Race, Gender, and the Other in Tolkien’s Middle-earth

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.

J. R. R. Tolkien was born in South Africa to British parents. His family moved back to England before he was four, though his father stayed behind. Tolkien was a child of the Victorian British Empire, but was also orphaned by the time he was twelve years old. He was a Catholic in a largely Protestant country, and later a historical philologist in a more modern-leaning college. Tolkien understood marginalization and feelings of difference, and he was very sympathetic to this. In his work, we clearly see his sympathies towards women’s challenges, and towards the plight of indigenous peoples. That said, Tolkien could not step completely outside of the systemic problems of his culture. At times he falls back on culturally-recognized tropes and images that certainly do not dismantle racial or gender stereotypes, and may even reinforce them.

This course explores the issues of race, sexuality, gender, and Othering in the mythological legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien, focusing primarily on The Lord of the Rings. We will examine the effects of gender on male and female characters, including the types of femininity and masculinity portrayed. We will confront the role of race in the texts, including issues around Blackness, Whiteness, and ethnicity. We will explore these questions simultaneously, through the intersections of race, gender, and issues of sexuality in Middle-earth. Tolkien’s writing continues to resonate in twenty-first century culture; this course aims to read his work through a twenty-first century optic.

Weekly Schedule

This live course will include two 90-minute live lectures from 3:00-4:30 PM EST on Tuesdays and Thursdays and one 1-hour discussion sessions per week as assigned (4 hours total weekly). Remember to indicate your availability and time zone on the Goldberry registration system.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Book I Part 1

Lecture 1: Introduction to the Critical Theory

Lecture 2: Hobbits, Wraiths, Black Riders, and Farmer Maggot

Week 2: Book I Part 2

Lecture 1: Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, and the squint-eyed Southerner

Lecture 2: Strider, Arwen, and Glorfindel

Week 3: Book II Part 1

Lecture 1: Frodo, Bilbo, and Saruman

Lecture 2: Balrogs, Orcs, and Liminality

Week 4: Book II Part 2

Lecture 1: Galadriel, Elves and Ethnicity, and the Sublime

Lecture 2: Orcs, Boromir, and the Edain

Week 5: Book III Part 1

Lecture 1: Orcs, Ents, and the Riders of Rohan

Lecture 2: Gandalf, Wormtongue, and Eowyn

Week 6: Book III Part 2

Lecture 1: War, Masculinity, Gimli, and the Dwarves

Lecture 2: Saruman, Sauron, and Pippin

Week 7: Book IV Part 1

Lecture 1: Gollum, Jung, Liminality, and the Uncanny

Lecture 2: Faramir, Spirituality, and Belief

Week 8: Book IV Part 2

Lecture 1: Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

Lecture 2: Shelob, Sam, and Orcs

Week 9: Book V Part 1

Lecture 1: Spaces of Memory, Gender, and Eowyn

Lecture 2: Homoamory, Masculinity, and Indigeneity

Week 10: Book V Part 2

Lecture 1: Eowyn, Aragorn, and Eomer

Lecture 2: Grief, Leadership, and Eucatastrophe

Week 11: Book VI Part 1

Lecture 1: Frodo, Sam, and Gollum

Lecture 2: Homoamory, Healing, and Leadership

Week 12: Book VI Part 2

Lecture 1: Indigeneity, Intimacy, and Saruman

Lecture 2: The Foreigner, Sexuality, and Land as Gendered Space

Required Texts

The Amazon links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish.

The Lord of the Rings (no required edition)

Tolkien and Alterity (Eds. Christopher Vaccaro and Yvette Kisor)

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Spring 2023Dr. Sara Brown & Dr. Christopher Vaccaro

Course Artwork

Original course artwork by Maureen Dillon.

Race, Gender and the Other in Tolkien's Middle-earth

This course explores the issues of race, sexuality, gender, and Othering in the mythological legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien.

START: January 9, 2023

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5317