The OMS #1 Logo, Cthulhu in the Morning was created by Phillip Fitzsimmons in stained glass.

Online Midwinter Seminar
The Inklings and Horror: Fantasy's Dark Corners

Sponsored by The Writers of the Rohirrim, a Mythopoeic Society Discussion Group, we invite you to embrace the darkness of those long winter nights and participate in The Inklings and Horror: Fantasy's Dark Corners.


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Friday, February 4th
6:00 PM

Code of Conduct

Victoria Gaydosik, SWOSU Retiree

6:00 PM

As a virtual event, the Online Midwinter Seminar (OMS) does not have most of the traditional features of a scholarly or fannish convention: no consuite, no hotel rooms, no banquet, no Golfimbul tournament. We have paper presentations and discussions of ideas, and so we want those presentations and discussions to be stimulating, enjoyable, and memorable—in a good way.

Welcome to OMS #1

Megan B. Abrahamson, Central New Mexico Community College
Janet Brennan Croft, University of Northern Iowa
Leslie Donovan, University of New Mexico
Phillip Fitzsimmons, Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Victoria Gaydosik, SWOSU retiree
Diana Lovell, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

6:00 PM

Welcome to the Mythopoeic Society's first Online Midwinter Seminar: The Inklings and Horror: Fantasy's Dark Corners.

Here are welcome messages from:

Megan Abrahamson, Chair, Mythopoeic Society Council of Stewards

Leslie Donovan, co-sponsor, MythCon 52 in Albuquerque, NM, July 30-Aug. 1, 2022

Janet Brennan Croft, Editor, Mythlore, Organizer, 2023 Online Midwinter Seminar

Dr. Diana Lovell, President, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

Phillip Fitzsimmons, Archivist, Mythopoeic Society Council of Stewards

6:30 PM

Bardic Circle and Video Games

Scott G. Long, Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Ben Dressler, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

6:30 PM

Friday evening activities following our welcome messages!

Purple Track

  • The Witcher - Game stream with Ben Dressler
  • The Lord of the Rings Online - Game stream tour of Middle-earth with Scott Long

Gold Track

  • Bardic Circle and Threadcraft Share - Share your favorite song, poem, and/or threadcraft

Saturday, February 5th
9:00 AM

The Overlooked Vampire: Might MacDonald’s Lilith be Repopularized?

A. J. Prufrock

9:00 AM

Lilith (1895) is George MacDonald’s premier work of symbolic fiction. W.H. Auden asserts that Lilith is “equal, if not superior, to the best of Poe." A cursory reading of the novel reveals much in Narnia can be traced directly to passages. Why has MacDonald’s Lilith received so little commentary and why is it picked up and then put down by even avid readers of fantasy? Universalist theology and chauvinism have been blamed, but literary style is unarguably the main stumbling block. C.S. Lewis, who says of MacDonald, “I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him,” went on to criticize MacDonald’s craftsmanship as “undistinguished, fumbling, verbose, floridly ornate, and over-sweet.” Never is this more on display than in Lilith. Lilith could be likened to a twinkling dragon horde, but can its ancient dross be burned away? If it is time, one-hundred and twenty-six years after its creation, for it to be re- penned, what should be cleared away and what left untouched? How might modern audiences take in MacDonald’s take on the ultimate mystery of evil?

Tolkien as a Folk Horror Author

Monica Sanz

9:00 AM

Folk Horror, although being identified as a cinematographic genre quite recently, sinks its roots in an undeniable tradition of English writers who used English rural landscapes, ancient beliefs and culturally differentiated communities as humus for their prose and poetry. From the literary tradition of the 8th Century on, creatures and beliefs belonging to dark times have left their mark on our literature, traditions and folklore. Tolkien, as a philologist, was well aware of the hints and bits of these almost unknown legends and creatures left in our language, in the form of loose words, etymologies and fragmentary texts. In this presentation, Sanz will set the characteristics of Folk Horror and, taking into account the folk-horrific literature that Tolkien himself read in his lifetime, will identify the passages and characters from Tolkien’s works that fit into the Folk Horror genre. Tolkien wrote many terrifying passages, and terror is present throughout his prose and poetry, but this presentation will focus only on the Folk Horror phenomena, also setting parallelisms between the Professor’s works and some movies belonging to this cinematographic genre, as well as some of the literary pieces that preceded and nurtured it.

