The Second Age: Middle-Earth’s Darkest Hour
Sauron stands triumphant over most of Middle-Earth. The Elves stand alone under the High-Kingship of Gil-Galad, constrained to one of the smallest Elf realms in the land’s history. When the Numinorians arrived, it seemed like the reforming of the Eldar and Edain alliance might be possible. But the Numinorians were already corrupted, and were seeking to rival Sauron in power, rather than overthrow his way or rule. In time, they would defeat Sauron, who would then corrupt them from the inside out. At that moment, all hope must have seemed lost. The power of evil must have seemed overwhelming in a way not seen since the aftermath of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Was this the time in Middle-Earth’s history which came closest to falling completely to the shadow? Could Gil-Galad have stood against a Numinorian army under the direction of Sauron? I have often wondered at why the Valar involved Illuvatar, a move they did not resort to even during the War of Wrath. Perhaps they felt that the need this time was so great that they had no choice. That’s the question I will examine in my Mythmoot paper.
Brandon Minich is a computer programmer, and is a lifelong lover of fantastical stories. He loves nothing more than digging deeply into a detailed world like Middle-Earth.
What has Sinai to do with Nevrast?: Divine Darkness in The Cloude of Unknowing and Tolkien’s Legendarium
Images of light and darkness seem to dominate the imaginative landscape of Tolkien’s legendarium, with most major conflicts being characterized by this contrast: the light of the Two Trees swallowed by the palpable darkness of Ungoliant; the light of the phial of Galadriel shining in the darkness of Cirith Ungol; Gandalf the White, standing opposite the Witch King at the great gates of Gondor. These moments and others suggest a basic schema of “light is good, darkness is evil,” which has left its mark on the fantasy genre as a whole. Here, Tolkien’s subcreative spell is almost too powerful. A careful look at the legendarium reveals a more nuanced approach to light and darkness, including several places where darkness is encountered at the threshold of an experience with the numinous—or even the divine. In this essay, I will argue that Tolkien takes some subtle cues from the mystical tradition of medieval Christianity, and in particular the apophatic mysticism of the Middle English treatise The Cloude of Unknowing. The second half of this paper will take a brief look at the final version of Tuor’s encounter with Ulmo at Nevrast, examining the ways in which it follows the well-established framework of mystical encounters in medieval literature.
Richard Rohlin is a husband, father of four, data analyst, and philologist living in Grand Prairie, TX. He holds an MA in English Language and Literature from Signum University with a concentration in Germanic philology, and has authored several books and essays, including a critical edition of the Old Norse poem The Waking of Angantyr.
“There’s hell, there’s darkness”: the mythos of Tragedy in “King Lear”
N. Trevor Brierly
In his “Anatomy of Criticism” Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye describes four approaches to life through literature, which he called “mythoi”. These four mythoi are Romance (think heroic adventure, not love stories), Comedy (“journeys’ end and lovers meeting”), Tragedy and Irony. As fans and scholars we thrive on the myriad depictions of Romance and Comedy in speculative literature, but find there relatively little of the mythoi of Tragedy and Irony. This can lead to an incompleteness in our conception of literature and life. While we may avoid Tragedy and Irony for their darkness, sorrow and terror, there is also hard-won wisdom, experience and movement towards maturity there. This presentation will focus on understanding better the value of the mythos of Tragedy by viewing “King Lear” (William Shakespeare), through Frye’s critical approach. It will examine the trajectory of “liberty to law” that is inherent in most Tragedy, the themes of fall, decay and separation and the importance of the anagnorisis, the moment of awareness of reality. The presentation will conclude with some suggestions on how the mythoi can serve in our lives as ways to organize and understand our experience as literature scholars and human beings.
N. Trevor Brierly works as a software engineer in Northern Virginia, USA. He has a BA in English from George Mason University and an MLIS from the University of Texas Austin, and is working on an MA degree with a concentration in Tolkien Studies from Signum University. He recently published an essay “Worldbuilding Design Patterns in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien” in Sub-creating Arda (Walking Tree Publishers, 2019).
“Ruining, Perverting, Misapplying”: Mythopoeia in Major Nazi Literature
In “On Fairy-stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien warns that “Mythology … may like all human things become diseased,” and the doctrine of the Nazi Party is certainly one of the most diseased mythologies ever created. This is evident not only in the horrific consequences of its actualization, but also in the conception of its hateful content. Tolkien’s language of mythopoeia, or myth-creation, offers a means of defining what made Nazi mythology simultaneously abominable and influential.
No single primary source codifies the entire set of political, cultural, and pseudoscientific beliefs that comprise Nazi mythology; however, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Alfred Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century outline many of the beliefs the Party championed in its propaganda and which influenced government policy after Hitler came to power in 1933. In these books, Hitler and Rosenberg craft narratives that synthesize existing philosophies, such as anti-liberalism, anti-Semitism, Völkisch nationalism, and eugenics, with their personal convictions. Although these early Nazi ideologues may have believed what they wrote, their retellings and reinterpretations of personal and social history are more like works of fantasy than of fact.
