Thesis Theater Monday, Feb 26: Rob Gosselin on Tolkien’s Sub-creative Vision

It is my pleasure to announce that my student, Rob Gosselin, has completed his thesis at Signum University. Rob’s topic is both fascinating and personal, where he explores how J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of “subcreation” works when we move outside of literary worlds. The title is, “J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sub-creative Vision: Exploring the Capacity and Applicability in Tolkien’s Concept of Sub-creation.” You should consider attending if:

  • you would like to explore the foundation of your desire to express creativity in any form–not just writing, but visual arts, performing arts, game design, research, or anything that comes from your vocation as an artist
  • you are approaching your own thesis project, as Rob will share some of his difficult journey to the end of the paper
  • you have an interest in the way that Tolkien thought about his work
  • you have loved Tolkien’s poem “Mythopoiea” (which you can read here)

As Signum is a digital university, our tradition is to host a “thesis theatre” for students to share their work. Attending is free, and you will have a chance to ask questions. I am going to host the discussion, and I look forward to seeing you there, Monday, Feb 26 at 7pm EST.

Thesis Abstract

Sub-creation is an idea fundamental to understanding Tolkien’s oeuvre. In his draft letter to Peter Hastings, Tolkien writes the remarkable statement that “the whole matter [of my myth] from beginning to end is mainly concerned with the relation of Creation to making and sub-creation” (Letters 188). However, Tolkien’s ideas about sub-creation continue to perplex readers and scholars of his work.

This essay represents my effort to address the apparent obscurities associated with Tolkien’s concept, which has also had a significant impact on myself and my creative work. I begin my analysis by examining Tolkien’s three main “sub-creation texts”: (1) His essay “On Fairy-stories”; (2) His short story “Leaf by Niggle”; (3) His poem “Mythopoeia.” In addition to Tolkien’s sub-creation “trilogy” of texts, I explore the mythic story of Aulë’s making of the Dwarves in The Silmarillion because Aulë’s story provides a vivid depiction of Tolkien’s vast sub-creative vision and serves as an embodiment of his concept of the sub-creator or “little maker” (“Mythopoeia” 128). Finally, I make an autoethnographic turn, examining my own story of sub-creation in which I demonstrate my own attempts to apply Tolkien’s sub-creative vision in my life through my self-publishing efforts as an indie game-designer as well as through the writing of this thesis.

My controlling purpose in the essay is to articulate the expansiveness of Tolkien’s sub-creative vision and the sustaining significance of the poem “Mythopoeia” to understanding sub-creation because it universalizes Tolkien’s concept of the sub-creator.

About the Presenter

Rob Gosselin received his B.Ed. and his B.S. from the University of Regina and his M.A. at Signum University. He is currently a senior science teacher in Churchbridge, Saskatchewan, where he lives with his wife Jenny and their two kids. Aside from teaching and his scholarly endeavours at Signum, Rob can often be found designing a new game for his game company, Birdlight Games, or learning to play a new musical instrument. He is a lifelong lover of games, a cappella, hiking, Ultimate Frisbee, slacklining, dance, and chess.

Update: Video of the Conversation

Suggested Readings

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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8 Responses to Thesis Theater Monday, Feb 26: Rob Gosselin on Tolkien’s Sub-creative Vision

  1. Hannah says:

    Sounds great!
    What I miss in the Thesis Abstract is any mention of the influence of Barfield’s “Poetic Diction” on Tolkien’s writing, as that is what Verlyn Flieger traces and shows so well in “the Splintered Light”. Does he also go into that in his thesis as her book is on the reading list?
    A comment underneath Malcolm Guite’s great lecture mentions him as well:
    ( “I think Tolkien was the greatest for going inside language and as a maker/sub-creator, but Barfield was the greatest at describing the processes, and the abstract concepts that actually operate around the accretion of human reality. Lovely lecture and heart.”


    • Hi Hannah, we discussed Barfield and decided to leave him out on this point. Malcolm’s point that he is sort of the intellectual progenitor is key. Rob’s paper really presses the question of capacity, as there is lots done on the foundation of the idea itself.


  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Brenton, congratulations and good wishes to both of you for this!

    (I’m not sure anyone has coined or applied the term ‘quasi-atechnate’ in the sense I would use it of myself when it comes to things like managing to attend a “thesis theatre”, but I hope I may catch up with all this in some form somewhere down the road…)


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