Syllabus 2023

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middengeard monnum sended

[“Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels,

over middle-earth to men sent.”] 

Christ I (formerly, The Christ of Cynewulf)


Now we must praise the Guardian of Heaven,
the might of the Lord and His purpose of mind,
the work of the Glorious Father; for He,
God Eternal, established each wonder,
He, Holy Creator, first fashioned
heaven as a roof for the sons of men.
Then the Guardian of Mankind adorned
this middle-earth below, the world for men,
Everlasting Lord, Almighty King. 

—Caedmon’s hymn (trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland)


J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is one of the most popular works of imaginative literature of the twentieth century. This course seeks to understand its appeal by situating Tolkien's creation within the context of Tolkien’s own work as both artist and scholar and alongside its medieval sources and modern parallels. Themes to be addressed include the problem of genre and the uses of tradition, the nature of history and its relationship to place, the activity of creation and its relationship to language, beauty, evil and power, the role of monsters in imagination and criticism, the twinned challenges of death and immortality, fate and free will, and the interaction between the world of “faerie” and religious belief.

Course requirements


1.  Read as much as you can in the required readings on the syllabus and come to Class prepared to participate in the discussion.


2.  Post three reflections (900-1200 words each) on the course blog following our Class discussion for that day. Reflections must be posted within 48 hours of our class discussion (by Thursday at 1:30pm for Tuesday discussions; by Saturday at 1:30pm for Thursday discussions).  These reflections will be worth 35% of your final grade. In your reflections, you may draw on the recommended as well as the required readings. 


Blog address:  


3.  Discussion sections OR blog comments—you choose!

  • Discussion section will meet weekly on Fridays 1:30-2:20pm for six meetings (March 31, April 7, 14, 28, May 5, 12).
  • Blog comments (about 200 words each) should be on at least six blog posts for six different discussions/class days (different from the days on which you post your reflections). 
  • Blog comments/discussion section plus attendance and discussion in Class will be worth 20% of your final grade.


4.  Final project worth 45%. This project will be due on Thursday, May 25. A description of the final project can be found at the end of the syllabus. You should begin work on this project as soon as possible; you will be required to post a short description on Canvas by Friday, April 21.


Books Available for Purchase from the Seminary Co-op Bookstore


J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004) [=LotR]

________, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Del Rey, 1985). 

________, Letters, ed. Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000; first published 1981) [=Letters].

________, The Lost Road and Other Writings, History of Middle Earth [=HME] 5, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Del Rey, 1996).

________, The Tolkien Reader (New York: Del Rey, 1966).

________, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo (New York: Del Rey, 1980).


*________, Sauron Defeated, HME 9, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992) [recommended for purchase—find used copies online].

*________, Unfinished Tales, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Del Rey, 1988) [recommended]


T.A. Shippey, The Road to Middle Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology, rev. ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003).


All other required readings are available on e-reserve. For readings from LotR, references are given by book (not volume!) and chapter, with incipits and explicits, so that you can use any edition you prefer.




Reading and Discussion Assignments


March 21  Tolkien as Scripture

Tolkien, “Mythopoeia

Map of Middle-earth in the Third Age


March 23 Fantasy and Fairy Tale

Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” and “Leaf by Niggle,” in The Tolkien Reader.

________, LotR, bk. I, chap. 7: “The upper wind settled…green stockings.”

________, Letters, nos. 109, 199, 215.


March 28  “Sources” I: Fragments and Elf-friends

Tolkien, Smith of Wootton Major.

________, “The early history of the legend,” and “The Lost Road: iii. The unwritten chapters,” HME 5.

________, LotR, Prologue: “Note on the Shire Records"; bk. I, chap. 3: “The song ended…dreamless slumber”, chap. 9: “Frodo jumped up…talk to you later’”; bk. IV, chap. 8: “In a dark crevice…head in my lap.’”

