International Medieval Congress

IMC 2022: Borders

29th annual International Medieval Congress

№ 1133: Family, orientation, transgression, and crossing borders of Middle-earth

6 July 2022 12:15 utc — view in local time

Papers in this session will explore broader topics around different types of less evident borders found in Tolkien’s creative thought and writing. They can include orientations and borders that are encountered and crossed (or not) in various types of social interactions and relationships in Tolkien’s legendarium including social, linguistic, racial, and sexual.


№ 1: Tolkien’s orphaned heroes

Deidre Dawson, independent scholar

Tolkien spent much of his youth as an orphan, having lost both parents by the age of 12, and this experience left an indelible mark on his life and work. It is hardly surprising, then, that the legendarium includes several characters who have lost one or both parents and who are consequently raised by others. In The Lord of the Rings, these orphaned and fostered characters, in particular Frodo, Aragorn, and Éowyn, take on heroic tasks. However, not all of the orphaned and fostered characters in Tolkien’s legendarium are destined to achieve heroic deeds that help liberate their people. My paper will draw on examples of fostering and adoption in classical myths and legends, but also on contemporary adoption studies.

№ 2: ‘Finding out what lies beyond the borders of the Shire’: Applying Tolkien’s fantastic texts in and to madness — the transgressive experience of psychotic thinking

Alke Haarsma-Wisselink, independent scholar

In The Hobbit, Gandalf plucks Bilbo from his comfortable armchair, sending a bunch of unruly dwarfs to knock on his door. At first, Bilbo tries to hold them off, but waking up the next day feeling their absence: he runs! Positively rushes! Breaks out! In leaving the Shire, his fellow citizens shake their heads. Bilbo reaches a certain point of no return’. This is reminiscent of the call of madness, and we could apply Bilbo-crossing-the-border to the lived experience in psychosis. In psychiatry the preferred stable armchair’ state of the soul is called euthymia, and transgressing to mental modes of mania and madness — losing oneself in delusions: wild associative thinking, and hallucinations: sensing things non-common-sensical — is considered dis-ordered. As a cultural scientist and an expert by experience’ in psychosis, combining inside and outside perspectives, I propose: let us share in an adventure and explore the common domain of Madness and Faërie, the perilous realm of Fairy-Story.

№ 3: Chrononormativity and queer time: Crossing temporal borders in Tolkien’s Middle-earth

Yvette Kisor, Professor of Literature, Ramapo College of New Jersey

Borders are most frequently conceptualized in terms of space; however, this paper is concerned instead with temporal borders. Inspired by four related sessions from the 2021 IMC It’s a Queer Time: Trespassing the Boundaries of Chrononormativity’, which focused particularly on the parcelling of history through periodization and localization in given spaces, [which then] become boundaries and barriers to a more fluid understanding of the Middle Ages’, and posited that the Middle Ages is also a queer time, in its fluidity’, this paper seeks to apply these related concepts of chrononormativity, queer time, and the borders between them to Tolkien’s Middle-earth. It does this by considering the structures constructed to contain temporal history, such as Annals and Tales of Years, alongside experiences of time found in Tolkien’s work that push against that conception, most notably the concepts of time associated with the Elves.

№ 4: ‘Lay your head in my lap’: Homoerotic tension and possibility on Mordor’s border in The Lord of the Rings

Olivia-Kate Burgham, independent scholar

Sam and Frodo’s relationship is characterized by increasing intimacy throughout The Lord of the Rings as evidenced by a series of carefully constructed exchanges and scenes. As their intimacy deepens, their relationship begins to transgress the heteronormative boundaries of homosocial relationships. The wearing away of boundaries in their relationship accelerates as they enter the liminal space of Mordor’s border. This paper argues that while the liminal space of the border acts as the stage for the possibility of homosexuality, only the annihilation of this possibility, caused by the disabling’ of Frodo’s mind and body, allows the author to resolve the relationship as queer. Their trespassing over geographic, romantic/​erotic and other borders are uneasy transgressions and the tension written into the text reflects an authorial ambivalence toward homoeroticism that can be further seen reflected in the infertility/​sterlity of both Mordor’s landscape and the presentation of queer relationships.

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date recorded 📅2022-01-24
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