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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

Paper given 4 July 2021 at Tolkien Society Summer Seminar 2021: Sunday session № 1

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.”

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date recorded 📅2021-08-16
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