This paper analyzes Mein Kampf and The Myth of the Twentieth Century through a mythopoeic lens, drawing primarily from Tolkien’s writings on the subject. I first examine characters and themes Hitler and Rosenberg take from the Cauldron of Story and repurpose to serve their radical political goals. Then, I explore how connecting the social and political situation of the late 1920s and early 1930s with the mythic past may have provided Recovery, Escape, and Consolation to the intended audience. Although Nazi mythology fails to meet Tolkien’s criteria for a fairy-story, the elements it approximates can help explain how the mythology found a receptive audience in interwar Germany and continues to attract fanatical supporters to this day.
Rhiannon Cire is working on her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Studio Art at the University of Lynchburg. In her free time, she enjoys researching and presenting about anti-Nazi resistance to organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution and National D-Day Memorial and writing screenplays for the Silmarillion Film Project.
A Shadow Lies Between Them: Húrin and Manthor’s Debate on the Darkness of Brethil
The late text “The Wanderings of Húrin”, found in The War of the Jewels, continues and extends the thematics of Tolkien’s Great Tale of Túrin Turambar, dramatizing the intersections of fate and free will as together those forces contribute to the tragic narrative conclusion.
As an aging hero and released captive of Morgoth, the wanderer Húrin Thaliana believes that he meets evil already firmly entrenched within the Woodmen of Brethil, an evil typified by their discourteous manners and their deadly lack of pity toward those who appear before them in direst need. Mentor, a respected captain of the folk, is everything certain of his countrymen are not, respectful of Húrin’s fame and responsive to his plight. Yet even Manthor may prove wary of the long shadow cast by a prisoner loosed from Angband, a shadow “in which lesser shadows grow darker.” Caught within a scene of local political strife and ambition, foregrounded against the ever-present brooding threat of Morgoth, Húrin and Manthor between them struggle to define the causes of the darkness they both find lately apparent in Brethil, even as each man defies it in his own way: Húrin, stubbornly; Manthor, craftily. The two men’s diagnoses of the problem are wholly at odds, as are their responses; or are they?
This paper compares Húrin and Manthor’s differing explanatory frameworks for understanding the darkness afflicting the Woodmen of Brethil, with an emphasis on connections to the main tradition of Húrin’s son Túrin, whose terrible propensity for poor outcomes ever seems to be due to a combination of factors, some within the human power to control, some not.
Alyssa House-Thomas is a proud alumna of Mills College and Signum University. Her independent scholarship focuses most on the works of Tolkien, though she also enjoys medieval literature and other speculative fiction.
“Ever-defeated never altogether subdued”: Fighting the Long Defeat in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Whedon’s Angel
Katherine Sas and Curtis A. Weyant
The theme of “the long defeat” is a well-established concept in Tolkien studies. First explicated by Tom Shippey in his book The Road to Middle-earth and based on a lament by the elf queen Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings (“Through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat”), the long defeat represents the ongoing, seemingly vain struggle of good against an apparently endless tide of evil, where even the occasional victories of the heroes are often fruitless or short lived. Throughout its five seasons, the television series Angel (1999-2004), a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, likewise explores the theme of doing good in the face of relentless evil – of “helping the hopeless,” as the motto of the Angel Investigations team puts it. This paper explores the similarities between Tolkien’s concept of the long defeat and the persistence in “fighting the good fight” in Angel. It will also explore the contrasts of the differing approaches and beliefs of these works’ respective creators, particularly Tolkien’s Catholic outlook, which pointed to an ultimate divine victory, and Whedon’s existential viewpoint, which suggested a more nihilistic (though not necessarily less purposeful) outcome. We will spend roughly equal time on each author’s work, first analyzing Tolkien’s use of this theme, tracing its development, and citing prior research in secondary literature, and then applying this analysis to Angel to demonstrate how its message and worldview both conform to and differ from those espoused in The Lord of the Rings.
Note: This presentation is based on a forthcoming paper to be published in The Journal of Tolkien Research.
Katherine Sas works in communications at the University of Pennsylvania. She holds an MA in Language & Literature from Signum University, hosts a weekly podcast on speculative television at Kat & Curt’s TV Re-View, and writes about fantasy and science fiction TV, film, and literature on her blog, Raving Sanity.
Curtis A. Weyant is a digital marketer by trade and a student of speculative literature by choice. He holds an MA in Language & Literature from Signum University, co-hosts the podcast Kat & Curt’s TV Re-View, and edits the speculative satire website Laserflail.
