Online Teaching

Mythgard classes, Tolkien’s Beowulf, JTR, Tolkien Companion and Kalamazoo

It’s  been a while since my last update: I am back to lecturing full-time now, and I really hit the ground running this term! Among other modules, I taught Literary Transformations (Year 2), Gothic and Science Fiction (Year 3) and Representing ‘the Past’ (Masters) at Cardiff Metropolitan University. I was also Visiting Professor at the Mythgard Institute (Signum University), where I taught for the first time in a synchronous online learning environment (my previous online courses are asynchronous, based on written lectures and occasional podcasts, video lectures, etc). My course was on Celtic Myth in Children’s Fantasy, in which I explored with my students the Irish and Welsh medieval mythological texts, and the ways they have been reshaped and re-imagined by fantasy authors addressing a child or young adult readership. It was great fun and I really enjoyed the real-time online interaction with my students (what a great bunch they were!). A sample lecture is available to watch for free and the entire course (all recorded lectures in video and audio format) is now available to buy here.

I also ended up appearing for a guest lecture/session just a couple of weeks ago in another Mythgard course: The Lord of the Rings: A Cultural Studies and Audience Reception Approach, taught by Dr. Robin Anne Reid. Dr Reid used my book (Tolkien, Race and Cultural History) as a main textbook during the first 5 weeks of the course, and it was lovely to be invited for an extra Q&A session as part of her class to discuss my research, and new directions in Tolkien scholarship.

packshotTolkien scholarship has indeed been enriched during the last few months by the appearance of new, significant, publications. First of all, Tolkien’s long-awaited prose translation of Beowulf has been published, edited by Christopher Tolkien, together with other bonus material (commentaries, Beowulf-related creative pieces, etc.). Needless to say, the book created huge excitement in Tolkien fan and scholarly circles, culminating with the Online Beowulf Launch Party on 24t May, co-organised by the Middle-earth Network and the Tolkien Society. I contributed a brief talk on “Sellic Spell”, Tolkien’s attempt to ‘reconstruct’ the Anglo-Saxon folktale that may have inspired motifs and the wondrous elements in Beowulf. The video of my talk is available to watch online here.

In addition to an original publication by Tolkien, the last few months brought into fruition two projects that have been in the works for a while:

JTR

The Journal of Tolkien Research (JRT) has now been launched. This is an open access electronic journal published by ValpoScholar, the publishing and institutional repository of Valparaiso University (supported by Bepress). The editor is Brad Eden and the book reviews section will be edited by Douglas A. Anderson. I am delighted to be sitting on the editorial board. See here for guidelines on how to submit, how to “follow” the journal, etc.

Lee_A Companion to JRR Tolkien_v1.inddA Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Stuart D. Lee (Wiley-Blackwell) has also just been published. This book is aspiring to be the new, complete resource for scholars and students of Tolkien, as well as fans. It covers Tolkien’s life, work, dominant themes, influences, and the critical reaction to his writing. Themes explored include mythmaking, medieval languages, nature, war, religion, and the defeat of evil. The Companion also discusses the impact of Tolkien’s work on art, film, music, gaming, and subsequent generations of fantasy writers. I contributed Chapter 23 on “Later Fantasy Fiction: Tolkien’s Legacy”, in which I explore Tolkien’s influence on later fantasists such as Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling.

Other activities of the last few months included:

A paper at the “Tolkien at Kalamazoo” sponsored sessions during the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies, at Kalamazoo, Michigan (8-11 May 2014). My paper was titled: “Where Is Avalon? Tolkien’s Otherworld in the West and The Fall of Arthur”. It examined possible sources for the mysterious death of Arthur (or survival in Avalon?) in the Arthurian legend and Tolkien’s retelling. I was also very proud to listen to my PhD student, Andrew Higgins whose paper was titled: “Approaching ‘Se Uncuthaholm’: Tolkien’s Early Study of Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Prose as a Source for the Invention of Ottor Waefre”. His paper was very well-received and sparked a lot of discussion.

A lecture on Tolkien and Kipling for the “Exploring the Past” free lecture series at the Cardiff University Centre for Lifelong Learning, on Wednesday 22 January. The lecture was titled: “Tolkien, Kipling and Romantic Anglo-Saxonism: two ‘mythologies for England’”. It was great to be back at Cardiff University (where I taught for a long time before my current post) and see former colleagues and students.

Also, I reviewed the newspapers for BBC Radio Wales’ Good Morning Wales Programme on Saturday 1 February and Saturday 15th June. These reviews are always great fun to do!

Last but not least: have you seen the new, revamped website of the Tolkien Society? It’s really worth a visit! (or two, or three!) It looks really great, it’s very user-friendly and it now includes blog posts from notable bloggers in Tolkien scholarship and fandom.

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

Return of the Ring and Tolkien Library Interview

This August I took part in the Tolkien Society’s major event since 2005, The Return of the Ring (16-20 August), a celebration of Tolkien on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. This was a five-day event that interweaved academic lectures and papers, fan activities and presentations, an art exhibition and book stalls, and prestigious keynote addresses. The Guest of Honour this time was Brian Sibley, best known for his BBC Radio 4’s acclaimed adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Other plenary addresses included speakers such as Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandson, Michael Tolkien, who talked about the influence of his grandfather’s essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’ on his own creative work.

I was honoured to be one of the special guests, alongside many other scholars, artists and performers. My talk focused on “Elves, Goblins and Other ‘Fairy’ Things in The Hobbit: Tolkien’s Victorian and Edwardian Inspiration” (see here for an abstract) which expanded my research on fairies in Tolkien’s early work (published in my book) to the period of The Hobbit. I was also very excited to take part in an event that run parallel with the main sessions of Return of the Ring: a Postgraduate Symposium in which younger scholars, who are currently studying Tolkien at MA and PhD level, were given the opportunity to present their research and share ideas. Alongside Martin Barker (University of Aberystwyth), Mark Atherton (Oxford University), and Corey Olsen (Washington College) I led a number of those postgraduate sessions, and was very impressed with the standard of papers and research presented. It was also very rewarding to see some of my own former Tolkien online students presenting at this conference, including Sara Brown, Sandra Hall, Andrew Higgins, Sonja Virta and Elise McKenna. In addition, I was involved with organising four discussion panels on Tolkien and Education focusing on “Tolkien in International Higher Education” (which I chaired), “Tolkien and Literary Tourism”, “Tolkien Research” and “Lifelong Learning Tolkien: Face-to-face and Online” (in which I took part as a speaker). I also signed copies of my book and was one of the judges who selected the scholar who gave the Christine Davidson Memorial lecture and received the accompanying bursary (we had a wonderful lecture by Benjamin Barootes!) Overall, Return of the Ring was a great event – it was lovely to see so many colleagues and friends and talk Tolkien continuously for five days!

In early September, the Tolkien Library published an interview with me on teaching and researching Tolkien, in which I repeated an announcement I initially made at Return of the Ring: that my Tolkien online course will run this autumn term (starting on 19th September) for the last time for some time, as I am intending to take a break from teaching online for a year or so. So here’s your last chance to enrol for a little while!