Course Description

Oxford University professor T.A. Shippey has called J.R.R. Tolkien the “author of the century.” While some scholars debate this high praise, Tolkien’s enormous popularity and extensive influence is undeniable. His books have been read by millions of readers of successive generations and translated out of English into dozens of languages. They have also influenced multiple fields of human knowledge and creativity, including philology, medieval scholarship, modern fantasy literature, epic film, music, and art. In this seminar on “The Mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and the Minor Works,” we will learn about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and how it shaped his literary endeavors. We will read some of his short stories, poems, letters, and translations, and we will focus on his first major work, The Hobbit, thinking critically about it in terms of biographical, historical, literary, and philological paradigms as well as reception theory.

* What connections exist between Tolkien’s formative experiences in World War I (1914-1918) and the post-9/11 world (2001-2015)?

* What human needs and desires does Tolkien speak to, and does his narrative emphasis on “eucatastrophe” explain why his mythology is popular with so many?

* What “horizon of expectations” has Tolkien’s work met for successive generations of readers (and now viewers)?

In addition to these questions, we will also consider the ethical questions and challenges Tolkien faced in his life-time – in his experiences of love, loss, war, poverty, anti-Semitism, and the threat of death to his children – as well as the choices he made, and why, and how these may relate to the pursuit of virtue in the 21st century.


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