This is the latest installment of our ‘5 minutes with…’ series, where we interview PhD researchers across the arts and humanities in Scotland. Today our interview is with Mariana Rios Maldonado, who is pursuing her PhD in Fantasy Literature at the University of Glasgow.
What year of your PhD are you currently in?
I am just finishing off my second year and by October of this year I should officially be third year PhD student at the University of Glasgow. I say “should” because due to the current pandemic, it feels like the world is moving in a slow and strange time-space continuum where time ceases to have strict markers. That means I anticipate I will feel pretty much like a second year well into the end of 2020.
What’s the working title of your thesis?
“Ethics, Femininity and the Encounter with the Other in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth Narratives”. For my research, I am specifically analysing three of Tolkien’s texts: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.
What research questions are you considering right now?
I am now immersed in bringing forth the second chapter of my thesis in which I construct my methodological framework. In this respect, I am using Emmanuel Lévinas’ philosophical discourse on ethics and otherness to study Tolkien’s works. This has led me down a fascinating rabbit-hole: what is the origin of the occidental concept of ethics? How should the ethics/ethical systems portrayed in fictional worlds such as Middle-earth be approached? What are the parallelisms and differences between Tolkien and Lévinas, given their different religious beliefs and their experiences in the war conflicts of the twentieth century?
If you were to introduce someone new to your subject area, what one piece of reading would you recommend, and why?
This is a great question and I have two answers. If one were to read Tolkien for the first time – regardless of knowing about the author or Peter Jackson’s films based on Tolkien’s books – I would recommend The Hobbit. If, instead, the subject is Tolkien studies, I would wholeheartedly recommend T. A. Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. Shippey’s work is not only seminal for Tolkien scholarship, but also a very engaging and thought-provoking read.
Describe your research in three words (can be keywords or something non-serious!)
Hobbits, ethics, and Otherness (oh my!)
What’s been the most useful piece of advice given to you about doing a PhD?
Given the times we are living in, I think it is completely normal to question the importance and validity of our research. I have doubted myself, the degree I am pursuing, and even the purpose of my field of study countless times since I started my PhD. And every time, words spoken by my father come back to me. A couple of years ago, as I was going through a particularly difficult period in my life, my father asked me: “Do you think that the world would be a duller, colourless place if The Lord of the Rings had never been written? Or better said: has this book made you feel that the world can be a better place?”. My answer was yes. This last affirmation is what keeps me going.
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