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A thread on doing the #PhD you love regardless of what’s “trendy” or “canonical”. #phdchat
Mine was on J.R.R. #Tolkien, nearly 15 years ago. I had an amazing supervisor who was nearly taught philology by #Tolkien at Oxford (he missed him by a year!) My thesis became this book:
What got me thinking about this was this blog post by friend and #Tolkien scholar John D. Rateliff, best known from the 2-volume History of the Hobbit (an edition of all Hobbit manuscripts with notes): sacnoths.blogspot.com/2019/03/a-reme…
As you will see, back in the 1980s John was not allowed to do his #PhD on the emergence of fantasy as a literary genre (which would have focused on #Tolkien’s key role). The reason he was given was that it would be:
Now, pretty clearly, this assessment (of a *proposal*, not even a thesis!) was unfair and narrow-minded, given John’s later scholarly career. But he never got to do this PhD nonetheless - he did one on Lord Dunsany instead.
Now I remember something similar when I was doing my MA in Early Celtic Studies the year before my PhD (early 2000s). I wanted my dissertation to be on #Tolkien’s engagement with medieval Irish and Welsh sources but I was told: “there’s nothing ‘Celtic’ in Tolkien”.
So I gave up and did something else. But I returned to my aborted dissertation topic AFTER my PhD and published 2 inter-related articles:
“Mad” Elves and “Elusive Beauty”: Some #Celtic Strands of #Tolkien’s Mythology
in the journal #Folklore
(now here: dimitrafimi.com/articlesandess…)
and #Tolkien’s “‘Celtic’ type of legends”: Merging Traditions.
in the journal Tolkien Studies (now here: dimitrafimi.com/articlesandess…)
Both articles are now referenced widely. So that’s point #1: trust your instincts! If you’re told no, try elsewhere, don’t just abandon an idea you’re sure is a good one. Which is what I did next for my #PhD: I found a supervisor who could see the merits of my topic...
... which was #Tolkien’s legendarium within its cultural and intellectual history/context. That’s what ended up becoming my first monograph, which won the @mythsoc award for Inklings Studies.
But what happened next is important too: during the course of my #PhD I got lots of derogatory comments - a PhD on #Tolkien? Is that *really* a proper topic for literary criticism? I will never forget that conference round table at Kalamazoo...
with the two giants of the 1st generation of #Tolkien scholarship (I’m sure you can guess who I mean!) when someone asked for advice on whether to do a PhD on Tolkien. “I wouldn’t do it” said one of them. “Not because it’s not worth it, but because no one will give you a job!”
Now I was then in the 3rd year of my #PhD, within 4 months of submitting! Imagine how dispiriting this sounded! But I *did* get an academic post with a PhD on #Tolkien - 2 of them actually, including my current (gloriously named) Lectureship in #Fantasy and Children’s Literature!
It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of hard work, and a lot of “educating” colleagues (esp. in the late 2000s/early 2010s) to respect and value what I do, and publishing more than I had time for, and doing generally *more* than many of my peers.
But, in hindsight, I wouldn’t change anything. I would still do the same PhD and if I could see my younger self now I would give her a hug and I would tell her: “Don’t give up! The tide is turning! Keep on writing on this topic! It will all happen!”
So that’s point #2: persist! I have now supervised the amazing @asthiggins to completion (he’s working on turning his thesis into a monograph right how!) and I’m currently supervising 4 more PhD students on #Tolkien!
(P.S. This thread got way longer than I thought when I began! Will shut up now! 🤐) #phdchat #phdlife
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