Recent entries

A chronicle of recent news, blog posts, journal issues, book releases, and events of interest to those studying Tolkien and his works, set out by date and then by entry type.

Headshot of Erik Mueller-Harder near Christ Church College, Oxford
Erik Mueller-Harder

Tolkienists update: It’s been longer than I’d expected…

Tolkienists } Erik Mueller-Harder | 19 November 2023

My sabbatical” from the on-going updating and maintenance of Tolkienists​.org has lasted rather longer than I expected, prolonged (despite my best efforts) by months (and months!) of long-COVID. Mercifully, I’ve been prescribed an ongoing low-dosage course of Naltrexone, which is helping with the brain fog, at least. It hadn’t really had much effect on the fatigue, but at least I’ve been able to work fairly productively over the past few weeks.

But the dominoes have fallen, and there’s nothing for it but to right them one at a time. For the time being, that means finishing up my work on the Anduin project with the Tolkien Collection at Marquette University.

Next on the to-do list will be to work my way through many unanswered e‑mail messages that have stacked up over the past year and a half or two. And then, finally, I will de-mothball Tolkienists and get on with the rewrite of LRC and TAI.

In the meantime, I can at least (and at last) report that Tolkienists​.org is now being hosted not just in Amsterdam, but also now in Atlanta, Santiago, Seoul, Seattle, Singapore, and Sydney. This should make the site considerably more responsive for those not in Europe. When I truly wake the site up and start adding up-to-date data, I’ll also then make a number of changes behind the scenes which should speed things up even more (for everyone!) — but that’s a little ways off yet.

So thank you for your patience. More, anon.…

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17 May


Tolkienists on Summer Holidays

Tolkienists } Erik Mueller-Harder

Headshot of Erik Mueller-Harder near Christ Church College, Oxford
Erik Mueller-Harder

Friends, colleagues, & visitors,

tl;dr: Tolkienists is on a sabbatical. Please come back this September!

I have, as it turns out, over-committed. Tolkienists, together with the Tolkien Art Index, LR Citations, and TolkienMoot, is very important to me, and it is not going away.

However, I am having to put work on them on hold for a little while.

Some of you may know of the work that I’m doing this year for the Tolkien Archive at Marquette. This is an absolute dream job, and the work that’s happening there will have a direct and lasting effect on Tolkien Studies in general and LotR scholarship in particular. My involvement in this project is planned to continue through this August, and is taking most of my effort and attention right now.

I will also be travelling this summer to England and Scotland for three weeks, for the Tolkien Society Seminar, the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, the York Early Music Festival, and the Once and Future Fantasies conference hosted by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow.

Those of you who know that I had Stage IV esophageal cancer a few years ago — necessitating radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and three extensive surgeries — will probably understand my delight at being able to travel and work to this extent. But by the same token I have to acknowledge that The Ordeal has left its marks in reduced stamina and mental acuity and the constant attention I need to pay to digestion and sleep. I find that I don’t always remember to make allowance for these new realities of my life.

Most all of these other commitments will wrap up by the end of the summer, and I’ll be thrilled at that point to welcome you back to Tolkienists. I have various Good Things planned:

  1. Dramatic improvements to LR Citations, including correlation of a few more paginations, integration of the First Edition of LotR, and more.
  2. Dramatic improvements to the Tolkien Art Index.
  3. Resumption of day-by-day coverage of Tolkienists’ blogs, articles, and seminar papers.
  4. A more intuitive site structure, and custom-designed icons and way-markers.

Finally, I would like to apologize to almost everyone who has written me in 2022. I have read your email, and in every case I plan to respond. Realistically, you may not hear from me until September — but rest assured that I am not ignoring you. If you need to reach me (and can live with a delayed response!), please send email to erikmh at the domain you’re visiting right now,

Have a lovely summer, everyone. I’ll see you this autumn!

