George MacDonald and one of Tolkien’s most quotable lines

I’ve been re-reading many of the works of George MacDonald recently, in preparation for my keynote lecture at the George MacDonald’s Scotland conference at the University of Aberdeen next week ( My lecture is titled “George MacDonald and Celticity”, and – among other works – I’ve just finished re-reading Sir Gibbie, one of MacDonald’s “realistic” novels with a Scottish setting (and extensive use of Scotch in the dialogue).

Just as I was about to start wrapping up my notes, I was struck again by these few lines, towards the end of the novel:

The one secret of life and development, is not to devise and plan, but to fall in with the forces at work—to do every moment’s duty aright—that being the part in the process allotted to us;…

Well, this time round, I know what it was that made these lines stand out for me the first time I read them! They brought to mind this exchange:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

Though I know the emphasis of each extract is rather different (and so is the context!) the argument seems to me ostensibly the same. And knowing that Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis) read George MacDonald, one of the two main “grandfathers” of modern fantasy literature (the other is William Morris) makes the link even stronger in my mind.

I’ll leave this small observation here for you to ponder!


Tolkien Sessions at IMC Leeds, July 2017

imc_postcard_2017_front_1*Update – June 2017

I am very pleased to announce that all four sessions on J.R.R. Tolkien I proposed for the International Medieval Congress at Leeds 2017 have been accepted! This will be the third consecutive year of papers on J.R.R. Tolkien at IMC Leeds, after a successful series of sessions in 2015 and 2016. Leeds is, indeed, a Tolkien-related location, and it is very fitting that his work will be explored in this prestigious conference. I am looking forward to a series of brilliant sessions and papers from well-established Tolkien scholars, alongside new voices and perspectives!

Here are the sessions titles, abstracts, papers, speakers and times:


Session 242: J. R. R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches

Session Time: Mon. 03 July – 14.15-15.45

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Andrew Higgins

Session Abstract:

This session will address aspects of Tolkien’s medievalism. Yvette Kisor examines the frequent use    of the word ‘knight’ in Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, especially to translate a range of Old English terms. Anahit Behrooz addresses the complexities of orality and frame narratives in the earliest version of Tolkien’s mythology, The Book of Lost Tales. Anahit Behrooz addresses Tolkien’s cartography as a liminal space between medieval mapmaking and modern practices. Aurélie Brémont discusses the transformations of the Corrigan, from Breton folklore to Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. Victoria Holtz-Wodzak considers the ways in which medieval Franciscan theology shaped Tolkien’s portrayal of the natural world.

Paper Titles and Speakers:

Tolkien’s Beowulf: Translating Knights (Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College, New Jersey)

Elvish Ears: Medieval Orality in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales Mappa Mundi to Mappa Middle-Earth: Positioning J.R.R. Tolkien’s Cartography between Medieval and Modern Practices (Anahit Behrooz, University of Edinburgh)

Tales of the Corrigan: From Folklore to Nationalist Reinvention (Aurélie Brémont, Université Paris IV – Sorbonne)

Treebeard’s Priesthood and the Franciscan Sanctity of Tolkien’s Natural World (Victoria Holtz-Wodzak, Viterbo University)

IMC 2017 Session Link

Session 342: ‘New’ Tolkien: Expanding the Canon

Session Time: Mon. 03 July – 16.30-18.00

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Dimitra Fimi

Session Abstract:

This session will focus on ‘new’ works by J. R. R. Tolkien: creative works published posthumously during the last few years. Participants will examine all or a selection of the following works: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (2009), The Fall of Arthur (2013), The Story of Kullervo (2015), A Secret Vice (2016) and The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun (2016). Verlyn Flieger will examine the complex ways in which Tolkien’s creative adaptation of medieval literature shaped some of his best-known fictional characters. Brad Eden will focus on Tolkien’s use of the liminal forest in terms of setting, language and characterization. Kristine Larsen will concentrate on medieval lunar symbolism in the representation of female characters, and Andrew Higgins will explore the use of the Indo-European model and Tolkien’s expertise in philology in the development of Tolkien’s invented languages.

