of fidelity in the story of Frodo and Sam that is a mark of their unique friendship and, seen in the light of other practices of sworn friendship, helps to explain events once they return home. I’ve described that pledge in a previous post. Suffice it to say that it involves another scene of tender hand-holding on Mount Doom in which Frodo and Sam reenact the medieval ritual of homage.
I think that that scene marks a private pledge of loyalty and love – the friendship that we see in so many other examples – that has a bearing on the lives of Frodo and Sam when they return home. Frodo assumes that their bond will continue to keep them together, never questioning the possibility that Sam would not want to move into Bag End with him. When Sam expresses his concerns over being “torn in two” (RotK, VI, 9) by his relationship with Rosie and with Frodo, we glimpse how the strength of the bond of friendship can be perceived as equivalent to that of marriage. And when Frodo bequeaths “all that I had and might have had” (RotK, VI, 9) to Sam, making him his heir, we see the workings of the voluntary kinship ties that the institution of friendship could create. Sam becomes like kin to Frodo, who gives him everything as a token of their friendship.
Lastly, we see the desire of friends to end their lives together. Although Frodo knows that Sam cannot sail west with him (at least not right away), he does ask Sam to arrange for some time to go with him to the Grey Havens. Finally, Sam understands the reason why:
Where are you going, Master?” cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening. “To the Havens, Sam,” said Frodo. “And I can’t come.” “No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens……
“Come now, ride with me!”
(RotK, VI. 9.)
I think that when Frodo says to Sam, “Come now, ride with me!” he is in effect saying that he wants to have his friend by his side in what will be equivalent to Frodo’s death scene, his passing out of his world and into a new one.
The bond that spurs one friend to leave behind home and family to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other, the creation of new relationships that establish a different kind of kinship, sometimes marked by vows or rituals, and the desire to face eternity together, sometimes side by side in the same grave — these are elements of friendship that we can find in Tolkien’s fiction as we can in other texts and historical examples. These practices and rituals of love and friendship are old and varied, and could have a deep significance for the generations that have come before us.
Some of the texts I’ve cited:
Alan Bray, The Friend. University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Anna Smol, “Male Friendship in The Lord of the Rings: Medievalism, the First World War, and Contemporary Rewritings.” The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 conference: 50 years of The Lord of the Rings. Vol. 1, edited by Sarah Wells, Coventry:UK, 2008, pp. 320-326. Mount Saint Vincent University’s E-Commons.
Here is a wonderful book, beautifully written, by Amy Amendt-Raduege: “The Sweet and the Bitter”: Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Kent State UP, 2018. Winner of the 2020 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies. This book doesn’t deal with the death of friends in the same way I’ve outlined above, but it does discuss the topic of death and dying in far broader terms, examining the manner of death, memorials of the dead, and ideas about what happens after death throughout The Lord of the Rings.
I am halfway into the fall term — always a busy time with meetings, grading, and class preparations. It’s hard to find time for research — or blogging. But one thing that I like to do whenever I have a half hour or so is to review videos of past conference presentations or listen to chats with other Tolkien scholars and fans.
One benefit of the move to online or hybrid conferences has been that we have in many cases a recording of the talks that were given. If you missed one, or if you just want to refresh your memory, there is plenty to listen to.
Other recorded talks for registered attendees. Those who registered for certain conferences that included Tolkien sessions, such as the International Congress on Medieval Studies (Western Michigan University) in May, the Popular Culture Association conference in June, the International Medieval Congress (Leeds) in July, or Oxonmoot Online in September, will have had access to recorded talks for a certain time after each conference. Only the Oxonmoot talks are still available to registered delegates.
And if you’re not feeling up to listening to scholarly presentations, you can always tune in to the Tolkien Experience Podcast, which features a mix of scholars and fans chatting about their experiences with reading Tolkien’s works and what they mean to them today. I was interviewed by my friend, Dr. Sara Brown, in September. You can listen to my interview, TEP #38, here. Or select from a list of recent interviews here:https://luke-shelton.com/tolkienexperiencepodcast/
And something new to add to the roster: the Mythopoeic Society is sponsoring an online winter seminar on The Inklings and Horror: Fantasy’s Dark Corners on February 4-5. The Call for Papers is open until November 15 if you’re interested in presenting. You can find more information here: https://www.mythsoc.org/mythcon/ows-2022.htm
These sessions are not for those who rush to join bandwagons based on meaningless politicized terms such as “woke” or who advance the anti-intellectualism prevalent in groups where any academic is suspect, and expertise (whether of academics or fans) is ridiculed. These sessions, as always, are for open discussions and debates by faculty, students, independent scholars, and fans who are interested in the complexities of Tolkien’s works and how they are received, enjoyed, and critiqued around the world.
