Literature Wales

Science Fiction Festival, new Mythgard Course and “things Celtic”

It’s been a busy autumn, with my first public lecture after having a baby, new publications in the pipeline and new, exciting academic ventures.

On 18-19 October I took part in Literature WalesSpace, Time, Machine and Monster festival at the Riverfront Arts Centre, Newport. My talk was on “Tolkien’s Middle-earth: Fantasy and the Reality” and explored the depth and vast detail of the Middle-Earth world. It also examined Tolkien’s attempts to link this imaginary world to reality via ‘mythical’ history and the construction of artefacts supposedly from Middle-Earth. This was the first time I had given a public lecture after nearly a year (what with the last stages of pregnancy and maternity leave, my last such appearance was my keynote for The Politics of Contemporary Fantasy conference at Wurzburg in October 2012!) It was lovely to give a Tolkien lecture again: it was very well-attended, I had very interesting questions and the discussion was lively and informed – great audience! I also enjoyed the session on Arthur Machen (the Welsh writer of ‘weird tales’, admired by H. P. Lovecraft, and recognised by Jorge Luis Borges) presented by Gwilym Games and the brilliant Catherine Fisher.

I am also very excited to be embarking on a new academic adventure: in January, and for the entire Spring semester 2014, I will be joining the Mythgard Institute (a new, online academic institution based in the US) as a Visiting Professor. I will be teaching a brand-new online course on Celtic Myth in Children’s Fantasy which bridges my previous expertise with my current research. I am looking forward to exploring the Irish and Welsh medieval tales and poems that make up the magic of ‘Celtic’ myth, and to teaching some of my favourite contemporary fantasy novels, many of which have won prestigious awards (such as Alan Garner’s The Owl Service; Susan Cooper’s The Grey King; Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider; and Kate Thompson’s The New Policeman). Enrolment is now open!

  • For more information about the Celtic Myth in Children’s Fantasy online course see here
  • Follow this link for more information on how the Mythgard Institute courses work
  • A short video presentation about the course can be accessed below

Recent publications, conferences and other news

The last few months too many things have happened that I have not managed to report in a timely fashion – I have been getting into the habit of using facebook for daily and weekly updates, so feel free to subscribe to my public updates if you want!

Last September I attended and presented a paper at Tolkien Society’s annual September gathering and conference in Oxford, Oxonmoot (Lady Margaret Hall, 23-25 September 2011). The conference included a series of interesting presentations and concluded with Enyalie, an act of remembrance at Tolkien’s grave. My paper was entitled: ‘Kipling, Tolkien and their ‘mythology for England’: from Puck of Pook’s Hill to The Book of Lost Tales‘.

During October 2011, Literature Wales opened and ran Wales’ first ever Literature Lounge in St David’s shopping centre in Cardiff. This pop-up literary emporium hosted an exciting series of literary events including poetry, prose, performance, games, workshops, talks, readings and much more. I contributed a public talk on 13 October on ‘Children’s Literature and Fantasy: From The Water Babies to Harry Potter‘.

On 11 December 2011, I was delighted to return to Buckland Hall for another Tolkien event, following last June’s Literary Walk on Tolkien’s Wales. A Taste of Tolkien was organised in partnership with Literature Wales. I was honoured to give a lecture alongside highly acclaimed children’s fantasy novelist Catherine Fisher (author of The Oracle Trilogy, Incarceron and Sapphique, and recently named Young People’s Laureate of Wales) and historical and Tolkien-inspired artist Stephen Walsh, whose illustrations have appeared in Harper Collins’ Lord of the Rings postcard collection and the ‘Middle Earth Collectible Card Game’ by Iron Crown Enterprises. Buckland Hall was beautifully decorated for Christmas and the evening ended with extracts from Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas and mulled wine!

