My MA thesis is titled “‘They always wished to talk to everything’: Recovering the Border-walking Mystics of Middle-earth.” It extends my previous work by investigating spiritual, interpersonal, and ecological écart in Middle-earth, mobilizing Tolkien’s ventures into mysticism and his portrayal of the ecstatic experience to discuss his navigation of the difficulties and impulses that arise as a result of the aforementioned “gaps.” It is a project that reflects my growing investment in philosophy, critical theory, and ecocriticism, and invites conversations surrounding Tolkien’s work into dialogue with theoretical trends of today, a move which is often neglected by Tolkien scholars. My goal is to enrich both Tolkien Studies and critical theory discourses by allowing them to interact and challenge each other in ways that have been traditionally overlooked. The thesis is now finished (May 2019), but I plan to excerpt specific chapters and publish these as independent articles.
“Intercessory Tales: The Ethical Impact of Legolas’s Storytelling in The Lord of theRings“
The temptation to chalk J.R.R. Tolkien’s environmentalism up to a commitment to anthropocentric stewardship is a powerful one, but doing so forces a flattening of the text and rejects the existence of multiple worldviews in the legendarium. Scholars tend to focus on the stewardship model, however, because it fits most easily into the biblical, Catholic framework from which Tolkien was ostensibly working. While these readings are insightful and cogent, they tend to overlook characters and situations that do not immediately lend themselves to the concept of stewardship. This has unfortunately resulted in a gap in scholarship and a strange reluctance to address Tolkien’s work in relation to contemporary eco-criticism. What happens when we endeavor to leave behind the stewardship model?
This article develops a reading of Tolkien’s environmentalism that refuses to rely on the safety of familiar discourses. It focuses on the character of Legolas to push the conversation into the unknown, unfolding the ethical implications of the ways in which that elf interacts with the environment and those in it. Legolas’s commitment to respectful listening and his ability to recognize the effects of the past on the present and future mark him out as uniquely suited to provide the Fellowship just the thing it lacks: a relationship to the earth and its history that sees the former not as a canvas for “human” action, but as an equal and active participant in the world’s becoming. In the end, Legolas’s role as a storyteller represents a powerful way of ethically encountering the earth on its own ground and in terms that deny privileged anthropocentric narratives.
“‘The Wild Scenery of This Lovely Country’: Scotland in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda”
“Interface and the Problem of Tolkien’s Manuscripts.”
This project explores the problem of graphics and interface that arise when considering the manuscripts and drafts of J.R.R. Tolkien, as presented in The History of Middle-earth volumes curated by Christopher Tolkien. How are readers supposed to approach this material, culled from a variety of formats and in various stages of development and completion? Scholars and fans alike take the posthumous publications to be authoritative, but where does one draw the line? Is looking at a transcribed document equivalent to looking at the real thing? How did Christopher Tolkien “translate” marginalia and in-manuscript editing into a readable format without sacrificing the nature of the text he was dealing with, and what happens to the information the passages he was forced to pass over as “illegible”? How does one represent, in a printed text, a passage that has been crossed out, re-written, and then returned to its original state? How do these questions translate in the digital age? (Access more detail here.)
“Nationalism and Empire in Where the Forest Murmurs.”
This paper looks at the fraught relationship between ethno-nationalism, imperial identity, racialization, and eco-paganism in the posthumous nature-essay collection of Scottish author William Sharp (1855-1905).
“‘They swore an oath that none shall break’: Tolkien’s Tale of Oathtaking, Fate-bonds, and the Power of Language.”
This paper investigates the infamous Oath of Fëanor in The Silmarillion, comparing it to other instances of oathtaking in the Middle-earth legendarium and arguing that throughout the narrative, the Oath is instantiated as a living thing and as such cannot be understood in traditional frameworks.
First Year Composition: An Exercise in Public Scholarship (Spring 2020)
Given the importance of public scholarship, and extending our work outside of the restricting circles of the academic community, I’m experimenting with allowing my students to work with a wider audience in mind. I am inspired in this by a course a took with Dr. Kathleen Fitzpatrick at Michigan State University and by my own work in public scholarship via Tor (see below). While students are not required to participate (in accordance with departmental regulations), I believe allowing them the opportunity to share their work impresses them with the wider significance of what we in the Humanities are doing when we produce critical scholarship. You can access the site HERE.
“Exploring the People of Middle-earth”
This blog series, which I’m writing for Tor.com, will look at the development of various characters in the Middle-earth legendarium. It incorporates textual history as well as character analysis, and is aimed at fans and scholars alike. Here’s a link to my author page!