By Alicia Constant
Patrick Henry College
Tolkien's newly released, unfinished retelling of the Arthurian Legends is the launching point for this year's literary colloquium.
PHC students from a number of majors are writing scholarly papers this summer on J.R.R. Tolkien’s recently released re-telling of the Arthurian Legends for PHC’s third Literary Colloquium.
Started in 2010 by PHC alumnus Colin Cutler, the PHC Literary Colloquium is a voluntary, student-led scholarly symposium. Over the summer, participants submit an abstract and bibliography, interact with the latest scholarly articles in their area of research, and work to refine their papers.
“For those planning on graduate school, [the colloquium] is an opportunity to get that level of writing experience with peer review and feedback, keep academic skills sharp over the summer, and get published,” colloquium chair Nick Barden said.
In late August or early September, students will present their papers, answer questions on their research, and have their work printed in the college’s annual colloquium journal, The Red Hill Review.
Tolkien’s unfinished work, The Fall of Arthur, appeared in print for the first time in May. Barden, a CLA major, said the colloquium panel picked Tolkien’s work as “the perfect unity”: “A lot of students on campus love J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, and the Arthurian legends are engaging in their own right.”
This year’s colloquium is the first to focus on a single work, but Barden hopes that Tolkien’s work will serve as the nexus for a vast array of ideas and themes in the Arthurian legends. From Sir Thomas Malory to T. H. White to Tennyson, a number of authors have added their own perspectives to the legends.
“The quality of a legend is to reveal where we are and where we’re going,” Barden said. “A lot can be edifying in understanding Tolkien’s mindset, and also how Tolkien was trying to understand the Anglo-Saxon mindset.”
Tolkien was fascinated with works of literature, such as Beowulf, written before the Norman invasion of England. His retelling of the legends plays off the pre-Norman style of literature, using alliterative verse and a style similar to Beowulf. Though he never finished his retelling of Arthur’s story, Tolkien used some Arthurian ideas to shape the legends and language in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.
For last year’s colloquium topic, "Regaining Paradise: Finding Beauty in a Fallen World," students interacted with the works of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Roger Scruton, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Albert Camus, among others.
Rising junior Jonathan Boes, a literature major, is on the student panel and will be helping student writers craft and revise their ideas. "I hope to learn why everybody loves Arthurian legend so much," he said.
Barden is looking forward to the works the panelists and participants will create. “It’s the opportunity to interact with a corpus of literature that shaped Anglo-American culture, and an opportunity to enter the realm of scholarly discourse with excellence.”