Tolkien Symposium 2020: Video Recording and Resource List

Thank you to our amazing panellists for an inspiring and thought-provoking discussion last weekend, and thank you to everyone who joined us on Zoom and Youtube Live to listen and contribute to the discussion. If you missed it, a recording of the event can be found on Youtube:

We were also thrilled to surpass our fundraising target, collecting £860 for The Society of Authors’ Covid-19 emergency fund. Thank you to all who donated and helped provide much-needed financial support for professional writers during the pandemic.

We have compiled a list of quotations and resources, to help people find out more about our panellists and the authors and works they discussed.

The Panellists

Other Speakers in the Tolkien Lecture Series

Currently Reading

  • Victoria Schwab, 18:01, Becky Chambers, Record of a Spaceborn Few, Wayfarers, (Hodder & Stoughton, 2018)
  • Kij Johnson, 20:26, mentions reading travelogues for women driving across the United States circa 1913-1916
  • Kij Johnson, 20:37, Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown (Pantheon, 2020)
  • Rebecca Kuang, 21:00, mentions researching late 1830s Oxford, Georgian- and Victorian-era England 
  • Lev Grossman, 22:07, Peanuts comics
  • Lev Grossman, 22:18, Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light (Henry Holt & Co, 2020)
  • Terri Windling, 23:43, Philip Marsden, The Summer Isles: A Voyage of the Imagination (Granta, 2019)

The Importance of Community

  • Rebecca F. Kuang, 33:06, Jeannette Ng, ‘The Science of the Pendulum Sun’ (Medium, February 24, 2018)
  • Gabriel Schenk, 34:50, Diana Pavlac Glyer, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community (Kent State University Press, 2006)

Writing During the Time of Covid-19

  • Terri Windling, 42:00, Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint (Arbor House, 1987) and many others
  • Kij Johnson,43:09, ‘I know what you’re thinking – that anybody with proper sensitive feeling would rather scrub floors for a living. But I should scrub floors very badly, and I write detective stories rather well’ Harriet Vane in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Gaudy Night (Gollancz, 1935), p. 31.

“Happy” Endings in Fantasy

  • Terri Windling, 50:28:

‘The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale – or otherworld – setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.’

– J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 1939

Messages of hope in Fantasy and Science-fiction

  • Gabriel Schenk, 56:45:

‘“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”

 – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, bk. I, ch. 2

  • Terri Windling, 1:00:00:

‘For adults, the world of fantasy books returns to us the great words of power which, in order to be tamed, we have excised from our adult vocabularies. These words are the pornography of innocence, words which adults no longer use with other adults, and so we laugh at them and consign them to the nursery, fear masking as cynicism. These are the words that were forged in the earth, air, fire, and water of human existence, and the words are: Love. Hate. Good. Evil. Courage. Honor. Truth.’

Jane Yolen, Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood (August House Publishers, expanded edition, 2000)

Will Covid-19 Change Fantasy?

  • Rebbeca F. Kuang, 1:09:11, examples of POC authors writing about trauma in speculative fiction: N.K. Jemisin, Tochi Onyebuchi, Octavia Butler, Rebecca Roanhorse, Rivers Solomon 

Fantasy, Science-fiction, and Landscape

  • Terri Windling, 1:13:58, examples of authors who write nature-based fantasy that is also internal: Robert Holdstock and [second author TBD]
  • Rebecca F. Kuang, 1:16:09, examples of fantasy and sci-fi that include a closing-off of landscape: Sophie Mackintosh, The Water Cure (2018), Sam J. Miller, Blackfish City (2018), and Chen Qiufan, Waste Tide (2013; translated into English in 2019)


“My heart’s right down in my toes, Mr. Pippin,’ said Sam. ‘But we aren’t etten yet’” 

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, ch. 4

Kij Johnson, 1:18:23, ‘I’ve always loved the notion that as long as you’re not eaten, you’re good.’


Terri Windling, 1:18:38: ‘“Words are intrinsically powerful,” wrote the Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday. “And there is magic in that. Words come from nothing into being. They are created in the imagination and given life on the human voice. You know, we used to believe — and I am talking about all of us, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds – in the magic of words. The Anglo-Saxon who uttered spells over his field so that the seeds would come out of the ground on the sheer strength of his voice, knew a good deal about language, and he believed absolutely in the efficacy of language. That man’s faith — and may I say, wisdom — has been lost upon modern man, by and large. It survives in the poets of the world, I suppose, the singers. We do not now know what we can do with words. But as long as there are those among us who try to find out, literature will be secure; literature will be a thing worthy of our highest level of human being.”