________, Letters, nos. 131, 203.


Verlyn Flieger, “The Footsteps of Aelfwine,” in Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth, eds. Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000), pp. 183-97. 

Shippey, “Of Birch Hats and Cold Potions,” in Road to Middle-earth,  pp. 271-80.


March 30  “Sources” II: Language and Dreams

Tolkien, “The Lost Road: i. The opening chapters; ii. The Númenórean chapters,” HME 5.

________, The Notion Club Papers, part 1, HME 9, pp. 155-211. 

________, LotR, bk. I, chap. 5: “When at last…noise of thunder”, chap. 7: “Before long…logs are contented”, and chap. 8: “That night…swift sunrise”, and “When he came…towards the south”; bk. II, chap. 7: “One evening Frodo…Let us go!’”; bk. VI, chap. 7: “Well here we are…falling asleep again”, and chap. 9: “Then Elrond…he said.”

________, Letters, nos. 24, 163, 180, 213, 257.

Shippey, “Lost Road, Waste Land,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 295-303.


April 4  Style: Poetry vs. Prose, High vs. Low, Westron vs. English

Tolkien, “Lay of Leithian,” Cantos III and XIII, in Lays of Beleriand, HME 3, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985), pp. 171-181, 294-304.

________, LotR, bk. I, chap. 11: “I will tell you a tale…The story ended”; bk. II, chap. 2 (entire), chap. 4: “The Company spent…or the Ring”, chap. 8: “Yet as is the way…name Elbereth”; bk. III, chap. 6: “The morning was bright…doorwardens will keep them”; bk. V, chap. 3: “So it was that amid…waned in every heart”; bk. VI, chap. 5: “And before the Sun…ways of the City”; Appendix F.II: “On Translation."

________, Letters, no. 165, 171, 190, 193.


Ursula LeGuin, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Susan Wood, rev. ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1989), pp. 78-92.

Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), pp. 68-77 (“The Council of Elrond: Character Revealed”).

April 6  History & Geography, History & Myth

Tolkien, “Farmer Giles of Ham,” in The Tolkien Reader.

________, LotR, Foreword to the Second Edition; Appendices A: “Annals of the Kings and Rulers,” B: “The Tale of Years,” and D: “The Calendars.” [Review appendices for overall structure, not specific details!]

________, The Notion Club Papers, part 2, Nights 62-65, HME 9, pp. 222-33.

________, Letters, no. 53, 151, 183.


“The Ruin,” in The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature through the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, eds. Stuart D. Lee and Elizabeth Solopova (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), section 4.5, pp. 133-43.


Shippey, “Chapter 4: A Cartographic Plot,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 94-134.


April 11  Language and Names

Tolkien, The Notion Club Papers, part 2, Nights 66-67, HME 9, pp. 233-53.

________, “The Lhammas," and "The Etymologies,” HME 5.

________, LotR, bk. II, chap. 1: “Frodo hid the Ring…Sleep well!’”; Appendix E: “Writing and Spelling,” and Appendix F.I: “The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age.”

________, “English and Welsh,” in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983), pp. 162-97.  

________, Letters, nos. 297, 347.


Voluspa (“The Seeress’s Prophecy”), in The Keys of Middle-Earth: Discovering Medieval Literature through the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Stuart Lee and Elizabeth Solopova, 2nd ed. (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), section 4.3: Gandalf and the Dwarves.

Shippey, “Chapter 1: ‘Lit. and Lang.’”; “Chapter 2: Philological Inquiries,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 1-54.


April 13  The Music of Creation

Tolkien, “Ainulindalë,” in The Silmarillion.

________, Letters, no. 96.


Genesis 1-2; Job 38:1-7; John 1:1-18 [any translation or edition]


Jubilees 2:1-24 (ed. James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985], vol. 2, pp. 55-57).


April 18  Creativity & Free Will; Power & Beauty I

Tolkien, “Valaquenta,” in The Silmarillion.

