Tolkien Criticism - Satirical Essays (Abstracts by Oct 20, 2013)

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Thomas L. Martin
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Call for Papers
Tolkien Criticism - Satirical Essays

The Improbable Hobbit:
Unlikely Readings of Tolkien's Epic Fantasy

This volume takes a playful look at the question of whether there remains any limits to literary interpretation and whether that is a good thing or not. Frederick Crewes wrote a popular book in the 1960s called _The Pooh Perplex_ in which various fictitious critics stretch the limits of critical plausibility in their various readings of the Winnie-the-Pooh books. The outrageous claims they make and the many quirks of language and argument they use reflect in a humorous and instructive way actual practices of reading that had become increasingly popular but left unchecked. A memorable line from one of his critics reads, "I confess I have not read this body of work, but a trustworthy friend has assured me that it is more or less what one would have expected.…" Uninformed yet undeterred the critic proceeds to write boldly about what the Winnie-the-Pooh books really do and do not mean, more according to the dictates of his critical conscience than the work itself had he actually taken the trouble to read it.

This collection proposes to ask in the context of Tolkien's epic fantasies, Can a resisting text resist the resisting reader? An assumption of a proposed collection of essays like this is that the more developed the secondary world of a work of literature, the more thought out are matters of psychology, society, politics, and many other subjects one might care to explore in relation to that world and less amenable to like sciences in the primary world. Can a work of literature speak back to a host of misreaders and answer them, not from a logical standpoint, but rather from a literary one? Are the resources of satire available to the critic as well as the creative writer? Might the distorted mirror of satire be employed to draw out some of the characteristic mistakes of readers in our time? And if we've somehow lost sight of the longstanding idea that humans do make mistakes, then this collection once again resurrects the idea that those mistakes can be both amusing and instructive.

With two more movies forthcoming in the Hobbit series, we think that Tolkien fans of all sorts might enjoy a book like this. And educators and readers both inside and outside of the academy might enjoy a good-natured sendup of the excesses in literary interpretation centered around an author like Tolkien. We are asking that those who are interested in contributing a satirical essay to submit an abstract or brief proposal and/or two or more pages of sample text to Thomas Martin at by October 20, 2013 at the latest. Those we invite to contribute to the volume will need to have their final essays completed shortly thereafter.

Topics already underway for the volume:

• "Bilbo and the Crime Wave of Middle Earth"
• "The Other White Meat: Hobbits and Food Theory"
• "Tolkien among the Little People"
• "Ent-tropy: An Eco-critic Counts the Rings"

Essays are welcome, but so are other satirical forms consonant with the purpose of the volume. In other words, feel free to send other kinds of proposals (e.g., flash criticism or other creative forms of criticism). To get a better idea of the satirical approach this volume aims for, tone, etc., see Crewes's book or the essay "A Modest Disposal: Loving the Critical Bathwater after the Baby Has Been Discarded," which will be available for a short time online at