In 1953, J.R.R. Tolkien visited the University of Glasgow, to give a lecture on the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Later this month, the university’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic will celebrate the anniversary of the event – and you can join them, in person or online!
With an illustrious panel of speakers, chaired by Dr Dimtra Fimi, the event includes a pop-up exhibition featuring a handwritten letter from the Professor.
UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW TO CELEBRATE LORD OF THE RINGS AUTHOR JRR TOLKIEN
A selection of books by JRR Tolkien including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (above)
Today he is remembered as the “father” of modern fantasy literature and the author of two of the best-loved and biggest-selling books of all time.
When JRR Tolkien visited the University of Glasgow 70 years ago, he had written The Hobbit to great acclaim and was on the cusp of publishing the 1st volume of The Lord of the Rings.
In 1953, Tolkien, then Oxford University Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, was in Scotland to give a lecture on late 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – a key text in the Arthurian tradition featuring young King Arthur himself, the knight Sir Gawain, a mysterious green knight, and the sorceress Morgan le Fay. The poem is itself a source text for modern fantasy and was an inspiration for Tolkien in his Middle-earth mythology.
But it was obvious Tolkien’s popularity as a fantasy writer was on the rise in 1953, as the ticketed WP Ker Memorial Lecture was at its capacity with 300 people in attendance.
Now academics at the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic are celebrating Tolkien’s Glasgow connection with a special event to mark the 70th anniversary of Tolkien’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight lecture.
Dr Dimitra Fimi, Senior Lecturer in Fantasy and Children’s Literature at the University of Glasgow and the Co-Director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, said: “It was a thrill to discover more about Tolkien’s lecture at Glasgow and this fascinating connection to the city, including the venue it was held, and the handwritten letter by Tolkien in our archives.
“Today 70 years later at the University of Glasgow, Tolkien’s own work is on the curriculum of our Fantasy MLitt programme, and we have various PhD students working on Tolkien.”
Dr Andoni Cossio, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, said: “As a schoolboy, Tolkien had a great affection for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight poem, which even led to occasional recitations of certain passages for his friends.
“By the time of the Glasgow lecture, Tolkien had a deep knowledge of the poem that he put to good use in his university teaching, supervision and lectures. Tolkien had also prepared and published an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in 1925 (together with his colleague EV Gordon), which is remains today an important textbook for students studying the poem and helped establish it as a canonical text in medieval studies.
“During his 1953 W. P. Ker lecture, Tolkien quoted from his own Sir Gawain translation, which was later broadcast by the BBC. The University of Glasgow lecture was only accessible much later to a wider audience when it was published in 1983.
The Tolkien Sir Gawain lecture 70th anniversary event is hybrid – both in person at the University of Glasgow and online. For those attending on-campus, there will be an opportunity to see a pop-up exhibition with documentation related to Tolkien’s appointment as the 1953 WP Ker Memorial Lecturer (including a hand-written letter by Tolkien), in collaboration with Archives & Special Collections, University of Glasgow.
Tolkien and Glasgow
On 15 April 1953, Tolkien delivered the WP Ker Memorial Lecture, on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, to an audience of 300 at the University of Glasgow. The essay was published posthumously, in 1983, in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien.
Join us at Glasgow on Thursday 27 April 2023, 5-6:30pm, on-campus (Joseph Black Building) or online, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the lecture and its significance, Tolkien’s links to Glasgow, and the importance of the Sir Gawain poem in Tolkien’s creativity.
Our panel of speakers will feature:
Professor Jeremy Smith, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow
Dr Lydia Zeldenrust, Lecturer in Middle English Literature, University of Glasgow
Dr Andoni Cossio, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic
Chair: Dr Dimitra Fimi, Senior Lecturer in Fantasy and Children’s Literature, and Co-Director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic
It’s free to attend this event – either in person or online – but you do need to book via Eventbrite.
For those within easy travelling distance of Bradford in the UK, this weekend is going to be a good one! Bradford Literature Festival is happening; and there are several talks related to JRR Tolkien.
Tolkien taught at Leeds University from 1920 to 1925, before his teaching career at Oxford began. It was during his years at Leeds that he wrote A Middle English Vocabulary and his definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (with E. V. Gordon). Like many other areas of England’s ‘green and pleasant land’, there are stunning landscapes across West Yorkshire which lay claim to be (at least partly) inspiration for the Shire.
What was Tolkien’s intended ending for The Lord of the Rings? What was the audience’s response to the first ever adaptation of The Lord of the Rings – a radio dramatisation that has now been deleted forever from the BBC’s archives? The University of Oxford’s Grace Khuri will be joined by Tolkien Archivist Catherine McIlwaine and biographer John Garth to explore J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth legacy and his son’s tireless work in sharing it with the world.
Catherine McIlwaine, John Garth, Grace Khuri: Tolkien: The Great Tales Never End (Saturday 25th June at 10.30am). More information and tickets available here
From Norse mythology and Christian faith to his fellow fantasy writers and the very real battlegrounds of World War I, join us as we explore the varied and unlikely inspirations that shaped J.R.R. Tolkien’s much-loved fantasy worlds – including Catherine J. Blatt, John Garth, and Alaric Hall.
