"Gandalf Visits Bilbo" by the Brothers Hildebrandt
Feb. 17 – Apr. 13
5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
9 class sessions

Newberry Library
60 W Walton St
Chicago IL 60610

Registration rates
$286 General Public
$257 Seniors
$257 Students & Teachers

Dr. Seigfried's popular course on the mythological sources of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit returns to the Continuing Education Program of the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Discover the roots of The Hobbit in Norse mythology, German legend and English literature. Participants will read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel in detail as they explore ancient poems and tales of wizards and wanderers, dwarves and dragons, heroes and hoards.

Chicago's beautiful and historic Newberry Library
The course is open to the public; no previous study necessary. The only required text is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Any edition may be used, as assignments will be by chapter. All other suggested readings will be from texts available as free eBooks from The Norse Mythology Online Library.

If you're an Illinois teacher seeking renewal of your state certification, and you're interested in receiving Continuing Professional Development Unit (CPDU) credit for this course, please contact Kristin Emery of the Department of Continuing Education by email ( or phone (312.255.3533).

Questions about the course? Contact Dr. Seigfried via the Contact tab at The Norse Mythology Blog.


Second edition of The Silmarillion – Art by Ted Nasmith
Sept. 30 – Dec. 2, 2015
Wednesdays 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
9 class sessions
(No class on November 25)

Newberry Library
60 W Walton St
Chicago IL 60610

Registration rates
$260 General Public
$234 Students & Seniors

J.R.R. Tolkien Classes in Chicago

Discover the epic tales that make up the mythological background for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In this seminar, we will journey through the history of Middle-earth, from the creation of the world to the War of the Ring, as we explore the complex web of legends that Tolkien drew upon, including those of Norse, Celtic, Finnish, Jewish, and Christian traditions.

Tolkien worked on the mythology and legends of Middle-earth from 1914 until his death in 1973. In 1977, his son Christopher published an edited version of the lore as The Silmarillion. The book features much mythic material that is merely alluded to or mentioned in passing in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Carcharoth vs Beren and Lúthien – Art by Justin Gerard
The Silmarillion includes tales of the Two Trees of Valinor; the coming of the Elves to Middle-earth; the creation of the Silmarils; the alliance of Men, Elves and Dwarves against the dark lord Morgoth; the fall of Gondolin and Númenor; the founding of Gondor; the forging of the Rings of Power; the capture of the One Ring by Isildur... and much more.

The book includes the origins of many characters familiar to fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including Elrond, Galadriel, Sauron and the Dúnedain. Unforgettable characters take the stage, including the wondrous Elf-smith Fëanor, the great lovers Beren and Lúthien, and the doomed hero Túrin Turambar. The earliest tales focus on the Valar, the Powers that acts as gods for the denizens of Middle-earth. Terrible enemies fight the forces of light, including Orcs, Balrogs, the dragon Glaurung and the primeval spider Ungoliant.

Over the nine weeks of the course, students will read The Silmarillion in the context of Tolkien's fictional and scholarly work. Connections will be drawn between the lore of the book and the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with reference to other posthumous Tolkien publications such as Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (1980) and The History of Middle-earth (1983-1996).

Aulë and the Dwarves – Art by Ted Nasmith
The class will also learn about the many mythologies that influenced Tolkien's work. We will trace their influences upon The Silmarillon, with recurrent reference to Tolkien's own statements about the creation and development of his mythology in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981). We will also discuss how Tolkien reconciled his fervent Catholicism with his great love for the pagan mythologies of Northern Europe.

Students will be encouraged to create their own genealogies of The Silmarillion's cast of characters and to share their original artistic interpretations of the work, if the spirit so moves them.

The course is open to the public; no previous study necessary. The only required reading assignments will be from The Silmarillion itself. Any edition is acceptable. Dr. Seigfried will suggest a great variety of optional outside reading, but none is required to participate in the course.


An 18th-century manuscript of Snorri Sturluson's Edda
March 4 – April 29, 2015
Wednesdays 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
9 class sessions

Newberry Library
60 W Walton St
Chicago IL 60610

Registration rates
$264 General Public
$237.60 Students & Seniors

Norse Mythology Classes in Chicago

Discover the relationship between the tales of Norse mythology and the cultures that produced them. Participants will learn how the powerful myths preserved by Icelanders in the thirteenth century relate to religious beliefs and practices across the pre-Christian northern world. Particular attention will be paid to the role of women in Germanic culture.

Students participating in this course will supplement in-depth exploration of the Norse myths with in-class examination of archeological evidence and reading of excerpts from both primary sources and scholarly works. Participants will build an understanding of the relationship between Norse mythology and religious and cultural concepts over a 4,000-year period.

"Grove of the Semnones" by Carl Emil Doepler (1905)
Weekly reading assignments have been carefully selected to provide a coherent and understandable path through the texts. I will help students to understand the poetry, which is often obscure and references a plethora of other sources – many of which have been lost. Students will learn to evaluate the version of Norse mythology presented in Snorri Sturluson’s Edda, a multifaceted yet problematical work.

