Marlon James Talks the Power of Myth and Trauma in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

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Marlon James is a powerful figure in modern fantasy, creating a compelling fantasy series that he called the “African Game of Thrones”, a brilliant, award-winning author who thinks deeply about why and how he creates what he creates.

It’s great, then, to hear a mind like James talk about one of the most influential fantasy creators of all time: Tolkien. In a fantastic lecture given at Pembroke College, published online recently, James discusses the intertwined relationship between Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and its relationship to both mythology and trauma.

James argues, fundamentally, that a turn to mythology and fantasy is a response to trauma, an attempt to find a language with which to describe experiences and pains that are, fundamentally, indescribable, that are beyond normal language and that exist beyond normal experience.


It’s a great, erudite talk, perfect Sunday listening if you’re into thinking deep about fantasy. How does Tolkien deal with trauma, and how does he use it? And, if myth is so important, how do you cope when you don’t have it? They’re incredibly important questions, and James provides some fascinating answers. Check it out.

(Hat tip to former io9 staffer Evan Narcisse for the recommendation.)