Tolkien, Christianity, and Art
Robert PorwollGustavus Adolphus College
The Lumen Christi Institute has designed this two-day seminar to introduce major themes and debates from the Catholic Church's history to a wide online audience. It offers the opportunity to read primary sources in the context of a seminar-style discussion, led by Catholic faculty.
The enrollment fee for this short course is $95 USD. Because we believe the Catholic Intellectual Tradition should be made available to everyone, a limited number of scholarships are available. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
This is one of three short courses hosted by the Lumen Christi Institute this summer. If you would like to take a deep dive into the Church's tradition by signing up for all three short courses for the discounted price of $200, you can do so HERE.
JRR Tolkien stands as a colossus among modern fantasy writers and mythmakers. Many are familiar with his Christian faith and his famous books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and many discuss whether or how his Christian faith figures into these fantasy stories or whether his fantasy is separable or only superficially related to his personal Christian belief. This course will examine Tolkien’s robust concept of creativity and art in his other writings: 'Leaf by Niggle,' 'On Fairy Stories,’ and selected letters, and excerpts from his Silmarillion. In these texts Tolkien articulates his ideas of subcreation, ‘the long defeat,’ and ‘eucatastrophe’, the promise and danger of art as well as art’s redemption.
Preparatory materials will focus on Tolkien’s essays and art that discusses his theory and practice of art and creativity and how his Christian beliefs informs this vision of and practice of creativity. Introductory videos will frame the overall life of Tolkien and introduce our readings. The three sessions of the course will prioritize discussion of our readings in the tradition of Great Books style seminars. Primary topics will include the practice of art, its promise, danger, and possible redemption; the value of myth for truth and living for truth. ‘Fairy Stories’ will introduce central concepts, including subcreation and eucatastrophe. Finally, we shall see the performance of these ideas in the myths of the Silmarillion in the creation of Middle-Earth, the subcreation of Middle-Earth, and ingenious and hazardous creation of the silmarils by heroic Feanor. We shall also bring this back to re-read Leaf with new eyes.
Session 1: Tuesday, July 18: 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
Session 2: Saturday, July 22: 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Session 3: Saturday, July 22: 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Session 1: The Promise and Danger of Art
- ‘Leaf by Niggle’
Session 2: Theory of Fantasy / Creative Art (‘Subcreation’ and Eucatastrophe)
- 'On Fairy Stories'
- Introduction to the Creativity Narratives of Silmarillion
Session 3: The Promise and Dangers of Subcreation
- Silmarillion, selections
- 'Leaf by Niggle'
*Pdfs. of all readings will be provided to participants.
Robert Porwoll has taught courses for the University of Chicago Graham School and History Department, and he is currently a visiting professor at Gustavus Adolphus College. His research includes the Christian liberal arts tradition in education, with a specialized focus on the liberal arts in Christian education at schools and at early medieval universities. He studied Historical Theology at Saint Louis University (MA) and the History of Christianity at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (PhD). His scholarship includes the relationship of faith and reason, religious environmental ethics, Neoplatonic and scholastic thought, and the medieval School of Saint Victor Abbey (Paris).