Sunday, 1 December 2019

Eglerio! Tolkien at Leeds IMC 2020 Sessions Announced

What a great opportunity for Dr. Wotan to resume his errant blogging with this announcement about the Tolkien at Leeds International Medieval Congress 2020 which I am co-organising this year with Dr. Dimitra Fimi.  Dr. Fimi has spent the last five years working valiantly and tirelessly to first establish and then organise these sessions at Leeds (you can read Dr. Fimi's roundup reports of the past conferences here: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 ). 

For the 2020 conference Dr. Fimi and I are organising the conference together so I can 'learn the ropes' to take over organising the conference in 2021 (big shoes to fill!).   For Tolkien at Leeds IMC 2020 Dr. Fimi and I are very pleased to announce that all 5 sessions on J.R.R. Tolkien that were proposed have been accepted: including three that will focus on the overall theme of this year's conference: borders.     

Here are the sessions titles and papers now with the scheduled dates and times.  


J.R.R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches 

Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
Organiser: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
Moderator/Chair: Deirdre Dawson, Independent Scholar
Session Day/Time: Monday 6 July (11:15-12:45)  

A Preliminary History of Deadly Splinters
Victoria Holtz-Wodzak,  Viterbo University Wisconsin

Tolkien Alliterative Style in The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son 
Anna Smol, Mount Saint Vincent University, Nova Scotia

Dewdrop, Apple and Pomegranate: Three Symbols of the Ring Bearing in Czerniawski's Wyprawa
Joel Merriner, University of Plymouth UK

Foraging for Sources: Sir Orfeo as the Origin of Medieval Romance Topoi Present in Mirkwood
Andoni Cossio, Universidad del Pais Vasco

Session 905: 

New Sources and Approaches to Tolkien's Medievalism - A Round Table Discussion

Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
Organiser and Moderator: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
Session Day/Time: Tuesday 7 July (19:00-20:00)   


Leo Carruthers, Centre d'Etudes Medievales Anglaises (CEMA), Sorbonne Université

Dr. Dimitra Fimi, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow

Kristine Larsen, Geological Sciences Department, Central Connecticut State University

Thijs Porck, Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS), Universiteit Leiden

This roundtable discussion will focus on works by J.R.R. Tolkien published during the last few years, with a particular emphasis on the latest posthumous publication of Tolkien's Lost Chaucer, edited by John M Bowers (Oxford University Press).

SESSION 1536: 

Borders in Tolkien's Medievalism I     

Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow 

Organiser: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar 
Moderator/Chair: Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University 
Session Day/Time: Thursday 9 July (9:00-10:30)  

The Liminality of Tolkien's Non-Human Species 

Dr. Andrzej Wicher, Uniwersytet Lodz 

Undead of Undying: Limits of Immortality in Tolkien's Work 

Gaëlle Abaléa, Sorbonne Université Paris 

Implementing the Liminal Space: Vampires and Werewolves  

Sara Brown, Independent Scholar 

SESSION 1636: 

Borders in Tolkien's Medievalism II 

Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow 
Organiser: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar 
Moderator/Chair: Sara Brown, Independent Scholar  
Session Day/Time:  Thursday 9 July (11:15-12:45)  

Tolkien's Taliska: Language Invention on Linguistic Borders
Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar

Linguistic Borders, Boundaries and Bridges in Tolkien's Writing
Deirdre Dawson, Independent Scholar

Borders of Mind and Nation in Tolkien's Works
Ellen Duncan, Independent Scholar

SESSION 1736: 

Borders in Tolkien's Medievalism III

Sponsor: School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow  
Organiser and Moderator/Chair: Dr. Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
Session Day/Time: Thursday 9 July (14:15-15:45)  

Boundaries and Marches: Marked and Unmarked Edges in Tolkien's Maps
Erik Mueller-Harder, Independent Scholar

The Walls of the World and The Voyage of the Evening Star: The Complex Borders of Medieval Geocentric Cosmology
Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University

The Limits of Subcreation
Lars Konzack, Institute for Kommunikation, Copenhagen Universitet

Time-Travel, Astronomy and Magic Mirrors: The Borders between 'Reality' and 'Otherworlds' within Middle-earth
Aurelie Bremont, Sorbonne Université Paris

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

World-Building and The Mythic Origins of Ariadne

Greetings all - Dr. Wotan has just recently returned from The International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo Michigan and is now busy preparing for giving two Tolkien papers for the 2017 International Medieval Conference at Leeds in July!   Couple of items to share with you this time coming from the two areas of the life I lead!