 N. Scott Momaday, qtd. in Joseph Bruchac, Survival This Way: Interviews with American-Indian Poets, (University of Arizona Press, 1987)

‘Like Momaday, I believe that words have a magic and a power of their own, which those of us working in  the fantasy field would be wise to remember. A good fantasy novel is literally spell-binding, using language to conjure up whole new worlds, or to invest our own with magic. The particular power of fantasy comes from its link with the world’s most ancient stories, and from the author’s careful manipulation of mythic archetypes, story patterns, and symbols. ‘A skillful writer knows that she must tell two stories at once: the surface tale, and a deeper story encoded within the tale’s symbolic language. The magical tropes of fantasy, rooted as they are in world mythology, come freighted with meaning on a metaphoric level. I believe that those of us who use the magic of words professionally should remember how powerful stories can be — for children especially, but also for adults – and take responsibility for the tenor of whatever dreams or nightmares we’re letting loose into the world.’


V.E. Schwab, 1:20:40: ‘“Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we’re doing here. So, the easiest way to stare reality in the face and not utterly lose your shit is to believe that you have control over it. If you believe you have control, then you believe you’re at the top. And if you’re at the top, then people who aren’t like you… well, they’ve got to be somewhere lower, right? Every species does this. Does it again and again and again. Doesn’t matter if they do it to themselves, or another species, or someone they created […] You studied history. You know this. Everybody’s history is one long slog of all the horrible shit we’ve done to each other.”’

– Becky Chambers, A Closed and Common Orbit (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016)


Rebecca F. Kuang, 1:21:43: ‘“I think good art is good for people precisely because it is not fantasy but imagination. It breaks the grip of our own dull fantasy life and stirs us to the effort of true vision. Most of the time we fail to see the big wide real world at all because we are blinded by obsession, anxiety, envy, resentment, fear. We make a small personal world in which we remain enclosed. Great art is liberating, it enables us to see and take pleasure in what is not ourselves. Literature stirs and satisfies our curiosity, it interests us in other people and other scenes, and helps us to be tolerant and generous. Art is informative. And even mediocre art can tell us something, for instance about how other people live.”’

– Iris Murdoch, qtd. in Bryan Magee, Talking Philosophy: Dialogues with Fifteen Leading Philosophers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 238


Adam Roberts, 1:22:48, ‘There is room, in the world of Tolkien, for fried fish and a bit of sushi as well, if that’s what you’re in the mood for […] it’s always seemed to me just such a beautifully observed little moment.’ “‘Be good Sméagol and fetch me the herbs, and I’ll think better of you. What’s more, if you turn over a new leaf, and keep it turned, I’ll cook you some taters one of these days. I will: fried fish and chips served by S. Gamgee. You couldn’t say no to that.’ `Yes, yes we could. Spoiling nice fish, scorching it. Give me fish now, and keep nassty chips!’”

 – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, bk. IV, ch. 4


Lev Grossman, 1:26:00, ‘There’s a great strip where Charlie Brown just sits up with Linus because Linus can’t sleep. I don’t even think there’s a particular punchline for that strip, but it’s one that keeps coming back to me.”

– Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts, January 9–10, 1961

1:25:24, ‘Lucy takes away Linus’s blanket […] It’s one of the rare instances when you see Charlie Brown, who I love, be truly compassionate. For Linus, the blanket is a magic object, but it’s not magic for anybody else, and so much of fantasy is making visible, or placing value, on things that aren’t otherwise visible.’

– Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts, January 9–10, 1961

Other Books Mentioned

  • Kij Johnson, 38:09, Lord Dunsany, author of the novel The King of Elfland’s Daughter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924) and the linked stories in The Gods of Pegāna (Elkin Mathews, 1905)
  • Kij Johnson, 38:10, Stephen King, ‘Children of the Corn’, in Night Shift (Doubleday, 1978)
  • Adam Roberts, 44:35,  William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Faber & Faber, 1954)
  • Terri Windling, 46:56, Alan Garner, author of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Collins, 1960), The Owl Service (Collins, 1967), and many others
  • Terri Windling, 46:57, Susan Cooper, author of The Dark is Rising Sequence and many others
  • Lev Grossman, 55:23, ‘Earthsea,’ from Ursula K. Le Guin, The Earthsea Cycle (1968–2001)
  • 55:25 Lev mentions ‘Westeros,’ from G.R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire (1996–)


Further reading

  • Alan Jacobs, “Fantasy and the Buffered Self,” The New Atlantis (Winter 2014), pp. 3-18
  • Susan Cooper, “Fantasy in the Real World,” 1988, in Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children (New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1996
  • Adam Roberts, “From Wagner to Tolkien,”  Morphosis, 1 August 2018 
  • Adam Roberts, “Arthuriana, Fantastica, Eschatology and suchlike polysyllables,” Morphosis, 27 December 2018
  • For the effect of a time of crisis on Tolkien’s life and work, see John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (HarperCollins, 2003)

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