School of the Arts, Media + Culture SAMC Interdisciplinary

Bios + Abstracts

Friday, September 30 | 1:10-3:00 pm


Reader Reception and Interpretation in the Film Adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
Aaron Frede

The final film in The Hobbit trilogy was released in 2014 and since then the films have been disparaged by many fans and critics alike. Commonly stated reasons for the negative reception include the addition of materials from beyond the text of The Hobbit itself, the changes made to the text itself, and also the relatively short book being stretched over three long films. This essay will attempt to give suggestions for why The Hobbit films are regarded negatively by many critics and viewers. The focus of this essay will be on reception theory and I will attempt to analyze what the filmmakers were attempting to encode into the film and what how various viewers may have been decoding it. The analysis will revolve around three main aspects: the idea of a main character, the relation of The Hobbit films to The Lord of the Rings films, and the meaning or message in the films.

Using the reception theory developed by Stuart Hall and a hermeneutic approach to human understanding, I will demonstrate various possible reader/viewer interpretations of the work. Analysis of the stories presented in The Hobbit, both book and film versions, will be done primarily by looking at Richard Kearney's work in On Stories as well as Tolkien's own work, On Fairy Stories. The paper finds that the construction of the film version of The Hobbit presents viewers with conflicting ideas of character, scope, and theme that are difficult to reconcile and which may have led to a negative response by viewers towards the films.


Aaron Frede is completing his MA in Interdisciplinary Humanities at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia.

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Staging The Great Divorce: Artistic Imagination as an Interpretive and Communicative Theatrical Lens for Understanding C.S. Lewis
Jeff Tirrell

Though he was a fellow at Oxford and a Chair at Cambridge, most of C.S. Lewis’s apologetic works were written with the lay person in mind. The reasons for this are multifaceted, but the truthfulness of what he conveyed was not: the “mere Christianity” he espoused for was for all people, not just the intelligentsia, and he sought to make it as reasonable and as accessible as possible. This reasonableness and accessibility was often achieved through vivid examples, allegories, and word play which helped to contextualize concepts that were often presented in rather bland terms by theologians and academics alike. This in part explains his wide appeal to Christians and faith-seekers alike, even 50+ years after his death. But it also explains why so many of his books have translated so well into other mediums: movies, plays, audio books, etc.

This presentation seeks to explain why one such translation has worked so well. In 2002 The Great Divorce was adapted for the stage by Robert Smyth of Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado, CA. Using much of the same language as is found in the book, but with natural artistic interpretation and editing for plot purposes, this adaptation was presented to sold out crowds as part of their regular 2004 season. Since then, it has been performed at Fuller Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, and will be part of the upcoming season for the Theater Department at Azusa Pacific University. This presentation will examine why Lewis’ book works so well on the stage, the challenges of staging such fanciful and word-heavy work, and how the theatrical medium can enhance the vivid imagery and imaginative encounters that make the book so memorable. It will also provide opportunity for participants to see and hear a portion of the play performed dramatically.


Jeff Tirrell (PhD, Claremont School of Theology) is a theatrical artist and practical theologian who resides in Southern California. He teaches at both Claremont School of Theology and Azusa Pacific University in their Theater Department. He has twice directed The Great Divorce (Claremont School of Theology, 2012; the Telemachus Society (Claremont, CA), 2014) and acted in it once (Fuller Theological Seminary, 2007). His research interests lie at the intersection of Christian faith and the narrative arts. He is married to Hollie, an Athletic Trainer, and has an 11-month old son, Oliver, both of whom keep him very grounded.

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Digital Inklings: Can the Christian Vision of Tolkien and Lewis Fit in a Video Game?
Kevin Schut

In his fictional writings, Tolkien made his views on modern technology abundantly clear: trees, pastoral landscapes, and glittering caves are good; smoke-belching mills and utilitarian mindsets are bad.  C.S. Lewis, author of several popular pieces of science fiction, had a more nuanced approach to machines and gadgets, but he also had strong critiques of modern industrial society.  Both authors espoused an understanding of human-ness, imagination, and morality that—similar to the vision of French social critic Jacques Ellul—was deeply suspicious of modern technological attitudes and pseudo-scientific ideologies.  Nevertheless, today we live in a digital world, where the machinery and logic of computers is built into the day-to-day fabric of our lives.  The question is: can the Inklings vision of humanity survive in our contemporary setting?  The video game medium, the quintessential art form of the postmodern digital era, is a perfect place to consider this question.  On the one hand, video games are the most systematic of the artistic forms: the nature of game rules and the highly-defined nature of code make them far more mechanical than purely human art forms or analogic media like film.  On the other hand, the video game’s capacity to integrate so many art forms, its unique capacity for symbolic interactivity, the possibility of algorithmic spontaneity, and its ability to host navigable imaginary worlds all suggest that we are witnessing the development of a more human art form than we experience in our more familiar media.  This paper will examine the balance between the technical and the artistic aspects of video games and how that matches with Tolkien and Lewis’ views on humanity.


Kevin Schut is a Professor of Media + Communication and the Associate Dean of the School of the Arts, Media + Culture at Trinity Western University.  He received his BA in Communication Studies & History at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and his PhD in Communication Studies at the University of Iowa.  He wrote the book Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games as well as a number of academic article on games and narrative, history, religion, and LEGO.  His long relationship with video games started with Centipede somewhere around 1980, and he entered Middle-Earth in 1985 and has yet to escape. He doesn’t get enough sleep because he plays too much Hearthstone every night.

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