Okay fantasy fans: if you’ve been thinking of rereading J.R.R. Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, etc.) you couldn’t find a better reading buddy than Washington College English Professor Corey Olsen, a.k.a. The Tolkien Professor.
Olsen’s website is a treasury of all-things-Tolkien, including reading lists, a discussion forum and best of all, the audio recordings of his spring 2010 course on The Works of J.R.R. Tolkien (website).
If you want a quick taste of the course, I recommend lecture 4, in which Olsen discusses Tolkien’s ideas about the function of fantasy. Tolkien wrote about these ideas in his 1939 essay “On Fairy-Stories” and his 1931 poem “Mythopoeia” (text here).
One striking idea from the lecture is that Tolkien believed that myth and fantasy allow people to participate in God’s act of creation by being what Tolkien called “sub-creators.” They are like prisms that refract God’s white light into rainbows. As Tolkien wrote:
… man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
(Thanks to Anne at Anne-is-a-Man for pointing out this podcast.)