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Isilnáriën writes: From August 12th to the 16th Aston University in Birmingham, England, was the venue for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publishing of The Lord of the Rings. People from all over the world gathered to listen to and/or present talks, workshops, videos, and to purchase vast quantities of Tolkien and LOTR merchandise.
The weather was mild, and other than an occasional lost person (myself included) wandering about the maze of halls trying to locate the lift, the University was the perfect location. Several large, graceful willow trees stood on the lawn in front of the cafeteria, which provided both breakfast and dinner to over six hundred hungry fans. The food, by the way, was wonderful, and with the typically British addition of mushrooms and tomatoes on the breakfast buffet, very hobbit-like.
The opening ceremony, held in the student Guild building, could hardly hold all of the people, and more were to arrive in the next few days. We were warmly greeted by Chris Crawshaw, the Tolkien 2005 Chairman, and with our programme booklets describing each days activities in hand, we were well on our way to a wonderful five days.
There were many talks, workshops, and events each day, and one had to pick and choose which ones to attend. The evening of the opening night there was a delightful play put on by some of the members of the Tolkien Society of The Farmer Giles of Ham. Some of the guest speakers over the next few days included such notables at Colin Duriez, John Garth, Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith, Tom Shippey, and Priscilla Tolkien. Unfortunately both John Howe and Brian Sibley could not attend due to other commitments.
Presentations were divided into streams, grouped by themes, some of which included: Art & Illustration; Faith & Religion; Language; Poetry; Tolkiens Life; Literature; and Myth. Just a few of the many topics included: Teaching Tolkien; The Influence of Nordic Myths; Peter Jackson and Tolkiens Catholicism; Nature in Tolkien; and William Morris Influence on J.R.R. Tolkien. Some of the standing-room-only talks were: Tolkien and the War and Wisdom and Wise Sayings in The Lord of the Rings both by Tom Shippey; From Sketch to Screen, a slide presentation by Alan Lee; and Silmarillustrations That Got Away and Other Oddities by Ted Nasmith. We were also treated to a question and answer session with Priscilla Tolkien.
On Saturday night there was a Costume Extravaganza in which participants had the opportunity to show their costume on stage, most bringing their own music to set the mood for their two minute presentation. There were wizards, elves, hobbits, corsairs, and even several Tom Bombadils and Goldberrys. It was a grand evening for both participants and spectators alike!
There was also a video room wherein various films were shown over the five days, including all three extended versions of the LOTR movies, and people could wander in and out as they had time. The only dark cloud in this entire conference happened on the
evening they were showing The Two Towers. One woman, who obviously had seen it before and who had issues with Peter Jacksons film, kept making loud, sarcastic remarks throughout the screening. I was astounded that someone who found the film so objectionable would want to attend yet another showing! I can only presume that she
came solely for the purpose of publicly belittling Jackson and the movie. She left before the end, however, and none too soon, I thought!
All things considered, it was a marvelous conference, with something for everyone who was a fan of Tolkiens works. The monumental task of organizing and coordinating this event was, Im sure, a daunting one and the members of the Tolkien Society and other related organizations should be commended on a job well done indeed! Bravo!
Freya writes: Concerning the Places of J.R.R. Tolkien A Choral Students Encounters at Oxbridge 2005.
I had never heard of the Oxbridge conference or the C.S. Lewis Foundation prior to the release of the Return of the King Extended DVD. Yet it was during this time that I learned from my poetry professor about the conference. When I found out that the C.S. Lewis Foundation was auditioning voice students and professionals for their inaugural Institute Choir, I jumped at the chance, knowing that the conference would be held in Oxfordthe former home of J.R.R. Tolkien.
By nothing less than Gods grace, I did earn a scholarship and was able to attend the conference for both weeks while singing with this new choir.
For the interest of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings fans alike, I wont go into what I did the entire time concerning the Choir and other places I visited. This is more of a short report on the Tolkien-related places I visited or Tolkien related things I accomplished. If youre interested in the full report, feel free to visit my livejournal.