10:00 AM

Adoring the Head of Alcasan: Posthuman Horror and Anticipatory Corpse in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength

Mark Brians

10:00 AM

At the pinnacle of Lewis’ That Hideous Strength (2003) is the reanimation of the decapitated head of Francois Alcasan. The sheer biological persistence that is afforded to it by the biosynthetic technics of medicinal artifice, allows the head to be possessed by “macrobes”— maleficent spiritual beings imprisoned within the circle of the moon. The goal of this reanimation project is purportedly “the conquest of death […] to bring out of that cocoon of organic life […] the man who will not die, the artificial man, free from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by, now we kick her away” (173–174). And yet, by narrating the gradual disposal of biological life (e.g., a body, salivatory mucosae, brain function) and then ultimately even the disposal of technical life (e.g., tubes, respirators, etc.), Lewis imagines what Michael Burdett has described as “the poverty of the posthuman instrumental body that is displaced and informational rather than material, integrous and whole” (2021, 13). All of the seemingly beneficent ambitions of the project belie what Jeffery Bishop has identified as a power ontology “that understands life as mere materiality, dead material either building itself towards its own telos in the post-human or collapsing into the abyss of eternal return” (2019, 690). The monstrosity Lewis imagines is the horror resultant from a social imaginary that has exchanged formal and final causes for material and efficient causes; in which life is procured at all costs—even at the cost of life itself.

White Shadows, Black Riders and Restless Wights: Undead Horror Monsters in the Fantasy Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin

Franz Klug

10:00 AM

The proposed essay aims at comparing J.R.R. Tolkien’s Nazgûl and barrow-wights with the white walkers (also known as “the Others”) and wights from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. To begin with, the folkloric/mythological templates for these sub-created monsters would be scrutinized. The introductory ascription of source material would be followed by an analysis of these creatures as horror monsters and gothic elements within the fantasy worlds of Tolkien and Martin. This analysis would also be linked to addressing the question of how the gothic/horror genre influenced the fantasy worlds of both authors, and as in how far the scenes relating to these creatures could be viewed as instances of (gothic) horror within these fantasy novels. Additionally, the essay at hand would follow up on the originally planned but later dispensed with connection between barrow-wights and Ringwraiths in Tolkien’s work and would propose that the two creatures are nonetheless still congeneric, the Ringwraiths being a special kind of barrow-wight bound not by the treasure of a hoard but by Sauron’s rings. Finally, the essay would inspect the symbolic significance and function of these horror monsters, pursuing the question what they might represent when viewed as motifs commenting on key themes within the novels of Tolkien and Martin.

11:00 AM

Charles Williams' P'o- L'u - the Cthulhu Connection

Eric Rauscher

11:00 AM

This presentation delineates the connections between horrific elements in the work of H.P. Lovecraft and the situation of P’o-L’u from Charles Williams.

Coffin Births, Eclipse Babies, and Test-tube Wombs: Unnatural Birth in the World of A. Sapkowski’s Witcher Series

Kristine Larson

11:00 AM

In our Primary World, “unnatural” conception and birth give rise to monsters, according to myriad mythological traditions, including the Polish strzyga and the Indian tradition of “eclipse babies.” More modern versions can be found in the Frankenstein tradition, in which the male scientist perverts the natural process of procreation, with monstrous results. Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series of fantasy novels and short stories adapts and reenvisions both deep-rooted ethnic superstitions and cautionary tales against the over-reach of the “masculine” and “paternalistic” view of science prevalent since the Scientific Revolution that, as described by ecofeminist historian of science Carolyn Merchant, has led to the “‘rape’ of nature for human good.” In Sapkowski’s tales, the “eclipse girl” Renfri becomes monstrous not due to the unearthly circumstances of her birth, but the actions of her stepmother and the mad scientist Stregobar, while the princess Adda is born a strzyga as a result of a curse placed upon her mother by a spurned male suitor rather than her incestuous conception. While the sorceress Yennefer turns to folk medicine and forbidden magic in a vain attempt to cure her infertility, myriad male characters routinely engage in magic-enhanced genetic engineering to give birth to monsters and cause children to be “reborn” as monster-hunting mutants—the Witchers themselves. This paper examines specific examples of monstrous masculine-mediated birth (and attempts at birth) in the Witcher-verse, situating this Secondary World as both what Carl Malmgren terms a “science-fantasy world” and a Tolkienian faërian subcreation.

Delight in Horror’: Charles Williams and Russell Kirk on Hell and the Supernatural

Camilo Peralta

11:00 AM

Charles Williams has always been one of the more overlooked members of the Inklings, and the continued neglect of his poetry and “supernatural thrillers” suggests that he is not likely to experience a dramatic increase in popularity anytime soon. Similarly, Russell Kirk is an American historian who will always be better known for writing The Conservative Mind in 1953 than for any of the dozens of short stories and novels he wrote, many of which deal with ghostly or supernatural themes. In fact, Kirk acknowledged Williams to be an important influence on his fiction; this influence is perhaps most evident in Kirk’s final novel, 1979’s Lord of the Hollow Dark. In this “Gothick romance,” as Kirk described it, a group of pilgrims gathers at a dilapidated mansion in Scotland, at which various satanic rituals are performed in the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. The novel features ghostly apparitions, psychological and spiritual horror, and a mingling of the supernatural and material, all of which calls to mind Williams’ first, unforgettable novel, War in Heaven. The neglect of both authors has led to a lack of interest in the obvious thematic links between these two books, which this paper is intended to address. Aside from these links, I shall also discuss how the authors’ respective religious views contribute to their differing approaches to certain subjects, such as time and the nature of Hell.

