Hello, everyone! I’m Sarah, a Literature and Classics major (who is contemplating adding a Linguistics minor!). I am the Vice President of the Fantasy Studies Fellowship here at Pitt, and I also served on the conference committee for the Undergraduate Literature Conference this year, even though we unfortunately had to cancel due to the pandemic shutdown. A couple of facts about me are that I am originally from Louisiana, I have the world’s most adorable pet cat named Baby, and I absolutely love to spend time hiking and outdoors. I am very excited to spend my summer working with all my fellow Brackenridge scholars, but I also can’t wait to get back to exploring the PA wilderness after life gets just a little bit back to normal!
It is a Gift: Death and Immortality in Tolkien’s Middle-earth
Given my involvement with the FSF, it should come as no surprise that I absolutely love fantasy literature. During the Spring semester, I was the Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for Dr. Lori Campbell’s UHC course “J.R.R. Tolkien and the Counter-Culture.” It was during my time working with Dr. C that I developed the initial idea for my Brackenridge research. She is absolutely wonderful, and I am lucky to have her as my research advisor for this project! I also studied Middle English literature with Dr. Ryan McDermott during the same semester; I absolutely loved the language and the literature, and it ultimately helped me to discover the missing pieces I needed to fully flesh out my idea. Everything seemed to fall into place at just the right time as I began to develop this project, and I am very excited to share it with everyone.
The simple version is that I’ll be digging into Death and Immortality in Middle-earth. More specifically, I want to see if I can contextualize the relationship between Death and Immortality using a Medieval literary device, the combination of the secular and the sacred. This was a thing in Medieval lit—authors would layer their texts with multiple meanings depending on how the reader chose to interpret it, and they’d do that by aligning secular and religious subtext in really interesting ways. Given Tolkien’s background as a Medievalist, along with the fact that he specifically wrote LotR to be consumed as a “lost mythology of England,” I find it very likely—almost inevitable—that this parallel of Elves & Men is saying something deeper. And my goal with this project is to uncover what that is. I then plan to use this examination of death and nature as a lens through which to unravel the deeper intricacies of free will and bodily autonomy in Tolkien’s writing.
“The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete.”– J.R.R Tolkien, Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, Letter 186
I plan to analyze Tolkien’s work alongside several of his own influences (Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, etc.) and identify parallels. In highlighting these points of connection, I hope to uncover how the relationship between Elves and Men in Tolkien’s work leans into the same medieval brand of boundary and genre blurring as its predecessors.
My scholar mentor for my Fellowship cohort is Josh Cannon.
Like many of my fellow Brackenridge scholars, I currently plan to attend graduate school, and hope to become a professor eventually. My specific path is still a little unclear at the moment, as I am equally passionate about both of my majors, Literature and Classics. Ideally, I would love to find a way to combine both of these fields to focus my research, perhaps on something like ancient fantasy and sci-fi. I feel that my Brackenridge project is taking a step in that direction; even though I am not analyzing ancient Greek or Roman texts, working closely with Medieval primary sources and using them to expand upon my Tolkien research has already served as an excellent way to begin to narrow my research focus.
I would also love to one day publish my own fantasy books, and am actively working toward this goal.