International Medieval Congress

IMC 2022: Borders

29th annual International Medieval Congress

№ 141: J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval roots and modern branches

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

This session will address wider topics and new approaches to Tolkien’s medievalism ranging from source studies and theoretical readings to comparative studies (including Tolkien’s legacy).


№ 1: An attempt to re-examine the dialectic of the East and the West in Tolkien’s selected works

Andrzej Wicher, Zakład Angielskiego Dramatu, Teatru i Filmu, Uniwersytet Łódzki

Tolkien privileges the West, and the North-West, among the cardinal points. He places the country of his hobbits in the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea’. The common language of the Free Peoples is called Westron, the language of the West, Elrond talks even about the western world’. Their enemy, Sauron, is defined as a Shadow in the East, and his human supporters are called Easterlings. On the other hand, both the action of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings consists in an eastward movement, there the adventure and salvation lie. Unlike in the case of the North and South, there is a clear borderline between the East and the West, it is the Great River Anduin. The symbolism of the East and West seems different from that of the North and South, which I already dealt with, but no less important. The tentative conclusion of my argument would be that Tolkien’s privileging of the West is indissolubly and paradoxically connected with the persistent motif of the fall of the West.

№ 2: Of dust motes, trees, and golden flowers: Tolkien and Duns Scotus’ haeccitas”

Victoria Holtz Wodzak, Chair|Associate Professor, English and World Languages, Viterbo University

In Tolkien’s letter 89, to Christopher, he writes of an individual ray’ of light illuminating a single small dust mote, and says that that ray of light was God’s very attention itself, personalised’. In his short story, Leaf by Niggle’, Tolkien shows a similar attention to the individual and personal, although in Niggle’s case, as perhaps in Tolkien’s, this recognition of the individual seems to impede the completion of his work. Even after Niggle dies, he is shown transfixed by an individual golden flower, or the turn of a leaf. What Tolkien notes in these instances is what Duns Scotus terms their haeccitas’, a God-given individuality that differentiates one individual from another. It is common to read Tolkien’s work through a fairly conventional religious or Platonic interpretive lens — and that view is clearly there in Tolkien’s work. What is less common, and what I propose to do, is to examine to what extent Scotus’ haeccitas’ provides a useful interpretive lens for particular aspects of Tolkien’s work. Doing so places his work in conversation with both the medieval nominalist/​realist debate and with the work of Tolkien’s near-contemporary, poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

№ 3: Glossopoeia through letter writing: The role of early reader and author responses in the development of the Elvish languages

Andrew Higgins, independent scholar

Almost immediately after the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published in July 1954, J.R.R. Tolkien started to receive letters from readers asking a myriad of questions about his world-building of Middle-earth. In this paper I will explore how Tolkien’s author response’ to early readers actually resulted in the invention and shaping of new elements of his Elvish languages which would go on to appear in Tolkien’s planned index for The Lord of the Rings which was published in 2007 as Words, Phrases and Passages in The Lord of the Rings’ in Parma Eldalamberon 17. This paper will explore several examples of how questions from early readers actually resulted in the invention of new words, phrases, and grammatical structures in Tolkien’s invented languages inextricably linked to his myth-making and world-building.

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date recorded 📅2022-01-24
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