Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Teaching Tolkien, revisited

I’ve written about Tolkien in the classroom before (most notably, here), and since then, I’ve heard about more and more professors teaching Tolkien at the university level. There is even a new online school where you can work toward a Masters Degree in Tolkien Studies (The Mythgard Institute, established and run by Corey Olsen; I’ll have more to say about this endeavor another day). My friend Leslie Donovan is also in the final stages of publishing a multi-contributor collection on pedagogical approaches to Tolkien. These are bright days for teaching Tolkien. The purpose of today’s post is to share some exciting news: my own book has been assigned in an undergraduate Tolkien seminar at Texas A&M University – Commerce. This is the first time — but I hope not the last — that my book will be used in the classroom, and so I’m naturally very interested to see how it goes.

The class in question is ENGL 497.01W: The Hobbit, and it’s being taught during the Fall semester of this year by Professor Robin Anne Reid. This is the first time an undergraduate course on The Hobbit has been offered at TAMU-C, and its focus is especially appropriate since the novel celebrates the seventy-fifth anniversary of its publication this year, and in fact, this month. Professor Reid’s class will use three assigned texts: (1) Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press), (2) Jason Fisher (ed.), Tolkien and the Study of His Sources (McFarland), and (3) Douglas Anderson, The Annotated Hobbit (Houghton Mifflin). In case some of you are wondering about the absence of John Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit, I think it’s safe to say that book would be more appropriate for a graduate-level course.

They’ve just gotten underway this week, and I’m hopeful that a few of Professor Reid’s students will drop by Lingwë to say hello. I also hope Lingwë regulars will help make them feel welcome. Over the course of the next few months, they’ll be reading most of the essays in my book, with a choice of essays in some cases (e.g., Birns or Larsen on sources from antiquity, Ratefliff or Hooker on Victorian and Edwardian writers). At the same time, they’ll be working their way through Doug Anderson’s indispensible Annotated Hobbit. This will be a great test to see how well the two books — Doug’s and mine — work together.

Dr. Reid also expects her students to begin learning more about literary theory, rhetorical techniques, and critical thinking and writing. To that end, it looks like she’ll have her students read Culler’s book both at the beginning of the class and again at the end of it. I think that’s a great strategy. By beginning with this background, then seeing many of the techniques it describes demonstrated in my and Doug’s books, and then reading Culler again to reinforce the material, students have the best chance of really absorbing it.

I’m also following along with Dr. Reid’s lecture notes, which is really illuminating for me. It’s like reading my own book again with a whole new set of eyes!


  1. I would love to teach JRRT! Thanks for the link to the Master's program. I don't need another degree but that sounds like so much fun!

  2. Great stuff, Jason! I am very glad to see Tolkien on the curriculum - there are efforts in Germany as well to put this forward. Teaching Tolkien definitely has its advantages!

  3. It certainly does, and one of them is “getting butts in seats” — i.e., bringing money into the university. With Tolkien classes, English departments usually get a lot of non-majors (true of Robin’s class as well). Not only is that good for the department (again, “butts in seats”), but it’s good for Tolkien studies. A broad, interdisciplinary discussion, with many voices from many backgrounds deepens everyone’s understanding and appreciation of Tolkien.

  4. Congrats, Jason! Very cool! I've started my Master's at Mythgard and took the Spring class. Prof. Olsen is a great teacher. Finished my own book at last and hope to get back to the classes with the Spring 2013 semester.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie :)