Stephanie K. Brownell's "Quest Narrative in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"
Beginning with a discussion of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and its connections to The Lord of the Rings, this presentation will explore Junot Díaz’s manipulation of the traditional quest narrative to bring marginalized communities into the center of narrative and discourse. Oscar Wao follows one Dominican family as its generations survive sociopolitical upheaval, as well as the threat of a familial fukú (curse). Díaz’s use of classic Western literary structures like Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and strong allusions to Tolkien’s books provide a cross-cultural “window” from popular American literature into the experiences of Dominican-Americans. By aligning the despotic Trujillo with Middle-earth’s Dark Lord Sauron, Díaz illuminates history and myth in a non-western context. The story also holds a “mirror” to Dominican cultural identity at home and in diaspora through the title character’s reliance on quest narratives to conceptualize his own place as a black man in America, as a geek in the hyper-masculine Dominican community, and as a product of a culture whose history has been erased. Díaz opens the form to a new kind of protagonist while critiquing existing cultural narratives related to love, sex, and gender. Díaz’s subversion of the final elements of the hero’s journey reimagines the form to embrace the realities of modern multicultural perspectives.
Geoffrey B. Elliott's "Tales after Tolkien: Shakespeare in Robin Hobb"
The proposed paper seeks to explicate the use in Robin Hobb’s Elderlings corpus of features of character common in certain of Shakespeare’s fool characters, notably Touchstone of As You Like It and Feste of Twelfth Night. (Other fools in the Bard’s corpus may also be invoked.) An explication of parallels among the characters will speak directly to the enduring social cachet of the Bard and to a particular type of trickster figure that the Bard and Hobb both instantiate, pointing out yet another way in which the literatures of past centuries can be made to speak to current situations.
It also extends the work of the Tales after Tolkien Society in a more general sense. The Society is dedicated to examining the continuing medievalism of works of popular culture, looking at how the medieval continues to manifest in mainstream works, following a pattern prominently evidenced in Tolkien. As a post-Tolkien author—and one who credits Tolkien with influencing her approach to literature in a contribution to Meditations on Middle-earth—Hobb’s work is ripe for treatment by the Society. In refiguring Shakespearean characters, her work moves forward from Tolkien’s medievalism as it is itself a movement forward from Tolkien.
Kris Swank's "The Transformations of 'Tam Lin'"
The traditional Scottish border ballad "Tam Lin" has provided fertile ground for fantasy authors. The ballad concerns the abduction of young Tam Lin by the Queen of the Fairies, and his subsequent rescue by his true love, Janet. Some authors are interested in producing "faithful" retellings, while others play with time period, characterization, and intertextuality, demonstrating the timeless quality of the ballad’s themes of love, bravery, and self-sacrifice. Some works to be examined include C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire and Hemlock, Alan Garner’s Red Shift, and Netflix' series Stranger Things.