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IMC 2023: Sessions

Session 1336: New Works, Networks, and Methods in Tolkien and Middle-earth Research

Wednesday 5 July 2023, 16.30-18.00

Sponsor:Centre for Fantasy & the Fantastic, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
Organiser:Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton
Moderator/Chair:Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton
Paper 1336-aTolkien Studies and the 'Theological Turn'
(Language: English)
Mitchell Kooh, Department of English, University of Notre Dame, Indiana
Index terms: Language and Literature - Other, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 1336-bQueer Time and Space in Tolkien's Middle-earth
(Language: English)
Yvette Kisor, Salameno School of Humanities and Global Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey
Index terms: Language and Literature - Other, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 1336-cReading Tolkien's First Age through the Lens of Michel de Certeau
(Language: English)
Cami Agan, Department of Language & Literature, Oklahoma Christian University
Index terms: Language and Literature - Other, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 1336-dQueer Phenomenology, Lesbian Ents, and the Future of Queer Tolkien Studies
(Language: English)
Christopher Vaccaro, Department of English, University of Vermont
Index terms: Language and Literature - Other, Medievalism and Antiquarianism

Papers in this session will explore some of the new methods and critical networks of academic research that are being applied to both Tolkien and Middle-earth studies and what they are revealing about the continuing academic dialogue and discourse around Tolkien and his works.

Paper -a:
The past two decades have seen a flourishing of religious and theological modes of engaging with Tolkien's works. Welcomed by many as a corrective following decades of neglect - especially conspicuous after the publication of the Letters (1981) and complete History of Middle-earth (1983-1996) revealed the depth of mutual enrichment between Tolkien's creative and spiritual lives - this 'theological turn' in Tolkien studies foments equally enthusiastic resistance among critics who fear an overcorrection and lament the apparent ascendancy of theological triumphalism among many Christian readers. In this presentation, my aims are twofold: first, to circumscribe this 'theological turn', positioning it as less a monolithic movement than an emerging network of theologically inflected methodologies, and second, to gesture towards the insights and limitations of these methodologies, from Evangelical tropological exegeses to Catholic theological systematizations (Thomistic, Neo-Platonist). In so doing, I seek a via media between reductionisms in both directions, both pietistic and profane.

Paper -b:
Notions of time and space from a queer perspective, perceived against participation in 'the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction' (J. Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, NYU Press, 2005, p. 1), can be applied to Tolkien's work in new ways, implicating Bilbo and Frodo due to their failure to participate in the institutions of marriage and procreation. Sam straddles the line between queer and heteronormative time, for though he fully participates in the institutions of family and reproduction, that experience occupies very little space in The Lord of the Rings, the majority of which focuses on his queer relationship with Frodo, and all three eventually journey to Valinor, a queer time and space from the perspective of the Shire.

Paper -c: French cultural historian Michel de Certeau's examination of the historiographer's relationship to her/his material (The Writing of History) and his seminal work on the processes of urban life (The Practice of Everyday Life) offer fruitful avenues for re-examining Tolkien's First Age materials (Silmarillion/HoMe). De Certeau's methods, terminology, and sense of playful awareness about the relation between place-space, historian-subject, self-other, reader-text, map-itinerary can all help expand the possibilities of reading Tolkien’s 'compendium' of ancient accounts of the Elven materials of the First Age. For instance, de Certeau's exploration of stories which shift from citing places to foregrounding movement aligns intriguingly with the structural rhythms of Tolkien's descriptions of the lost Beleriand. Further, de Certeau's insistence that subjects can outwit totalizing power structures not only recasts Foucault's panoptic vision of modernity, but also deepens Tolkien's thematics of eucatastrophe, fellowship, and sub-creation.

Paper -d:
This paper explores the future of queer Tolkien Studies, and where queer methodology is going in the field of Tolkien and Middle-earth studies. It then specifically employs work by Sara Ahmed to highlight the Lesbian continuum and gender play of Tolkien’s Ent-wives suggesting a new approach to this element of Tolkien's works.