Leeds 2016: Tolkien Society Seminar and IMC

Well, I am back from Leeds, where I attended two wonderful events:

  1. the Tolkien Society Seminar (Sunday 3rd July), this year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme (which Tolkien survived), packed with talks on the theme of “Life, Death, and Immortality in Tolkien’s life and works”
  2. and the International Medieval Congress at Leeds (4th-7th July), one of the most prestigious conferences on medieval studies worldwide, for which I organized Tolkien sessions for the second year running in an effort to establish an annual gathering of Tolkien academics on this side of the pond (following the long-standing example of “Tolkien at Kalamazoo“).

Both events were very successful and included speakers from the UK, Europe, and North America.

Tolkien Society Seminar 2016, Leeds

New Picture (1)
The Tolkien Society Seminar programme was full to the brim with tightly-timed (and, dare I say, very efficiently moderated by the Chairman of the TS, Shaun Gunner) 20-minute papers followed by 5 minutes of discussion. This allowed the organizers to fit thirteen talks in 7,5 hours – quite an achievement! My paper was on “‘Tears are the very wine of blessedness’: joyful sorrow in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings“. I have been thinking about the ideas and concepts around this paper for a long time, so it was great to air my thoughts in front of this particular audience. The TS filmed my talk which is now available to watch here (comments welcome!)


A group photo of all the speakers at the Tolkien Society Seminar in Leeds

Among the other papers, I was particularly impressed with Irina Metzler‘s talk on “Tolkien and disability: the narrative function of disabled characters in Middle-earth” (her tripartite exploration of case studies as a way to survey Tolkien’s use of disability in his extended legendarium worked really well). Andrew Higgins‘s paper ‘”Gifts in harmony?”: a philological exploration of Tolkien’s invented words for “life” and “death”‘ was an excellent demonstration of how examining Tolkien’s invented languages can illuminate his mythology (the essence of Andy’s PhD thesis). Other papers I really liked (even if I didn’t always agree with all points and arguments) were given by Tania Azevedo, Anna Milon and Adam B. Shaeffer. You can see the entire programme here. Overall, an excellent day, full of insightful discussion and debate. Thank you to Shaun Gunner and Daniel Helen for excellent organizing!

International Medieval Congress 2016, Leeds


It was a pleasure to be the organizer of the Tolkien sessions at Leeds – onwards and upwards!

Leeds IMC was a much larger affair – indeed, a conference that has been taking place annually since 1994. There have been occasional Tolkien sessions and papers in previous years, but since last year I have been organizing sessions on Tolkien with an aim to make those a regular part of the congress (see here for last year’s sessions). Here are my two sessions this year:

Session 331: J. R. R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches

The session addressed the complexities of Tolkien’s modern Middle Ages. Andrew Higgins explored Tolkien’s appropriation of Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Finns in his legendarium. Sara Brown revisited Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings via the practice, philosophy, and symbolism of alchemy. Aurélie Brémont examined parallels between Tolkien’s and T.H. White’s medievalisms. The session was moderated by Chris Vaccaro (University of Vermont).

Paper Titles and Speakers:

“‘Those who cling in queer corners to the forgotten tongues and manners of an elder day’: J. R. R. Tolkien, Finns, and Elves” (Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, London)

“Stirring the Alembic: Alchemical Resonances in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth” (Sara Brown, Department of English, Rydal Penrhos School, Conwy)

“J. R. R. Tolkien and T. H. White: Modern Brits and Old Wizards” (Aurélie Brémont, Centre d’Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris IV – Sorbonne)

New Picture (2)

Andrew Higgins, Sara Brown and Aurélie Brémont – Tolkien session at Leeds IMC

Session 431: ‘New’ Tolkien: The Story of Kullervo and A Secret Vice – A Round Table Discussion

This round table discussion will focused on works by J. R. R. Tolkien published during the last 12 months. Participants commented on The Story of Kullervo, edited by Verlyn Flieger, a creative retelling of a tragic episode from the Finnish Kalevala; and A Secret Vice, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins, an extended edition of Tolkien’s essay on invented languages together with new material on philology, contemporary language theories, and language as art. Participants: Brad Eden (Valparaiso University), Kristine Larsen (Central Connecticut State University), and Nelson Goering (University of Oxford).

Contribution Titles and Speakers:

“Musical allusion, Kullervo, A Secret Vice and Tolkien’s early mythology” (Brad Eden, Valparaiso University)

“Ladies of the Forest: Melian and Mielikki” (Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University)

“Phonetic Symbolism: What is meant? I don’t know” (Nelson Goering, University of Oxford)

New Picture (3)

Brad Eden, Kristin Larsen and Nelson Goering – Tolkien roundtable at IMC Leeds

Both sessions were brilliant. The very well-attended first session generated a lot of exciting discussion, while the round table was a perfect venue to try out first thoughts and analyses on ‘new’ Tolkien books (I was blown away by what the speakers did with the new Tolkien material Andrew Higgins and I edited for A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages – it was worth all of those sleepless nights working on that volume!)

All speakers and other academics and students interested attended a “business meeting” at Leeds to discuss next year’s session proposals. I am hoping to circulate details soon. If you are interested and want to be on the mailing list, please let me know.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *