J.R.R. TOLKIEN, THE LORD OF THE RINGS
DELVE READERS SEMINARS
Composed in the era of the Second World War, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has become, through various incarnations, one of the best known stories in the world and also part of a larger system of myth and lore–thee so-called “Tolkien universe”–that also includes the Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and countless additional tales in prose and verse. The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, however, are a distinct and remarkable literary accomplishment in their own right, the summoning up of an entire narrative world (with its own contexts, traditions, languages, civilizations, personae, and challenges), at once related to and distinct from the modern world of industry and war. Tolkien’s personal experience, his deep immersion in modern philology, his spiritual and historical affinities, the tendencies of society in his time, the cultural challenges of the modern era, and the beauty of language and the capacity for wonder–all contributed to and are visible in the pages of Tolkien’s masterwork of Middle Earth. For these reasons, too, The Lord of the Rings deserves to be considered as part of a larger modernist project of counter-memory, of presenting alternative ways of perceiving and understanding the present.
Our purpose in this seminar is to read carefully and thoroughly the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, and to give our attention to the literary qualities of these books, their value as works of literature, and their place in modern literature and culture. Even with their limitations (which are considerable), these are unique and beautifully written books which reward close and dedicated attention.