Department of English

Topics in Popular Culture

ENGL 4730

"J. R. R. Tolkien and Medieval Middle Earth,' Or, 'A Topics Class That Doesn't Have A Nice Ring To It'"

Class day(s): MTWRF
Class time: 9:45 AM

Craig Bertolet

Professor/Director of Undergraduate Studies

Interest areas

Medieval Literature; Cultural Studies; Chaucer; Critical Theory; Cultural Studies

Craig Bertolet

Contact information

9060 Haley Center
(334) 844-9060

Course Description

Following the respectable success of The Hobbit, a novel directed toward clever children, J. R. R. Tolkien, Professor of English Language at Merton College, Oxford, was asked by his publisher to provide a sequel. The result twelve years later was The Lord of the Rings, the best-selling English-authored work of the twentieth century. This course will be a slow walk through what has been considered the greatest example of epic fantasy. First, we will read one of the medieval English works that Tolkien translated and which did not leave his intellectual universe throughout the composition of the Lord of the Rings: Beowulf. In essence, we will read Tolkien’s epic through the lens of the earliest English-language epic. We will also approach Tolkien through a theoretical lens of Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of the habitus since Tolkien went to great lengths creating a habitus for every race in his epic. In the course of our brief 5-week seminar, we will explore the intersections between sociological theory and medieval texts on Middle-Earth, perhaps discovering how, with Tolkien, such an examination is hobbit-forming.


Analytical paper, creative project, enthusiastic conversation 


J. R. R. Tolkien, trans. Beowulf (Houghton-Mifflin) & J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

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Last Updated: March 21, 2019