The first annual talk in the series, designed to explore the history and the current state of fantasy literature, will be followed by a fiction masterclass with Professor Johnson.
The series, which begins on 18th January, is intended to memorialise Tolkien, who was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke for 20 years. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings during his time at the College.
Meghan Campbell, Pembroke MCR President, said: “Any glance at current cinema offerings – or at a list of the most popular films of all time – demonstrates that fantasy is still the mode in which we tell one another stories. This and our members’ desire to celebrate Professor Tolkien’s connection to Pembroke made the lecture series an obvious choice.”
William Badger, Culture Officer of the MCR, was enthusiastic about the draw of Johnson’s speech: “Her lecture is sure to put the series on a firm foundation, as her work exemplifies the shifts in fantasy since Tolkien and fellow Oxonian CS Lewis gave it its medievalist cast, and wwhints at where the genre may go from here.”
Organisers are conscious of the “uncool” (and “unhygienic”) connotations of fantasy literature, but were keen to extol the virtues of the genre. Gabriel Schenk, ex-MCR President and designer of the series’ website admitted that “images of unwashed men playing Dungeons and Dragons in their parents’ basements” may be what many associate with fantasy, but also highlighted its broad popular appeal.
He said: “Fantasy lets us escape from our regular lives and encourages us to explore new worlds, all the time helping us rediscover things we may have forgotten in our own world.
“Oxford – in many ways the world capital of fantasy – should not lag behind the rest of the world, and that is why every attempt to treat fantasy as a worthy subject here should be applauded. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. Who doesn’t love dragons?”
Jamie Murray-Jones, a second-year historian at St Hugh’s, was nonplussed by the introduction of the annual lecture. “Fantasy? What’s fantasy?”, he asked. “I’m too busy having sex with girls to know what that means.”
But James McKean, of Lincoln College, spoke out in support of the genre: “There is neither adjective nor adverb to describe my love of fantasy. Other people have friends and lives, I have Lord of the Rings.” McKean’s girlfriend was unavailable for comment.