Forum Questions

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English 303-524C J.R.R. Tolkien

Reception Theory: Tolkien and the 1960's (All Students)

In class, I mentioned that LOTR was NOT an immediate huge success the way that more recent texts such as the Harry Potter books, George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, or even Tolkien's own subsequent works. However, a decade after the original publication, the paperback editions of the books suddenly emerged as one of the touchstone texts of the 1960's, even getting references in popular music (e.g. Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Battle of Evermore"). Each of you should suggest an element of 1960's history, society, culture, etc., that might help explain the sudden popularity of LOTR.

Biographical Approaches (Online Students Only)

Looking at the biography of Tolkien at The Tolkien Society's webpage (above), make one connection between his life and some element of his writings (any text). Please do not duplicate the post above yours--plenty of answers exist!

Fantasy and Young Adult Literature (All Students)

Those of you teaching young adults (now or in the future) may be aware of the popularity of fantasy among that age group. While not all MS, HS, and college students are fans, young adults of both genders form a large part of the audience for fantasy fiction and films. Considering the nature of the genre, what about fantasy might appeal to this readership and/or viewership? Develop your answer with an example of a text that might be effective and explain why.

Fantasy in Film (Online Students Only)

Until recently, the conversion of fantasy literature to the big and small screens posed major problems. However, the last three decades have seen a steadily accelerating progress of fantasy film and television. Nevertheless, much of that has been of a rather low quality. What specific challenges does fantasy present that might contribute to that "quality-control" problem? Identify one such challenge and give an example that illustrates your point.

Women and Fantasy (All Students)

Feminist criticism has at least two angles to take on Tolkien. First, in class and online we discussed the relatively male-dominated "cast" of LOTR and The Hobbit and how this led to some of the changes in the film version. Second, despite the fact that the early history of fantasy literature tended in that direction, Tolkien and his works had (and have) many female fans, and that prefigured a dramatic shift: despite a recent essay by a NY Times critic calling fantasy "boy fiction," in fact the majority of successful fantasy writers (both young adult and adult) and readers are female, while the majority of science fiction writers and readers are still male. Any suggestions why that might be?

Religion and LOTR (Online Students Only)

As discussed in class and online, Tolkien was a devout Catholic who even converted his friend C.S. Lewis to his faith. Given that Middle-earth is in fact the "pre-history" of our own world, does he succeed in making it consistent with his religious beliefs? Give an example of an element of his texts that you either find CONSISTENT or INCONSISTENT with traditional Catholic Christianity. You might want to consider an issue such as the nature of evil, the possibility of redemption, the nature of Satan and other fallen/unfallen angels, the question of elvish vs. human souls and afterlives, etc.

Multiple Narratives (All Students)

Critics such as Schmidt have contended that massive fantasy tomes such as LOTR or A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R. Martin) are not traditional single-narrative novels but rather a tapestry of multiple narratives (for example, the Classical Hero [Aragorn and Arwen], the Romantic Hero [Merry and Pippin], the Modern Hero [Frodo, Sam, and Gollum], the Male-Bonding Story [Legolas and Gimli] with Gandalf serving as a link and adjunct for all of the stories). Take any one of those narratives and briefly outline its parameters.

Style (Online Students Only)

Pick passages from any two of LOTR, The Hobbit, or The Simarillion. What do you note about the differences in Tolkien's style? How might those relate to the different origins of the text (when T. wrote them or started writing them, the audiences for the text, etc.)?

© Dr. Loren R. Schmidt, 1999-2012
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