Tolkien News

An Exclusive Look into Arda University

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Arda_UniversityEver read Tolkien’s work and find yourself asking questions but are unsure as to where you can find the answers? Have no fear, there’s a new Tolkien-inspired meta blog in town and it covers all things Arda. With a fantastic team of moderators, Arda University is here to help us with those questions that bebother and confusticate us the most.

In this exclusive look into Arda University, moderator Stephanie shares how the idea began, who will be moderating the questions, and how much research will be put into each answer they give.

 

How it all started:

The idea of a meta blog was actually the suggestion of Julie (bronzedragon.tumblr.com), which came up after my decision to put an indefinite moratorium certain types of submissions for another blog I moderate, Lord of the Rings Confessions (lotrconfessions.tumblr.com), due to how intensely heated and out of hand these topics get. Namely, issue of sexism and racism in Tolkien works; these are important things that need to be discussed, but I didn’t think a confessions blog is the ideal outlet for social activism. She mentioned ASOIAF University, which is a brilliant blog for discussions of G.R.R. Martin’s works. I put out the idea of setting up a similar blog with the hopes that someone would start the project but it initially didn’t pick up interest, so I took on the task myself. At that time, what I had in mind was to it to be a repository of intellectual and thoughtful discussions floating around Tumblr about Tolkien and his works. It was initially intended to be updated sporadically that people can look through with hopes that I could get two other moderators on board. I didn’t intend for it to be fairly active since it would have taken up a lot of our time with so little manpower to do that. Personally, with a day job, my work with Oloris Publishing, one very active community blog, and the rest of real life happening, it just wasn’t possible.

Who runs it:

Luckily, the second call for moderators was a lot more successful; the response was overwhelming. The power of collective effort in managing a side project can be astounding — University of Arda now has a team of passionate and intelligent people from all over Tumblr who put in time they can spare into the project whenever they choose to, which prevents individuals from burning out and keeps the blog active. Why Tumblr? Frankly, I don’t know any other space where I have the extra time to individually keep up and set up an account with, so a lot of the discussions I read are from the blogs I follow. There’s content from individuals, there is a need to satisfy, and a space can be easily created here to bring everyone together.

Content and sources:

Majority of what’s on University of Arda are reblogs from other people who the individual moderators think have interesting or valid points. We gather analyses, opinion pieces, reflective thoughts, really anything that refers back to canon sources. So we get a mix of informal pieces and language with the more formal sort, and the different tones and styles of expressions contribute to an environment that welcomes various sorts of people and thoughts. It’s only [several weeks] old as of today, so we’re still figuring out a lot of things and finding our ground as we go along.

We’re also relying on readers’ support to actively engage with the interpretations of the texts and philosophies, submit what they have written, and to send us prompts to start discussions. We answer prompts when we get them, and there’s only two out right now, but we refer to different sources published by Tolkien when writing those. We haven’t gotten to the point of exploring related works by scholars in the field yet, but in due time we’re hoping to have a vast array of everything and anything about what Tolkien has written.

From moderator Lintamande:

I’ve read almost everything Tolkien has written about Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Unfinished Tales, HoME, Letters, some of the Vinyar Tengwar), and my passion is for the First and Second Age. On my own Tolkien blog my meta posts engage with questions like Tolkien’s evolving conception of the Valar, Finrod’s duel of songs with Sauron, demographics of kingdoms in Beleriand, modernization in Numenor, and an effort to rethink the legacies of Numenor’s ruling queens. I became involved with this project because I think there’s a demand for a space for thoughtful discussion informed by all of Tolkien’s writings. The Silmarillion fandom is fantastic that way but it’s great to extend the same attitude toward the text to the Tolkien fandom at large.”

From moderator Elleth:

I have been a Tolkien fan for more than a decade, and Middle-earth (especially the Silmarillion and other First Age canon material) has always served as a creative outlet for me, inspiring not just my own writing and art; the depth of the material also provides endless room for critical discussion, especially taking into the account the History of Middle-earth and the many academic contributions to Tolkien scholarship. As a long-term member of fandom who got used to having a central discussion platform that Tumblr lacked so far, I thought University of Arda seemed like a wonderful project to change that and showcase the wealth of different meta that was being written.

