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Fall gathering to “mark new era” in J.R.R. Tolkien studies

Photo of JRR Tolkien 1920s and a map of Numenor

Photo - Public Domain, Map - Wikimedia Commons | CC License - Altered by John Touhey | Aleteia

John Touhey - published on 06/28/23

50 years after the death of the Lord of the Rings author, the Franciscan University of Steubenville is organizing “A Long-Expected Party.”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s popularity keeps growing. His books remain perennial bestsellers. The filming of the second season of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings is underway, while Warner Bros has an animated film set in Middle-earth scheduled for release next year. There is also an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online Game) in the works. Yet for all their popularity, some scholars are concerned that Tolkien’s works are not receiving enough serious attention from academics.

Hoping for a revival in Tolkien scholarship, the Franciscan University of Steubenville will host an academic conference to explore “the life, works, and afterlife” of J.R.R. Tolkien to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death.

A long-expected conference

Titled “A Long-Expected Party,” the conference will take place September 22-23, 2023. September 22, as all Tolkien fans know, is the birthdate shared by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo, both of whose adventures were chronicled by Tolkien. It is also the date when Bilbo Baggins suddenly vanished out of thin air while giving a speech at his 111th birthday party — to the great shock and consternation of his assembled relatives and neighbors.

Conference organizer and Steubenville Associate Professor of English Dr. Ben Reinard stated in a press release that “2023 is a significant turning point in Tolkien studies because the generation of scholars that truly knew him is entering retirement.” The conference hopes to prompt a new wave of serious scholarship on the great author and his works.

Scholar and mythmaker

J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1892. He died in Bournemouth, a small resort town on the south coast of England, in 1973. Fairy stories, myths, and ancient languages fascinated Tolkien ever since his youth. He began inventing his own languages and fragments of made-up legends that in time would form the basis of his history of Middle-earth. Tolkien’s great epic was also influenced by his harrowing military service in World War I, his deeply held Catholic faith, and his abiding love for his wife, Edith.

It was while working as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford that Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and began parts of The Lord of the Rings. The publication of The Hobbit caused a sensation, but the critical reception of the three The Lord of the Rings volumes was mixed and at times even hostile. The trilogy, considered to be a single book by Tolkien, was later named one of the all-time top 100 novels by Time Magazine. It has sold more than 150 million copies.

Call for papers

“Millions have found Tolkien’s works to be occasions of grace in their lives, and we’re only beginning to sound the depth of his creative project,” Dr. Reinhard stated in the release.

Scholars are invited to send papers “on all aspects of Tolkien’s life and work.” Details are available on the conference’s website. Registration is expected to open there soon.

It is not yet known whether any hobbits or Ringwraiths will attend “A Long-Expected Party,” nor if any of the participants will suddenly vanish while giving a talk.

Correction: This article originally stated that Tolkien was born in Bournemouth, UK. We have made the correction and thank a careful reader for pointing out the error.

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