First - just posted to the brilliant The Journal of Tolkien Research is my book review of two seminal works from Professor Mark J.P. Wolf of Concordia University Wisconsin which explores the worlds that exist and are waiting to be discovered in all forms of narratives.   As I say in this review Wolf's work here is revelatory and represents an exciting new contextual framework for exploring texts which I am using in all my research on Tolkien and other invented worlds.

These two books are:

And my review (with a special focus on the Tolkien elements in them) is here -

Image result for Glyndebourne Ariadne auf NaxosSecondly, I was very excited earlier this year to be asked to write an article for the 2017 Glyndebourne Festival  on 'The Mythic Origins of Ariadne' for the must see production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos which opens at Glyndebourne on the 25th of June and runs through the 27 July.    With kind permission of Glyndebourne I am posting this article which was really fun to do (an excuse to dig back into Homeric Greek!)

         ‘Sic Itur ad astra’- The Mythic Origins of Ariadne 

In constructing their Ariadne, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal drew from a rich ‘soup’ of Greek and Roman myths.  The word Ariadne itself is not a name but an epithet derived from two words in a Cretan dialect of Ancient Greek: αρι [ari] “most” and αδνος [adnos] “holy.”  This epithet originally signified a major goddess on the island of Crete during the Minoan period (c. 3650 to 1400 B.C.E.) who scholars have argued was associated with nature, snakes, orgiastic dancing and, most interestingly for the stories that would follow about her, labyrinths.  She may be signified on a tablet written in the syllabic script used by the Mycenaean Greeks known as Linear B (c. 1450 B.C.E.) in the votive offering ‘to all the gods, honey… to the mistress of the labyrinth, honey’.  This epithet would become personified in the later Greek and Roman character of Ariadne who would become bound up with the Cretan cycle of Greek and Roman myths.    

Image result for Ariadne Classical Greek VasesAriadne as a personified character emerges early in Greek mythology being mentioned in both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony.   She is associated with several key mythic stories; namely the slaying of the Minotaur and her abandonment of the island of Naxos.  She also is associated with several important characters in Greek mythology; especially the hero Theseus and the god of fertility, winemaking and madness Dionysus; also known as Bacchus in the Roman myths.   The trajectory of the Ariadne myth can be divided into two main strands: one her origins and life on Crete and two her fate after she leaves Crete.  

The sources for the first strand are fairly consistent over the many versions and variations of her story.     Ariadne is one of two daughters of King Minos of Crete and his wife Pasiphaë, daughter of the sun god Helios.   By offering an unfavourable sacrifice Minos offends the sea God Poseidon who in punishment causes Pasiphaë to fall in love with one of Minos’s prize bulls.  Pasiphaë enlists the help of the artificer Daedalus to build a wooden cow.   Pasiphaë insert’s herself into the cow so she can copulate with the bull.  The result of this union is the monstrous Minotaur, half man half bull who is kept by Minos in a labyrinth also constructed by Daedalus.  The hero Theseus is sent by his father Aegus, King of Athens to Crete to slay the Minotaur.   The princess Ariadne falls in love with Theseus, and gives him the golden thread which she had received from the god Hephaestos, explaining to Theseus that he should use it to find his way back out of the labyrinth after he kills the Minotaur who is by the way Ariadne’s step-brother.  Theseus in return promises to marry Ariadne.  When the Minotaur is slain they both sail to the island of Naxos, an island that is under the protection of the god Dionysus, where she is subsequently for various reasons abandoned by Theseus.   

When we come to the second strand of Ariadne’s story – her departure from Crete the story gets quite complicated.   In the many versions of what happened next to Ariadne there are two types of fate she endures for leaving Crete with the hero Theseus.  One type is just plain tragic while the other starts off tragic but results in a  ‘eucatastrophic’ ending; a term coined by the author J R.R. Tolkien to describe a sudden turn of events in a story that ensures the protagonist does not meet some terrible end    

