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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