Since its publication in 1954, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has excited and inspired readers. His publisher thought the book a work of genius but likely to lose money; instead, LOTR became one of the most popular books of its generation and has remained a favorite since. This course will consider Tolkien’s masterwork first within its own context. How do Tolkien’s other works, both fiction and non-fiction, reflect upon and help us better understand LOTR? How does the sociopolitical environment in which Tolkien conceived of and composed LOTR manifest within and illuminate his best known book? How/why/how much does his personal context—friends, family, life experiences—factor into his creation?

Our seminar will also consider how LOTR transcends its original context. Tolkien’s stated aim for his fiction was to create a body of mythology for England, mythology of the sort he found lacking, an extensive collection of stories about gods and heroes like the northern myths. Did he succeed? How can we approach an answer? By what measure might we evaluate the question? What role does Tolkien’s work play within our own context? Can we call Tolkien a mythmaker for our time?

Assignments include:

• Participation: Attendance and active participation are crucial to your success in the course.

• Tweets: At least once before and once after each class, students must post a tweet with the hashtag UMDTolkien13. More are welcome. Students should make observations about the reading for that day’s course meeting, our discussion of it, respond to one another’s tweets, bring our attention to relevant websites, etc

• Research paper topic: A 1-2 paragraph description of your research topic for your semester project. Be prepared to discuss your research topic idea in class on the day this assignment is due. Your semester research project should pose an original question about the works of Tolkien, which you then spend your independent work time for this course seeking to answer via research, careful thought, and textual analysis.

• Annotated bibliography: A 5-8 page annotated bibliography describing the materials used for your semester project. Include a full bibliographic citation for each item and 1-2 paragraphs giving a synopsis of the item and how the project makes use of it.

• Poster for class research conference: We will have an in-class research conference in which students share the results of their semester project with one another via posters.

• Research paper (300 points): A 10-12 page research paper in which you present the results of your semester project. Ideally, your semester project could result in a presentation at an academic conference about Tolkien.

Readings include:

The Hobbit

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

The Return of the King

The Silmarillion

The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays

The Tolkien Reader

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo

Beowulf selection (handout)

The Letters of JRR Tolkien Ed Humphrey Carpenter

Tolkien: A Biography Humphrey Carpenter