________, “Quenta Silmarillion,” chapters 1-13, in The Silmarillion

________, Letters, nos. 52, 153, 156.


Augustine, City of God, bk. 12, chaps. 1-3, trans. Henry Bettenson, with Introduction by John O’Meara (New York: Penguin, 1984), pp. 471-474.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, chap. 2 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1941; New York: Harper Collins, 1979), pp. 19-31 (“Image of God”).

Shippey, “Chapter 7: Visions and Revisions,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 223-70.

April 20—NO CLASS


April 25 Creativity & Free Will; Power & Beauty II

Tolkien, “Akallabêth,” in The Silmarillion.

________, “The Drowning of Anadûne,” HME 9, pp. 357-75.

________, “A Description of the Island of Númenor,” in Unfinished Tales.

________, “The Palantíri,” in Unfinished Tales.

Augustine, City of God, bk. 12, chaps. 22-28, trans. Bettenson, pp. 502-509.

Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, chap. 7, pp. 93-107 (“Maker of All Things, Maker of Ill-things”).


April 27 Creativity & Free Will; Power & Beauty III

Tolkien, LotR, bk. I, chap. 2: "Next morning after a late breakfast...burst into tears”; chap. 4: “In the morning…said Pippin”; chaps. 11-12: "The story ended...took a wide bend northwards”; chap. 12: "The hobbits were still weary...and saw no more." 

bk. II, chap. 1: "You don't know much about even them...With that he fell fast asleep"; "The dark figure raised its head...Tell me all about the Shire!"; chap. 2: "Then all listened while Elrond....gate of Moria was shut"; "Gandalf fell far as it has yet gone"; "There was a silence...shaking his head”; chap. 9: "Nothing happened that night...out into a wide clear light”; chap. 10: (entire chapter). 

bk. III, chap. 1: (entire chapter), chap. 2: “They went in single file…the time as best we may!”; “With astonishing speed…Farewell!”, chap. 5: "The companions sat on the ground...We will go where he leads.”

bk. IV, chap. 1: "Down the face of a precipice...a black silence”, chap. 5: “There was nothing… also much akin,” “You don’t say…  Once is enough”, chap. 8: "Gollum was tugging...that Mordor now sent forth,” chap. 10: (entire chapter). 

bk. V, chap. 4: "So at length they came...Tomorrow's need will be sterner"; "Now the main retreat...Rohan had come at last,” chap. 7: "When the dark shadow...followed Gandalf,” chap. 9: "When the Prince Imrahil...if men desert it." 

bk. VI, chap. 3: (entire chapter).


________, “Mount Doom,” HME 9, pp. 37-43.

________, Letters, nos. 66, 183, 186, 191-192, 246.

Ursula LeGuin, “The Child and the Shadow,” in The Language of the Night, pp. 54-67.


Shippey, “Chapter 5: Interlacements and the Ring,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 135-76.

May 2  Monsters and Critics

Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” in The Monsters and the Critics, ed. Christopher Tolkien, pp. 5-48.

________, LotR, bk. IV, chaps. 9-10 (Shelob)

________, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (originally published London: Allen & Unwin, 1937), chaps. 2 (trolls), 5 (Gollum), 8 (spiders), 12 (Smaug)

________, Letters, no. 183.


“Beowulf” [selections on monsters and the dragon]

Andrew Lang, “The Story of Sigurd,” The Red Fairy Book (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967; originally published London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1890), pp. 357-67.  


Shippey, “The Bewilderment of Smaug,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 86-93.


May 4  Jewels and Trees I

Tolkien, “Quenta Silmarillion,” chaps. 1, 7-8, 11, 24, in The Silmarillion

________, LotR, bk. II, chaps. 6-8: “Alas! I fear we cannot…Gimli bowed low”, “The Company was arranged…lands of exile name Elbereth.”


Exodus 28 [any translation or edition]

Revelation 21-22


“Pearl,” in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo, trans. Tolkien.  

