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Travels on the Oloremalle – The Musings of a Tolkien Researcher

Mae Govannen

I was very pleased and honored to be asked by our esteemed leader to contribute to The Tolkien Society’s brilliant new website with what I hope will be a weekly blog posting about my current activities as a part time Post-Graduate research student at Cardiff Metropolitan University working on a thesis called ‘The Genesis of Tolkien’s Mythology (1906-1920).’

I am now in the third year of this very exciting research. I am blessed by the Valar to have Dr. Dimitra Fimi as my PhD adviser, mentor and guide.  You will all know Dimitra as the author of The Mythopoeic Award winning From Fairies to Hobbits: Tolkien, Race and Cultural History’ as well as a presenter at several Tolkien Society events and conferences.  I met Dimitra by taking her two excellent on line courses through Cardiff Metropolitan University (‘J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth and Middle Earth in Context’ and ‘Fantasy Literature: Tales Before and After Tolkien’) and then at several events including ones given by The Tolkien Society.

This is one of the wonderful things about being a member of The Tolkien Society – having the chance to meet such brilliant Tolkien scholars as Dimitra, John Garth, Charles Noad, Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey (to name just a few of the esteemed scholars I have met and talked to).  Dimitra was the ‘Gandalf,’ if you will, who pushed me out the door of my blog focused Bag End to actually go out into the real world of Tolkien studies and research and get serious about attempting to learn more about Tolkien.  I worked with Dimitra on several possible research topics.  One of my great interests in Tolkien is, and has always been, his invented languages (I think I tried to translate ‘The Shadow of the Past’ into Sindarin using the Ruth Noel book when I was 12 — luckily, as Tolkien said of the grammar of his earliest invented language of Naffarin in ‘A Hobby for the Home (aka ‘A Secret Vice’), ‘it has long since been foolishly destroyed’ (MC, p. 208)).  I was also interested in the idea of exploring where Tolkien’s creative thoughts on myth and language originated from.  What were the inspirations, sources and analogues for what Tolkien said in the two great manifestos of his imaginative thought and methodology – A Hobby for the Home (first given in the early 1930’s) and On Fairy-stories (first given in 1938).  So with Dimitra’s incredible help and advice I decided to focus my research on examining those elements that went into the Genesis of Tolkien’s Mythology with a special focus on how the two stands of Tolkien’s myth creation and language invention (which started as separate pursuits) came together.

My hope is that my research will add to the already rich biographical information we have from this time (of which John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War is the must read and study and read again!) by offering an intellectual map of several key strands that came together in the earliest form of the mythology and set several markers which would not only persist throughout Tolkien’s life long work on his legendarium but also set the foundation for some of the key themes of 20th and 21st century Fantasy literature.

I was also very pleased last year to present some initial findings of my research at  both the 44th Mythopoeic Society Conference in the U.S. and at the Tolkien Society Seminar in Carlisle in the paper ‘‘A Linguistic Exploration through Tolkien’s Earliest Landscapes.’  I am also very excited (with a slight sense of fear!) to be presenting my first paper in May at The 49th International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. Michigan.  This paper ‘Approaching “Se UncuÞaholm”: Tolkien’s Early Study of Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Prose as a Source for the Invention of Ottor Wæfre’ grew out of one strand of my research which examines how Tolkien imaginatively adapted key Anglo-Saxon texts which he first studied in his undergraduate days at Oxford in his attempt to forge a link between his emerging mythology and the lost literature of Faerie, or England.

So I am having a brilliant time on the Oloremalle of Tolkienian Exploration and Research and I encourage anyone who is interested in discovering more about Tolkien to venture forth on a similar journey.  The fellowship of Tolkien fans, students and academics are the most supportive and nurturing group that I have ever encountered and it is only thanks to the support, advice and guidance I received from them that I am on this journey.  Each and every one of them know that in order for research and exploration of Tolkien to continue that new people must be encouraged to both follow down the paths that have already been trod again (there is always more to discover!) as well as forge new ones by exploring different aspects of Tolkien and the cultural, social, literary and linguistic forces that shaped him, his work and thoughts in every period of his life.

One key way I would suggest to start this exploration is to sign up to take online classes where you will be able to learn more about Tolkien and meet other Tolkien aficionados and academics.  I have now taken eight Tolkien related and fantasy, Medieval literature courses through The Mythguard Institute/Signum University the brain child of Professor Corey Olsen (The Tolkien Professor) who spoke at The Tolkien Society’s The Return of the Ring conference.  These are brilliant online classes which include exploration of all of Tolkien’s works as well as other works of fantasy and literature. Past lecturers for these courses include Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, Michael Drout, John Rateliff and just last semester Dr. Dimitra Fimi whose ‘Celtic’ Myth in Children’s Literature opened up for me a whole new area of exploration around the works of authors like Alan Garner, Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper who were all influenced by Tolkien.

I am very excited to be taking my 9th Mythguard Institute Class in May which will be taught by Dr Robin Reid and will examine the impact of Lord of the Rings from a cultural and audience perspective (enrollment open now!). And remember – All members of the Society are entitled to a 15% discount on all courses at the Mythgard Institute.

So it is all out there waiting for exploration and discovery and thanks to the work of The Tolkien Society and the nurturing and support of our fellowship of Tolkien scholars and academics you too can set out on this journey – I hope to meet you on the Oloremalle!

For now,,,,Namarie!  Nai hiruvalye Valinor Andy x

About the Author: Andrew Higgins

Andrew Higgins is a part-time PhD student at the School of Education at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Andrew’s research focuses on the genesis of Tolkien’s mythology (1906-1920) with specific emphasis on Tolkien’s linguistic invention and his creative reuse of medieval and contemporary sources. He has presented in international conferences on Tolkien studies and has conducted archival research for his thesis. He is currently the Director of Development at Glyndebourne where he leads a team responsible for funding the Glyndebourne opera festival and related tour and educational activities. His recent paper on Tolkien and Wagner bridge his research interests and professional career. Andrew lives in London with his husband David and their children Charlie the Wonder Corgi and Shadow/Lumina the Cat. Andrew has been a member of the UK Tolkien Society since 2007.