The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Multimedia

December 14, 2012

Tolkien class at Wis. university proves popular

MILWAUKEE — The vast collection of J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts initially sold senior Joe Kirchoff on Marquette University, so when the school offered its first course devoted exclusively to the English author, Kirchoff wanted in. The only problem: It was full and he wasn't on the literature track.

Undaunted, the 22-year-old political science and history major lobbied the English department and others starting last spring and through the summer and "kind of just made myself a problem," he said. His persistence paid off.

"It's a fantastic course," said Kirchoff, a Chicago native. "It's a great way to look at something that's such a creative work of genius in such a way you really come to understand the man behind it."

He and the 31 other students can now boast of their authority about the author who influenced much of today's high fantasy writing. The course was taught for the first time this fall as part of the university's celebration of the 75th anniversary of "The Hobbit" being published. And class wrapped up just before the film, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," was released Friday.

The class, which filled up fast with mostly seniors who had first dibs, looked at Tolkien as a whole, not just the popular "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." Students took their final exam this week, and the course was so well received, Marquette is considering more in the future.

"It's the best class I've had in 27 years here ... for student preparation, interest and enthusiasm," said English professor Tim Machan. "And I can throw out any topic and they will have read the material and they want to talk about the material."

Marquette is one of the main repositories of Tolkien's drafts, drawings and other writings — more than 11,000 pages. It has the manuscripts for "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," as well as his lesser-known "Farmer Giles of Ham" and his children's book "Mr. Bliss." Marquette was the first institution to ask Tolkien for the manuscripts in 1956 and paid him about $5,000.

The university acquired the collection after it hired William Ready in 1956 to build its literary collection. Ready, who became interested in Tolkien after reading "The Hobbit," in turn hired Bertram Rota, a London rare book dealer, to serve as the agent for Marquette.

Rota wrote to Tolkien and asked for his original manuscripts. Tolkien happened to be worried about his retirement finances and agreed to the sale. Tolkien died in 1973.

Ready left Marquette in 1963 to head the library at McMaster University in Ontario. The department of special collections and archives is now named for him. Ready died in 1981.

Other significant collections are at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England and Wheaton College in Illinois.

Though Tolkien classes aren't unusual nationwide, Marquette students had the added bonus of being able to visit Tolkien's revisions, notes, detailed calendars, maps and watercolors on site at the school's archive. And they got a lesson from the school's archivist Bill Fliss.

"One of the things we wanted to impress upon the students was the fact that Tolkien was a fanatical reviser," said Fliss said. "He never really did anything once and was finished with it."

Chrissy Wabiszewski, a senior English major, described Tolkien's manuscripts as art.

"When you get down and look at just his script and his artwork in general, it all kind of flows together in this really beautiful, like, cumulative form," Wabiszewski said. "It's cool. It is just really cool to have it here."

The class also looked at Tolkien's poetry, academic articles and translations of medieval poems; talked about the importance of his writers' group, the Inklings; and explored what it meant to be a writer at that time.

"We've ... tried to think about continuities that ran through everything he did," Machan said. His students were also required to go to three lectures that were part of Marquette's commemoration.

"The Hobbit," a tale of homebody Bilbo Baggins' journey, is set in Tolkien's fictional realm of Middle-earth and takes place 60 years before "The Lord of the Rings." The movie released Friday is the first of the trilogy, with "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" set for release on Dec. 13, 2013, and a third film to come out in the summer of 2014.

Most of the students were just finishing elementary school when the first "Lord of the Rings" film was released 11 years ago.

Kirchoff said he started reading "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings" when he was in fourth grade, before the movies came out. He said the movies have introduced others to Tolkien's ideas, making his love for Tolkien's fantasy worlds more socially acceptable.

"The movies were fantastic enough and engaging enough to coexist in my mind with the literature I really do love," he said.

Wabiszewski said it's clear her classmates weren't just taking the class as a filler.

"I definitely expected the enthusiasm from everybody but just the knowledge that everybody brought into the class, it's cool," she said. "We really have a smart group of people in that class who have a lot to offer."

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Multimedia
  • home VIDEO | Volunteers ‘blitz build’ replacement home for Upper Yoder man

    One week ago, Joey Varmecky had almost nothing.
    In October, a flue fire claimed his Swank Street home. That night, Varmecky, a deaf and partially blind man who doesn’t speak, showed up on the doorstep of his friend’s home. His feet were covered only by a pair of stockings.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO | A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • 25801486.jpg VIDEO | Northern California bus crash kills 10

    At least nine people died in Northern California on Thursday night, in an accident involving a bus, a car and FedEx truck. The bus was filled with high school students from Southern California who were on their way to visit a college campus.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.25.07 AM.png VIDEO | Cement truck crashes into minivan

    A professor at Texas A&M University was fortunate to escape serious injury recently when a cement truck ran a red light at a College Station intersection and crashed head-on into his minivan. A dash camera that Dr. Guan Zhu had installed about a year ago captured the entire incident.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • McCutchen hair.jpg VIDEO: Pittsburgh catches on to McCutchen's hairstyle

    Major League Baseball is using Andrew McCutchen in its newest advertisement. The spot is part of the "For the Love of Baseball" campaign and features the Pittsburgh residents showing their support for the Pirates center fielder and reigning National League MVP by wearing their hair in his trademark dreadlock style.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 4.02.29 PM.png VIDEO | Nebraska prom mishap goes viral

    A group of 22 high school students from Pierce, Neb., all decked out in prom finery, took an unplanned dip in a four-foot-deep pond when the bridge they were posing on for pictures gave way. Photos from the incident have gone viral on social media.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen shot 2014-04-04 at 3.36.06 PM.png 3 apps to make your flight easier

    Whether you fly once a week for work or once a year for a vacation, you can bet that all areas of your trip are being monitored by smart phones. While it isn't hard to find an app with your flight info, some apps make the process of flying a lot simpler.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO | White House may ban selfies

    The White House wasn't too pleased after Red Sox player David Ortiz snapped a selfie with President Obama that was later used promotionally by Samsung.

    April 9, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.43.57 AM.png VIDEO | Amazing dance moves at NCAA title game

    Eye-catching action wasn't confined to the court at AT&T Stadium Monday night during the NCAA Championship game between UConn and Kentucky. This pair -- apparently a father and son -- delighted the crowd during a timeout with some synchronized dance moves.

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • hank_aaron_display_image.jpg VIDEO | Aaron's historic homer

    On the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th career home run, take a look at the historic moment as it happened.

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results

House Ads