Today@Sam Article

Coffey Symposium To Feature Tolkien Expert, Screening

March 17, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Allyson Houser contributed to this article. 

The Sam Houston State University Department of History will explore the life and work of renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien with two activities that will culminate with a presentation by Tolkien expert John Garth for the 11th Annual Joan Coffey Symposium.

J.R.R. Tolkien
The photo of J.R.R. Tolkien in his army uniform in 1916, "when Middle-earth was brewing" (above) appears on the website of Tolkien expert John Garth (below). —Photos from
John Garth

Activities will kick-off with a special showing of the blockbuster hit “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” on Tuesday (March 24), at 5:30 p.m. in the Academic Building IV Olson Auditorium, in Room 220. The film, directed by Peter Jackson, is the second installment of a three-part film series based on Tolkien’s novel “The Hobbit.”

The next evening (March 25), Garth will discuss his award-winning work on Tolkien during the Coffey lecture, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the AB IV Olson Auditorium.

Garth is a writer, editor and researcher, whose Mythopoeic Scholarship Award-winning “Tolkien and the Great War” explores the connection between Tolkien’s experience as a young soldier during World War I and the beginnings of Middle-earth. This is, according to Garth, “no escapist fantasy but an eloquent counterblow against the disenchantment that has haunted us since the First World War.”

“Middle-earth sprang to life during the First World War, and the two were entwined from the beginnings of Tolkien’s mythology. In Tolkien and the Great War, I piece together how this stood just before he went off to fight in the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916—and in The Book of Lost Tales which he began straight after the battle,” Garth said on his website.

Since its publication in 2003, “Tolkien and the Great War” has been critically acclaimed and was lauded as “the best book about J.R.R. Tolkien that has yet been written” by A.N. Wilson, from the Evening Standard.

Garth also has more than two and a half decades of journalistic experience, having interviewed award-winning figures and Novel laureates, as well as written a number of book reviews for such outlets as The Daily Beast, The London Evening Standard, The Sunday Telegraph, and many others.

He studied English language and literature at Oxford University’s St Anne’s College and currently lives in Oxford with his wife, Jessica, and daughter, Lorelei.

The presentation and its topic were selected in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the opening of trench warfare on the Western Front of the Great War.

“This is the centennial anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien's service in the First World War,” said Jeffrey Littlejohn, associate professor of history. “We thought that this talk would be a way for the university community to learn about the historical background of Tolkien's literary work.”

A meet-and-greet reception and book signing will follow Garth’s presentation.

Since its inaugural presentation in 2004, the Joan Coffey Symposium Series has brought an expert in his or her scholarly field to speak at Sam Houston State University. The history department established this tradition in honor of a faculty member who lost her long battle with cancer in 2003.

For more information, contact Littlejohn at 936.294.4438 or

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