ENGL 2235 Tolkien

Medieval scholar J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the most popular works of speculative fiction from the twentieth century, and established the norms for modern fantasy fiction as a genre. In creating Middle Earth and in the writing of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and other works, Tolkien was at once remarkably derivative and startlingly original. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of medieval literature and Norse mythology, but also incorporating modern concepts such as the anti-hero, pacifism, total war, weapons of mass destruction, industrialization and ecological devastation, Tolkien created a work that stands as one of the landmarks of twentieth-century culture and literature. 

In this course students will read Tolkien’s writings alongside some of the medieval sources (in translation) which provided Tolkien’s inspiration. We will explore themes of creation and language; the uses of genre; myths and mythmaking; ‘high fantasy’; issues of fate, power, evil and free will; magic and monsters; themes of exile; industrialisation; the power of narrative; the role of ancient and personal history; and pop culture. Ultimately we will address the question of whether Tolkien’s writings are pure “escapism” or “nostalgia,” or whether they participate in and speak to the debates and challenges of the twentieth and early twenty-first century.