Marbode of Rennes, “Lapidary of 12 Stones in Verse,” “Medical Prose Lapidary,” and “Christian Symbolic Lapidary in Prose,” in Marbode of Rennes’ (1035-1123) De lapidus considered as a medical treatise, with text, commentary and C.W. King’s Translation, together with text and translation of Marbode’s minor works on stones, ed. John M. Riddle, Sudhoffs Archiv Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Heft 20 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1977), pp. 119-129.

May 9  Jewels and Trees II

Tolkien, LotR, bk. I, chap. 2: “Little of all this…whistling softly and thoughtfully”, chap. 6 (entire); bk. III, chap. 2: “A little way beyond…rustle of the wind”, chap. 4 (entire), chap. 7: “So King Théoden rode…none ever came again”, chap. 8: “So it was that…revenged upon the Orcs”, chap. 9: “They smoked in silence…I could sleep!’”

________, Letters, no. 241, 339.


Exodus 25:31-40


“The Dream of the Rood,” in The Complete Old English Poems, trans. Craig Williamson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 253-58.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” stanzas 1-21, 43-45, 71-74, 77, 80-101, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo, trans. Tolkien.


Verlyn Flieger, “The Green Man, The Green Knight, and Treebeard: Scholarship and Invention in Tolkien’s Fiction,” in Scholarship and Fantasy: Proceedings of The Tolkien Phenomenon, May 1992, Turku, Finland, ed. K.J. Battarbee, Anglicana Turkuensia 12 (Turku, Finland: University of Turku, 1993), pp. 85-98.

May 11 Immortality and Death I: Elves and Men

Tolkien, LotR, bk. I, chap. 3: “The song ended…dreamless slumber”, chap. 11: “Down in the lowest…The story ended”; bk. II, chap. 7 (entire), chap. 8 (entire); bk. IV, chap. 5: “After so long journeying…Once is enough’”; Appendix A.v: “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen."

________, “Quenta Silmarillion,” chaps. 17, 19, and 24, in The Silmarillion

________, “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth,” in Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillion Part One, ed. Christopher Tolkien, HME 10 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), pp. 303-66 (esp. pp. 304-26).

________, Letters, nos. 43, 181, 200, 340.

Shippey, “The Word and the Thing: Elves and Dwarves,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 55-65.


May 16  Immortality and Death II: Men and Hobbits

Tolkien, LotR, Prologue 1-3; 


bk. I, chap 1 (entire), chap. 2: “Little of all this..softly and thoughtfully”, “Frodo drew the Ring…burst into tears”, chap. 4: “In the morning…said Pippin”, chap 9: “Bree was the chief…by all accounts”; 


bk. II, chap. 1: “The hall of Elrond’s house…no sign of Strider”, chap. 10: “Aragorn sprang swiftly…Land of Shadow”; 

bk. III, chap. 8: “For a moment Théoden…Very polite’”; 


bk. IV, chap. 3: “Sam said nothing…always helps’”, chap. 4: “Gollum disappeared…Go to sleep!’”, chap. 6: “They peered down…proved faithless’”, chap. 8: “In a dark crevice…Not yet’”, chap. 10: “Shelob was gone…Mr. Frodo’”, “Sam reeled…by the Enemy.” 


bk. V, chap. 1: “The door opened…But sit now!’”, chap. 2: “For a while…said Théoden”, “And while Théoden…evil enough”, chap. 3: “The king turned…call me Dernhelm’”, chap. 6: “But lo! suddenly…sinews to his will”, chap. 8 (entire); 


bk. VI, chap. 1: “He was naked…won’t come’”, chap. 3 (entire); chap. 4: “‘I am glad…very wine of blessedness”, chap. 5 (entire), chap. 8-9 (entire). 


Appendix C: “Family Trees.”


________, Letters, no. 5, 208, 214, 316.


Shippey, “Creative Anachronisms, Breaking Contact, The Ring as ‘Equalizer’,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 65-86.


