Tolkien in Context

Tolkien in Context

This course examines how Tolkien’s subcreated world of Middle-earth engages with issues and concepts relevant to readers, including racism, immigration, the place of women, the ongoing battle of good versus evil, environmental concerns and the rise of technology.

DURATION: 12 weeks
ID: LITA 5314

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.


Dr. Sara Brown
Sara Brown
Faculty Representative to the Board; Language and Literature Department Chair; M.A. Thesis Coordinator; Lecturer; Preceptor
Sparrow is a euro-looking woman with dark eyes and salt-and-pepper hair. She's smiling, looking directly at you, and sitting in front of a poster which is a graphic depiction of the Julia Set, which is a numerical concept related to fractals. Her shawl is hand-knit in the shape of a maple leaf, and if you'd like a link to the pattern, I'd be happy to give it to you.
Sparrow F. Alden
Host of WriterSpace & Community Hearth; Signum Advisor; Preceptor for Signum Academy, SPACE, and the Graduate School of Arts

In 2000, Dr. Tom Shippey highlighted J.R.R. Tolkien’s contribution to literature, identifying him as the “Author of the Century.” Shippey makes a compelling case for the quality of Tolkien’s writing, arguing that this “rests not on mere charm or strangeness…but on a deeply serious response to what will be seen in the end as the major issues of his century: the origin and nature of evil…human existence in Middle-earth, without the support of divine Revelation; cultural relativity; and the corruptions and continuities of language.” These, he declares, “are themes which no one can afford to despise, or need be ashamed of studying.”

What is immediately apparent is that in proclaiming Tolkien as “author of the century,” Shippey situates Tolkien as an author of the twentieth century – in other words, an author who belongs to a very particular time and whose works reflect that time. Within texts such as The Lord of the Rings, the difficulties, tensions and social changes experienced during the immediate post-war period in Britain resonate strongly and add to Tolkien’s extraordinary world-building, thus offering a further dimension for reader exploration.

This course examines the ways in which Tolkien’s Middle-earth is a subcreated world in constant engagement with issues and concepts of ongoing relevance to readers, including racism, immigration, the place of women, the ongoing battle of good versus evil, environmental concerns and the rise of technology.

Weekly Outline

Note on the Schedule: The summer 2022 semester will include a one-week summer break which will fall on the week of June 20, 2022.

  • Week 1: The Context of War
  • Week 2: Good v. Evil: the eternal struggle
  • Week 3: This land is our land part 1
  • Week 4: This land is our land part 2
  • Week 5: We’re in this together
  • Week 6: Family ties
  • Week 7: Women’s realm?
  • Week 8: Strangers to ourselves
  • Week 9: Who are you?
  • Week 10: Nourishment
  • Week 11: The rise of the machine
  • Week 12: Where next? A post-modern Tolkien

Required Texts

All texts by J.R.R. Tolkien. Familiarity with these works prior to the course is assumed.

Course History

This Course has been offered in the following semesters.

Tolkien in Context
Summer 2022Dr. Sara Brown & Sparrow Alden
Fall 2019Dr. Sara Brown & Erin Aust
Spring 2017Dr. Sara Brown & Dr. Mark Womack