Tolkien’s Imagination: A Talk at Esalen


The essay “The Fantastic Imagination: Sub-Creating Tolkien’s Middle-Earth,” which is the foundation of this presentation, is available here.

8 Replies to “Tolkien’s Imagination: A Talk at Esalen”

  1. Becca, I so enjoyed this presentation…. and the question/answer exchanges. I found this interesting blog entry you may enjoy…this entry specifically on Splintered Light. I had the fortune of taking classes in college with a professor who digressed often into Tolkien, and used Flieger’s book as massive introduction into the archetype of light/dark. I look forward to learning more from your studies….and more presentations, please!

    1. Great recommendation for the review of Splintered Light, thank you. That book had a major impact on me when I first read it. I actually particularly appreciated though the part in the review in which the reviewer disagreed with Flieger’s analysis, the moment of Frodo on Mount Doom. I also believe this is the great moment of eucatastrophe in Tolkien’s tale, not just for Middle-Earth but for Frodo as well. He has reached the nadir of his true descent into darkness and succeeds not through resistance but surrender, an utter transformation of the self by submitting to the alchemical process of transmutation, of transforming his darkest act into the act of most light. The reviewer’s mention of chance in this moment is also significant; Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey points out that when chance is mentioned throughout the mythology, especially by Gandalf, it always appears like a subtle divine intervention, but with never too strong a hand to be a deus ex machina. Evil always bears its mark but the good has no need to proclaim its actions.

      I’ll try to do more presentations when I can, thank you for the encouragement!

  2. I just finished listening to your talk on Tolkien. Thank you for bringing these philosophers’ ideas together and to light for us. I love hearing about how Tolkien connected this underlying Source or “faith” based in the imagination, Divine and of the Earth and Earthlings, created through his love of language. Thank you for opening that world further for us. No wonder we return to reading with appreciation each time.

  3. I have finally got around to watching this, and am so pleased I did not let it slip off my radar. I have not yet studied ‘On Fairy Stories’ in depth as of yet, but I intend to in the future. All I could think.of as you were describing the meeting of invention and imagination was Aule’s creation of the dwarves which beautifully reflects what you discuss here.
    Thank you, for helping me become a bit more enchanted today!

    1. Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed the talk! The part of “The Silmarillion” you are referring to with Aule and Iluvatar really does seem to be Tolkien’s incorporation of the theory of sub-creation directly into his material. There are so many layers of sub-creation possible with a work such as his, extending from the creativity of the Divine right to the flourishing imagination of a child hearing “The Lord of the Rings” read aloud for the first time.

      If you start to get into “On Fairy Stories” or others of Tolkien’s essays (or already have) I would love to open up a dialogue with you about the material. Also, have you read his short story “Smith of Wootton Major”? There is something about that particular piece which, while a narrative rather than an essay, seems to clearly demonstrate what he was talking about in “On Fairy Stories” about the moment when we pass into Faërie, entering into the realm of enchantment. I’ll be posting a talk I gave recently on that moment of transition, the threshold of enchantment, very soon.

      I’m really enjoying your own recent posts, and reading your reaction to “The Hobbit” film has helped me process my feelings about it when I viewed it as well. I’d like to see it again at some point and write something on it also. More on that soon!

      1. I look forward to hearing your other talk and reading your impressions on the film. I have read “Smith of Wootton Major” as well as “On Fairy Stories” and skimmed through (with some parts more closely read) “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics”…I have yet to make a true study of them though…yet another item on my list of Tolkienian pursuits to get to!

        I would love to discuss these in more detail with you in the future. I’ve been debating where to move on after re-reading The Hobbit. Lately I’ve been leaning towards either re-reading The Silmarillion or continuing to plow through HoME…but it might be good to have a short interlude into something shorter, but by no means less inspiring.

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