We will place the myths in a wider context of historical events such as northern Europe’s conversion to Christianity. We will relate seemingly fantastic mythic elements to religious ritual – including magical practices (as described in saga literature) and pre-Christian Germanic rites (as recorded in Roman sources). The class will discuss the role of sexuality in the mythology and examine the evidence for changing roles of women in Norse society.



The roots of The Hobbit – Art by Brothers Hildebrandt
February 19, 2015
Thursday at 7:30 pm

Wheaton College
Marion E. Wade Center
351 E Lincoln Ave
Wheaton IL 60187

This free event is
open to the public.
No tickets or reservations are required to attend.

A Lecture on The Hobbit's Mythic Sources

For the second printing of The Hobbit, author J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that the cover blurb be altered to include this line:
The Hobbit has riddles, runes, and Icelandic dwarves; and though its world of magic and mythology is its own, a new land of lore, it has the atmosphere of the ancient North.
Tolkien's original art for the first edition of The Hobbit (1937)
When the novel was first released in 1937, reviewers immediately recognized its roots in Norse mythology, Icelandic saga, German legend and Old English literature. In The Horn Book, Anne Carroll Moore described The Hobbit as
A refreshingly adventurous and original tale of dwarfs, goblins, elves, dragons, trolls, etc., in the true tradition of the old sagas… It is firmly rooted in Beowulf and authentic Saxon lore… There is sound learning behind The Hobbit, while a rich vein of humor connects this little being, described as smaller than a dwarf, with the strange beings of the ancient world and the world we live in today.
The Swedish edition of The Hobbit (1962)
Art by Tove Jansson (of Moomintroll fame)
A great number who now read The Hobbit are unaware of the literary heritage that stands behind the novel. How many American children in today's public schools have read Snorri Sturluson's Edda, Icelandic sagas, the Nibelungenlied or Beowulf? As our temporal distance from 1937 grows ever greater, Tolkien's novel is increasingly considered a completely original creation. Its roots have been covered over and largely forgotten.

This multimedia presentation will show how The Hobbit leads readers on a tour through the age of Northern European myths and legends with Bilbo Baggins as an anachronistic stand-in for the person of today. Gandalf's description of the hobbits in The Quest for Erebor can also be understood as a description of those of us who live in the modern world:
They had begun to forget: forget their own beginnings and legends, forget what little they had known about the greatness of the world. It was not yet gone, but it was getting buried: the memory of the high and the perilous. But you cannot teach that sort of thing to a whole people quickly. There was not time. And anyway you must begin at some point, with some one person. I dare he say he was ‘chosen’ and I was only chosen to choose him; but I picked out Bilbo.
Georg von Rosen: Odin the Wanderer (1886)
In like fashion, Tolkien "picked out Bilbo" to travel with us into the half-forgotten heritage of northern myth and legend. With Bilbo, we meet Tolkien's versions of the Norse god Odin, dwarves of the Eddas, trolls of northern folklore, dragons of saga and many other legendary characters and creatures. We discover ancient runes and riddle-contests, mystic armor and Mirkwood. Without realizing it, we are introduced to the myths of what Tolkien called "that noble northern spirit."

This lecture will uncover The Hobbit's mythic sources for the audience and, hopefully, encourage those who attend to further explore the wonderful prose and poetry of the past that Tolkien himself so greatly loved.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Marion E. Wade Center and the Wheaton College Tolkien Society.



Tannhäuser illustration by Willy Pogany
January 28, 2015
Wednesday at 7:30 pm

Crown Plaza Chicago Metro Downtown
733 W Madison St
Chicago IL 60661

$5 members, $10 guests
No tickets or reservations are required to attend.

A Lecture on Tannhäuser's Musical Subtleties and Mythic Sources

This guided tour through Wagner’s Tannhäuser views the opera through several lenses and from multiple perspectives. Methodology from musicology and mythography intersect with literary, historical, psychological and philosophical approaches.

Wagner himself used manifold methods when discussing his own work, and there are correspondences between his written theories and his musical output that often go unnoticed by today’s operagoers. However, Wagner was not the most transparent of poets, and his various philosophies don’t always smoothly sync with one another. This necessarily leads to conflicting concepts and mixed messages. At the very least, this presentation will hopefully convince you what the opera is not about: Catholic conceptions of sin and salvation.

Wagner in Paris for the 1861 Tannhäuser performances
This lecture will feature a close reading of selected musical excerpts and passages from the libretto. There will be in-depth discussion of Wagner's own statements about the work, of his literary and mythological sources, and of his responses to reviews of the opera. We will trace the Tannhäuser legend and examine the correspondences between Wagner's poetry and that of the historical Minnesinger who inspired it. Connections will also be drawn to Wagner's other works, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen.

For those especially interested in Norse mythology, we'll also discuss Freyja, Holda, Wotan, the Wild Hunt, Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology and Wagner's stated "enthusiasm for the genuine heathen legends."