On 15 March I gave the Chatterton Lecture at Bristol’s M-Shed, organised by the UWE Regional History Centre, in association with the Thomas Chatterton Society. My topic was: ‘Chatterton’s Forgery, Feigned Manuscripts and Literary Legacy: The Case of J.R.R. Tolkien’. I read Chatterton’s forgeries as a creative process of inventing a pseudo-medieval ‘secondary’ world and explored Tolkien’s Middle-earth as part of the same legacy of forged/faked/feigned manuscripts, which gave Tolkien’s invented cosmos a sense of historicity. Ultimately, my talk examined the tensions between ‘real’ and imaginary, feigned and forged, history and fantasy. For a more detailed abstract please visit this link.

Last week I took part in two more exciting events. On Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 April I lectured on Tolkien and Fantasy literature for the Danish Institute for Culture‘s study tour held at Mansfield College, alongside well-known scholars in the field including Peter Hunt and Michael Ward. On that weekend I took part in the Folklore and Fantasy Conference co-organised by the Folklore Society and the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy held at the University of Chichester (Friday 13 – Sunday 15 April 2012). My paper was titled: ‘”You must’ve heard of Babbitty Rabbitty!”: Fairy Tales and Folklore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.’ For the entire conference programme please visit this link.

Meanwhile, Janice Bogstad’s and Philip Kaveny’s edited collection Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy was published by McFarland. My chapter, ‘Filming Folklore: Adapting Fantasy for the Big Screen through Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings‘ had a long gestation (it was initially presented as a conference paper for the 2006 Folklore Society AGM and conference – see Presentations) so it was great to see it in print at last! You can have a look at the book’s table of contents via this link – it includes chapters by an impressive array of Tolkien scholars such as Verlyn Flieger, Michael Drout and John Rateliff.

Last but not least, my latest research article in an academic journal was published a few weeks ago. Not on Tolkien this time, but on a Greek children’s author whose literary fairy tales were an important part of my childhood reading: Penelope Delta. Penelope Delta was a diaspora Greek who lived in Alexandria (Egypt), Liverpool, and Frankfurt before settling down in Athens. Her literary fairy tales (‘Kunstmarchen’) – like her own upbringing and cultural background – reflect a hybrid status between Northwestern and Eastern traditions, blending Greek elements and Northwestern European fairy-tale motifs. My article is titled ‘Between Greece and Northwestern Europe: The Fairy Tales of Penelope Delta’ and was published in Fastitocalon: Studies in Fantasticism Ancient to Modern, volume II.

Other news:

  • My online course Fantasy Literature: Tales Before and After Tolkien (Level 3 undergraduate level, 20 credits) will run again during the summer term starting on Wednesday 9th May 2012! You can enrol here. I just checked this morning and there are only a couple of last places left, so hurry up! For an overviw of the course contents please visit this link. You can also follows us on facebook and Twitter.
  • I am looking forward to The Return of the Ring in August and Tolkien: the Forest and the City in September
  • Check out this forthcoming publication: I will post an announcement as soon as the book is released!

Tolkien’s Wales in the Black Mountains

Yesterday, 30th June 2011, I led a “literary walk” on “Tokien’s Wales in the Black Mountains”, organised by Literature Wales in partnership with Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. This walk was part of the Literary Tourism Programme run by Literature Wales (see here for a brochure with all the tours and walks for 2011). The meeting point was the beautiful Buckland Hall, from where we set up for a 2-hour walk ascending Buckland Hill and following the ridge overlooking the Caerfanell Valley and mountains to the west. The views were just stunning and we were lucky to enjoy lovely sunshine! My talk begun with Tolkien’s visits to Wales and his love and use of the Welsh language in the invention of Sindarin. I also talked about the Welsh ‘fringes’ of the Shire and Bree (reflected in place- and family-names), resonances from the ‘Mabonogion’ in Tolkien’s legendarium, Welsh dragons in Tolkien’s non-Middle-earth works, and his 1955 lecture ‘English and Welsh’. This is the first time I have ever given an outdoors talk, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! This was a brilliant idea for an event, linking literature, biography and place, and offering me an opportunity to share my research with a wider public in an ideal location! I am grateful to Literature Wales and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority for this great opportunity and many thanks to Buckland Hall for warm hospitality!