2019 Conference Programs

Program Update #5:

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Music in Middle-earth
David Bratman

Elsewhere in this conference we will hear music inspired by Tolkien’s works.  But what is the music that inspired Tolkien?  Music plays a major role in his legendarium, from the Ainur singing the world into existence in The Silmarillion to the many songs in The Lord of the Rings.  What kinds of music was Tolkien imagining when he wrote this?  What music that he liked himself might he have wanted to accompany the dramatizations of his stories running in readers’ brains?  Here we’ll explore, with recorded illustrations, some answers to these questions.


Atheists, Agnostics, and Animists, Oh, My!: Secular Readings of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium
Robin Reid

This project considers the question of how fans of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium who are atheists, agnostics, or animists, that is, readers who do not, to varying degrees, profess belief in the Christian God or in any other religion’s Supreme Being, make meaning of his work in their lives. Using a mixed methodology approach, I will administer an online free-form survey asking for minimal demographic information and answers to open-ended questions allowing respondents to describe their experiences with religion, if any; their personal history of belief; their reading history and interpretations of Tolkien’s work, and their responses to the tendency in popular and academic thought to assume that Tolkien’s Christian beliefs must shape reader’s interpretation of his work.

Teaching Tolkien in Today’s University
Roundtable session moderated by Leslie A. Donovan and Megan Abrahamson
Panelists include: Kristine Larsen, Yvette Kisor, Robin Reid and Judy Ford
Academic interest in Tolkien and his works has advanced from the peripheral study of a popular culture phenomenon to a field of substantial academic scholarship, and higher education has used Tolkien-related courses primarily as a means to help students reflect on literary traditions of the medieval past as seen through a modernist lens. Today’s university students are more and more likely to have their first encounter with Tolkien–if any–through Jackson’s influential films, requiring college-level instructors to adapt diverse strategies in Tolkien studies courses to address the preconceptions and needs of audiences ever more constrained by the demands and strains of the twenty-first century. This roundtable will highlight several multi- and interdisciplinary pedagogical methods to introduce today’s college students to Tolkien in STEM fields, Honors courses, and as a part of General Education requirements. This panel discussion features instructors who employ a variety of tools for using Tolkien’s works fruitfully to introduce today’s college students to such diverse topics as gender, mythology and mythmaking, film studies, medievalism, and popular culture.

For He Would Take No Wife: The Unmarried Male In The Lord Of The Rings
Nicholas Birns

This paper will concern the unmarried male in The Lord Of The Rings. There are two  basic types of unmarried males in Tolkien: those who save themselves for an aesthetic/moral mission like Bilbo and Frodo, and those who seem wrapped up in their identity as warriors, such as Boromir and, emphatically, Eärnur who on that premise do not participate in heterosexual acts. One type of unmarried male is self-sacrificing and gives uo, the other is self-aggrandizing and holds everything in. This contrast has the potential to lead to a typology of queer male  characters in Tolkien’s world.

Queer Tolkien
A roundtable discussion with presenters Chris Vaccaro, Robin Reid, Yvette Kisor, Nicholas Birns.

Based on the forthcoming collection edited by Robin Reid, Chris Vaccaro and Stephen Yandell concerning a wide range of topics related to queerness in Tolkien/Middle-earth Studies.

Topics include but are not limited to: Otherness, the uncanny, the marginalized and oppressed, liminality, the stranger/outsider, monstrous neighbor, genderqueer, homo-
eroticism, homo-amory, homosocial continuum, female queerness, female masculinity, queer fandom, queer publics/counter publics, transgender queerness, queer gaze, queer
fandoms, film theory, medievalisms, applying theories by Ahmed, Butler, Doty,
Halberstam, Lévinas, Pugh, Zizek, etc.

Click to View/Download/Read the full Call for Papers.

Tolkien and Science (Not final title, just a placeholder)
Kristine Larsen

Scientists frequently debunk misconceptions about scientific topics such as black holes or dinosaurs. However, there are also common misconceptions about the scientific understanding and opinions of literary giants such as Tolkien. In particular, many people have the erroneous opinion that Tolkien was anti-science. While he clearly embraced what we would today call environmentalist viewpoints, Tolkien also appreciated the study of the natural environment for its own sake, as embodied in the Elves and Tom Bombadil. This paper will discuss Tolkien’s viewpoints of science as reflected in both his letters and the legendarium, with an eye to differentiating between his appreciation for science (as an endeavor) and technology (as an instrument of power).

Tolkien Inspired Art

Chris Tuthill
In his paper on Art, Christopher Tuthill first explores the contextual importance of visual art in Tolkien’s myth-making. However, after a brief but cogent description of Tolkien thoughts on the role of the visual arts, Tuthill switches his focus to an interesting look at how different modern artists who visualize Tolkien’s work—John Howe, the late Jeff Murray  and Ted Nasmith—depict key scenes from Tolkien’s legendarium.

The Bones of the Ox”: Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sources and Why They Matter
Jason Fisher
Source criticism is the study of how authors construct their works from earlier sources and analogues. All authors have some sources and influences, but those of J.R.R. Tolkien are especially rich and varied. As a result, this aspect of Tolkien scholarship has been a fruitful one for many years, but it has also sometimes gone astray or looked for sources in the wrong places. In this survey lecture, we’ll explore some of the major sources behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But discovering Tolkien’s sources, while great fun, is only part of the process. We also need to understand why they matter and how they can help us to appreciate Tolkien all the more.

Did Middle Earth Have An Anti-Nuclear Message?

Ryder Miller
As a book concerning adventure and war in Middle-earth, it has been argued that there is an there is an anti-nuclear message in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  This might explain why the book was so successful with the counter-culture. Come to this presentation to listen, agree or disagree

Big in Japan: Tolkienian Faerie in the Dark Souls Games
Peter Grybauskas

This paper explores the ways in which Tolkien’s theories of fantasy, sub-creation, and world-making take new form and find a new audience in the dark fantasy landscapes and gameplay of the hit RPG series, Dark Souls. Led by auteur game designer Miyazaki, Japanese studio From Software’s brand of fantasy—beginning with the cult-hit Demon’s Souls and on through three Dark Souls games— has become a phenomenon, routinely cited as a turning-point in modern game design.  But its triumph is more renaissance than revolution, pushing the genre forward by hearkening back to principles which owe much to Tolkien’s work.  My examination of the series draws on Tolkien’s legendarium as well as his theories of Faerie (as propounded in “On Fairy-stories” and in the “Smith of Wootton Major” essay), considering the ways in which they inform the game’s bewildering and enchanting approach to world-building and storytelling.  It is my hope that inquiries of this sort might help us better understand Tolkien’s lasting influence on game design principles and cast new light on the source material as well.

The Road Goes Ever On
Peter Walker and David Alpher

J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary works, most notably the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, have inspired countless readers, filmmakers, and artists. Composer Donald Swann set a series of Tolkien’s poems in his song cycle The Road Goes Ever On.  Tolkien heard all but the final song during a visit with Swann, and in fact suggested the tune used in Namárië (Farewell), as an improvement on the setting Swann originally composed.  Bass-baritone Peter Walker and pianist David Alpher present a recital of English art song built around The Road Goes Ever On and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel.  Both song cycles explore the actual and metaphorical experience of the traveler, in both the bucolic world of the English pastoral school, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.



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