Paper Titles and Speakers:

Tolkien, Tradition, and the Individual Talent (Verlyn Flieger, University of Maryland)

Mirkwood as Otherness: ‘New’ Tolkien and the Liminal Forest (Brad Eden, Valparaiso University)

Magic, Matrimony, and the Moon: Medieval Lunar Symbolism in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun and The Fall of Arthur (Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University)

A Secret Vice, the 1930’s and the Growth of Tolkien’s ‘Tree of Tongues’ (Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar)

IMC 2017 Session Link

Session 442: The Road Goes Ever On: The Future of Tolkien Scholarship – A Round Table Discussion

Session Time: Mon. 03 July – 19.00-20.00

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Chair: Carl Phelpstead

Round Table Abstract:

Tolkien’s legendarium has often been approached by scholarship via the lens of medievalism. Scholars have been long interested in Tolkien’s medieval intertexts (e.g. Old and Middle English works such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) and such studies have established a clear view of Middle-earth as a world that engages with the heroic code, material culture, philosophical, and theological concepts, as well as fantastical beings, from the literature of the European Middle Ages. However, a more recent trend is to examine Tolkien’s work in terms of its engagement with the cultural moment(s) it was created, spanning six decades of literary and cultural history. Where is Tolkien scholarship heading? Should we move away from ‘Tolkien the medievalist’ and focus more on Tolkien as 20th-century author? And what about recent developments in literary theory? This round table discussion will debate the complexities of such questions and will interrogate scholarly practices and expectations in Tolkien Studies.


Brad Eden (Valparaiso University)

Dimitra Fimi (Cardiff Metropolitan University)

Verlyn Flieger (University of Maryland)

Thomas Honegger (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität)

Michael Wodzak (Viterbo University)

IMC 2017 Session Link

Session 1019: Otherness in Tolkien’s Medievalism

Session Time: Wed. 05 July – 09.00-10.30

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator:  Kristine Larsen

Session Abstract:

This session explores various aspects of the construction and role of the ‘other’ in J.R.R. Tolkien’s medievalism. Irina Metzler surveys the representation of disability in Tolkien’s mythology and its medieval analogies and constructions. Thomas Honegger focuses on Tolkien’s critique of chivalry in his medieval scholarship but also in his construction of the ‘other’ Middle Ages in his creative work. Sara Brown addresses an important figure of medieval literature and legend, the Dwarf, focusing on the ‘othering’ of female Dwarves by their very absence. Gaëlle Abaléa interrogates the world of the Dead as ‘other’ in Tolkien’s legendarium, examining its boundaries, and its relation to Faerie.

Paper Titles and Speakers:

Disability in Tolkien’s Texts: Medieval ‘Otherness’? (Irina Metzler, Swansea University)

Tolkien’s Other Middle Ages (Thomas Honegger, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität)

The Invisible Other: Tolkien’s Dwarf-Women and the ‘Feminine Lack’ (Sara Brown, Rydal Penrhos School)

Our World, the Other World, and Those In-Between: Community with and Separation from the Dead in Tolkien’s Work (Gaëlle Abaléa, Université Paris IV – Sorbonne)

IMC 2017 Session Link

Oxonmoot 2015 and forthcoming Oxford event

OxonmootWell, the autumn term is nearly upon me, but I did manage to escape to Oxford a couple of weeks ago to take part in Oxonmoot, Tolkien Society’s annual gathering that combines a conference, art exhibition, performances, etc. Oxonmoot has been held in Oxford every September since 1974, and this year’s event was hosted by St Antony’s College. I really enjoyed the diverse programme of papers and performances, the book stalls and the art room. And – of course – it was great to catch up with friends and colleagues (and some of my students!) over dinner or a pint at the college bar.

This year I particularly enjoyed the papers by Jessica Yates on Tolkien and Shakespeare and by Denis Bridoux on resonances of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in Tolkien’s portrayal of Sauron.

My lecture was on “Constructions of Childhood in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium”. It was great fun writing it, and I seem to have done something right, as the discussion that followed lasted over half an hour! The entire thing was recorded by the Tolkien Society and can be accessed here:

This Oxonmoot ended with a particularly moving Enyalië, a ceremony of ‘remembrance’ at Tolkien’s grave in Wolvercote Cemetery.

Forthcoming Oxford event

I will be in Oxford again on Thursday 29th October to take part in an event to celebrate 60 years from the publication of the third volume of The Lord of the Rings. To mark this anniversary, the Bodleian Libraries and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, will mount a display of original drawings from the Tolkien archive and host a panel discussion on reactions to Tolkien’s work, then and now, on 29th October 2015.

The panel discussion will be held in the Lecture Theatre in the Weston Library, 5-6pm. The speakers will be Professor Andy Orchard, the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford, a position formerly held by Tolkien; Dr Patrick Curry, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wales, Lampeter and writer on Tolkien, and myself. The session will be chaired by Dr Stuart Lee, lecturer in English at the University of Oxford and editor of A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien (2014). The discussion will be followed by drinks in Blackwell Hall, 6-7pm.

The event is open to all and free to attend. Booking is essential to attend the panel discussion. Please book via:

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