Five years, three living situations, and two jobs later I have finally submitted the completed thesis for my graduate degree in English with Signum University, concentrating in Imaginative Literature. I have had the opportunity to study the genres and authors I love most, rarely found at other institutions: the Inklings, fantasy and sci-fi, mythology and folklore, medieval and modern mythopoeia, literature and film and tv. When I took my first Mythgard class I didn’t have a blog or a podcast. I was not yet published, and had only been to one literary conference (in college). I had admired scholars like Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, and Amy Sturgis from afar and had their books on my shelves, but had not yet met them or taken their classes. When I started I was twenty-five and now I’m thirty. A lot can happen in five years.
Luckily for me, completion of this journey doesn’t have to mean farewell. The blog and podcast will go on, hopefully with renewed energy. I will keep being involved in the Signum community on as many levels as I can. I hope that now I will have time to read even more books, watch more things, and write down more thoughts than in the last couple of years. I’m sure the relationships I’ve formed will only continue to grow.
But that’s not to say that nothing is changing, or that I don’t feel a certain relief. Five years is a long time to put forth that kind of concentrated energy, especially when jobs, life, and health pull you in different directions without regard for the fact that you’d rather be reading. This year has been especially challenging, as the myriad “2016” memes well attest. It’s been a rough year for all of us, and while I was lucky to have a goal to distract me and to pull me through I can’t say that I’m sorry to get to the end of this year.
Despite the relief, hope doesn’t feel particularly easy at the moment, but I guess that’s why we need imaginative fiction. Tolkien praised escape as the “flight of the prisoner” from an intolerable situation. We need to exercise that muscle of imagination with all of its attendant virtues: empathy, creativity, courage, and intellect. In choosing last year to write my thesis about Doctor Who and the fairy tale tradition I had no idea that I would be studying something so relevant and so necessary (at least for me). Getting through my MA has felt at times like Doctor punching the solid wall of diamond, chipping his way through it one millimeter at a time. To be honest, the world right now can feel like the castle in that episode: an endlessly rotating scenario of fear and grief with no apparent escape. It took him a long time to work his way out, but he eventually did through sheer force of will and with the help of a fairy tale.
Fifteen years ago (ten years before starting my MA program) I was fifteen. I had just started high school, a new president was in office, and the world had similarly shifted as the twin towers of New York were destroyed. During this other fearful and grief-stricken time, in December 2001, I felt my own world shift when I saw the first Lord of the Rings movie and then subsequently read Tolkien’s books. In fact in that first year I read everything Tolkien-related that I could get my hands on, whether I understood it or not. Looking back on that uncertain time, I’m sure that Tolkien gave me exactly the gifts that he promised fairy-stories could give: fantasy, escape, recovery, and consolation. At that age and in that time I sorely needed those gifts, and nothing (before or since) has given me such Joy, in all of its senses: happiness, yes, but also a longing, “poignant as grief.”
All of this is by way of apology for the fact that what I want most now that I’m finished my MA with a decidedly Tolkien-heavy program is to read some Tolkien. I know this is ridiculous and you’re free to laugh. Who washes down a three course meal with another supper? Well, hobbits. Hobbits probably do. I actually don’t think I’ve read The Lord of the Rings since that first Mythgard course with Corey Olsen five years ago, and that is a shame. I’ve missed Tolkien, I’m ready for him, and I doubt I’ve ever needed him more than I do right now.
Whatever it is that gives you Joy, throw yourself into it. Exercise your imagination, find your escape, and come back refreshed to reengage with the world, to fight the good fight, even if it’s the long defeat. At the risk of being cliché, there really is no better injunction than Tolkien’s reminder to do the best we can “with the time that is given to us.” I hope and plan to keep this blog going as a place to express my thoughts and invite the rest of you to think and chat and connect. Tea is at four, but you are welcome anytime. Don’t bother knocking.