“That’s Not How The Force Works”: Disappointing Dualism and Emerging Themes of Active Goodness in Television and Movies
Kerra Fletcher and Jason Troutman
Dualism seems an obvious method of defining both good/light and evil/darkness. Upon inspection, though, this binary framework doesn’t adequately capture either. Dualism focuses on what good and evil aren’t rather than what they are: lack of one confirms the presence of the other. But surely goodness is more than the absence of evil, much like light is more than the absence of darkness. But can light exist without the dark? In the same way, does good exist without evil? Is contrast an essential part of the definition?
Examples of evil are easy to identify in fantastic exploratory films- recall the destruction of Alderaan or the extraction of Gelfling essence. These heinous acts are the result of nefarious purposes; it need not be compared to good to recognize that it is evil. However, good is undefined unless is it juxtaposed with evil. There are few examples of goodness that are represented independently of evil. In fact, when the authors could not come up with a single instance of good for the sake of goodness, we asked “How is good portrayed in modern movies and television?”
In this paper, we will explore an emerging definition of good that is more than a simple contrast to evil. Rather than reactionary, good is a multi-step process that begins with the rejection of evil, then moves through passive contemplation, and finally into an active state, characterized by forming an alliance of heroes that is engaged with the world. We will briefly explore this theme in selected fantastic exploratory films from 1977 to 2019. As this complex definition of good has emerged in movies and television, we pose the questions: Why is this theme so compelling? Is it pervasive? And what does it mean for future speculative fiction?
In her spare time, Kerra Fletcher loves to read the book before watching the movie, and will gladly tell you which version is better. Long before Elijah Wood did any “eye acting,” she passed along a tattered copy of The Hobbit to a fellow student, and is excited to attend her first Mythmoot with that very same fella.
Jason Troutman is an introverted appreciator of fiction who, when not absorbed in books, either parents his two young children or dons his Air Force uniform to manage defense acquisition programs. He has been an ardent admirer of Tolkien’s works since discovering the Professor’s writings in his freshman year of college, when he was lent a copy of the Hobbit by the remarkable woman that later became his wife, a fact he periodically reminds her of with delight and gratitude.
Love, Robots, and Self-Actualization: a Jungian Approach to Neon Genesis Evangelion
Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, an Japanese animated series that ran from 1995 to 1996, has been hugely influential in many ways, from marketing trends (the series continued to live on in licensed merchandise, much as Star Wars did between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace) to its storytelling devices. While the story is often critiqued as a deconstruction of the mecha genre of anime, the later parts of the series (which many find hard to follow) are often dismissed in fandom as the result of the studio running out of money, and Anno’s heavy use of Christian imagery (which is often considered exotic to a Japanese audience) dismissed as looking cool but containing little substance. I believe, however, that both the end of Evangelion and the Christian imagery are key to understanding how this series shows the characters both defining and defying the darkness that they feel in themselves, as well as the darkness affecting all of humanity, especially when examined through a Jungian archetypal lens.
All of the main characters in Neon Genesis Evangelion struggle with their own inner demons while defending humanity from attacks by the apparently-alien Angels. Shinji Ikari, the main protagonist, must deal with his own desire to both separate himself from others to avoid pain and to connect with those others, and his struggle is mirrored in the concept of the AT (Absolute Terror) Field, a force field of sorts generated by the Angels that makes them impervious to all of humanity’s conventional weapons. Asuki Langley, the star pilot, struggles with her self-image and the acceptance of her mother, while the mysterious Rei Ayanami contemplates her own humanity and place in the world.
Through this paper, I will show how Anno combines Christian imagery and Jungian concepts to create a story that shows characters both defining and defying the darkness, and thus come to a greater understanding of themselves and each other.
Duane Watson is a high-school English teacher with iSchool Virtual Academy and a graduate student at Signum University, working towards a Masters in Literature and Language. He has a BS in History from Howard Payne University, an MA in English from National University, and lives on his father-in-law’s sheep ranch in the Texas Hill Country with his wife, Jen, and their five cats.
A creative workshop with our guest, David DelaGardelle – talented artist extraordinaire! Perhaps some introductory leather working, perhaps a sketchbook walkthrough? Come and see!
The Tolkien Legendarium Is A Work Of Science Fiction In Which The Elves Possess Approximately Early 21st Century Technology, And I Can Prove It
In addition to the other things it is, the Tolkien Legendarium is a work of science fiction. Common themes in science fiction include space travel, extraterrestrials, and the impact of advanced technology on people and societies — all of which are not merely present in the Legendarium, but prominent. Through the use of readily-available off-the-shelf consumer products as examples, I will demonstrate that the Elves possess(ed) technological equivalents of LED lighting, mobile phones, glow sticks, and more. However, the Elves do not have the foundational scientific and engineering knowledge to re-develop these advanced technologies, leading to a well-founded declinist worldview among the Children of Ilúvatar. The hobbit narrators of The Lord of the Rings have no language appropriate for describing modern technology, and call it “magic”, confusing the Elves who know they are merely applying technology and skill to (e.g.) the problem of making a length of rope.
