Teaching Journey to the Imaginal Realm: Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings through Nura Learning was such a wonderful success last autumn, that we are now offering a new course devoted to reading Tolkien’s less well-known and more mythic work, The Silmarillion. Having the opportunity to teach Tolkien’s works has connected me to an extraordinary group of students, a devoted community of learners who have loved Middle-earth as I have, and who have wandered the imaginal realm with courage and curiosity. Whether you were part of the course on The Lord of the Rings, or are a newcomer to Nura Learning’s extraordinary educational platform, it would be a joy to have you in this course on Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.
Before Bilbo Baggins and the dragon, before Frodo and the Ring, before the love story of Aragorn and Arwen, Middle-earth had already been the scene of innumerable tales: of Elves and Dwarves, Valar and Maiar, dragons and balrogs, and a struggle against evil that started before the world was even created. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion begins with a cosmogony, and unfolds with an Elvish mythology and history that could rival the great myths and legends of the Norse, Greek, and Celtic traditions.
This course guides the reader through Tolkien’s sweeping saga of the First and Second Ages of Arda. The expansive vision and grand language can make The Silmarillion a more challenging read than The Lord of the Rings, so this course is designed to unpack the philosophical, spiritual, and literary meanings within Tolkien’s text. When Christopher Tolkien published the edited volume of his father’s writings in 1977, The Silmarillion was met with mixed reactions. Audiences had hoped for a book like The Lord of the Rings, but instead received a text that sounded, in the words of one disgruntled reader, like the Old Testament. Yet these stories were Tolkien’s most beloved—narratives that he had been writing and reworking since the First World War until nearly the end of his life. In this course we will view The Silmarillion through the lens of Tolkien’s theory of sub-creation, coming to understand the imagination and creativity that stands behind a full work of mythology written down by one man.
On the occasion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 127th birthday (born January 3, 1892), I am delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of my new book Journey to the Imaginal Realm: A Reader’s Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which will be published by Revelore Press. The book description reads:
“This reader’s guide to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings offers a journey into the world of Middle-earth, exploring the grand themes and hidden nuances of Tolkien’s epic story, connecting The Lord of the Rings to the larger mythology of Middle-earth, and situating Tolkien’s process of writing within his own powerful experiences of the imaginal realm. The Lord of the Rings has been a beloved story to several generations since its publication in the mid-1950s. The story has a timeless quality to it, and engages with a complex struggle between good and evil, death and immortality, power and freedom. The Lord of the Rings is a book treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. The Lord of the Rings has become a myth for our time.
“Journey to the Imaginal Realm guides the reader through each chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnum opus, drawing attention to the subtle details, recalling moments of foreshadowing, and illuminating underlying patterns and narrative threads throughout the story. The close reading of the text is paired with relevant biographical information from Tolkien’s life, including the loss of both his parents at a young age, the central role of friendship in his life, his participation in the First World War, and his exquisite romance with his wife Edith. Tolkien was a lover of language and a philologist by profession, and his invented languages form the heart of his tales. In some of his letters, Tolkien described his process of writing as one of discovery, in which he waited to find out “what really happened,” feeling as though he was “recording what was already ‘there,’ somewhere.” This reader’s guide seeks to understand the imaginal experiences Tolkien may have encountered that led to the writing of his stories. The guide explores Tolkien’s theory of sub-creation, the immersive experience of Faërian Dramas, and most importantly, his notion of the realm of Faërie. Journey to the Imaginal Realm is a celebration of Tolkien’s work, and an inquiry into the profound nature of imagination, which is capable of bringing forth a world as vast as Middle-earth.”
Please stay tuned with Revelore Press for release date announcements in the near future. Thank you!
This volume is part of the Nuralogical series published in collaboration with Nura Learning.
The astrologer Adam Sommer welcomed me back onto his podcast Holes to Heavensfor a rich conversation about The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien, in which we explored astrology, myth, imagination, ecology, and the power of eclipses. From dragons to elf-light, this was a wonderful dialogue in which to participate.
Gordon White, the fantastic host of Rune Soup, kindly invited me back on his podcast to discuss the practice of active imagination and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It was such a pleasure to drop back into conversation together two and a half years later, and to see how my research has evolved since my first interview with him back in 2016! The podcast is available for download or can be listened to directly below.
Since I was 9 years old, I have been a devotee of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and an avid explorer of the world of Middle-earth. I am therefore beyond excited to be teaching an online course through Nura Learning this autumn on Tolkien’s magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings. I feel as though I have been waiting half my life to teach this class, and at last such an opportunity has arisen. If you have never read The Lord of the Rings before, or wish to return to Middle-earth to deepen your connection with this remarkable tale, I would be delighted to have you in this course.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien has been a beloved story to several generations since its publication in the mid-1950s. The story has a timeless quality to it, and engages with a complex struggle between good and evil, death and immortality, power and freedom. The Lord of the Rings blends otherworldly romance with the high rhetoric of epic mythology, at times interwoven with the internal depths of the nineteenth century novel and the political climate of the twentieth century. As Tolkien’s close friend and colleague C.S. Lewis once said: “Nothing quite like it has been done before. This book is like lightning from a clear sky . . . here are beauties which pierce like swords and burn like cold iron.”
The Lord of the Rings is a text treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. The Lord of the Rings, for many, has become a myth for our time. This course offers a journey through Tolkien’s magnum opus in a community of learning, guided by a scholar who has spent more than two decades engaging Tolkien’s writings and artwork. This course is designed both for newcomers to Tolkien’s narrative, and for veteran travelers through Middle-earth’s many realms. Together we will explore the grand themes and hidden nuances of Tolkien’s epic story, connecting The Lord of the Rings to the larger mythology of Middle-earth, and situating Tolkien’s process of writing within his own powerful experiences of the imaginal realm.
A Doctoral Dissertation Defense by Becca Segall Tarnas
The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien
Monday, February 26, 3:00 – 4:30pm
Room 607 & Online via Zoom (details below)
Beginning in the years leading up to the Great War, both C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien independently began to undergo profound imaginal experiences. They had each stepped across a threshold and entered into another world, the realm of imagination, the world of fantasy. Jung recorded these initially spontaneous visionary experiences, which he further developed using the practice of active imagination, in a large red manuscript that he named Liber Novus, although usually it is referred to simply as The Red Book. The experiences narrated in The Red Book became the seeds from which nearly all of Jung’s subsequent work flowered. For Tolkien, this imaginal journey revealed to him the world of Middle-earth, whose stories and myths eventually led to the writing of The Lord of the Rings, a book he named within its own imaginal history The Red Book of Westmarch. There are many synchronistic parallels between Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books: the style and content of their works of art, the narrative descriptions and scenes in their texts, the nature of their visions and dreams, and an underlying similarity in world view that emerged from their experiences. The two men seem to have been simultaneously treading parallel paths through the imaginal realm.
The revelations of this research hold deep consequences for modernity’s assumptions of a disenchanted world, and bring to the surface implications concerning the nature of imagination and its participatory relationship to the collective unconscious. In this dissertation, I will point to the possibility that Tolkien and Jung are preliminary guides on a journey to the depths of an ensouled cosmos in which imagination saturates the very foundations of reality.
Dissertation Committee Chair: Jacob Sherman, PhD Dissertation Committee Member: Craig Chalquist, PhD Dissertation External Member: Daniel Polikoff, PhD