Catherine Batt, Alaric Hall and John Garth: Where Did Tolkien Find His Inspiration? (Saturday 25th June at 11.45am). More information and tickets available here
Author of The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, John Garth will take audience on a journey through the places that inspired the Shire, Rivendell, Helms Deep and Mordor and will discuss how the West Midlands and Oxford, alongside Yorkshire, played their part in the creations.
John Garth on The Worlds of JRR Tolkien: The Places that Inspired Middle-Earth (Sunday 26th June at 11.45am). More information and tickets available here
Tolkien has inspired many writers across all genres to follow in his footsteps. Samantha Shannon, Courttia Newland and David Barnett will discuss Tolkien’s vast impact within literature, and how his writing has influenced them personally as writers.
Samantha Shannon, Courttia Newland and David Barnett: Inspired By Tolkien (Sunday 26th June at 4pm). More information and tickets available here
The Haggerty Museum of Art and Raynor Memorial Libraries at Marquette University will be presenting a a lecture series in September in conjunction with the collaborative exhibition “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript.”
The exhibition — which opens on August 19 — will feature original manuscripts created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and other works. It will consider Tolkien’s work through the lens of manuscripts, in terms of both the materials that he studied as a medieval philologist and the manuscripts that he created while developing his legendarium.
All lectures will be held at the Haggerty Museum of Art and are free to attend. They will also be streamed online for audiences who wish to attend virtually (great for people not in the USA!). The museum states that — due to limited capacity — reservations are required. You can reserve a place to attend the lectures here.
Thursday, Sept. 22, 5 p.m.: “Editing the Tolkienian Manuscript,” presented by Carl Hostetter
Carl Hostetter is a computer scientist at NASA who has earned a reputation as one of the leading experts on J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented languages. He is a key member of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship, an elite group of four Tolkien scholars whom the Tolkien Estate has entrusted with special access to the author’s unpublished linguistic manuscripts. These linguists have published extensively on Tolkien’s invented languages, including in “Vinyar Tengwar,” a peer-reviewed journal that Hostetter edits.
Hostetter is one of the most experienced students of Tolkien’s manuscripts. His ability to read and interpret Tolkien’s notoriously difficult handwriting is second to none. Christopher Tolkien (1924-2020) entrusted Hostetter with editing his father’s last volume of published writings, released in 2021 under the title, “The Nature of Middle-earth.” Hostetter’s work is highly regarded by Tolkien scholars. His volume “Tolkien’s Legendarium”—co-edited with Verlyn Flieger—is considered one of the best collections of essays on the history of Tolkien’s secondary world.
Thursday, Oct. 13, 5 p.m.: “Tolkien’s Faith and the Foundations of Middle-earth,” presented by Holly Ordway
Holly Ordway is a rising star among Tolkien scholars. Her 2021 book “Tolkien’s Modern Reading” is a tour de force destined to become a classic in Tolkien studies. Ordway demonstrated that Tolkien, usually pigeonholed as a medievalist, was remarkably well read in modern literature.
Her work shows how many modern works affected Tolkien’s creative output. Currently on faculty at Houston Baptist University, Ordway has taught English at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and MiraCosta College. She specializes in J.R.R. Tolkien and, more generally, in mythopoeic literature. Ordway’s current research project is a book-length treatment of Tolkien’s Catholicism, fitting for a Catholic, Jesuit university such as Marquette.
Thursday, Nov. 17, 5 p.m.: “Whispering Leaves: How Tolkien’s Manuscripts Reveal the Secrets of His Creativity,” presented by John Garth
Trained as a journalist, John Garth has gained an international reputation as a leading writer about J.R.R. Tolkien and a popular commentator on Tolkien’s works and life. His published works include the recent “The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien” (2020). His earlier masterpiece, “Tolkien and the Great War” (2003), is universally acknowledged as a classic in the field of Tolkien Studies.
Garth, who has made a special study of Tolkien’s manuscripts, will focus his lecture on a manuscript that is part of Marquette’s collection and has never previously been exhibited or published. He will demonstrate his renowned historical research skills by analyzing the manuscript and using it to tease out insights about Tolkien’s experiences during the Second World War.
Tickets for the “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript” exhibition are on sale now. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $8 for senior citizen and active military (with I.D.). Friends of the Haggerty Museum of Art members, K-12 educators, children aged 17 and under, and Marquette University students, faculty members, and staff members are free with advance reservations and a valid I.D. The exhibition will be open until 8 p.m. on the night of each lecture.
About the Haggerty Museum of Art
The Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University is an innovative nexus of interdisciplinary learning where creativity, intellect and social justice intersect. Located in the heart of the Near West Side, adjacent to downtown Milwaukee, and open daily, the museum is one of the most accessible arts venues in the city.