Tolkien subtly incorporates science fiction elements into a story that is commonly considered nothing of the sort. I suggest that one reason this went unrecognized is because much of the Elvish technology had not been invented in Tolkien’s time. Another is that Tolkien’s own words indicate the Legendarium is a historical text, lulling the reader into a “false sense of fantasy” — even though Elrond’s father explicitly resides off-world in solar orbit during the events of LOTR. Despite Tolkien’s clever misdirection, the Legendarium has an overarching narrative about interdimensional aliens (Valar) who gift technological advancements to a technologically-primitive culture (Elves) and follows the technological and sociological decline that results, as recorded by a technologically-naive culture (Hobbits). In other words: The Legendarium is science fiction.
Michael Basial works as a hydrogeologist for a large engineering firm from his home in Redding, California, and plays bass in two rock bands. He first read substantial portions of LOTR the best way possible – by flashlight, under the bedsheets, after being told that it was time for sleep.
The Silmarillion Film Project: Dramatic Reading
Marie Prosser and Rhiannon Cire
The Silmarillion Film Project presents a dramatic reading of some scenes from our latest season, performed by Mythmoot attendees! The Silmarillion Film Project is a creative exercise in adaptation, focused on turning J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion into a long-running television show. These scenes are the product of many hours of planning and discussion from dozens of SilmFilm participants, and we are excited to present them to you. Scenes will come from Season 4, which covers events between Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros and the arrival of Men in Beleriand. Want to take part in the reading? Join us for the Casting and Rehearsal Workshop!
Marie Prosser is the Showrunner for the Silmarillion Film Project, and she has the unenviable task of trying to keep Corey Olsen on task and remind him of what he has said. Despite her best efforts, the Silmarillion Film Project is now in its 5th Season, and, somehow, people seem to have forgiven her love of Fëanoreans! Rhiannon Cire joined the project in Season 4 as an enthusiastic participant and quickly filled the role of script writer, writing scripts for each episode based on the efforts of the script team. Regular SilmFilm listeners will know her for her devotion to Angrod and love of dragons.
Workshop: (Re)Claiming the Darkness: Creativity, Autoethnography, and (Re)Writing Trauma
Dr. Andy Tytler and Dr. Victoria Shropshire
European connotations of darkness have long included evil, death, disease, melancholy, depression, negativity. (Melancholy is itself derived from the Greek melan– “black” and kholē “bile,” a relic of medical theories of bodily humors.) While darkness often serves as metaphor for mental illness, the blackness attributed to sin (evil) also becomes the cause and explanation for physical illness. Sin is black, and sin causes disease, the physical manifestation of the unwell soul. But not all cultures associate black with death or evil, and even if black were universally accepted as such, this creative writing workshop would still argue for its (re)claiming. Not only because of its eerie proximity to the anti-Black racism of White supremacy, but also because lost in the shuffle of black as evil, black as negative, is black as the sacred darkness. Light and white aren’t the only colors we can make holy. The midnight black between the stars is just as numinous as the daylight shine of the sun.
In this multimodal, ninety-minute workshop, we provide the space and time to explore the sacred darkness in the context of speculative fiction. And while we argue for a deified darkness in equal standing beside the light, neither do we argue for a harsh dichotomy of only white and black nor do we argue that reclaiming the value of darkness necessitates divesting it of pain. Instead, we will explore spectrums of darknesses which can and do all coexist. We will wander in the infinite darknesses of our own experiences, whether sacred or profane or something else entirely, and transform them through the medium of speculative fiction into something more heroic—or something more horrific. They’re our darknesses to do with what we please, and in this workshop we will wade, swim, float, fly, fight through—and reclaim—them all.
Key Words: autoethnography, creative writing, fantasy literature, identity, illness, intersectional feminism, narrative, queer studies, trauma, voice
Dr. Andy Tytler‘s research and writing focus on world-building in young-adult (YA) fantasy literature, specifically the socio-political implications of building inclusive secondary worlds. Tytler’s previous research examined the ways in which digital creative writing tools and computer coding complement each other in the classroom and the role of multimodality in the creative writing process.
Dr. Victoria Shropshire is a part-time professor, full-time writer, and lifetime derelict debutante, whose writing and research expertise focuses on the impact of inherited narratives on identity (re)construction, especially the use of gallows humor to confront the places in which queer and illness narratives intersect and challenge the socially constructed and historically oppressive plotlines imposed from above. She is currently working to publish her debut novel, a (creative nonfiction) memoir in which a derelict debutante struggling with a chronic illness is rescued by Dobermans and drag queens.