Tolkien, Fantasy and Medievalism at IMC Leeds 2015

IMC Leeds 1During the last few years I have been attending the Tolkien sessions at Kalamazoo semi-regularly (once every two years, on average). The International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, hosted by Western Michigan University, has been running for over 50 years, and the “Tolkien at Kalamazoo” sessions have been taking place since 2001. But another equally important congress on medieval studies has been taking place on this side of the Atlantic for a shorter, but equally respectable, number of years: the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds has been organised by Institute for Medieval Studies at Leeds since 1994, and has been attracting over 2,000 medievalists from all over the world annually. There have been some Tolkien sessions at Leeds every now and then. I actually gave a paper in a session on Texts and Images: Aspects of Tolkien’s Medievalism in 2007, alongside Carl Phelpstead and Ármann Jakobsson, moderated by Alaric Hall. It was a very well-attended session with many follow-up questions and lively discussion. In fact, all papers from that session have been published in one form or another. Carl Phelpstead’s paper was published in Tolkien Studies, vol. 5, Ármann Jakobsson’s paper in Tolkien Studies, vol. 6, while my paper was incorporated into my monograph, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits.

This summer, I am delighted to be returning to Leeds as an organiser of two sessions and to give a paper in a third one. Here are my sessions at Leeds 2015 (6-9 July 2015):

Celtic Literature in Tolkien’s Medievalism

This session will explore some neglected Celtic sources for Tolkien’s extended legendarium. Aurélie Brémont compares the Navigatio Sancti Brendani with Tolkien’s poem Immram and the motif of sailing west looking for Paradise in medieval Irish literature and Tolkien’s mythology. Kris Swank analyses Tolkien’s children’s book Roverandom arguing that its structure, themes and motifs are modelled upon the medieval Irish Otherworld sea-voyage tales (immrama). Andrew Higgins examines Tolkien’s earliest use of the Welsh language and medieval Welsh motifs in the Tale of Tinúviel in The Book of Lost Tales.

Paper titles:

  • Tolkien, Brendan, and the Quest for The Lost Road (Aurélie Brémont, Centre d’Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris-Sorbonne – Paris IV)
  • Immram Roverandom (Kris Swank, Pima Community College, Tucson)
  • Welsh Princesses and Cats: Tolkien’s Tale of Tinuviel and The Gnomish Lexicon (Andrew Higgins, Cardiff Metropolitan University)

Further details here.

‘New’ Tolkien: The Fall of Arthur and the Beowulf Translation – A Round Table Discussion

This session will focus on works by J. R. R. Tolkien edited and published recently by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien. Speakers will comment on Tolkien’s unfinished alliterative poem The Fall of Arthur (2013) and his translation of Beowulf (2014) which was published together with Tolkien’s commentary and related Beowulf-inspired literary pieces.

Participants include Mark Atherton (University of Oxford), Dimitra Fimi (Cardiff Metropolitan University), and Nick Groom (University of Exeter).

Further details here.

Genre and Medievalism: From the 19th to the 21st Century (organised by Helen Young and the Tales After Tolkien Society society)

Popular genres of almost every kind, from fantasy to westerns, romance, science fiction, and crime, engage in medievalism, while genre re-imaginings of the past have a substantial impact on ideas which circulate about the Middle Ages. What do the Middle Ages mean in popular culture? The diverse papers offer the chance to compare and contrast across time and place. Does authenticity matter, why, and to whom? What ideologies are filtered through the idea of the medieval past in order to shape a given historical moment? The diverse papers offer the chance to compare and contrast across time and place.


  • The Victorian Joan of Arc: Gender and Genre (Ellie Crookes, University of Wollongong, New South Wales)
  • ‘Celtic’ Myth and Celticity in Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain (Dimitra Fimi, Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • ‘Power is a curious thing…’: Studying of the Mechanisms of Power in Polish Historical Fantasy Novel Cycles (Joanna Szwed-Śliwowska, Uniwersytet Warszawski)

Further details here.

IMC Leeds 2

Apart from these three sessions I will be directly involved in, I am also looking forward to attending a number of others, related to Tolkien, fantasy literature and medievalism. Here are my pickings:

Special Session: J. R. R. Tolkien at Leeds and in the Brotherton Library Special Collections (led by Alaric Hall, University of Leeds)
While more famously associated with Oxford University, J. R. R. Tolkien’s first lectureship was at Leeds where, inter alia, he completed most of the work on his recently published translation of Beowulf. This talk draws on literary work published during Tolkien’s time at Leeds held in Special Collections, along with recently acquired correspondence between Tolkien and Ida Gordon – medievalist, ex-student, and wife of Tolkien’s friend and collaborator E. V. Gordon. It will explore how shaping a medieval syllabus at Leeds helped Tolkien develop his own literary endeavours. Further details here.

Sessions on Medievalism:

Sessions on the Arthurian Tradition:

Sessions on Angl0-Saxon:

Other sessions of interest include those presented or moderated by colleagues and friends. The editors of The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature will both be there – Edward James will present in a session on Transformation and Renewal in Post-Roman and Early Medieval Societies and Farah Mendlesohn will moderate a session on Revival and Renewal: New Uses for Old Stories and Patterns in the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. Finally, good friend and colleague from the times we were both studying at Cardiff University, Emma Cavell, will present in a session on The Anglo-Welsh Frontier in the Middle Ages.

So, who’s coming to Leeds?

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