Tolkien Society Seminar

Summer 2021: Tolkien and diversity

Sunday #1

4 July 2021 14:00 utc — view in local time


    № 1: Pardoning Saruman? The queer in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

    Christopher T. Vaccaro, Senior Lecturer, University of Vermont

    The Silmarillion is J.R.R. Tolkien’s work in which his Christian upbringing and influence can be seen through the story and the characters. From the song that brings Arda to life to Morgoth’s fall, the book is part of an original pre-history to Middle-Earth and an allegory to Christian’s mythology. In The Lord of the Rings preface, Tolkien comments about the difference between applicability and allegory, and how the reader is free to read it according to his point of view («lrc, lrc=0.3.08»). Therefore this paper aims to read The Silmarillion character Manwë as an archetype of the rightful and lawful leader. For this manner, we will compare him to Xangô, the Orixá from the African-Brazilian religion Umbanda according to the concepts of the archetypal literary criticism. The reason why we trace a comparison between a literary character and an Orixá is to show that archetypes are not reserved to myths, dreams, arts and old religions. Instead, it still lives in our daily lives, especially in religion, even though we can not see it sometimes. Manwë is described as the noblest between the Valar and the one who understands Iluvatar’s purpose. Because of that, he is chosen as the King. He commands the winds and the air and represents justice. In Umbanda, the Orixás represent an aspect of nature and human psychology. Therefore, Xangô represents lightning and thunder, and justice. He is King among the Orixás because he was able to unify all nations. We also can see this archetype in other mythological characters, such as Zeus and Odin. The cultural differences in the archetype representation and the fact that it still is worshipped show us that perhaps the need for a rightful leader is part of the human psyche whether in art or religion.

    № 2: Desire of the Ring: An Indian academic’s adventures in her quest for the perilous realm

    Sonali Arvind Chunodkar, Graduate student, Department of English, Savitribai Phule Pune University

    In the first part of this proposed presentation, I hope to share my experiences of being a second-generation Tolkien researcher in India. I will compare my experiences with that of a first-generation Indian researcher who wrote his own Ph.D. dissertation on Tolkien in the late 1980s. While discussing how issues like access and dialogue or the difficult possibility thereof shaped our respective research, I will highlight the current promising possibilities of a global dialogue for current and future Tolkien researchers — best exemplified by The Tolkien Society’s open-to-all online seminars. The second part will discuss the kinds of knowledge that Indian readers are expected to possess for engaging with Tolkien’s works. I will examine an interesting epistemic possibility where a reader mis-reads” certain objects in Tolkien that also exist in the primary world albeit in the West as fictional ones that belong only in his secondary world. The third part will dwell on Tolkien’s reception in India, where his works have had to contend with a rich pre-existing mythological-historic-fantasy literary culture, the influence of which can be noted in the lukewarm reception of his recent Marathi and Bengali translated editions. However, the popularity and monetary success of Peter Jackson’s films provided renewed creative, economic impetus to Indian movie and television producers and fantasy-fiction novelists in English. While popularizing Tolkien’s works among English-language Indian readers, Jackson’s films nonetheless cemented the image of Tolkien as a British English writer who wrote only about white people. I will instead emphasize the need to unlearn such received imagination so that we can all appreciate Tolkien’s radical description and the implications of Sam with his brown hands” being elected mayor of the Shire that is peopled by the browner”-skinned Harfoots, who are the most normal and representative variety of Hobbit and far the most numerous.”

    № 3: Queer atheists, agnostics, and animists, oh, my!

    Robin Anne Reid, independent scholar

    This presentation is part of a larger project I began in 2018 that asks the question of how fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium who are atheists, agnostics, animists, or part of New Age movements interpret his work. Using a mixed methodology approach, I administered an online survey (approved by my university Institutional Review Board) asking for basic demographic information and respondents’ answers to open-ended questions. The questions allowed respondents to describe their beliefs or lack of belief; their experiences with and responses to organized religion, if any; their history of reading and of interpreting Tolkien’s work, and their responses to the tendency in popular and academic thought to assume that Tolkien’s Christian beliefs must shape readers’ interpretation of his work.

    I circulated information to groups interested in Tolkien on social media and collected 113 completed surveys between December 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019. In my first round of analysis, I identified three groups, based on how they answered the first question: Atheists, who make up 44% of the respondents, Agnostics, 30%, and a third group, who make up 26%. The third group were those who identified connections to a range of specific religious, spiritual, or philosophical movements (acknowledging the fuzzy boundaries between those concepts). This last group includes animists as well as pagans, polytheists, one nominal” Buddhist, one Recovering” Catholic, one Deist, as well as humanists and sceptics.

    This presentation will focus on how the 34% of the respondents who identified themselves as asexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, or queer and their responses to the questions about their experiences with religious institutions; their favorite work(s); what makes Tolkien’s work important to them, and how they deal with the assumption that his religious beliefs play a significant role in interpreting his work.

    № 4: Hidden visions: Iconographies of alterity in Soviet bloc illustrations for The Lord of the Rings

    Joel Merriner, Associate Lecturer in Art History, University of Plymouth

    Alterity can be described as the state of being different or other, however this rather simplistic definition belies the complex symbiosis of familiarity and Otherness which the term embodies. From a Tolkienian perspective, a form of East-West alterity is understood to have arisen from the geopolitical divide of the Cold War and its resulting influence on matters of translation. Because of the erroneous assumption of the Soviet Bloc censor that The Lord of the Rings constituted a veiled allegory of totalitarian east versus democratic west, prospective Eastern European Tolkien translators were impelled to create abridged or hybridised versions of the trilogy, works which today may appear at once familiar and yet alien to the western reader.

    Unsurprisingly, this model of Soviet Bloc alterity also extended to encompass visual depictions of The Lord of the Rings, particularly those created by illustrators of 1980s translated editions from Russia and Poland. Decoding the diverse, often cryptic illustrations contained within these books requires an interpretive approach tailored towards the understanding of three types of visual alterity identifiable from the region; motif borrowing, original creation and a form of semiosis referred to as dislocation. This paper examines the work of a trio of illustrators whose images for The Lord of the Rings epitomise the second form of alterity, original creation, a phenomenon typified by the incorporation of iconographies (subject matter) new to Tolkien illustration. The illustrators in question are Jerzy Czerniawski (Poland), an individual who imbues his Middle-earth portraits with the enigmatic imagery of the Polish counter-culture poster; Gennady Kalinovsky (Russia) whose illuminated Cyrillic initials conjure Ringwraiths and Wargs and Sergei Iukhimov (Ukraine), whose Brutalist architectural settings form the sinister dwelling places of Barrow Wights, Balrogs, and Orcs. Through the study of their artwork, I will reveal hidden details about the visual language of freedom.

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    date recorded 📅2021-08-16
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