The Coming of the King: Transpositions Celebrates Fantasy Literature

Starting Monday, Transpositions will be celebrating fantasy literature with a week-long online symposium. The upcoming topics include:

Monday, 5 December: Laura Schmidt, archivist for the Wade Center at Wheaton College, examines why fantasy stories grip some readers with fierce intensity and wholly fail to move others.

Tuesday, 6 December: Travis Buchanan, PhD candidate at St Andrews’ Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts and previous guest contributor to Transpositions, will explore the relationship between J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’ and the Gospel.

Wednesday, 7 December: Anna Blanch, St Andrews ITIA PhD candidate and regular Transpositions contributor, will consider children’s author E. Nesbit in the role of Fantasy God-Mother.

Thursday, 8 December: Katherine Cooper, PhD candidate in the School of English at the University of St Andrews, will engage with community and emotional intimacy in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?.

Friday, 9 December: Laura Schmidt, Wade Center archivist, returns to explore how fantasy literature works its magic on engaged readers, through the writings of Wade Center authors such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and George MacDonald.

Fantasy literature has long been a vital part of my imaginative life, and I re-read The Lord of the Rings every few years for my spiritual health. Last night’s bedtime reading was the crowning of Aragorn as King Elessar in The Return of the King.

Since I first read about Aragorn and the embattled kingdom of Gondor at age 13, Aragorn’s coronation has been inseparable in my mind from the image of Christ the King. Coming from the anti-monarchical U.S.A., as I do, Tolkien’s story taught me how it felt to yearn for a long-awaited king and rejoice in his coming. Therefore, it felt right to be reminded, through this deeply Catholic work of fantasy, of the glorious coronation of the mighty King whose coming we await with hope and expectation during this season of Advent. It felt right to be reminded, also, that this King’s first arrival is hidden, humble, and brings healing, just as Aragorn first entered Minas Tirith under the form of a Ranger from the North to fulfill the ancient saying that ‘the hands of the king are the hands of a healer’.

His first coming was quiet and veiled, a mission of salvation in a time of war. His second coming was in glory and triumph, to usher in a reign of peace and blessing after the defeat of evil. Even so, Christ’s first coming, which we will celebrate at Christmas, was hidden and veiled in the form of a vulnerable baby crying in a cattle trough, come to bring healing and salvation through weakness. His second coming, which the first coming heralds, will be in glory and triumph, with the morning star upon His brow – greater than any Elfstone, and yet the star to which the Elfstone points.

I hope that you will join us in the celebration of fantasy literature and the great gifts many of us have received through these stories.


  • Cole Matson is an actor, producer, and arts administrator. He received his PhD from the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts in 2016.

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  1. says: Adam B. Shaeffer

    After becoming a Christian, I re-read LotR and found a greater enjoyment and appreciation for the story in doing so. I especially loved the line you referred to and watched Peter Jackson’s film with bated breath to see what he would do with it (I was disappointed). But the idea of healing being in the hands of the king is one that has stuck with me ever since, working its way into my fiction and poetry on multiple occasions.

    As one who hated reading until discovering fantasy, I look forward to next week’s articles, especially Monday’s.

  2. says: Leticia Cortina Aracil


    I’m still procrastinating the reading of the Children’s Literature symposium that took place while I was out on a business trip… I better catch up soon, before you organise some other amazing one and I get seriously overboarded 🙂 .

    1. says: Cole Matson

      You might want to make it a New Year’s Resolution, because we have some excellent symposia coming up in the next several months!

  3. says: Amy Anderson

    The symposium on children’s lit was fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to this next one. Has ITIA considered holding conferences to further explore any of these topics?

    1. says: Cole Matson

      I know we’ve had mini-conferences on Tolkien, for example, in the past. I’d love to have a fantasy/sci-fi/comic book conference!

      1. says: Anna Blanch

        Amy, ITIA holds a conference biannually. I’m pretty sure Jim and Wes are involved in organising the next one (in 2012). We will definitely be posting the call for papers when it is released.

        The English Department at University of St Andrews is holding a conference on Harry Potter next year, at which Cole and myself and a number of others will be giving papers.

        1. says: Amy Anderson

          Thanks, Anna. I’ll keep a lookout for the ITIA conference info next yet. The upcoming Harry Potter conference just sounds like good clean (academic) fun!

    1. says: Cole Matson

      Blame Jim – I certainly wasn’t involved! (And I agree – when I saw it, I gasped with delight!)

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