The very tragic ending was perhaps the earliest version of the Ariadne story.  In book eleven of the Odyssey Homer states that Theseus ‘had no joy of Ariadne because she was slain by Artemis on the isle of Dia because of the witness of Dionysus’ (Odyssey Book 11, 320ff).  Dia is the Homeric name for the island of Naxos.  The Greek word for ‘witness’ μαρτυρίσιν has been taken by scholars to mean that Ariadne actually had been married to Dionysus before meeting and falling in love with Theseus on Crete.   When Dionysus saw both Ariadne and Theseus on Naxos, an island under his protection, he was enraged and called on the chaste goddess Artemis to punish this desecration of their marriage by slaying Ariadne.  Homer’s statement that Theseus ‘had no joy of Ariadne’ seems to indicate that Ariadne was slain before she consummated her love with Theseus.  Alternative versions of this strand paint an even bleaker picture for Ariadne.  In one version, there is no betrayal of Dionysus and Ariadne is slain by Artemis just to put her out of her misery of being abandoned by Theseus.  In another version Ariadne just hangs herself out of grief.   

Then there is the ‘eucatastrophic’ type of Ariadne’s fate which Strauss and Hofmannstahl clearly drew from.  This strand first appears in Hesiod’s account of the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods, the Theogony composed in c. 700 B.C.E. In this poem, Hesiod’s relates how ‘gold haired Dionysus made blonde-haired Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, his wife, and Zeus made her deathless and un-ageing for him’ (Theogony, l. 947).  In later versions of this strand of the myth the two ideas of Ariadne being abandoned by Theseus is combined with the idea of Dionysus finding and wedding Ariadne.   Hesiod’s idea of Ariadne being made ‘deathless’ and ‘unageing’ is further developed in later Greek and Roman versions of the story with the actual apotheosis of Ariadne   In the Greek epic poem the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, from the 3rd century B.C.E., Ariadne is not only made an immortal goddess but she is given a wedding present by Dionysus; a jewelled crown which in some versions of this story Dionysus later hurls into the sky where it becomes the constellation Corona Borealis which still can be seen in the northern celestial hemisphere.   In the Roman poet Ovid’s poem on mythic transformations Metamorphoses (c. 1st century C.E.) the different strands of Ariadne’s fate are woven together: she is abandoned by Theseus on Naxos, she finds comfort in the arms of the god Bacchus who marks their love by taking her crown and setting in heaven as a star which shone ‘as a gem which turned to gleaming fires’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses, l. 177). 


It is this Ariadne that we can see in the final scene of Strauss’s opera – the Cretan princess first abandoned by a hero and then rescued by a god who raises her to heaven and the stars - sic itur ad astra! 

This article first appeared in the 2017 edition of Glyndebourne's Festival Programme Book, and is reproduced with permission.  Check for ticket availability for Glyndebourne Festival 2017 performances of Ariadne auf Naxos.  

That's it for now - back to paper writing!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

2017 A Look Ahead

Greetings to all from Valhalla which in the last four months has moved from London to lovely Brighton by the sea.  Wotan never thought he would live 5 blocks from a full blown pier and amusement park - so whenever Wotan tires of working on the various projects that I will be previewing below he can always go and ride on a roller coaster or take a visit to the Haunted Mansion.   

I have not blogged in a while and want to start again to share some of the work I am currently doing on Tolkien, World-Building and various others projects.  

Well 2017 is shaping up to be quite a busy year for Dr. Wotan after his work on the PhD thesis 'The Genesis of Tolkien's Mythology' and co-editing A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Language Invention with Dr. Dimitra Fimi.  I will be giving four papers this year as follows two across the pond in Kalamazoo, Michigan and two at the Tolkien sessions that the brilliant work of Dr. Fimi has established at The IMC in Leeds.   The abstracts I have written for these papers are below and Wotan is busy researching and writing them now! 

Tolkien Symposium at The Western Michigan University Library - 10 May (1-5pm) 

Mapping Tolkien's The Book of Lost Tales: Exploring 'I Vene Kemen'  (The Ship of the Earth) 

One of the unique para-textual elements that Christopher Tolkien published in the first volume of The Book of Lost Tales which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2017 was a map in the form of a viking ship which his father invented as he was writing the first version of his mythology.   In this paper I will examine this conceptual and radical map called ‘I Vene Kemen’ (‘The Ship of the Earth’) from three perspectives.  First, as a key element of Tolkien’s early myth-making;  examining how it is linked to the body of ‘Lost Tales’ he was composing.  Secondly, as a para-textual artefact which reflects Tolkien use of his emerging Elvish languages.  Here I will focus specifically on how the place names on the map reflect the ‘consistent and coherent’ nomenclature Tolkien invented drawn from the Elvish lexicons and grammars he was developing at the time.  Finally, I will examine this map as a key element in the wider process of ‘world-building’ for fiction.  Here I will explore how this map represents the first of many maps Tolkien would invent and integrate into his narratives to build the world of his legendarium.   I will also explore and suggest some possible reasons why Tolkien decided to cast this map in this conceptual form of a viking ship based on his early objective of linking his unique mythology to a lost tradition of England.  

