“Sisters in Shadow”: Defining Darkness in Jane Yolen’s “Sister Light, Sister Dark” Series
Elise Trudel Cedeño
The Sister Light, Sister Dark series, by Jane Yolen, is composed of a story that is accompanied by a fictitious collection of folklore, myths, songs, ballads, and entries written by an unnamed anthropological historian. The songs and folklore support the mythic premise and the plot of the overall story, but the historical sections conflict by assuming that the “dark sisters” in the story are metaphorical, abstract concepts rather than twin, spiritual humanoid beings. This historian cites his research with archeological artifacts and favors specific, likeminded historians in his work. However, he also refers to what he deems a conflicting and “shaky” argument from another historian as a counterclaim. This other historian’s work is, in fact, closer to the truth that is outlined in Yolen’s story. However, this view is not taken seriously by the historical and anthropological community, based on our historian’s description.
This presentation will endeavor to define, compare, and contrast the various historians’ ideas of darkness and explanations of the dark sisters, then explore how these conclusions conflict directly with the story. These historical assumptions about the dark sisters and their light counterparts contribute directly to the story by revealing their own prejudices about women and matrilineal societies, as depicted in the story, and about elitism in higher academia.
Elise Trudel Cedeño is a current MA student at Signum University and a passionate Literacy Educator. She has presented at New England Moot and the Annual Harry Potter Conference in Philadelphia, PA. and explores the connections between fantasy literature and childhood literacy in teachingwithmagic.blog.
A Fairy-tale of Ice and Fire: Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver
“The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.”
Despite the blurb from The New York Times, Spinning Silver is not a ‘retelling’ of the Rumplestiltskin story. Instead, Naomi Novik has created an asterisk-tale of not one daughter, but three: the clever Jewish daughter of a soft-hearted moneylender, the strong peasant daughter of an abusive drunk, and the unbeautiful daughter of a powerful Duke. There is evil enough for each in their society: a mythical 17th-century Eastern European kingdom, where Christian daughters are property and pawns, and Jewish daughters are worthless to the world beyond the ghetto. More perilous is the domain of the Staryk, a cruelly dispassionate winter Faëry whose unnatural cold threatens the survival of the realm. Against that cold is the fire of an Ungolient-like demon who has taken control of the young tsar and would gladly devour every soul in his kingdom. This paper will examine the imagery in Novik’s story, where the whiteness of snow and ice is every bit as dark and dangerous as the red of fire, and multiple fairy-tale motifs show up in surprising places. Novik weaves together the stories of the three young women, as each learns to find her power and, in the end, the wisdom to distinguish between the petty malevolence of human society, the timeless evil of demonic spirits, and the alien ethos of the inhuman Staryk.
Kate Neville received her M.A. from Signum University in 2017 with a thesis studying the development of the character of Lúthien Tinúviel, from 1917 to 1931. She has since presented at six conferences and contributed to “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2016” for Volume XVI of Tolkien Studies.
Mapping the Dark Land: Cartographic Representations of Evil in Fantasy Fiction
A common trope in epic fantasy fiction is that evil comes from a particular place in the world, a “dark land” ruled by the ultimate antagonist. This land can be located on the map accompanying the story, and this map can be read as a text in its own right, communicating the story’s themes to the reader. Using the tools of critical cartography, I examine how the land of evil is represented, and what message that sends about the nature of evil, in a selection of fantasy works including J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and David Anthony Durham’s Acacia trilogy.
Stentor Danielson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment at Slippery Rock University. They are also the proprietor of Mapsburgh, an online shop producing fantasy-style maps.
Light Through the Eye of an Artist in The Hobbit
The Hobbit is not unique among J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in its frequent invocation of light and darkness. A way in which it does stand out among his Middle-earth writings is in the fact that Tolkien himself created the illustrations first published with the story. These drawings and paintings reflect a complementary attention to light and dark, testifying to how visual acuity was inextricably linked with Tolkien’s literary process. Through both text and word, the tale of Bilbo Baggins reveals in microcosm how Tolkien often uses imagery of light to create descriptive shorthands.
Tolkien used particular colors when describing light in The Hobbit. One of the most frequent references is to red light, which usually ends up being perilous. This stands out in some illustrations, such as the drawing entitled Trolls’ Hill. Of course, there are more ambiguous examples, such as Firelight in Beorn’s House. White light, on the other hand, frequently signifies goodness or safety—but this is more easy to identify within text than image. A few times light is more ambiguous, such as that given off by the Arkenstone.
This presentation will build on the work of other scholars, including the publishing duos Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, and Jeffrey J. MacLeod and Anna Smol, who have helped to establish just how intertwined visual art and the written word were within Tolkien’s creative process. Examining text and image together offers a deeper understanding of how Tolkien’s use of light and dark evokes the sense of adventure—with accompanying dangers and rewards—that Bilbo must come to terms with over the course of the story.
