The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien

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.

Place is one of the defining features of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium; Middle-earth is arguably its most constant and central character. How and why did he build what he called a secondary world, and in what ways did our primary world help to shape its landscape, geography and cultures? How does his work relate to contemporary understanding of the cultural landscape, to ideas of nationhood, and to environmental issues?

John Garth, influential Tolkien biographer and scholar, will act as your guide in this deep dive into the themes he researched for his latest book, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places that Inspired Middle-earth.

The course will divide into three major sections. First we will consider Tolkien’s imaginative relationship with England or Britain, and with cultures beyond. In several further sessions we will cover varieties of natural landscape in his works. Finally we will devote a number of classes to the interactions of peoples and places, ranging from archaeology to industry and war.

Threading through the course will be reading and discussion of background topics including cultural landscape theory, Tolkien’s theory of the secondary world, and biographical criticism. Garth will also give guidance on research methods in criticism.

Through a focus on modern literature’s premier world-builder, the course offers an enhanced understanding of the importance of place to literature, to literary creativity, and to the human condition.

Weekly Outline

This course includes two live 90-minute lectures per week with one 60-minute discussion session as assigned.

Week 1 – Introduction

Week 2 – England to the Shire

Week 3 – Four Winds

Week 4 – The Land of Lúthien

Week 5 – The Shore and the Sea

Week 6 – Roots of the Mountains

Week 7 – Rivers, Lakes and Waterlands

Week 8 – Tree-Woven Lands

Week 9 – Ancient Imprints

Week 10 – Watch and Ward

Week 11 – Places of War

Week 12 – Craft and Industry

Required Texts

The Amazon links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish. Preferred editions are not below where relevant.

Recommended Texts

Further suggested reading will be provided by the instructor in the final syllabus.

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Fall 2020Dr. Sara Brown & Erin Aust

Course Artwork

Image provided by Tobias M. Eckrich. Used by permission of The German Tolkien Society.

The Worlds of JRR Tolkien, Alps Background, by Tobias M. Eckrich

John Garth delves into theories concerning geography, nationhood, and the environment to explore Tolkien’s primary and fictional worlds.

START: August 31, 2020

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5315