— Erik

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6 April


Flooded out

doubtfulsea } Ollamh

Hokusai’s <span class="push-double"></span>​<span class="pull-double">“</span>Great Wave off Kanagawa”
Hokusai, Great Wave off Kanagawa”
from Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji (c. 1830 – 1833)

… I’m always interested in where Tolkien’s ideas come from and, although he himself related this to the myth of Atlantis (see the letter to Naomi Mitchison, 25 September, 1954, Letters (197−198), If you’ve grown up in the sort of culture, both religious and general, in which Tolkien grew up (and so did I, for that matter) probably your first thought is: Hey — it’s Genesis, Chapters 6 – 8! The story of Noah’s Ark and the flood!” …

I think, however, that we can see two more potential influences upon JRRT which might lie behind this story of a flooded world. First, JRRT began his academic life as an aspiring Classicist, which means that, probably fairly early on in his training, he had encountered Ovid’s (43BC-17AD) story of the only survivors of a Greco-Roman flood, to be found in Book I, lines 163 – 415 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Beyond Classics, … we know that Tolkien had an abiding affection for Welsh, … and there’s a medieval Welsh legend, involving two characters, named Dwyfan and Dwyfach, who survive their own flood, when a lake monster, the Afanc, inundates the world and the two, along with two of each species of animal which they’ve loaded into a boat (the boat being called Nefyd Naf Neifion — Celestial Lord Neptune”?), are the only survivors.…

Latin or Welsh were two languages with which Tolkien had significant experience, but is there yet another possible influence? In 1873, the Assyriologist George Smith (1840−1876) published an essay in Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology … which later formed part of book which caused a great deal of controversy at the time. Entitled The Chaldean Account of the Deluge,” …

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5 April


№ 204: Andrei Guchin

Tolkien Experience Project } Andrei Guchin

When I was 11, The Fellowship of the Ring by Peter Jackson was released. I couldn’t go to the cinema to watch it, but I remember doing it at a friend’s house a couple of months after the première. I loved it! The story, the special effects, the orcs, the elves, everything. After that, I asked my parents to buy me the books. From then on, there was no coming back. Nowadays I have a bookshelf with more than 60 Tolkien related books – including a collection of The Hobbit in different languages — maps, posters, paintings, figures, T‑shirts, and more.…

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2 April


short answer to the day’s burning science question

Kalimac’s Corner } David Bratman

According to this article, the star-namers did have Tolkien in mind. Earendel was the name for the morning star (Venus) which Tolkien found in Old English poetry and which inspired him to create the character, originally of the same name, in The Silmarillion. In his later work he took to spelling it Eärendil, and that’s how it appears in the published books. (The diaeresis over the a” is to remind you they’re two separate vowels, not a diphthong.)

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31 March


Meet Earendel: Hubble telescope’s most distant star discovery gets a Tolkien-inspired name } Chelsea Gohd

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope just made a remarkable discovery, and they gave it quite a unique name. 

A team of researchers led by Brian Welch, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, announced Wednesday (March 30) that, with observations from Hubble, they have discovered the most distant single star ever before seen. And, while the star’s technical designation is WHL0137-LS, they gave it a much catchier name: Earendel. 

Fans of the author J.R.R. Tolkien, famous for fantasy novels including The Lord of the Rings” series and The Silmarillion,” might already find this name familiar. 

And, as NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller confirmed to Space​.com, the name is, in fact, inspired by Tolkien’s fantasy writing.…

The most distant star yet seen, called Earendel, is indicated by an arrow in the inset of this image from the Hubble Space Telescope that captured the star from 12.9 billion light-years away using a gravitational lens.…

In Old English, Earendel is a personal name, but it also can mean the morning star” or the dawn.” In the Lord of the Rings, Eärendil is a half-elven character who travels the seas carrying a jewel, a Silmaril,” called the morning star.…

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30 March


Weeping — no, eating? — willow

doubtfulsea } Ollamh

Old Man Willow”
 — Brothers Hildebrandt

… Old Man Willow’s behavior, however, suggests that, rather than being a symbol for mourning, he can become a source of mourning and, as such, he falls into a category of deadly plants like the once ill-famed upas tree.… This is a widespread variety of tree, Antiaris toxicaria, which can be found from Africa all the way across to the western Pacific.… Travelers’ tales reported that the plant gave off a kind of noxious fume which poisoned the landscape for 10 miles around, leaving the vicinity empty save for the bones of unwary animals and people.…

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day in the library

Kalimac’s Corner } David Bratman

Monday was my day for researching the annual Tolkien bibliography in the library, having exhausted the free databases at home.… This was the first time I’d been there in three years, but I used to go annually so I remembered it well… Inside the library, masks were required and most everyone had one.… I settled down at a computer and spent five straight hours online searching, interrupted only by the obvious restroom breaks and much more frequent visits to the help desk, starting with one following seeing that the login screen no longer tells you what the visitor login is. (Though it does say there is one.) Then there was a hitch when it wasn’t clear that inter-library access isn’t available to visitors: it actually gives the option to enter a visitor account, and that’s sure misleading. Lastly, when I left, I gave them a list of those databases on their pull-down menu where I found that the link was broken. You’d think they’d check this occasionally themselves, but maybe not. What if they’re paying subscription fees for databases they can’t access? …

As the years have gone by, I’ve had to spend less and less time in the stacks. Even the one relevant serial that UCSC gets in hard copy that no other library in my ambit gets is now available in online databases. And now, I’m finding that the pay databases have fewer items that aren’t in the free databases than they used to. What the pay databases have is more complete citations (irritating to find a great article but the entry doesn’t give the author’s name) and, of course, many of them have full text. These I was grabbing so that I’ll have them available to hand out to the Year’s Work contributors next year.

