Each year, Pembroke College in Oxford—the university where J.R.R. Tolkien taught Anglo-Saxon literature—holds an annual public lecture series in honor of the late author and professor.
Fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay delivered this year’s lecture, titled “Just Enough Light: Some Thoughts on Fantasy and Literature.”
The Tolkien Lecture is designed to promote “the study of fantasy literature, and advances our understanding of it, by inviting influential and talented speakers to share their ideas on the field,” and was established in 2013 by the university’s students. Past speakers have included Kij Johnson, Adam Roberts, Lev Grossman, Terri Windling, Susan Cooper, V.E. Schwab, and Marlon James. (R.F. Kuang was supposed to give the lecture last year, but because of COVID, will do so at a to-be-determined date.) In 2020, the symposium brought back a bunch of prior speakers for a virtual panel discussion.
Kay is no stranger to Tolkien’s work: When Christopher Tolkien was working on compiling his father’s papers to assemble The Silmarillion, Kay was his assistant, and has credited that experience with helping his own career as a fantasy author.
He speaks a bit about his time in Oxford as a student, and then moves on to the meat of his discussion, citing a quote from British writer Walter Bagehot: “We must not let in daylight upon magic.”
“I’ll suggest that anyone in fantasy literature, the fantastic or fantastika — as John Clute frames it — needs to contend with the reverberations of Bagehot’s line. Among other things, I think it usefully serves as a possible demarkationer to solitude’s notion for radically different ideas: attitudes among writers, scholars, readers, towards the handling and the nuances of magic.”