From creator and moderator Stephanie:

I discovered Tolkien by accident at 15 when The Lord of the Rings was being featured on centre tables in book stores because of the films. I started reading The Hobbit, and the rest is history. Over the years, I collected and familiarised myself with the Letters, Unfinished Tales, and History of Middle-earth. I’m primarily an observer on public platforms, preferring private conversations to public discussions, but Tolkien’s works are an important part of my life and I wanted to be more involved in my own way. I took from what I observed from moderating another blog: there’s quite a number of younger fans who discovered Peter Jackson’s films first and often feel intimidated with the thought of tackling the books themselves.

There’s also a common misconception that the people who have read the books and have been involved in the legendarium longer are unapproachable and would judge the fans who, for any reason, have not gotten into reading the books yet. Why the name “University of Arda”? My hopes for the project are drawn from my own university experience: for it to be a place where fans of varying opinions and voices can gather in an environment to discuss the books regardless of how how formal or informal they want to speak, how long they’ve been in the fandom, whether they started with the films or books first, or have little or lots of knowledge of Tolkien’s texts. We can all learn from each other in a space conducive for critical thinking, and yet is still an approachable and inexclusive environment.

From moderator, and logo & layout designer Zach:

“I’ve been interested in Tolkien since I was very little, having read The Lord of the Rings on my own when I was about 10 years old. Since then, I’ve based a lot of my own personal beliefs on things I have learned from or interpreted from Tolkien’s works. I was really interested in joining the crew of the University of Arda because it was a place where I could easily talk about Tolkien – a passion that none of my friends or family share – as well as help start conversations that would enable people to either delve deeper into Tolkien’s world, or to question their own viewpoints. This is essentially the core of what I think the University is about: we aim to not only be the pathway for new fans to learn about the greater history of Arda, but also to be a platform where both new and current fans can engage with the material and learn from each other. I think Tolkien is a great topic to do this sort of project around because the lessons that you can learn from his work can influence the way you see the world. But of course, there are flaws in any influential text. Being able to talk about those faults in a constructive environment, like the University of Arda, means that we all take something back from the conversation.

Graphic design is something I’m really interested in – I’m actually going to study graphic design in college in September. When I heard that the University of Arda needed a little help with their layout, I jumped on the chance to combine two of my passions – graphic design and Tolkien. For the logo, I thought about how to convey the sense of the entirety of Arda – what symbols to use, what colors would go with those symbols, and how to best represent them – which immediately made me think of the two trees. I based the entire layout around the logo, matching the colors to it and finding images that would work with it. As well as that, I used our name to our advantage – I based the concept and structure of the layout on actual university websites, which lends a sense of academia and importance to the site.

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4 Comments

  1. I love that blog! It’s very interesting reading how it’s born.

  2. I am happy to see the University of Arda start (followed, of course :)) and am disappointed to hear that the confessions had to put a stop to certain topics.

    With most -isms on Tolkien the discussion is over, imho; all arguments have been exchanged and you will either accuse him of the -isms you would have him be/ do/ be a supporter of or you won’t agree with the “other side” …

    In most cases the -isms supporters have no serious knowledge of either the works or the writer so there really is no point in wasting your time on it. However, every generation needs its dicussions, I know …

    • Thank you for following, Marcel! If you find anything interesting for the blog, feel free to send them over. :)

      It got very very ugly the few times -ism confessions popped up to the point that the blog would lose dozens of supporters the days following the posts while they were still hot. While awareness of and the engagement with social issues are important, seeing them flooding Tumblr dashboards not everyone’s cup of tea… certainly not mine. :) Personally, it gets very tiring hearing the same accusations, arguments, and counter-arguments.

      Tumblr being Tumblr, the discussions of Tolkien’s -isms — or any other author from that era and prior to, especially — will go on given the wide range of voices and audience the platform has. Plenty of other outlets, so not much of a loss with the moratorium on lotrconfessions. :)

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