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29 March


Bob Foster and Dick Plotz

Sacnoth’s Scriptorium } John D. Rateliff

So thanks to Carl H for this one: a link to a Tolkien Day event featuring two key figures in early Tolkiendom: Robert Foster and Dick Plotz.

Foster is author of A Guide to Middle-earth and then later of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, expanded to include The Silmarillion. This was a book so massively useful that Christopher Tolkien himself acknowledged and praised it (in his introduction to the first volume of HoMe).

Plotz founded The Tolkien Society of America (TSA), and launched the most successful of all the early Tolkien fanzines: The Tolkien Journal.…

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№ 203: Caitlin

Tolkien Experience Project } Caitlin

… Well, Lord of the Rings is my favorite, though I certainly enjoy The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. What I really appreciate is how decent and nonviolent, even though they are good at it when absolutely necessary, the charaters are and also the enduring friendships. Lord of the Rings is basically a master class in non-toxic masculinity. I think I picked up on that even when I was small and that’s why it is a story that sticks.…

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28 March


Another year

Tolkienists } Erik Mueller-Harder

Headshot of Erik Mueller-Harder near Christ Church College, Oxford
Erik Mueller-Harder


Yesterday marked another completed trip around the sun for me, and as the kind messages flowed in via Facebook and text-message threads, I again realized how fortunate I am to be here among such excellent and admirable hobbits (see LotR LRC §1.01.059). Thanks to you all for thinking of me.

To continue quoting old Mr. Bilbo, I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like (LRC §1.01.060), but I hope I’ll have the chance to get to know you better.

Catching up

I returned early this month from another stint developing the Tolkien Archives manuscripts CMS at Raynor Memorial Libraries J.R.R. Tolkien Collection. It’s taking even longer than usual for me to catch up on correspondence and other to-do items since my return: if you’re waiting to hear from me, thank you for your patience!

Tolkienists site development

One thing that has kept me from that catching-up has been a small bug that entered the software I use to develop Tolkienists, ProcessWire early in February. It was an obscure bug — I seemed to be the only person in the community of developers who was affected by it. After perhaps 30 hours of my solo attempts at trying to track it down, I was joined by more experienced PW developers on our community forum (readers who are curious can follow the thread here). We worked out the arcane conditions in which the bug would reliably make itself known, and I submitted a comprehensive bug report yesterday afternoon. I’m very grateful for the community’s aid and encouragement in this process!

Another of the lovely things about using an open-source software package from a small developer is that well-researched bug reports are usually taken seriously and addressed quickly. I have to say, though, that I’ve never seen such speedy work! When I arrived at work this morning, I’d already received word that the head developer of ProcessWire had fixed the problem! I’ve tested his fix, and if you are reading this now on the Tolkienists home page, then you’ve already seen it in action.

If any of you happens to be looking for a web site content management system & framework, I cannot recommend ProcessWire strongly enough.

So, I’m still working on the big project at Marquette (also using ProcessWire, btw). As and when I have free time, it’s my plan to rewrite the Tolkien Art Index and LR Citations using ProcessWire as well, allowing me to integrate them better with the rest of the site and to improve their capacity for interactive searching and instantaneous presentation of results. Hopefully this won’t take too long.

As a dear friend is fond of saying, Onward, through the fog!

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26 March


Tolkien Reading Day 2022

Digital Tolkien Project } James Tauber

The last two years I’ve participated in the Tolkien Reading Day sessions organized by Tolkien Collector’s Guide. This year, Jeremy interviewed people on various topics and he invited me and Elise Trudel Cedeño to talk about Digital Humanities and Education.

Given the Tolkien Society’s theme this year of Love and Friendship it was a particular delight to appear with Elise, one of my dearest friends and a longtime collaborator on applying the work of the Digital Tolkien Project to teaching Tolkien to both kids and adults (one of the topics we discuss).…

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