After suffering years of derision from their colleagues, a group of academics is launching a bid to have research into the fictional works of J. R. R. Tolkien taken seriously in learned circles.
A volume of collected essays on the creator of The Lord of the Rings will be followed by four sessions at a medieval research conference in June 2002.
Jane Chance, professor of English at Rice University in the United States, is leading the effort to have Tolkien studies considered alongside academic research into Chaucer and Shakespeare.
She said: "There is a genuine need to look at Tolkien as a scholar and gain a better understanding of what makes his epic work unique and worthy of the term 'modern classic'."
Professor Chance felt many academics regarded such research as trivial, in part because of the popularity of The Lord of the Rings .
The book, Tolkien the Medievalist , will be the first volume in the Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture series.
It features 15 scholars from universities such as Rutgers, Maryland and Wisconsin-Madison, who explore the context of Tolkien's mythology and the medieval sources that the former Oxford University professor of English language and literature drew on.
Fresh insights will be discussed in June, when the International Congress on Medieval Studies at the University of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo, features four sessions on Tolkien. Professor Chance is trying to make the professional forum an annual fixture.
George Ferzoco, director of Italian studies at Leicester University and co-editor of the Routledge series, stressed Tolkien's importance as a medievalist and as a populariser of ideas.
"Those scholars who turn up their noses at Tolkien not only don't know anything about him but must also remember that many of their own students were attracted to study the Middle Ages after reading the likes of Tolkien and Umberto Eco," he said.