A Single Leaf

— a blog by Anna Smol

Smol posts about Tolkien studies, medievalism, Old English, and university teaching — and sometimes all of those things all rolled up together. Her blog posts aim to inform researchers in Tolkien studies (and that includes faculty, independent scholars, students) as well as fans who are interested in exploring Tolkien’s works and/​or medieval literature, or who are just curious about what professors in the field are talking about in their conferences and articles.

Tolkien Reading Day 2022: Love & friendship

25 March 2022 | Anna Smol

Every year to mark the downfall of Sauron on March 25, the 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? …

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What did he really mean? Carpenter on Tolkien on drama

22 February 2022 | Anna Smol

I’ve borrowed my title from Verlyn Flieger’s essay, But What Did He Really Mean?” published in Tolkien Studies in 2014. Professor Flieger points out ambivalent statements made by Tolkien at different times about religion, Elves or Faeries, and Faërian Drama. I’ll be looking closely at what she says about Faërian Drama at a later date, but for now I’m thinking about how she demonstrates that readers sometimes stake a claim for one position in their interpretations without considering contrary evidence.

For example, I’ve been rereading Humphrey Carpenter’s biography, in which he declares several times that Tolkien disliked drama. Carpenter notes that in 1912, Tolkien wrote and acted in a play composed for his relatives’ Christmas entertainment, but then adds, Later in life he professed to despise drama” (67). However, when the biography arrives at Tolkien’s later life, Carpenter recounts the Tolkien children’s memories, including Visits to the theatre, which their father always seemed to enjoy, although he declared he did not approve of Drama” (162). (Did he declare this to his children or to other adults or in his writings?).…

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Save the dates!

31 January 2022 | Anna Smol

I sometimes like to listen to the Sounds of the Bodleian Library while working. The soundscapes transport me back to happy days researching in the library, where I hope to spend time again one day. In the meantime, a howling snowstorm is keeping us indoors here in Nova Scotia, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to connecting with people online, dreaming of spring and summer, and listening to some great ideas on Tolkien in upcoming seminars.…

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Fall term and summer reviews

18 October 2021 | Anna Smol

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.

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Mallorn now an open-access resource for Tolkien fans and researchers

27 July 2021 | Anna Smol

A new resource has opened up for anyone interested in Tolkien fandom and research. The journal Mallorn is now open access and free (except for the last two years as part of a rolling paywall). As I was browsing the issues I couldn’t help noticing the range of articles and fan creations, including discussions about the fandom, that had been published in its pages.

The reason my mind turns to these subjects is the recent spate of attacks on social media against Tolkien conference presenters and organizers who were simply doing what they always do – that is, investigating and exploring Tolkien’s texts in an effort to better understand his work and how it relates to our world today. However, a mob of social media trolls stand ready to insult and accuse as soon as they hear of any scholarly work on Tolkien or fantasy that contains terms that trigger their investment in the right-wing Culture Wars,” such as diversity,” queer,” racism,” heterodoxy,” pagan.” Whether on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, and I’m sure elsewhere, they simply repeat and repost each other’s unfounded accusations, round and round, in a self-confirming loop.

Theirs is a ludicrous attempt to restrict the discourse on Tolkien by maintaining only one point of view on his work. One of the often-repeated claims is that because Tolkien was a Catholic, only discussion of approved traditional Christian beliefs is allowed.” Furthermore, one tweeter informed me that only ideas mentioned by Tolkien were acceptable — if Tolkien didn’t say it, we can’t discuss it. He then, on second thought, added that because Tolkien’s son Christopher edited and studied so much of his father’s work, it was also acceptable to discuss anything Christopher had said. If neither one of them mentioned an idea, then it wasn’t real.” I was informed that I suffer from extreme hubris” if I think otherwise. These unreasonable restrictions not only misunderstand the nature of literary analysis of any author but also overlook Tolkien’s own statement that he disliked the domination of the author” and preferred the freedom of the reader” in interpretation (See the Foreword to the Second Edition of LotR).…

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Upcoming Tolkien conference sessions (Tolkien Society Seminar and IMC Leeds)

27 June 2021 | Anna Smol

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.…

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New article in JTR on “The Homecoming”

10 June 2021 | Anna Smol

I’m pleased to announce that my co-author, Rebecca Foster, and I have recently published our study of Tolkien’s alliterative verse in his play, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” in the free and open access Journal of Tolkien Research (see J.R.R. Tolkien’s Homecoming” and modern alliterative metre) — ed.).… This article enabled me to draw on my readings in Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts held at the Bodleian Library. I included only a few quotations from Tolkien’s lectures and essays, but they represent many happy research trips devouring this information in the special collections reading room in Oxford.…

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Tolkien Symposium 2021: Tolkien the Playwright

24 May 2021 | Anna Smol

The Tolkien at Kalamazoo Symposium usually takes place in Kalamazoo, Michigan a day or two before the International Congress on Medieval Studies begins at the University of Western Michigan. This year, both events were held online, with the Symposium taking place on May 8. This year’s Symposium began with a memorial session dedicated to Tolkien scholar Richard C. West, who passed away earlier this year, and then continued with a day-long slate of presentations, including mine on Tolkien the playwright,” in which I discussed his verse drama, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.” …

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source URL 🌐Anna Smol: A Single Leaf – Department of English, Mount Saint Vincent University
date recorded 📅2021-06-27
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