I make these prefatory comments because of a recent backlash against the Tolkien Society’s free online Summer Seminar theme, Tolkien and Diversity. Of the various incoherent negative comments made on social media, some of which just mock paper titles without knowing what will be said in the presentations, I can discern a couple of repeated objections: a few critics immediately assume the intent is to “tear down” Tolkien or to disavow his Catholic beliefs. Because I have participated in Tolkien studies conferences for years, I feel confident in saying that these are not the intentions of the organizers.
This doesn’t mean that Tolkien will be treated as a saint (some people literally believe he should be sainted!). It also doesn’t mean that Tolkien “the man” will be the last word on his works. Yes, scholars are certainly interested in what he had to say, and that includes how he developed his ideas or changed his mind or contradicted himself; but he does not represent a static set of rigid ideas, as some of the objectors seem to believe.* In any case, what Tolkien has written has gone out into the world and, like any influential literature, it is being read, interpreted, used — for good and for ill — in various ways by readers around the globe. Trying to understand this about Tolkien’s work, as with any other works of literature, is a standard part of literary research, which leads to a better understanding of our contemporary culture.
The Seminar is free, so anyone can actually listen to the ideas being presented, decide if they agree or not, ask questions and discuss — or if they want to express their views in more detail, they can propose a paper for the next meeting in order to present a coherent and informed discussion. Of course, no one is being forced to listen to any new ideas or learn any new facts; we are all free to read Tolkien as we wish.
Tolkien Society Summer Seminar, July 3-4
The Tolkien Society Summer Seminar will take place online on July 3-4. For more information and a list of presentations, see here.
International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, July 5-9
The Tolkien Society Seminar usually takes place a day or two before the International Medieval Congress, normally held at the University of Leeds, but conducted online this year. The IMC typically features a number of Tolkien sessions. This conference requires registration and a fee; unfortunately, it may be too late to register at this point.
Check out the list of Tolkien-related presentations, including paper abstracts, at Tolkienists.org.
I’m looking forward to speaking about Tolkien’s alliterative poetry in “The Homecoming” on Thursday, 8 July, in the “Medieval Roots and Modern Branches” session.
This week offers quite a range of talks by Tolkien scholars, and all online of course, so even if we can’t meet in person, we can attend sessions that would normally be out of reach.
The Tolkien at Vermont conference is back this year with a one-day event on the theme of Tolkien and the Classics. The keynote speaker is the Very Rev. John Houghton, who will be giving a talk on “Tolkien’s calques of classicisms: Who Knew Elvish Latin, what did the Rohirrim read, and why was Bilbo cheeky?”
Other papers at the conference trace Tolkien’s connections to Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, and more. The conference takes place on Saturday, April 10, from 8:30 – 6:00 EST, free on Zoom. Check out the full schedule and how to request the Zoom link on the Tolkienists.org website.
Also on Saturday, April 10, the Tolkien Society AGM will feature Professor Verlyn Flieger as the annual guest speaker, talking about “Waiting for Earendel.” Members of the Society will get a Zoom link, but the general public will be able to watch on Facebook and YouTube. Go to the Tolkien Society announcement for more details.
From the classics to modern literature: earlier this week, Signum University sponsored an author chat with Dr. Holly Ordway, author of the recently published Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth beyond the Middle Ages. Dr. Ordway discusses the importance of acknowledging Tolkien’s interest in contemporary literature. You can find this Signum Symposium on YouTube.
Although we’re probably all weary with our various restrictions and lockdowns, one positive consequence of moving conferences online is that they are now open to a far greater audience. The Tolkien Society, which in the past has sponsored a seminar day in Leeds in July, is now offering Seminar 1 (how many will there be?) on Saturday, February 13. It will be free for everyone either through Zoom or live-streamed on the Tolkien Society YouTube channel. The theme of the Seminar is “21st-century receptions of Tolkien,” and the presentations will be given by both non-academics and researchers. Go to the Tolkien Society Seminar 2021 page for the schedule of talks and information about how to tune in. If you’re in North America, prepare to get up early on Saturday!
