Tolkien’s Influence on Fantasy

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is, of course, neither the earliest nor the only work of fantasy that has exerted an influence on the development of the genre. Yet it is arguably one of the most important sources for many of the key texts of 20th and 21st century fantasy and is very often used as a work of reference (author xy is “the new Tolkien”, “the Tolkien of xy” etc.). Its enormous popularity has made it almost impossible to ignore or even to avoid contact with its key-elements and stock-characters, such as maps, magic rings, elves, dwarves, wizards etc. They have been adapted by numerous later writers and artists and have become familiar icons of popular culture. Writing fantasy seemed, for a long time, to offer only two choices: to write in the tradition established by Tolkien, or against it. Recent authors, however, approach the ‘tradition’ with greater freedom and while acknowledging their debt to Tolkien, they no longer feel bound by the ‘authority’ of the master. This development has been furthered by a general trend towards the transgression of genre borders and the posthumous publication of much of the background material related to the ‘sub-creation’ of Middle-earth has opened up new vistas and provided ample opportunities for independent ‘sub-creation’.

The Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena is hosting the 9th Seminar of the Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft (DTG) from 27-29 April 2012. The Seminar aims at exploring the various aspects of Tolkien’s influence (or, alternatively, non-influence) on the development of fantasy and contributions (either in German or English) not only from scholars but also writers/authors and other artists are welcome.

The DTG conferences traditionally reach out across the linguistic and academic boundaries. They provide a platform for international Tolkien scholars to present their research, to exchange ideas and lay the foundations for international co-operations. The speakers of the Jena conference hail from France, Spain, Italy, England, Germany and Switzerland. The official conference languages are English and German.

Jena, which has already hosted the DTG conferences in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2010, has developed over the last decade into one of the European centres for Tolkien-studies. This is mainly due to the implementation of Tolkien-studies as part of the academic teaching-programme and, of course, as a focus of research at the Friedrich-Schiller-University. The Department of English Studies regularly offers courses on Tolkien's work or on related subjects. Furthermore, the Department of English Studies is proud to count Prof. Dr. Dirk Vanderbeke (The Fans, the Warriors, and the Critics), Prof. Dr. Thomas Honegger (More Light than Shadow?), and Dr. Allan G. Turner among its staff – all scholars with a keen interest in matters Tolkien. The Department and the Friedrich-Schiller-University also support events such as the DTG conference by providing lecture rooms, technical support, infrastructure etc. – which allows us to keep the conference free of charge and open to the public.

Today, Jena still offers a varied and vibrant cultural life. The city, with its 100'000 inhabitants, is the home of 26'000 students, which means that the character of the town is greatly influenced by student-life. Jena's central and compact location offers easy access to ICE and other train connections and within town all places of importance and relevance for the conference can be reached on foot within 5 to 10 minutes.

A selection of papers is going to be published in revised form in Hither Shore, the bilingual yearbook of the DTG. The seminar's official poster is available here (pdf).