Emily Austin is an MA student at Signum and a freelance artist specializing in watercolor. She avidly illustrates scenes from Tolkien, Lewis, and other writers whenever the opportunity arises.
A Light for Hobbit Feet: Moral Choices that Defy Darkness in Children’s Fantasy
Life is full of good and bad choices, to either follow the light or enter into darkness, and it is these choices that shape who we are. This is also the case for characters in any kind of story. Good moral characters defy the darkness surrounded by these bad choices, while characters who embody this polar opposite define it. This paper explores morality as being especially important for fantasy literature, to reveal the ways in which the narrative is molded by the moral choices of the characters to keep the darkness from overshadowing them. Every character in every story possesses a set of morals that they live by, and these become tools to not only form the plot and entertain us as the reader but also to teach morality. Sometimes it is even the case that moral ambiguity permeates the world of fantasy, and the choices characters make are what define and defy the darkness. This is dependent upon the relationship between protagonists and antagonists. It is also dependent upon the author’s intent and their own set of morals by which they mean to instruct readers. The base for this investigation into the role morality plays in fantasy literature is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as Tolkien uses the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his moral choices to showcase good and bad responses in certain situations involved in the story. This will also be explored in context with a predecessor to The Hobbit, The Princess and the Goblin, and also a contemporary, The Marvellous Land of Snergs, emphasizing the importance of the diminutive protagonist in children’s literature’s function in exemplifying good morality to defy the darkness that pervades their world. For The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is the moral hero that, through his choices, reflects the universal morality of Tolkien and helps to keep a light for our feet even in the Postmodern era.
Jacob Schreiner is from Houston, Texas and is currently an MA student at Signum University concentrating on J.R.R. Tolkien. Along with his studies, he runs the blog The Tolkienian, and also likes Star Wars and cats, among other things.
Tolkien and Digital Philology
Readers of Tolkien often remark that there is a depth to his creative work that reminds them of the Old Testament, Homer, or other legendary epics. This is perhaps no surprise, at least in the sense of the broader legendarium, given the Professor’s goals and sources of inspiration. This is also borne out in the level of philological detail given to the study of his works by others, above all, his son, Christopher. Tolkien was not only a philologist but a creator of works worthy of study by philologists. In light of this, what is the potential role of digital methods of philology applied to Tolkien? This paper will take a look at the study of Tolkien through the lens of digital philology and corpus linguistics and will demonstrate the preliminary work of the Digital Tolkien Project in treating Tolkien’s text the way one might undertake computational study of the Greek text of Homer or Herodotus, or the Old English text of Beowulf.
James Tauber runs Eldarion, a software company that specialises in developing web applications for learning and digital scholarship. His academic background is in linguistics and philology and, as a scholar, he continues to contribute to the computational study of historical languages and texts.
Like a Winter Sunset: Twilight in the Lord of the Rings
In the unpublished epilogue to the Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee describes the end of the age as something that doesn’t happen suddenly; rather, “It’s more like a winter sunset.” One feature of a winter sunset is a long twilight. This presentation will include time-lapse photos of sunsets from various times of year taken by the presenter, and calculations of twilight types and lengths from nautical almanacs, showing just. how long the twilight of a winter sunset can be. Time permitting, we will take a quick look at Tolkien’s use of the word twilight in describing both Elves and Men. (Elves of the Twilight and Men of the Twilight).
A lifelong fan of the works of Tolkien, Peter Rybski is a soon-to-be retired Naval Officer who resides in Finland. Peter serves on the Board of Signum University and has been known to provide delicious Finnish beverages to those enjoying the Mythmoot fire pits.
The Anti-Tolkien was Eminem’s Literary Grandmother
The rhyme-patterns in Eminem’s lyrics recall the experimental versifications of the early Modernists. In particular, Edith Sitwell and William Walton’s “Façade” shows similar relationships between rhyming syllables to those found in some ambitious 21st-century hip-hop compositions. Sitwell’s poetry seems an excellent candidate for the “action” against which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien got their reputation as reactionaries. A numerical technique for evaluating rhyme density shows the stylistic difference between the camps and traces it through some examples in the history of Modern English verse. The poems in /The Lord of the Rings/ are shown to lie on the Shakespeare/Tennyson side of the divide, but with enough wavering to reveal the influence of Modernism permeating the work.
Joe Hoffman is a faithful Mythgard Academy lurker and an occasional Signum U. student. He has published in the /Encyclopedia of Aerospace/, the /Physical Review,/ the /Encyclopèdie/ Collaborative Translation Project, and blogs on imaginative literature at Idiosophy.com.