Brief recollections from the Tolkien Society Seminar (2021-02-13)

A wonderful interruption to the drudgery of confinement this last weekend was the Tolkien Society Seminar on Twenty-first Century Receptions of Tolkien!

Brief recollections from the Tolkien Society Seminar (2021-02-13)

Elen síla lúmenna omentielvo

A wonderful interruption to the drudgery of confinement this last weekend was the Tolkien Society Seminar on Twenty-first Century Receptions of Tolkien. This free seminar was streamed live on YouTube and is nearly 7 hours long (including breaks) and is still up for the viewing pleasure of all, not just members of the Society or academia.

The talks started at 7:30EST on a Saturday morning (a bit brutal for February), so a group of us attending decided to make a little text Discord channel to keep each other's textual company during the presentation and exchange comments and perspectives.

Some of the talks were very good, and I want to note my favourites here:

  • The first talk by doctorate researcher Marie Bretagnolle, Artists from Middle-earth: a 21st-century dive into Tolkien’s Secondary World — pure eye candy! I really enjoyed this one very much. (Towards 9:16 of the recording)
  • Nick Groom's talk on speculative fiction and how Tolkien's work fits into the horror/surreal genres — a bit dense and very academic, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. When I was wee reading the book for the first time, the Nazgûl absolutely terrified me, but I admit it had not occured to me to link Tolkien with horror and the old genres of terrifying fairy/folk tales or ghost stories. (Towards 1:11:27 of the recording)
  • Erick Carvalho de Mello's talk on the history of translating Tolkien into Brazillian Portuguese and its influence on the literary and fandom communities in Brazil. Very, very interesting talk, and I enjoyed the mention of the importance of reclaiming medievalist and Tolkien studies and imaginary from fascist and extreme-right movements. (Towards 3:52:18 of the recording.)
  • Jordan Doyle's talk on Trauma and Tolkien, which I found extremely fascinating, addressing themes I'd known and always found really compelling in Tolkien, but the presentation broke them down and recontextualized them for the 21st century really nicely. (Towards 5:09:05 of the recording.)

I do want to note: there were a few parts of the seminar that I thought could have been nuanced further. In particular, no one discussed the question of race/racism in either the Jackson reimaginings or the original works, nor was there a presentation that grappled with Tolkien primarily from a feminist perspective. And, I'm not an academic, but it always worries me when people uncritically employ Jungian philosophy or Lovecraft's mythos without addressing the oliphants in the room, namely Jung's gender essentialism or Lovecraft's extreme xenophobic and racist positions.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile Saturday. The Seminar put me in a very Tookish mood and I loved the fact that the seminar had one foot in fandom/popular culture, and another in literature studies and academia. The next Tolkien Society Seminar has been announced for July 3-4 2021, the topic is actually Tolkien and Diversity, and the call for papers is here. I'm so excited to see what gets chosen!

As I wrote on Twitter:


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