52nd International Medieval Congress - Tolkien at Kalamazoo 
Tolkien and Language Session - Saturday 13 May 

Elvish Practitioners of the 'Secret Vice 

In the course of his life Tolkien explored his thoughts and feelings on the role of language-invention as an interlinked element of myth-making and world-building in two key manifestos: his 29 November1931 talk 'A Secret Vice' and in his inaugural O’Donnell Memorial lecture of 1955 ‘English and Welsh’. Tolkien not only used his mythology to illustrate to his readers how he felt language invention should work in his Legendarium. In several instances within the context of his secondary world Tolkien both mythologized and embedded into the very narrative and discourse of several key mythic texts examples of peoples practicing the ‘secret vice’ of language invention which followed the theories Tolkien explored in the two key manifestos above. In this paper I will critically analyze several texts that Tolkien wrote in the 1950's and 60's (especially the ‘Dangweth Pengoloð' - 'The Answer of Pengoloth') to explore how Tolkien embedded his theories of language and language invention into these texts and also analyse why Tolkien especially had his first-born Elves practice the craft of language invention 'an art for which life is not long enough' (SV, p. 11).  

Poetry and Language Invention: The Interconnected Nature of Tolkien’s ‘The Qenya Lexicon’ and His Early World-Building Poetry.
In the Spring of 1915 Tolkien started the invention of his earliest Elvish language, Qenya, by composing two key documents – ‘The Qenya Lexicon’ and ‘The Qenya Phonology’Concurrent with this Tolkien also built his emerging secondary world mainly through poetic composition.  In this paper I will explore the interrelated nature of Tolkien’s earliest language invention and poetic composition from several perspectives. First I will explore how Tolkien included in ‘The Qenya Lexicon’ invented word forms that were designed to make select Elvish words sound more poetic and musical.  Secondly, I will demonstrate through a lexical analysis of some of the key poems Tolkien composed during this time, including his foundational world-building poem of July 1915 ‘The Shores of Faery’, a high corrospondance between the words in these early poems and the base roots and words Tolkien invented in ‘The Qenya Lexicon’; suggesting Tolkien may have been intending to render some of the English poems into Qenya.   Finally I will explore the lexical and grammatical sources of Tolkien’s first Elvish poem ‘Narqelion’ in Tolkien’s ‘The Qenya Lexicon’ showing the strong bond that existed even in this earliest period of Tolkien’s mythopoeia between poetry and language invention .  

'A Secret Vice', the 1930's and the Growth of Tolkien's 'Tree of Tongues'  

In this paper I will explore how after giving us 1931 talk 'A Secret Vice', and as I will argue in several ways because of it, that Tolkien embarked on a new phase of his Elvish language invention by creating his 'Tree of Tongues' that has its conceptual roots in a proto-Eldarin ur-language and through-out the 1930's branched out into over ten different related Elvish languages existing in varying forms of linguistic development.  I will explore how Tolkien's development of this 'Tree of Tongues' drew conceptually upon his training and experience as both a philologist and medievalist and mythically reimagined the real-world attempt by 19th century philologists to reconstruct a similar type of structure for Indo-European languages suggesting it too had a common origin in a reconstructed 'port-Indo-European' language.  I will also explore how this 'Tree' fulfilled the requirement Tolkien explored in 'A Secret Vice' that art-lancs should have a fictional historical background including a sense of hypothetical change over time.  I will explore how Tolkien's 'Tree' is intertwined and interrelated to such key texts from the 1930's including 'The Quenta' and 'The Quenta Silmarillion', 'The First Silmarillion Map', the Annals of Valinor and Beleriand and the two key works on the Elvish languages Tolkien wrote in this period 'The Lhammas' and 'The Etymologies' 


Well that should keep Wotan busy but wait there's more!  I am also very busy working on turning my PhD thesis 'The Genesis of Tolkien's Mythology' into a book and also Wotan is very excited that he will be working on a paper for an upcoming publication delving into the Gothic World-Building of the trans-medial diegetic world of Dark Shadows (more to come on this!).  

