Sara Brown: Tolkien’s Literary Alchemy

ChrisC sent me a Christmas present this morning: a lecture by Signum University’s Dr. Sara Brown on the Literary Alchemy imbedded in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I share this delightful gift with you in the hope you find it as challenging and compelling an argument as I did. The lecture proper begins at 4:00 at the link and is only 20 minutes long — well worth your time, believe me!

Not being any more than a Tolkien fan, I long ago gave up on an alchemical reading of this epic (largely because a book on the subject, Shelton’s Alchemy in Middle-Earth, struck me as border-line absurd in its overreach [e.g., that Tolkien was familiar with medieval Arabic alchemical texts]). I am excited about Dr. Brown’s cogent presentation of the alchemical markers in LOTR because it opens up the possibility, much more credible because of Rowling’s documented close study of that work, that it is an important inspiration for her own use of hermetic symbolism in the Hogwarts Saga.

Please share your thoughts below! Happy holidays to those of you celebrating Western Christmas today!


  1. For any Tolkien fans out there,

    There is at least one more important element to this lecture. The moderator/organizer of Prof. Brown’s lecture, Corey Olsen also runs his own website,

    There he explores the lit. crit. ins and outs of Middle Earth, going chapter by chapter through all of Tolkien’s major works. In addition, Olsen is both president of Signum University, as well as being the author of “Exploring Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, available through all major bookselling outlets.

    In terms of tiered literary analysis, Prof. Olsen keeps things on the first level in terms of his approach to the material. However, his book is helpful enough to the point where even a maverick at Traditional Criticism can more or less begin to see the overall symbolic outline of the work.

    Personally, though, I’d like to know if Prof. Brown will publish her PhD dissertation on Tolkien any time in the near future.

  2. Wayne Stauffer says

    Since JRRT planned out LOTR as 6 books (with the 3-book split the publisher’s idea), i wonder if Dr. Brown has seen the literary alchemy nigredo-albedo-rubedo sequence in each of the 6 parts?

  3. A delight after Wizard Reading Formula. It is a well-grounded analysis for a text I have read and re-read since the 1970s. Now I have another reason to read Tolkien again. Many thanks for the Christmas gift of the lecture!

Speak Your Mind