Middle-Earth and Middangeard: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Anglo-Saxon World

Course Name

Middle-Earth and Middangeard: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Anglo-Saxon World



5 or 10

Course date

semester 2 (2015 - 2016)

Registration open until

- 15/01/2016


Friday, 14:00-17:00, Oudemanhuispoort, room C3.17, Amsterdam


Thijs Porck (Leiden University), Marcelle Cole (Utrecht University), guest lecturers (incl. Rolf Bremmer (Leiden University)

E-mail Contact

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

  • improved their ability to read and interpret important works of Old English literature, both in translation and in the original language.
  • gained a thorough understanding of Tolkien’s development of his mythology and how studying an author’s sources can enhance our reading of his fictional work.
  • further developed their ability to analyse works of literature, to understand these works as belonging to their historical and cultural moments as well as specific textual traditions, and to make interesting and meaningful claims about these works in both written or oral form.
  • further developed their independent research skills.
  • produced a final research paper that represents the very best writing they were able to produce at that moment.

Course content

While J.R.R. Tolkien is best known as the author of The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954–1955), his day job was university professor at the University of Oxford, where he lectured mostly on Old English language and literature. Middle-Earth, the world Tolkien created in his fictional work, was heavily influenced by his academic interests and shows the great debt that Tolkien owed to the language and literature of early medieval England. In this course, we will study Tolkien’s academic publications on the field of Old English, particularly the poem Beowulf, both in their own right and in relation to his fictional world.


Tolkien’s views on Old English literature have been published before and after his death and have had a great impact on the scholarship. His lecture ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’ (1936) is possibly one of the most-cited studies in his field, shaping a new literary-critical approach to the poem. Tolkien’s fascination with another Old English poem, The Battle of Maldon, led to the publication of two scholarly essays and a fictional, dramatic epilogue to the poem: The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son (1953). Works published after Tolkien’s death include an edition and translation of the Old English poem Exodus (1982, ed. J. Turville-Petre) and a study on the story of Finn and Hengest that is found in both Beowulf and the Old English ‘Finnsburh Fragment” (1982, ed. A. Bliss). The recent publication of his translation of Beowulf (2014, ed. C. Tolkien), along with notes based on his lectures, provides yet another insight into Tolkien’s understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world and its literature.


Reading Tolkien’s academic work will first of all provide students with a better insight into the culture, language and literature of early medieval England. At the same time, it will also illuminate their reading of Tolkien’s fantasy fiction. At the end of the course, the students with the best papers will get the chance to present their findings at an international Tolkien conference, to take place in Leiden in June 2016.


The first part of this course, for 5 EC, will cover Tolkien’s academic publications on The Battle of Maldon, Exodus and Beowulf, in relation to his fantasy fiction. The second part of the course, for another 5 EC, will be an in-depth study of Tolkien’s Beowulf translation. Each part will be assessed with a written assignment of ca. 2500 words. Students can choose to follow only the first part of the course, for 5 EC. A passing grade for the first part is required to be eligible to attend the second part, for the full 10 EC. Note that some prior (basic) knowledge of Old English is required for a successful participation in this course.


Part 1 (for 5 EC): A research paper of ca. 2500 words (75%), participation (25%)

Part 2 (for another 5 EC): A research paper of ca. 2500 words (75%), participation (25%)

Background Literature and Course Materials

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (HarperCollins, 2000)
J.R.R. Tolkien, Finn and Hengest. The Fragment and the Episode. (HarperCollins, 1998)
J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (HarperCollins, 2001)
J.R.R. Tolkien, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary (HarperCollins, 2014)

Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Oxford World’s Classics, 2009)
Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth. 3rd revised and expanded edition (HarperCollins, 2005)


You should also have an edition of The Lord of the Rings (+ appendices) and The Hobbit.
Supplementary material will be provided by the lecturers.

Further information

Study load

Total course load for the course: 5+5 EC = 140+140 hours
Hours spent attending seminars: 14+14 hours
Time for studying the compulsory literature: 86+86 hours
Final papers: 40+40 hours



€ 100 (max)