Sunday 1 March 2015
Well....I am Back!
Mae Govannen! Roughly three and half years ago Wotan left Valhalla to go on an incredible journey - an exploration of the world of J.R.R. Tolkien's earliest mythology. With the incredible support, guidance and mentorship of Dr. Dimitra Fimi (my 'Gandalf' who appealed to my Tookish side of academic exploration and got me on the road!) I have now completed this quest and returned to my new Valhalla (looks like Fafnir and Fasolt have built me a new office - hope I don't have to give them Charlie the Wonder Corgi as otter-ransom).
This Thursday in Cardiff I successfully completed my PhD thesis 'The Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien's Mythology' and am now Dr. Andrew Higgins - a title I accept with humility and an unswerving ambition of wanting to do as much work and scholarship in the areas of Tolkien, fantasy literature and secondary world building in the years ahead....
The Genesis of Tolkien's Mythology - My PhD Quest
The researching and actual writing of a PhD thesis on the early creative thought and mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien (a quest I highly recommend to all - whatever area you choose) has to be one of the most incredibly fulfilling, rewarding and, at times, frustrating projects I will ever undertake on this side of the great sea. It is amazing to focus almost 24/7 on an author's emerging creative process - my research chose to critically examine the earliest creative work of J.R.R. Tolkien (up to the 'Book of Lost Tales' materials), from which the first version of his mythology would emerge, as one coherent whole, rather than a series of individual creative acts. The thesis argues that all aspects of Tolkien's creativity worked in a dialectic way to bring to life an invented secondary world the complexity of which fantasy literature had not seen before. In the next year or so one of my key projects will be working on turning the thesis into a book. Hopefully in the not too far future I will be able to share with you my take on how Tolkien achieved the development of this earliest version of his secondary world.
The PhD viva itself was quite an experience and one of the most exhilarating robust academic dialogues I have had about the research. When you are doing a PhD you are pretty much in what I call 'the thesis bunker' researching, writing and discussing your work mostly with your PhD supervisor - and in my case I was very lucky and fortunate that this meant spending many hours in discussion with Dr. Fimi whose incredible thoughts, feedback, patience (with my 'nigglings') and insight into this material was so important and valuable to me - there is none better!
Being able to actually discuss the research with other academics (after three and half years of developing it!) was really rewarding. I had a mock viva in December with an internal team at Cardiff Metropolitan University which helped me focus on some wider issues of the research. Like in any quest, I also had some amazing helpers along the journey who read chapters of my thesis and gave me incredibly instructive comments. I was very fortunate to have the help of Tolkien scholar Douglas A. Anderson (who read an early version of the thesis and steered me in the right direction in terms of some of Tolkien's early work and dates) and then my thesis chapter readers: Dr. Verlyn Flieger, John D. Rateliff, Gerard Hynes and Dr. Simon Eckstein (whose own thesis work was an inspiration!).
For the final viva at Cardiff Metropolitan University last Thursday I was very fortunate to be examined internally by Dr. Kate North and externally by Dr. Mark Atherton - Lecturer in English at Regent's Park College, Oxford and author of There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Origins of the Hobbit. This was an amazing session with some really constructive dialogue, debate and helpful feedback and comments that will go into the final thesis, which I submit in the next week, and also will feed into my work into turning this research into a book.
The only bittersweet element to achieving the PhD (very fitting for anything having to do with Tolkien) was that my Dad - having taken the ship to the West last year - was not there to see it. In the acknowledgements of the thesis I paid tribute to my Dad who had a passion for Tolkien and introduced me to the 'arresting strangeness' of the world Tolkien built which had so impacted my Dad's life and subsequently mine. I hope one day in the West my Dad and I can both discuss this research (he would have much to say I am sure!) - Nai hiruvalme Valimar!
Upcoming Projects and Papers
To somewhat para-phrase Gandalf the achieving of a PhD is 'not an end' it is only the beginning. As I remember in one of the many books on 'doing a PhD' I read over the last three years someone once said the PhD is not your 'masterpiece' it is what you do with it (wise words). Indeed I return to Valhalla from my academic wanderings with quite a comprehensive list of projects that I will be working on - several of which have come out of, or been inspired by, strands of the research I have done.
Currently I am scheduled to give the following papers at three key conferences coming up in 2015:
The Enchanted Edwardians Conference
29-30 March 2015
I will be giving a paper on 'O World Invisible We View Thee' - The Syncretic Nature of Francis Thompson's Visionary Poems.
At this conference Dr. Fimi will be giving a paper on 'Kipling and Tolkien and their "mythology for England"
More info here
50th International Conference of Medieval Studies
May 14-17 2015
This will be my second time taking part in the 'Tolkien at Kalamazoo' sessions in the company of many brilliant Tolkien scholars and academics.
I will be giving a paper as part of the 'Tolkien as Linguist and Medievalist' Panel on 'The First Red Book - A Exploration of Tolkien's Exeter College Essay Book' and will also taking part in the live reading of Tolkien's Beowulf 2014 (practicing now as I re-read this important text for the current excellent 'Beowulf through Tolkien and Vice-Versa' course with Professors Tom Shippey and Nelson Goering)
International Medieval Congress Leeds 2015
6-9 July 2015
Dr. Fimi has organised a series of Tolkien related sessions at this year's IMC Leeds 2015 and I am very excited to be giving a paper as part of the session on 'Celtic Literature in Tolkien's Medievalism' which includes some other excellent speakers including my Mythgard Institute colleague Kris Swank.
Other sessions will include papers by Dr. Fimi, Dr. Mark Atherton and Nick Groom whose work includes a brilliant chapter 'The English Literary Tradition: Shakespeare to the Gothic' in the 2014 Blackwell Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Dr. Fimi has more information on IMC Leeds 2015 on her blog posting here.
In addition I have started to use Academia.edu for papers and book reviews and will continue to post there as papers are written and delivered. There is an amazing treasure trove of academic resource to be found on this site.
In January 2015 I launched a monthly Tolkien language column on The Signum University Newsletter 'The Signum Eagle' called 'In Dembith Pengoldh' through which I will explore elements of Tolkien's language invention.
Wotan will use this blog to update on all activity and also explore some key areas of interest around Tolkien, fantasy literature and especially emerging scholarship in secondary world building and, for Wotan, the link to language invention.
Glad to be back in Valhalla - and now to work - lots of papers to write!
Dydd gwyl Dewi hapus! and Namárië for now!