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Call for Papers (book project)

Constructions of Authorship in and around the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien

In recent years, Tolkien scholarship has focused increasingly on the person of the author behind the expansive body of work, investigating the connections between J.R.R. Tolkien’s biography, personal convictions, and academic pursuits on the one hand, and his literary texts on the other.

But how does recourse to the author’s biography constitute the meaning of his works? Is it at all possible to approach Tolkien’s literary legacy as a single coherent whole by drawing on biographical contexts? What are the implicit concepts of authorship in Tolkien’s texts, and is a biographical approach consistent with these concepts?

By inviting scholars to explore these – and related – questions, we wish to draw attention to two particularly striking aspects that define Tolkien’s literary works. As The History of Middle-Earth demonstrates, his conceptions of Middle Earth’s mythology and its tales changed and evolved significantly over decades of writing and revision. The variations, discrepancies, even contradictions among these texts may well correspond to the historical growth of a mythology, but do not easily reveal an overall, biographically based coherence. Readings that seek to establish such a consistency may be in danger of reducing certain elements and themes to mere ‘errors’ or abandoned, irrelevant experiments.

Secondly, an exclusive focus on Tolkien as a modern individual and author may overshadow the fact that many of his texts feature distinctly pre-modern concepts of authorship. Fictional author-figures — from Eriol and Ælfwine to Bilbo, Frodo and Sam — are an integral part of Tolkien’s literary works. Modelled on pre-modern bards and writers, they function within complex textual histories that point towards a multivocal understanding of literature and a conscious plurality of perspectives. Rather than asserting control over the polyphonous meanings of his texts, the author Tolkien defers to a collective process of recording, transmission and adaptation, imagined along the lines of medieval traditions.

The proposed collection of essays therefore aims at a critical re-examination as well as an expanded view of authorship-constructs in and around Tolkien’s works. In order to study the diversity of these texts, it may be useful to draw on contemporary/postmodern approaches towards authorship (as developed by Michail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and others). At the same time, comparison with pre-modern concepts of authorship/authority and literature may prove equally useful to illuminate the processes by which these multivocal texts generate meaning.

To outline the overall scope of the volume, we suggest the following avenues of inquiry:

  • What are the authorial self-perceptions emerging from the various textual genres (i.e. academic, literary and biographical texts)? How can Christopher Tolkien’s influential – implicit and explicit – portrayal of the author Tolkien, in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-Earth, be related to Tolkien’s own understanding of his role as author?

  • To what an extent can (auto-)biographical sources, such as Tolkien’s letters, serve as a frame of reference for readings of Tolkien’s literary works?

  • At which points do conceptual and ideological discrepancies emerge? How can literary criticism constructively approach contradictions between the author’s known personal convictions (e.g. Tolkien’s Catholic faith) and positions established in the literary texts?

  • What are the new insights and perspectives that may be gained by reading Tolkien’s works with a view towards competing concepts, ruptures and inconsistencies, rather than an ideal of coherent unity?

In addition to these (and similar) inquiries, essays focussing on the poetics of Tolkien’s works, with specific emphasis on pre-modern aspects, will be welcome. We invite contributions including – but not limited to – the following topics:

  • Tolkien’s understanding of ‘myth’, ‘history’ and ‘poetry’ and their conceptual relevance for his works.

  • Concepts of ‘fiction’ and ‘fictionality’ in the context of a ‘mythology’ written by a modern author.

  • The aesthetics of literary reception suggested by Tolkien’s own theory of creating fantasy (i.e. ‘subcreation’, invention of a ‘secondary world’), in relation to a modern or pre-modern understanding of literature.

  • Adaptation and transformation of pre-modern authorship concepts in Tolkien’s works: How do they affect narrator roles and narrative perspectives in various texts?

  • Narrator/author-configurations in Tolkien’s literary works with regards to the implied poetics (e.g. the author as ‘eye-witness’ or ‘recorder’, the transformation of ‘myth’ into written ‘history’ as a main function of the author, etc.).

  • The dialogue of modern and pre-modern concepts of narrative processes within different media (oral/scriptural) and textual genres (songs, lays, annals, chronicles, epic prose and poetry, among others).

With this outline for possible fields of examination, we hope to encourage a diversity of topics and theoretical/methodological approaches, highlighting the complexity of Tolkien’s works and their poetics. Please pass on this call for papers to anyone who may be interested.

If you would like to contribute to this volume, to be published by Walking Tree Publishers in 2007, please submit an abstract (200-300 words) outlining your article proposal by October 1, 2006. Upon acceptance, full essays are due by April 1, 2007. All contributions should be submitted in English. Please send your abstracts, inquiries and suggestions (in German or English) by regular mail or email to:

Dr. Judith Klinger
Lehrstuhl für Germanistische Mediävistik
Universität Potsdam
Postfach 60 15 53 • 14415 Potsdam
Email: jklinger(at)

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