Tolkien in Context

Tolkien in Context

May 8, 2017
12 weeks
LITA 5314


Sara Brown
Board Member: Elected Faculty Member; Preceptor
Mark Womack


Tolkien Studies

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 v. evil, environmental concerns and the rise of technology.

Weekly Outline

Lectures will be held on Monday and Wednesday, 3:00 – 4:30 pm Eastern Time, with one weekly discussion session as assigned. Weekly outline, readings, and assignments subject to change in the final syllabus.

  • 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.

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Tolkien in Context
Semester Preceptor(s)
Spring 2017 Dr. Sara Brown, Dr. Mark Womack