May 18 The Meaning of Life: Worship and Endings

Tolkien, LotR (Worship), bk. I, chap. 3: “Snow white!...” “May Elbereth protect you!”, chap. 11: “O Elbereth!...”, chap. 12: “…the name of Elbereth”, “By Elbereth…”; bk. II, chap. 1: “A Elbereth…”, chap. 8: “Now the Lady arose…name Elbereth’”, chap. 9: “Elbereth Gilthoniel!”; bk. IV, chap. 5: “They stood on a wet floor…” “Is it the custom…?”, chap. 10: “Even as Sam himself crouched…Fanuilos!”; bk. VI, chap. 1: “the Lady’s glass…Elbereth, Elbereth…Gilthoniel, A Elbereth!”, chap. 2: “Frodo sighed…untroubled sleep”, chap. 3 (entire), chap. 4: “The fourteenth of the New Year…”, chap. 5: “Sing now…”, chap. 9: “A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!”

Tolkien, LotR (Endings), bk. II, chap. 3: “Books ought to have good endings…”, chap. 7: “It was Frodo…news to him”; bk. III, chap. 1: “For a while…So they ended”; bk. IV, chap. 8: “In a dark crevice…head in my lap’”; bk. V, chap. 6: “We heard of the horns…”; bk. VI, chap. 4: “‘I am glad…very wine of blessedness.”


________, Letters, nos. 54, 89, 142, 183, 206, 211-212, 250, 306, 310, 328.


C.S. Lewis, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 212-15.

Shippey, “Chapter 6: ‘When All Our Fathers Worshipped Stocks and Stones,” in Road to Middle-earth, pp. 177-222.


Final Project


Due Thursday, May 25, by 11:59pm to the Canvas dropbox.

One of the most exciting things about the work of J.R.R. Tolkien is the way in which his creations have borne fruit in numerous sub-creations, both imaginative and scholarly. If not in some of the forms that it has subsequently taken, Tolkien himself anticipated—and, indeed, hoped for—this phenomenon, as he says in his letter to Milton Waldman (Letters, no. 131):


Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy story—he larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths—which I could dedicate simply to England; to my country…. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.


But is it absurd? As an academic, I have responded to Tolkien’s invitation by offering this course. The options that follow are designed to give you the opportunity to respond in your own way, either by studying Tolkien’s work directly or by building upon it so as to fill in some of the “majestic whole” which he left only in sketch. 


1. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is so compelling in part because of the depth that it acquires from the history and languages Tolkien created for the description of a world of which it forms only a small part. Building upon Tolkien’s project of creating a “mythology for England,” create an original work of your own (e.g. a story, a poem, a picture, a map, a play, a comic strip, a musical composition, a language) that evinces the same kind of depth, what Tolkien would call “an inner consistency of reality.” Then, in a separate essay (7-8 pages), explain the nature of this depth and its relationship to Tolkien’s “majestic whole.” What is it that gives your artistic response to Tolkien’s sub-creation “depth”? 

2. Tolkien’s academic scholarship was of a piece with his imaginative work. Taking as your model Tolkien’s own essays (e.g. on fairy stories or on monsters), write an essay (12-15 pages) that takes up Tolkien’s challenge to the critics who would read works of imagination solely for what they can tell us about the historical circumstances in which they were written. As Tolkien asked of Beowulf, how do we as scholars allow the Tower of Art to stand so that from it we can still see the Sea? More prosaically, what questions should we be asking of works such as The Lord of the Rings, for example, about their purpose, importance and/or effects? You may use a topic or theme that has come up in class, whether in our discussion of Tolkien or of other authors whom we have read, but you should also feel free to develop a topic of your own.

You should post a title and brief description (max. 100 words) of your project in the “Tolkien and the Meaning of Life” discussion board on the course Canvas site by Friday, April 21. At this stage your “description” may be mainly questions you have about your artwork or critical theme, but I want to be sure that you start on your project early enough in the quarter to give yourself time to answer them.

No comments: