Return of the Ring / Tolkien News

EXCLUSIVE: Q&A Interview with Dr. Dimitra Fimi

Dr. Dimitra Fimi

One of the most fascinating things about J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels, is the sheer depth and amount of time he put into creating the world of Middle-earth. Every culture has a rich history, ready for the reader to explore and enjoy. And no one is more versed in his work than Dr. Dimitra Fimi. Her passion and profession is Tolkien. Author of Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits, as well as numerous articles on his work, Dr. Fimi’s on-line classes are as extensive and thorough as one of Tolkien’s stories. Meet the Professor who can help take your knowledge of Tolkien, and his life’s work, a step further.

What prompted you to study, and later teach, Tolkien?
I first encountered Tolkien when still an undergraduate of English Language and Literature at the University of Athens, Greece. From childhood I was fascinated by Classical mythology, Greek and Roman, which was – of course – part of my heritage, but also the main reason that led me later on to study folklore professionally (my Masters degree focused on Celtic myth and folklore). What I found really intriguing in Tolkien’s work was his undoubted success in creating a coherent mythology, something very similar to primary, or “real” mythologies: he managed to compose a body of interconnected tales and legends, that is usually the product of an entire culture or even nation. That’s what triggered my first research questions that later led to my PhD.


You are not just a professor, but an author as well. Would you take a minute to talk about your writing?


I have published a series of articles on Tolkien’s work: on the Victorian fairylore inspirations of his early work; his creative reshaping of Celtic material in the legends of Middle-earth (see here and here); his use of Old Norse material culture; and there is also a forthcoming essay on the uses of folklore in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. But the most important writing project on Tolkien I have undertaken is my book, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) which won the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies. The book focuses on Tolkien’s cultural and intellectual context: it attempts to explain the centrality of the Elves in Tolkien’s extended legendarium; it explores Tolkien’s language invention as an integral part of the Middle-earth cosmos; and it argues that Tolkien’s work changed from a ‘mythological’ to a ‘historical’ mode when he started writing The Lord of the Rings.


Out of all the classes you have taught, is there one in particular that is your favorite?


I am a lecturer in English at UWIC (University of Wales Institute, Cardiff) and I have been teaching Tolkien for a while now, at undergraduate and Masters level. My favourite class is my online MA course: J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth and Middle-earth in Context which explores Tolkien’s mythology in terms of its medieval roots and its contemporary cultural milieu. I really enjoyed writing this course, and I was given generous funding to enrich UWIC’s electronic library, so now my online students have full access to the journal Tolkien Studies, the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (ed. M. Drout) and a great number of e-books and digitised material from the best of Tolkien scholarship. Teaching online is a great experience: I moderate a lively Discussion Board on which my students have to respond to specific questions and tasks every week. Since the course it taught entirely online, I have had students from all over the world, including the US, New Zealand, Asia, and Continental Europe. It’s great to meet students from each corner of the world who want to study Tolkien in a serious, academic way. The course will actually run again starting in May 2011. More information can be found here.


What is it about Tolkien that you find so alluring?


The depth and richness of his invented world. Middle-earth has often been described as one of the main characters of The Lord of the Rings, and the reason for this is that its peoples, languages, and cultures had existed in Tolkien’s imagination for many years before The Lord of the Rings was ever conceived. The amount of detail that went into the construction of this secondary world is just mind-boggling!


Are there any future lectures, books, or projects we can look forward to?


At the moment I am finishing a paper on Tolkien and Kipling for the Tolkien sessions at Kalamazoo in May. There is also an article in preparation with more on Tolkien, faith and the fairies. In June I will be leading a ‘Literary Walk’ to the Brecon Beacons in Wales, talking about Tolkien’s Welsh connections and inspirations, and in 2012 I will be speaking at The Return of the Ring (the Tolkien Society’s next international conference). There are numerous other projects in progress, but I can’t talk about them yet!


I’ve heard it said by some that Tolkien’s novels come across a bit sexist because of the lack of feminine characters. What’s your take on this?


I think this is a very ‘easy’ and broad-brush approach to Tolkien, which takes a sweeping look at the big picture but ignores the detail (a lot of misguided criticism of Tolkien does exactly that – but as I hinted above, in Middle-earth God is in the detail!). Tolkien’s strongest female characters appear in less known works such as Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife in Unfinished Tales, and The Debate of Finrod and Andreth in volume 10 of the The History of Middle-earth (Morgoth’s Ring).


What advice would you give to someone who is interesting in reading Tolkien?


Be patient and take your time to digest the sheer wealth of tales and interconnected legends that make up Tolkien’s legendarium (and don’t skip the poems!). Don’t stop at The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: they are just the tip of the iceberg! The real journey starts with The Silmarillion, and the most exciting revelations are to be encountered in the 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth.


Favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings? The Hobbit?


Sam Gamgee and Gandalf!


Favorite scene/moment from his novels?


Far too many to choose from! But at the moment I would go for Eriol’s sojourn in Tol Eressea in The Book of Lost Tales. Oh, and Frodo’s parody of ‘The Cat and the Fiddle’ in the Prancing Pony.


Did you watch the LOTR films, and if so did you enjoy them?


I did watch the films and I enjoyed a lot some parts of them (other parts did not work so well). They were a noble effort to bring Tolkien’s work to the screen.
Are you looking forward to ‘The Hobbit’ films?
Yes – I am particularly looking forward to seeing a real dragon on the big screen!


That ends the Q&A interview. However, if you are interested in taking Dr. Dimitra Fimi’s upcoming online class, J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth and Middle-earth in Context, watch the introductory video below:
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