I’m very excited to be giving a virtual talk at next week’s Mythmoot on Modeling the Multiple Dimensions of Time in Tolkien’s Legendarium.

I’ll be exploring some ideas that have been on my mind from the very beginning of the Digital Tolkien Project.

Here’s the abstract for my talk:

Jean-Luc Godard is attributed as once having said “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” The order in which a narrative unfolds is often different from the actual timeline of events. This is certainly true in Lord of the Rings, whether it be the events recounted during the Council of Elrond or the author’s decision to tell Frodo and Sam’s post-Fellowship-breaking story in separate books rather than interleaved narrative. The distinction between what the Russian formalists called fabula (the events of a story), and syuzhet (the organization of the story) is brought into even starker focus once one considers the paratext. How do the timelines in Appendix B map to the narrative? There are also many references to earlier events (even going back to the Eldar Days).

An adequate modeling of this, which the Digital Tolkien Project is undertaking, would be enough by itself, but with Tolkien we have another dimension to consider. What if we want to model different iterations of the legendarium—different drafts of the manuscripts? This is what Christopher Tolkien referred to as the ‘longitudinal’ (diachronic) study of Middle-earth as opposed to the ‘transverse’ (synchronic). And so an event can be placed on a timeline in the secondary creation and in the narrative structure of a textual work, but both of these can be placed in the primary timeline: a particular manuscript draft, a version of the story, a date in the author’s lifetime.

This talk will discuss the ongoing work of the Digital Tolkien Project on mapping narrative structure to secondary world timelines synchronically and tracking changes diachronically. Examples from across the legendarium will be given with experiments both in representing the underlying data and visualizing it.

It will just the beginning and there’s still a lot more to be done, but I’m really looking forward to presenting my initial thoughts and work.

I’m speaking late Friday afternoon (for people there in person—it will be the early hours of Saturday morning for me in Esperance, Western Australia).