Robert T. Tally, Jr., Professor of English, Texas State University
In this talk, I argue that the “realization” of history is an important aim of Tolkien’s art. Tolkien’s desire to create a new mythology for England, which is well known, is in part a response to the shifting ground upon which he stood, in reaction to what Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto had called the “constant revolutionizing” and the “cosmopolitan character” of bourgeois society, industrial civilization, imperialism, and the rise of monopoly capital. Tolkien’s yearning for a mythic past, despite its clear nationalism and chauvinism at first, reflected a deep desire to connect his modern world with an august, barely accessible past through forms of historical narrative. This is not an escape into a mythical, premodern realm as is frequently imagined. Rather, it is an attempt to take the broken and disconnected fragments of culture and put them together into a meaningful history, evoking what Tolkien would call “the seamless web of story.” Fredric Jameson, following Jean-François Lyotard, refers to this as “the desire called Marx,” in effect an urgent need to connect up the various shreds in the fabric of history to form a continuous narrative. Tolkien’s experiments with different genres and styles betray the difficulties he had in organizing this overall narrative project, but his impulse in producing a grand narrative involving myth, fairy story, romance, history, and the modern novelistic form is to give shape to a world that had, in his view, lost its sense. Through his efforts, Tolkien’s great legendarium provides a history for a world that had forgotten how to think historically.
Joseph Rex Young; Paul Tankard, University of Otago; and Lana A. Whited, Director, Boone Honors Program; Professor of English, Ferrum College
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies launched a new era of adaptations of fantasy. The resulting adaptations — of the works of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, George R.R. Martin, the Marvel superhero tradition and much else besides — now have fan bases often wholly separate from those of their literary source texts. Rather than dwelling on what any given example gets ‘wrong’ or ‘right,’ this panel discussion will consider this bifurcation of the audience of a popular literary genre. If, as Tom Shippey suggests, fantasy deserves to be taken seriously because of its popularity, what are the ramifications of atomising the popular followings of these texts into “book-readers” and “showwatchers”? How has this division altered the experience of being a fan, scholar or teacher of such texts? And do the adaptations offer the same Tolkienian Recovery that make the source texts as resonant as they are?”