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Michael D.C. Drout (DC'90)

September 2013

Lord of the Rings: Alum Michael D.C. Drout Returns For Lecture on “How To Read J.R.R. Tolkien”

Looking back, it might seem that Michael D.C. Drout (DC’90) was destined to become a J.R.R. Tolkien expert. When Drout was young, his father hung a map of Middle-earth that fascinated him, and he enjoyed his dad reading “The Lord of The Rings” out loud to him so much that he frequently insisted on multiple rereadings.

While an undergraduate majoring in professional writing and creative writing, Drout re-connected with Tolkien in English Professor Peggy Knapp’s Medieval Literature class and begin writing his own fantasy novels. He eventually decided that he wanted to be a professor of medieval literature and used material he found while researching at Oxford to begin working on Tolkien professionally.

Today, Drout is a professor of English and director of the Center for the Study of the Medieval at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. He will return to Carnegie Mellon University for the first time in 20 years to give the Department of English’s Carol Brown Lecture Series talk on “How to Read J.R.R. Tolkien” on Thursday, October 3 from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. in Wean Hall 7500.

Drout believes that Tolkien’s immense and lasting popularity can be explained by a “perfect storm hypothesis.”

“Tolkien took very powerful medieval legends that are inaccessible to people because of language, remixed them, and put them in the point of view of hobbits representing ordinary, middle class people in an otherwise heroic world,” Drout said. “Tolkien also dared to go where post-war literature had given up. Mainstream literature had given up on talking about power, evil and what to do about it. There was clearly a hunger in people to talk about cosmic problems, and Tolkien’s work allows readers to think and feel about these central issues, but slightly abstractly.”

Drout continued, “Tolkien wrote a text that feels like an old text, back by a long tradition. And, finally, he writes from such a point of view that you experience what the characters are experiencing. Readers feel like they’ve had an experience – not read a book.”

His lecture at CMU will focus on this hypothesis in an attempt to explain why Tolkien’s many imitators have never been able to duplicate his successes and why the books remain beloved.

In addition to editing the “J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia” and founding and co-editing the journal “Tolkien Studies,” Drout leant his expertise and consulted for “The Lord of the Rings On-Line,” a multi-player on-line game based on the book. His other research involves developing “lexomic” methods of computer-assisted statistical analyses that have led to discoveries about Angle-Saxon, Old Norse, Latin and Modern English texts.

“I’m really looking forward to coming back,” Drout said. “I’m excited to see how the campus has changed.”

The Carol Brown Lecture Series was endowed by Carol Brown, former president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and a Life Emeritus member of Carnegie Mellon's Board of Trustees.

For more information on Michael D.C. Drout, visit

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