Interest in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, though steady among faithful readers around the world for half a century, is heightened
recently in the wake of New Zealand director Peter Jackson's acclaimed three-part film adaptation. The Lord of the Rings
once again resonates throughout our popular culture and is recognized not only as an adventure fantasy, but a work of great
moral depth, much applicability to our modern dilemmas, and filled with subtle references to Tolkien's deeply held Christian
In January 2004, shortly after release of the third and final film installment, St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville
hosted two internationally recognized experts on Tolkien in our McMichael Lecture Series. The events took place on consecutive
Sundays with presentations during the Christian Education hour at 10 am and public lectures at 7 pm.
Dr. Verlyn Flieger spoke on January 18. She is Professor of English at the University of Maryland, where she teaches comparative
mythology, religion and folklore, and a course on Tolkien in the University Honors Program. She is co-editor of Tolkien's
Legendarium, a collection of scholarly essays, and the author of two books on Tolkien. Splintered Light: Logos and
Language in Tolkien's World (1983), enlarged and revised for a second edition in 2002, shows "how Tolkien's central image
of primary light splintered and refracted acts as a metaphor for the languages, peoples, and history of Middle-earth" as they
became ever more distanced from the moment of creation. A Question of Time: Tolkien's Road to Faerie (1997), winner
of the 1998 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies, shows how "Tolkien's concern with time captures the wonder and peril of
travel into other worlds, other times, other modes of consciousness"-a journey which Tolkien saw as firmly linked to the journey
of religious faith. She has also written numerous published articles and conference papers on Tolkien and Celtic and Arthurian
myth, as well as original poetry and a fantasy novel, Pig Tale. Her novella Avilion: Arthurian Voices was nominated
for the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction.
Professor Flieger's evening lecture, "Beyond Hope: Hope and Despair in The Lord of the Rings," addressed one of
Tolkien's central themes-that real "heroes" are just everyday people called to pursue a task to its bitter end, often in the
absence of any visible reason to hope. Tolkien was a devout man, but his faith as a Catholic was always in dialogue with a
deep pessimism engendered by personal losses, the twentieth century's wars, and the fallen world he saw around him. This tension
of hope and pessimism remains relevant for all people of faith who encounter the trials and tragedies of life. Her morning
talk, "Tolkien in His Time," will discuss how Tolkien's intimate understanding of the deep past and perceptive yet critical
view of "modernism" places him in the stream of twentieth century writers.
Dr. Jane Chance spoke on January 25. Dr. Chance is Professor of English at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she
teaches medieval literature, Medieval Studies, and Women and the Study of Gender. She is a specialist in medieval mythography
and serves as general editor of the series "Library of Medieval Women" and "Greenwood Guides to Historic Events in the Medieval
World." She has published eighteen books, editions, and translations, among them Tolkien's Art: A Mythology for England
(1979) and The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power (1992), both reprinted in revised editions in 2001 and translated
for publication in Japanese in 2003. She was guest-editor for issues of Studies in Medievalism which focused on Twentieth
Century Medievalists (1982) and the Inklings (1991). Her essay "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel's
Mother" revisits Tolkien's own influential Beowulf commentary, and has been published seven times, most recently in the Norton
Critical Edition with Seamus Heaney's acclaimed translation of the poem. She was the organizer of five sessions dealing with
Tolkien's medieval scholarship at the 38th International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2003. She has taught a course on
Tolkien at Rice University since 1976. Professor Chance has also published widely on feminine spirituality and ideas of the
soul in medieval times. Her book Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, 433-1177 A.D.
won the SCMLA (South Central Modern Language Association) Best Book Prize of 1994.
Professor Chance's evening lecture was "Tolkien and the Other: Race and Gender in Middle-earth." Throughout his fantasy
and his scholarly writing, Tolkien dislikes most of all prejudice, segregation of the Other, and isolation of those who are
different, whether by race, nationality, culture, class, age, or gender. Tolkien is supremely conscious of those individuals
or groups or races who are marginal, who exist on the peripheries of society, often in exile, or as outcasts. Professor Chance
will discuss how Tolkien used his interest in the Middle Ages, his Catholic spirituality, and fantasy literature-an essentially
"subversive" art form-to express his views of the Other. Her morning talk, "Tolkien and the Sexes," is inspired by one of
the common criticisms of Tolkien's fiction: the scarcity of female characters. Yet his personal letters reveal thoughtful
reflection on the relations between women and men, and he had many female students and colleagues. Was he really the arch-conservative
and traditionalist that he is often made out to be, or was he refreshingly modern and free of misogyny?
Tolkien's characters have delighted and inspired millions of readers of all ages for half a century. The wizard Gandalf
admonishes Frodo: "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you." And Aragorn, at the brink of
battle, recalls, "There is always hope."