Monstrous Feminine, Deviant Mother: Tolkien’s Shelob + Grotesque Maternal

Sara Brown

11:00 AM

As a society, we are used to the concept of “mother” as a symbol of nurturing. Usually seen as a performance of femininity, the ideal mother is the caring and supportive figure who enables the child, with loving encouragement, to become whatever or whoever they are destined to be. Occasionally, however, we are confronted by a “mother” that transgresses these ideals and subverts the norms of the maternal role. Grotesque, yet recognizably female, Tolkien’s terrifying spider-creature Shelob exemplifies the image of Julia Kristeva’s abject mother in her twisted perversion of the feminine. Shelob’s “otherness” lies in the combination of her non-normative expression of gender and her perversion of the maternal, in which she mates with, then consumes, her own offspring. Instead of nurturing others, she nurtures and nourishes only herself, using her bodily fluids to poison and paralyze rather than to support and sustain. In the tradition of Grendel’s Mother, Shelob is depicted as a monster that acts upon desires that are seen as transgressive, for which she is condemned. Drawing also on theorists such as Simone de Beauvoir, Jack Halberstam and Judith Butler, this paper explores the character of Shelob as a representation of what Barbara Creed has termed the “monstrous-feminine.” In doing so, it examines Shelob’s presentation within the text as not only identified as female, but more specifically as a mother, queering this gendered space.

1:30 PM

Environmental Horror and Restoration: Tolkien and Today

Jessica Dickinson Goodman
Caitlin Rottler

1:30 PM

J.R.R. Tolkien never forgot the felling of a willow tree that had overlooked the mill-pool in Sarehole, nor how his former climbing companion had been left to rot in the grass. His horror at that small environmental violence bleeds through his works, from poems like “From the many-willow’d margin of the immemorial Thames” (1913) to the Party Tree in The Hobbit (1937) to a letter to The Daily Telegraph in 1972 when he decried the modern “torture and murder of trees.” This presentation will draw on the excellent foundations laid by Dinah Hazell, as well as the father-son pair of Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd, in their work on the plants of Middle-Earth. First, we will build a shared understanding of Tolkien’s horror at the cutting down of trees. The presentation will then grow to include other authors, activists, and leaders who tied their life’s work into a formative horror at the destruction of a treasured tree. Then, we will return to Tolkien, to the ways in which restoration of nature heals horror and feeds into narrative justice in Middle-Earth. Then, we will tie that back into some of the stories we touched upon earlier. Finally, we will share five designs for Tolkien Gardens, giving attendees the tools they need to create a garden which is, like Lothloríen, “beautiful because there the trees were loved,” and in doing so, restore a bit of nature in our own backyards.

Nature and Horror in Tolkien’s Legendarium

Julia Bowers

1:30 PM

Tolkien incorporates horror in his legendarium through the twisting of the natural world in order to signal upcoming dangers to his characters. This creates a dichotomy between the idyllic natural world that represents good in his works and the twisted natural world that has been tampered with by evil. Most of the focus on Tolkien’s portrayal of nature looks at the conflict between nature and technology; the natural world of Middle-earth is portrayed as more complex than merely all nature being good. His natural settings take on an eerie tone to convey a sense of horror to the reader as his characters are placed in greater danger. Examples of this can be seen in Thangorodrim, the Barrow-downs, and Mirkwood. In each of these settings the natural world has been corrupted by evil which poses a danger to the characters passing through. Thus, in contrast to settings like the Shire or Valinor, which are meant to reflect the “goodness” of nature, Tolkien also includes settings, such as the above examples, where nature has been twisted or no longer follows the natural order of the world. Tolkien’s use of horror in his worldbuilding is through the corruption of nature, turning what was intended to be good into something darker and more dangerous.