Talking about world-building one of Wotan's reading highlights this year, so far, has been a brilliant anthology of papers on world-building edited by Mark J.P. Wolf, Revisiting Imaginary Worlds: A Subcreation Studies Anthology for which I wrote a short review of for giving it 5 stars (quoted below).  This is a must read book for anyone interested in world-building for fiction or any other media.  

'Professor Mark J.P. Wolf’s 2012 monograph Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (Routledge) was for me, and many others, a revelatory text as it dealt with how imaginary worlds are created in fiction; focusing on the trans-medial elements, in addition to the core narrative, that go into building secondary-worlds. Now Wolf has followed up his brilliant work on the theory behind world-building by bring together a group of leading scholars to explore various elements of world-building in fictional texts as well as physical and virtual environments. Wolf very helpfully divides these papers up into key sections. In 'Worlds on the Rise' three scholars examine different aspects of world-building. Dr. Dimitra Fimi's brilliant paper 'The Past as an Imaginary World: The Case of Medievalism' cogently explores three different author’s - Thomas Chatterton, J.R.R. Tolkien and Umberto Eco - work on inventing an imagined world aimed at representing a medieval past. Fimi puts in-depth focus on the actual process each of these authors used in inventing their versions of medievalism through their making of actual artefacts (forged and feigned documents) as well as constructing narrative transmission schemes to ground these worlds in a sense of reality. Fimi’s re-contextualisation of what has been considered the forgeries of an author like Thomas Chatterton as actually an inventive act of world-building is sure to open up new vistas of exploration around these and related texts. The section called 'Structure' offers a good set of papers exploring the actual mechanics of secondary worlds; ranging from Tolkien's world-building work to that of the role of religion as a world-building element in the television texts Battlestar Galactica and (the short-lived) Caprica as well as the transformational world-building and user reception of Minecraft. In the ‘Practice’ section there are several papers on specific fictional world-building. For me, the two papers on the American fantasy author Frank L. Baum really stood out here. Michael O Riley suggests one of the key sources of Baum's well-known Oz series of books is actually another work Baum wrote in the same year he wrote his most famous book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) called A New Wonderland which was overshadowed by the success of the first Oz book. A New Wonderland is a collection of stories that are set in the magical land of Phunnyland. Riley cogent exploration of this ‘lost’ text demonstrates that Baum would use several key elements of Phunnyland in his later Oz books (which itself grew in the series from being a portal world into a fully immersive secondary world) and also explores how prolific a world-builder Baum was outside of just his more well known Oz series. Henry Jenkins provides a good counter-point to Riley’s paper by exploring how the Baum’s Oz mythos was adapted in the recent film Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) which suggested a backstory to the origin of the Wizard by drawing upon elements of not only Baum’s original work put also key adaptations such as the famous MGM Musical The Wizard of Oz and the more recent stage musical Wicked. The series of papers on 'Reception' show how world-building for fiction can be expanded through what Henry Jenkins has called 'multi-media layering.' A good example is the extension of a fictional world coming from film or television through novelizations. William Proctor and Mathew Freeman's paper examines the very recent debate in the Star Wars mythos of what in the many novelizations of the original films is considered ‘canon’ to Lucas’ original world-building and what is now what Disney has been deemed ‘legendary’ as it no longer fits the diegetic braiding of the ‘official’ world-building of the Star Wars mythos. Gerald Hynes masterfully explores the role of language in the world-building of China Mieville’s Embassytown showing how the world-building element of language, either actually shown (as in Tolkien’s great work) or just described, has the power to shape conceptual domains and ground a secondary-world in a great sense of reality. After offering these brilliant papers this volume ends with a paper by Wolf himself suggesting a canon of Imaginary Worlds ranging from Kallipolis in Plato’s Republic (c. 380 BC) to the Utopia of Thomas More (1516 – the first fictional text to include elements of invented language and a map!) up to Wonderland, Flatland, Oz and of course Tolkien’s Arda – and beyond. One could just revel (and in these scary times in the primary world) escape into these worlds – and thanks to the continued work of Wolf (his bio shows more work on world-building is coming from him!) and the scholars who have contributed to this volume we now have a better understanding and exploration of how these worlds are built, grow, are received and thrive in our multi-media and multi-layered culture. I highly recommend this book and look forward to many more explorations.'
Well Hugin and Munin are whispering in my ears that I should stop writing this blog and actually get to work on the projects above - so Wotan will leave you now and will return with more news and thoughts from Valhalla by the Sea.  

 Lebe Wohl for now!   

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