Tolkien is world-famous for his fiction. In his highly distinguished professional career, meanwhile, he was a philologist, and furthermore a comparative philologist, following in the footsteps of Jacob Grimm, whose innovations in comparative philology (vergleichende Philologie) must count as the Darwinian revolution of the humanities in the 19th century. Nor is it an accident that while Tolkien’s “Middle-earth” sequence was one of the great popular successes of the 20th and 21stcenturies, the fairytales of the brothers Grimm were one of the great popular successes of the preceding century. The philology and the fantasy go together. They deserve to be studied together.
This course aims to use the life and works of Tolkien as a gateway to provide an introduction to the discipline of comparative philology, and to highlight the many links between this field and his creative writings. The course will offer an introductory (and necessarily selective) overview of several of the old Germanic languages and their literatures, such as Gothic, Old and Middle English, and Old Norse, and cover select topics in Germanic comparative grammar (e.g. Grimm’s Law). Attention will also be given to other related matters, such as Celtic philology and Tolkien’s invented languages.
Students are not expected to have prior familiarity with any language other than modern English. Coursework involves readings, philological exercises, and study of short, glossed excerpts from ancient texts. The overall aim is to provide a basic familiarity with the methods and subject matter of philology and to make the ancient languages and texts that provide the field’s raw data appear less unfamiliar, as well as to examine the strong influence of philology on Tolkien’s works.
Philology Through Tolkien (Fall 2013)
Materials were provided for students in the live course, only.
This class is the first semester in a two-part survey of Chaucer’s major works. In this first semester, we will study the works with which Chaucer established his reputation in his time: his early dream vision poems and his greatest completed work: Troilus and Criseyde. In the second semester, we will study The Canterbury Tales. In this first semester, we will focus on immersing ourselves in Chaucer’s language, building not only a comprehension of Chaucer’s verse but a sensitivity to the subtle nuances of Chaucer’s tone and narrative voice. We will be reading Chaucer exclusively in Middle English, but no previous experience with Middle English is required. Chaucer delights to engage other authors and other texts through his own poems, so we will also be reading some of the works with which Chaucer is explicitly interacting, including medieval favorites such as Ovid, Cicero, Macrobius, and Chaucer’s great Italian predecessor, Boccaccio.
Chaucer: Visions of Love (Spring 2014)