Peoria, Tazewell, And Woodford: Here, There & Everywhere

Meet Your Editors: Mike Foster

Mike for MU


           Prof. Mike Foster, a Peoria native who attended St. Bernard’s Grade School and Spalding Institute, was a member of the English faculty at Illinois Central College in East Peoria from 1971 until his retirement in 2005.

          His first specialty is English fantasy literature, especially J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and J.M. Barrie.  Since his retirement, he taught upper-division courses in Tolkien at Bradley University during fall terms 2006 and 2008.

His second specialty is popular music, especially of the era of the Beatles, but reaching back into the blues, folk, and jazz traditions, especially music with a link to Illinois.

He explores this interest weekly with A Fine Kettle of Fish, an “eclectic cover band” septet aged 23 to 75, born as The Tempests in Peoria in 1962. It is currently based in Washburn, Illinois. It is now in its fifty-second year.

Prof. Foster has studied Tolkien manuscripts and other related papers on Joyce Kilmer and the Jesuit missionaries at Marquette University, his alma mater, (BA, 1968; MA, 1971) in Milwaukee since 1977 and at the Bodleian Library in Oxford since 1992.

He has also studied C.S. Lewis, W.H. Lewis, and Tolkien journals, manuscripts, letters and other material at the Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, from 1974 to the present.

He has presented and subsequently published papers at various conferences in the United States, Canada, and England: Oxford, Birmingham, Chicago, Canterbury, Nashville, Boulder, Pasadena, Toronto, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Peoria, Dubuque, Louisville, St. Paul, Ann Arbor, Peoria, Wheaton, Des Moines, Waukesha, Berkeley, Kalamazoo, Los Angeles, Dallas, the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Ill., and other venues.

He has been featured in interviews on Tolkien on ABC-TV World News Tonight and in magazine and newspaper articles published in the Chicago Tribune, Manchester Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Der Stern, The Prairie Sun, the Peoria Journal Star, and others syndicated and published throughout the United States and abroad.

He was a television panelist with Lord of the Rings film actors Craig Parker (Haldir) and Bruce Hopkins (Gamling) on Michael Coren Live, a CITS-TV live phone-in talk show broadcast nationwide Canada from Burlington, Ontario, in 2003 during Gathering of the Fellowship I, an international conference that drew over 2,000 to Toronto.

Marquette University Press published his essay “Teaching Tolkien” in The Lord of the Rings: 1954-2004.

Other publications include “An Unexpected Party: Tolkien in the 1960’s” which was published in The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia in 2006; “J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis: A Fellowship of Two”; “Colin Havard: An Inkling’s Son Remembers”, a panel with the son of Inkling and Tolkien-Lewis family physician Dr. Robert E. Havard; “In the Ring-maker’s Hand: Marquette’s J.R.R. Tolkien Manuscript Collection,” a panel and paper with Marquette University Raynor Library’s Special Collections director Matt Blessing; “George Sayer: Tolkien’s & Lewis’ Pupil, Biographer, Friend”; “Hobbits and Hogwarts Go Hollywood:  Fantasy Fiction to Fantasy Film”; longer newspaper article studies of Tolkien’s manuscript revisions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; “The Forest and the Hall”, a short study of Tolkien’s last complete story, Smith of Wooton Major; “The Shire & Notting Hill: J.R.R. Tolkien & G.K. Chesterton”; “Ringo and Samwise: Paradigms?”, a comparison of Tolkien’s four hobbits and the four Beatles; “J.R.R. Tolkien: Fiction to Film”; and “Peter Pan: The Lost Last Act”, a study of an unused original ending to Barrie’s play found in the Lilly Library at Indiana University; “Peter Pan: The Disney Version” in Mythlore, 1984; and That Most Unselfish Man”: “George Sayer, 1914-2005: Pupil, Biographer, and Friend of Inklings” in Mythlore, 2008.

Reviews of Tolkien Studies VII and recent fantasy fiction (for Mythprint) and an interview with mystery writer Simon Tolkien, son of Christopher Tolkien and grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, and reviews of his The Inheritance, The King of Diamonds, and Orders from Berlin (for Mallorn) are more recent works.  He presented a paper on Simon Tolkien’s fiction at the Mythopoeic conference at Michigan State University in 2013.

His reviews and essays have also appeared in Mythlore.

Collecting essays and editing scholarly anthology on J.R.R. Tolkien and the Bible is another project begun in May, 2009.

He has served as the North American representative of the Tolkien Society (Great Britain) since 1995.  He contributed a retrospective book review column, “Off the Shelf,” as well as current reviews and served as copy editor of the American Chesterton Society’s magazine Gilbert!  from 1998 until 2009.  He has been a member of the Mythopoeic Society scholarship awards committee for Inklings scholarship and fantasy scholarship since 2000.

Since May, 2005, he has served as a member of the Peoria Board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

At Tolkien conferences in Toronto in 2006, Berkeley in 2007, and Dallas in 2010, he co-wrote and played guitar and sang in “The Lord of the Ringos,” a musical performance featuring Beatles’ songs rewritten as a libretto for Tolkien’s masterpiece.  This was reprised at the Tolkien at Kalamazoo conference in May, 2010.

A similar one-man show “Like A Rolling Ring,” using his revisions of Bob Dylan songs as Tolkien narratives, was performed at Mythcon 40 at UCLA in 2009.

The Tolkien at Kalamazoo conference at Western Michigan University in 2012  and the Mythopoeic conference at Michigan State University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2012 featured his lyrics and group performance in “Where Did Our Ring Go?”, the Motown Tolkien.

He has spoken on J.M. Barrie, J.R.R. Tolkien, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Joy Davidman Lewis at Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes meetings at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Bradley University in Peoria.

He has spoken on J.M. Barrie, J.R.R. Tolkien, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Joy Davidman Lewis at Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes meetings at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Bradley University in Peoria.

His study of popular music began with his drummer father Claude Swadley Foster and his dancing mother Shirley Hopkins Foster shortly before he was born.  He has played this music since 1964.

Named faculty adviser of the Illinois Central College’s Harbinger student newspaper in January, 1973, Foster continued in that post until his retirement July 31, 2005.  He is a charter member and past president of the Illinois Community College Journalism Association.  At its spring 2005 conference, the ICCJA named the contest award for overall excellence in its annual state student newspaper contest the “Mike Foster Award.”

As a freelance writer, he has published articles and reviews in Living Blues, The Washington (D.C.) Weekly, The Peoria Journal Star, The Peoria Times-Observer, Christian History, Mythprint, Sunrise, VII, The Prairie Sun, P.O.P, Faith & Reason, Mythlore, Amon Hen, Parma Nole, Beyond Bree, and Mallorn.

Currently he is completing The Wrelkny, a novel begun in 1967 about his experiences with The Wylde Heard teen bar road band in Wisconsin in the late 1960’s.

Since 1976, he has played with A Fine Kettle Of Fish, featured on lead and backing vocals, Rickenbacker 360-12 and Fender Telecaster electric guitars, Martin M-16 and Goya 12-string acoustic guitars, Hofner lookalike bass guitar, Oskar Schmidt electric autoharp, and harmonicas.

He graduated from Marquette University’s Honors Program with a double major in English and journalism and a philosophy minor in 1968 and a M.A. in English in 1971.

Since 1974, he has resided with his wife Jo, a retired ICC library cataloger, and their elder daughter Martha in rural Metamora, Illinois, in a 1935 farmhouse that was famous long ago.

–written October 30, 2014.



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