2:30 PM

"Shivering Trees": Horror Monstrosity in Selected Stories from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion

Elise McKenna

2:30 PM

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien used conventions of horror within the setting of Arda. To begin with, the entire world, which is monstrous, is in upheaval with mountains being raised and valley being delved, lanterns of light created, and huge beings walking the land. Then, these landscapes are torn down, the lights are smashed and go out, and new creatures of horror prowl the world. The differences between the portrayals of monstrosity on a grand scale border the grotesque and the sublime. Monstrous beings, Valar and Maiar, command the elements of earth, air, fire, water. They have pre-ordained roles that are very similar to ancient monsters. These titans work and play on an enormous scale and what they do affects the very foundation of the earth. Upheavals in the land, movement of islands like a child’s boat on a pond, and the very lights in the heavens are woven into the fabric of the world. The awesome power shown on a large scale is mirrored on a smaller scale, and no less horrific. Balrogs, dragons, werewolves, vampire bats, shapeshifters, and a giant spider live in this land. Even landscapes are dangerously horrific and cause madness. Fear, horror, and the supernatural are all elements of dark fantasies and Tolkien’s The Silmarillion delves into that darkness, which may surprise most readers of The Hobbit. A look at these conventions within The Silmarillion is the focus of this article.

The Story, the Narrator and the Reader: Mediated Horror in C.S. Lewis’s Narniad

William Thompson

2:30 PM

In her introduction to Reading in the Dark: Horror in Children’s Literature and Culture, Jessica R. McCort defines horror for children and young adults as a hybrid genre, one having its roots in both the gothic and the nineteenth-century fairy tale. She explains that the exploration of dark forces in children’s books is often not limited to those tropes traditionally associated with the horror genre for adults: “Think of the books that are considered children’s classics. The best of them contain dark forces of one kind or another, as well as internal battles between the light and the dark: (21). C. S. Lewis’s Narniad makes liberal use of such dark forces. The series includes conventional characters from the horror genre such as bats and a werewolf, while the White Witch, Uncle Andrew, the Green Lady, and the giants of Harfang either represent or embody the monstrous. Lewis’s distinction between real life and imaginative fear is, in part, a response to the impact of such dark forces: “in imagination, where the fear does not rise to abject terror and is not discharged in action, the qualitative difference is much stronger” (9). The Narnia Chronicles rarely allow for an unmediated experience of such imaginative fear. I want to argue that Lewis incorporates elements of horror throughout the Narniad while regularly intervening on behalf of his child reader at moments of heightened intensity, mediating such moments in such a way as to both shield his child reader and undercut the imaginative impact of such elements.

3:30 PM

Tolkien, Cline, and the Quest for a Silmaril

Tom Ue
James Munday

3:30 PM

J. R. R. Tolkien has had a significant influence on American writer Ernest Cline. In Ready Player One (2011), the character Ogden Morrow invites Wade and his friends to his mansion, which is modelled after Rivendell from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films (2001- 03). Cline goes further in his sequel Ready Player Two (2021) by staging a part of Wade’s virtual quest on Arda I, the First Age of Middle Earth. In this paper, we focus on this episode and, in so doing, argue for Cline’s insights into how we approach fantasy. First, we attend to the ways in which Cline, through Wade and Samantha, replicates Beren’s and Luthien’s quest for a Silmaril. This parallel enables Cline to acknowledge his debt to his predecessor, while mocking Jackson’s overlong The Hobbit trilogy (2012-14). Secondly, and more importantly, we reveal how Cline offers new and more radical ways for reading fantasy. Success in the quests on Arda I requires “an encyclopedic knowledge of Tolkien’s entire Legendarium,” not just “the published version of The Silmarillion. You need to memorize details of a bunch of different, conflicting, unpublished early drafts! And all thirteen volumes of The History of Middle-earth!” If familiarity with the sheer volume of materials separates the expert from the novice, then Cline reveals the inadequacies of book knowledge. This paper contributes to scholarship by illuminating Cline’s allusive practice, by arguing for the value of a more imaginative engagement with texts, and by contextualizing the influence of Tolkien’s posthumously published works.

Who’s His Daddy? Approaches to Merlin’s Father in Children’s and YA Media

Michael Torregosa

3:30 PM

In the 1130s, Geoffrey of Monmouth originated the character of Merlin, setting him upon the world stage as a wonder-working youth fathered (in the tradition of Greek and Latin authors of the past) by a daemon. However, later writers of the Middle Ages, beginning with Robert de Boron, reconceived Merlin within a more Christianized world, altering his heritage and transforming his sire into a demon from Hell. This shift from benign daemon to malevolent demon has impacted the representation of the wizard of Camelot for centuries. Contemporary fiction for the page as well as for the screen has adopted and adapted these two versions of Merlin’s origins in unique ways that remain largely unexplored by enthusiasts of the Matter of Britain. This presentation will build upon my previous research and highlight how both the Galfridian and Boronic traditions remain alive in depictions of Merlin in modern fantasy film and television produced for children and young adults. My focus will be in mapping out the strategies for the ways Merlin’s parentage has been received, packaged (alternately ignored, alluded to, altered, or accepted and embraced), and disseminated to audiences.