Doing a PhD in Middle-earth

HobbitDoing a PhD in Middle-earth

By Ken Halland

Paper given at 36th Annual Conference of the Southern African Computer Lecturers Association, Cape Town, South Africa (2006)

Introduction: The Hobbit depicts the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves to reclaim treasure held by the nasty dragon Smaug. After being tricked into taking part in the mission by the wily wizard Gandalf, the hero hardly seems to enjoy the adventure at all.

Tolkien’s purpose with The Hobbit is to tell a story in an imaginary and fantastical land, providing a realm for his scholarship into old English culture, language and folklore, and Norse mythology. It is a forerunner to his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In his Foreword to The Lord of the Rings Tolkien writes: “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” Nevertheless, I make so bold as to consider The Hobbit as an allegory of any human endeavour, and then consider how this applies to tackling a PhD. Admitting that it was not Tolkien’s purpose, I use his license when he writes: “I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

Since it was clearly not Tolkien’s purpose to write an allegory of a PhD, it is not my purpose to try to interpret every part of The Hobbit in terms of a PhD. I have only taken certain aspects that suggest a parallel and have made a connection. Conversely it would be a mistake to look for parallels for all aspects in the process of completing a PhD in The Hobbit. In fact, the reader may find many of the connections I make tenuous and contrived.

Click here to read this article from the Southern African Computer Lecturers Association

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