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.
I had just finished my Tolkien class yesterday when I returned to my office and found my social media sites flooded with news of Christopher Tolkien’s death. Just an hour before, I had been telling my students that, as Tolkien researchers, we owe a great debt to his son Christopher.
My students have been doing presentations on sections of The History of Middle-earth that include drafts of The Lord of the Rings. This exercise gives them just a glimpse of this immense project (12 volumes in all!) that Christopher Tolkien edited. I had just been saying to my students that morning that Christopher has given us all — students, fans, scholars — the means to experience what it is like doing specialized archival research with manuscript drafts. While we only get a few samples of Tolkien’s actual handwriting in The History of Middle-earth (HoMe), which is often the most difficult part of deciphering his actual papers, we can at least gain an understanding of Tolkien’s revision process for The Lord of the Rings, a glimpse into what characters and ideas he was developing and what ideas he knew he wanted from the start.
The presentations I’ve assigned my students are inspired by Yvette Kisor’s article, “Using The History of Middle-earth with Tolkien’s Fiction” which appears in Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works. As she explains on p. 75,
Christopher Tolkien’s commentary, replication of different drafts, description and dating of manuscripts, determination of the order of composition, and other scholarly apparatuses expose students to the editorial tasks that go into the production of any authoritative edition.
But it’s not just Lord of the Rings drafts that are included in HoMe. There is a wealth of material, including unfinished stories like “The Notion Club Papers” which I’ve been working with in recent years. I’ve heard very occasionally the criticism that Christopher shouldn’t have published unfinished drafts without knowing if his father would have wanted the world to see them. But had those drafts been placed in the Bodleian Library with his other unpublished papers, I would have written about them anyway, as researchers do. Instead, Christopher gave access to such materials to a wider public.
HoMe is not the only publication that Christopher produced. Having trained as a medievalist, he edited and translated several medieval texts before resigning his position at Oxford to work full-time on his father’s materials. The Silmarillion is one of the texts that Christopher compiled after his father’s death (with the help of Guy Gavriel Kay), and although he wasn’t satisfied in later years with all of what he had produced, it nevertheless must have been a daunting task to make sense of these disorganized papers, something that his father himself was not able to do. The Silmarillion that was published in 1977 gave the world the first look at the mythology Tolkien had been working on for most of his life — the backdrop, in a way, to the action of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Christopher was always closely bound with his father’s writing. From listening to his story-telling when a child, drawing maps for The Lord of the Rings, typing up drafts, and, as an adult serving in the RAF during the Second World War, reading and commenting on chapters of The Lord of the Rings that his father mailed to him, he knew his father’s work intimately.
Christopher Tolkien dedicated his career to providing us with the materials for understanding his father’s works, and I am immensely grateful for that opportunity.
Here he is reading the ending of The Lord of the Rings:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 (email@example.com) and Dr. Andrew Higgins (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
The Tolkien Society’s 50th Anniversary celebration, Tolkien 2019, is over. Taking place in Birmingham from August 7 to 11, the event featured guest speakers, entertainments, an art show, masquerade, orchestra, the play Leaf by Niggle, and many speakers, of whom I was one.
For those who were fortunate enough to go, it was a wonderful opportunity to greet old friends and meet new ones, but no one could possibly attend every session in the program. For those who could not go to Birmingham, I know how hard it is sometimes to read all the excited posts about other people’s experiences. Luckily, a number of summaries have been posted of quite a few talks, and the special guest presentations are available on video, so there is much that can be seen both for those who missed the whole thing and also for those who were there but couldn’t get to every session.
Several bloggers have summarized the sessions they attended:
Marcel Aubron-Bulles at TheTolkienist.com posted late-night accounts of Day 1, 2, and 3.
Maria (pencilphilos) on Middle-earth News published photos and summaries: Part 1 covering Day 1 and 2, and Part 2 for Days 3 and 4.
Luisge on luiyo.net managed to get to an impressive number of sessions and events, all described here.
