Introduction to Tolkien's Mythology


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

“How, given little over half a century of work, did one man become the creative equivalent of a people?” So a reviewer famously commented on The Silmarillion, the mythology underlying The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Join a leading expert to discover why Tolkien invented Middle-earth and to make sense of its foundational text – his most ambitious and challenging work. With guided tours to the Oxford colleges where the mythology took root.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.

An enchanted world: We tune into the underlying themes of Tolkien’s myth of the Music of Creation and shed light on the symbolism of the Silmarils. We consider the use and abuse of creativity in Middle-earth, and we discover the difference between magic and enchantment there. We look at what Tolkien meant by mythopoeia, sub-creation, eucatastrophe and true myth.

Mortality and immortality: We size up the divine Valar and their attendant spirits, as well as the Ents and the Eagles. We explore the diverse natures and fates of Elves, Dwarves and Men. Straying beyond The Silmarillion, we look at Hobbits too; and we set out to discover who Tom Bombadil really is…

Myth to history: We survey the flat world as Tolkien originally devised it and take a close look at his myth of how it was made round – the Downfall of Númenor. We examine the curriculum vitae of the Dark Lord Sauron; round up the ideas behind the Rings of Power; and find out what this has to do with Tolkien’s well-known preference for applicability over allegory.

The tree and its soil: We look at how Middle-earth sprang out of Tolkien’s Oxford studies in English philology and the war that engulfed his generation. We explore his chief sources in real-world mythologies – Northern, Celtic, Classical and others. We ask why he thought an Elvish mythology could also be a mythology for England. In the afternoon we take a guided tour of Exeter College, Oxford, where Tolkien first devised his world.

Good and evil: We look at the importance of heroism and hope; love and fellowship; despair and disenchantment. We take the measure of Dragons, Orcs, Trolls and Balrogs; tangle with the Great Spiders; and ride out with the Ringwraiths. Finally we ask: who is the greatest hero of The Silmarillion?


Field Trip

Destination:   Exeter College, Oxford

Excursion Rating: Easy
Up to an hour's walk on even ground or less than half an hour's walk on rough ground.


Description Costs
Programme fee (no accom–incl.lunch and dinner) £1070.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom and meals) £1565.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom and meals) £1380.00


Mr John Garth


Author of the award-winning Tolkien and the Great War and the short study Tolkien at Exeter College, John Garth is also an editor and public speaker, and was Black Mountain Institute Fellow in Humanistic Studies 2015–16. He has taught undergraduates, graduates, and others, and co-taught an OUDCE summer school on Tolkien in 2014.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

The fee stated includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available*.

There is also a limited number of standard rooms available, which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but shared bath and toilet facilities. Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room)*.

*If you wish to book a twin en-suite room or a standard twin set room each person should complete an application form and email it to us at as these rooms cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems. Students should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


If accommodation is unavailable in a particular week, we also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

If you wish to enrol on a non-residential basis please complete an application form and email it to us at as this option cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)