This is part one of a two part interview with Julia Golding, founder of Project Northmoor and the Oxford Centre for Fantasy, which is dedicated to creativity and the study of Oxford’s most famous fantasy writer, J.R.R. Tolkien. Like Tolkien, she studied at the University of Oxford where she received a Doctorate in English Literature. Her CV includes British diplomat and Oxfam policy adviser, as well as multi-award winning author of children’s and young adult novels, with over a half a million books sold worldwide, which have been translated into many languages.
Mithril: What is your first memory of reading Tolkien?
Julia: Your question reminded me that I had a first unsuccessful attempt at reading The Hobbit too young on my own (around 6 or 7) which put me off Tolkien. I wish someone had read it to me – or steered me towards a recording –because it took me a long while to rediscover The Hobbit. But then came the summer when I was ten. I decided to try Tolkien again but started with The Lord of the Rings. I have a vivid memory of lying on a sofa in my childhood home in Essex, suburban Southeast England. I can even conjure up the feeling of the sofa fabric and the cool room with the sunny road outside. I was enchanted, completely lost in his world. I got to the end, and immediately went back to The Fellowship of the Ring, because I couldn’t stand for the experience to end – so I carried on lying down reading. It really was a turning point for me; ever since then he has helped inspire my passion for creating worlds in fiction.
Mithril: You’ve written over 60 novels, and once said “[Tolkien] is a key influence over the way I write and the reason I became an author.” Can you delve into this a bit more?
Julia: It is connected to his example as a creator of myth. He wrote about us being sub-creators, how we can be a little like a god to our own worlds. I love the idea that we each have the ability to create these microcosm universes, decide the rules and nature of the worlds, invent the peoples, their behaviour, culture and languages. Tolkien led by example. His enduring appeal to me is as a uniquely creative mind whose subcreation has unrivalled internal consistency, length, breadth and depth.
I was also inspired by how he wrote about the things that mattered to him by using them to power the structure holding up Middle-earth. He didn’t come at you with an obvious allegory and bash you over the head with the application; he famously wrote in the Preface to The Fellowship of the Ring that: ‘I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.’
That doesn’t mean, of course, there aren’t values or messages to be drawn, but these are those connected with the reader’s experience. You can be a person of faith, no faith, and from the whole range of world cultures, and still there will be something important there for you. He found great power in such stories as those where the hero sacrifices themselves, displays humanity to the enemy, or fights a battle where victory is also a kind of defeat – all of which can be linked to source stories ranging from the Bible to George MacDonald and William Morris, via Old Norse sagas and Anglo-Saxon poetry. This method of using the things you find powerful as a code underlying your own story showed me how to draw on what I care about to create something uniquely mine – and hopefully the reader senses this and cares too.
Mithril: You hold a Doctorate in English Literature from the University of Oxford. While there, did you study Tolkien’s works?
Julia: I studied Tolkien when I did my undergraduate degree, which was in [the University of] Cambridge back in the mists of time. I wrote a final year paper on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis looking at their different approaches to mythopoeia. I didn’t become a professional writer for another fifteen years, but that third-year thesis stayed with me.
Mithril: You are the founder of Project Northmoor, a center for creative studies with a focus on fantasy and J.R.R. Tolkien. How did the idea for this come about? Can you talk about the process of pulling it together?
Julia: This all came out of the attempt to buy Tolkien’s house, which began in November 2020, launching in December that year – all in super-quick time as we were trying to buy it before anyone else did. I live close by the house. When I cycle past, I have always thought it would make a perfect creative writing centre and would be a wonderful way to honour Tolkien’s legacy. There isn’t anywhere like that in the UK, which is astonishing considering his global importance as a writer. When we started the campaign to buy it, we decided the idea of having a literary centre in Oxford was a valid goal even if we didn’t achieve our aim for the house. We wanted to provide a place for those who love Oxford fantasy to come for inspiration. When we didn’t make the target in the first three months, we had to stop as the vendor wanted to take another offer. Such a shame as we really gave it our best shot! Many Tolkien fans around the world were really generous but there just weren’t enough of us to get us over the line. We then went to plan b and began looking for another venue for the centre. However, that meant we started off online. That was a blessing in disguise as it made us think outside the box of what residential creative centres usually offer. We could be global from the outset, building a wonderful community of creatives who are inspired by Tolkien and other Oxford fantasy writers.
In the second part of this interview, we’ll share a video where Julia visits a barrow which may have helped inspire the Barrow Downs scene in The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Pembroke College’s annual Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature this year will be turned into an online symposium. This year’s lecture will discuss a particularly timely subject: “…the importance of fantasy in times of crisis: how science-fiction and fantasy literature respond to, and provide inspiration during, moments of despair and personal difficulty.”
More on The Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature:
The Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature was established in 2013 at Pembroke College, Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien worked for twenty years as professor of Anglo-Saxon. Speakers in the series are given freedom to discuss any aspect of fantasy literature, broadly defined to include other types of speculative fiction. Our aim is to honour J.R.R. Tolkien’s legacy by promoting the study of fantasy literature.