Jeremy Edmonds on TolkienGuide.com has posted the Tolkien Society videos of the special speakers and guest panels. You can also find the videos on the Tolkien Society channel on YouTube. These include talks by Dimitra Fimi, Tom Shippey, Wayne Hammond, Christina Scull, Brian Sibley, Jay Johnstone, Ted Nasmith, Alan Lee, and panels on illustrating Tolkien and on the upcoming LotR on Prime.
The Prancing Pony Podcast has offered some Ponderings on the conference, and their live interviews with some of the guests will be online on September 15.
Marie Bretagnolle has started her own summary of her experience of the conference events. Day One has been posted; keep going back to her site for the rest.
You can find abstracts of all the presentations and biographies of the speakers on the Tolkien 2019 website; click on the Programme and scroll through towards the end of the document.
Many of the summaries above comment on the same sessions. I’ll add a few speakers that I was interested in:
Dr. Sara Brown, “Taking Care of the Land: Stewardship in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.” Dr. Brown gave a thorough definition of the concepts of “home” and “stewardship” in Tolkien’s works.
Dr. Aurelie Bremont, “‘We should look at green again’: of magic, Green Elves, and the battle of good vs. evil.” Dr. Bremont discussed traditional medieval interpretations of green, the splintering of the light in Tolkien’s legendarium, and where Green Elves fit in the spectrum of Light and Dark Elves.
Kris Swank, “Travellers in Time: Tolkien and Joseph O’Neill.” Kris Swank discussed these two modernist authors of time-travel narratives who used similar themes.
Penny Holdaway, “Would you buy a house from the architect of Bimble Bay?” Penny Holdaway’s talk discussed “the rise of ecocriticism in the 1920’s-1930’s and how Tolkien’s Bimble Bay series, particularly his poem ‘Progress in Bimble Bay,’ connects to that movement” (Programme, p 38).
Dr. Una McCormack, “‘Not worth doing’: Fanfiction Writers and the Fourth Age.” Dr. McCormack explored some fanfiction stories dealing with the aftermath of the War of the Ring. Hers was one of a number of talks on fandom during the conference.
Marie Bretagnolle, “Artists in Middle-earth: Illustrating The Lord of the Rings.” Marie Bretagnolle compared two sets of illlustrations, one from the 1977 Folio Society edition by Ingahild Grathmer and Eric Fraser and the other by Alan Lee in the 1991-92 edition. This was one of several presentations on art and illustration during the conference, including talks by and about artists.
Dr. Andrew Higgins, “Four Brethren Heroes of the Gondolindrim – Egalmoth, Ecthelion, Glorfindel and Legolas: A mythic and linguistic exploration.” Dr. Higgins explored the philological and mythical aspects of these four characters present from the earliest Fall of Gondolin story.
Luke Shelton, “The Lord of the Rings, Young Readers, and the Question of Genre.” Luke Shelton presented some very interesting results from his research, which indicates that young readers do not think of genre in the same way as adults: critics tend to apply single genre labels but young readers tend to be more inclusive.
William Sherwood, “Rewriting the British Literary Tradition: Keatsian Echoes in Tolkien’s Early Works.” William Sherwood discussed the echoes of Keats’s poems in Tolkien’s Book of Lost Tales I and II.
Erik Mueller-Harder, “The Lost Connections of Tolkien’s First Map of The Lord of the Rings: Reconstruction.” The photo shows Erik’s first slide in his presentation but doesn’t do justice to the way in which he expertly illustrated the layers and overlaps in Tolkien’s first map of The Lord of the Rings. This was one of a number of interesting digital projects on Tolkien and his works, including those by James Tauberand Marquette archivist Bill Fliss.
As for my presentation — I’ll add a summary in the next few days. Watch this blog!
Before I post the final item, I’ll just mention Luke Shelton’s thoughts on post-conference feelings and imposter syndrome. As Luke points out, after several days of being energized and “on,” it can be hard for some people to come down. It’s important to know that you’re not alone in this feeling.
And now, if you’ve read this far, here is a treat: the closing plenary talk of the conference by Dr. Dimitra Fimi, in which she combines research and singing and audience participation in her “Tolkien, Folklore, and Foxes: A thoroughly vulpine talk in which there may be singing!” Enjoy!
(Please leave a comment if you’ve found some other good links about the conference.)