Welcome 2014, or, My semester of geeking out

Happy New Year, everyone! This blog has been on a quasi-hiatus since mid-December, as I recovered from the term and enjoyed the holidays at my parents’ house in Uxbridge, Ontario—which miraculously escaped the ice-storm-induced power outages while providing such scenery as the ice-encrusted tree in the front yard:


But then, as if in karmic retribution for my cozy sojourn while so many in Ontario went with power, we’ve been experiencing the double whammy of unseasonably cold temperatures, huge amounts of snow, and power outages here in Newfoundland since I got home. Harrumph. Oh well. So it goes.

But I’m back now and gearing up for the winter term. I’ll be teaching two classes. The first, a fourth-year seminar looking at the troika of William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Cormac McCarthy. The concept for this course is cheerfully stolen from a graduate course I took during my PhD—same authors, (mostly) different novels. I’ll have more to say about that course in future posts.

For now, I want to talk about my other course, which I can quite honestly say I’ve been preparing to teach since I was eleven years old: English 3811, which will focus more or less exclusively on The Lord of the Rings. While my academic career has been principally focused on contemporary American literature, film and popular culture, and postmodernism, the reading experience that defined—and still defines—how I read and why was my first encounter with Tolkien. As I have mentioned at various points, fantasy as a genre has always loomed large in my imagination. Over the last year or so, I have migrated back towards it from a more scholarly perspective, looking closely at contemporary fantasists like George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman and examining the ways in which a not-insignificant number of contemporary writers have been reinventing the genre. Gaiman, Martin, Terry Pratchett, Lev Grossman, and even her nibs Dame Rowling herself, have shifted fantasy’s basis from one grounded in an essentially mythopoeic outlook to a markedly humanist, secular one.

But however much I work on these authors, I keep coming back to Tolkien as if pulled by the gravitational force of a huge planet—he is to fantasy fiction what W.B. Yeats is to Irish poetry, or William Faulkner is to Southern Gothic, except even more so, because his work is as definitional as it is influential.

All of which makes teaching this course an extraordinary opportunity to return to the source, as it were, and to comb through the novel that first taught me that literature can have affect. I’ve been keeping a reading journal as I slowly re-read my favourite novel; over the next few months I’ll be posting on the journey. So have an eye for a Return to Middle-Earth.


Coming soon: a recollection of my first copy of LotR, and a belated review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Stay tuned.

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