Friday-The First Day
Before my first rehearsal with the Institute choir, I had some time to explore Oxford. I was very surprised that not a block away from the rehearsal space was Pembroke College! This was where Professor Tolkien was elected Professor of Anglo-Saxon and where he taught for several years. The building wasn’t as architecturally impressive, but the decorative Gargoyle-heads hanging off the ledges near the windows were somewhat pleasing to the eye. I couldn’t visit inside Pembroke since it was closed to visitors. Even despite its appearance, it was still cool to be near the site where Tolkien once gave lectures and classes on Anglo-Saxon.
After another day of choir rehearsal, one of the choir members went with me to the Eagle and Child Pub for dinner. The moment I saw the sign with the eagle carrying the baby child, I almost jumped up and down with excitement. I had been waiting for this moment ever since I heard about the Inklings. I wanted to have an “Inkling” moment to experience for myself, even though knowing the Inklings meetings stopped long ago (As I learned later during the conference, C.S. Lewis was really the solid glue that held the fellowship of literary/fantasy aficionados together).
The pub was definitely something of a touristy location. Two rooms off to the entrance were so small that its a wonder any amount of people could fit there at all. Since the smell of smoking pervaded like a thick cloud of Longbottom Leaf, my friend and I didnt sit there. However there was plenty of room to sit in the main area of the pub and there was still plenty to take a gander at. There was a plaque stating the Inklings did convene at the pub; and there were plenty enough pictures of Professor Tolkien and C.S. Lewis scattered about the place. A sign from the old Rabbit Room remains, but the actual parlor room has long been closed to the public. There was also a sign explaining a bit of history about the pub, including the tidbits about the Inklings. Just a small fact, but the Eagle and Child derives its name from the Arms of the Earl of Derby. The family legend is that an early ancestor rescued and adopted an abandoned child, which had been fostered by an eagle.
During my time at the pub I feasted on Fish & Chips which really, except for the lackluster name, was really good! I fell in love with English pub food instantly!
After our dinner we felt like exploring a bit up on Woodstock Road. We arrived at St. Aloysius in time for evening Saturday mass and decided to attend. Even if you’re not religious, there’s something to be said about the beauty of Oxford churches. This church was awe inspiring and it was a lovely service. Apparently even Tolkien himself went to this church regularly (he was quite the devoted Roman Catholic).
The freakiest thing about the service was that I saw someone that looked EXACTLY like Professor Tolkien, down to his hairline and the tweedy jacket he always wore. I thought that was quite cool, even though more than likely they aren’t related in any way.
When the service ended, my friend and I parted and I was on my way to St. Catherines college to check e-mail. On the way, I just happened to pass down Holywell Street and house 99. That was one of Tolkien’s former homes. He had once made a comment about this house being in the Slums of Mordor, and now having been there, I can see why. After passing his home, I came upon 3 Manor Road which is not too far from St. Catherines college. This was another home of Tolkien and Edith from 1947-1950. It was slightly more interesting than the one on Holywell only because it was in a nicer area: lots of trees, a river flowing to the far left of the building, and just a quieter neighborhood. I have to keep wondering why Tolkien moved so darned often. I also had to act normal as to not disturb the current residents of the homes.
Wednesday is a day I will never forget: it was my first REAL free day from rehearsals, plenary sessions, and evening events of the conference. Mind you, this was not what made it memorable, but what made it memorable, was the places I traveled
My day started at 6:30 am: I woke up, brushed my teeth, got into my Hobbit gear (I.e., my old Frodo vest and jacket; yes Im a Frodo cosplayer), and grabbed a piece of wheat bread from the breakfast table before running out the door and heading to the bus stop to take towards Kidlingston. My first stop was at Bardwell Road, which according to the map I had checked out at Wolverstone’s Bookstore; directly linked to Northmoor Road, the site of where J.R.R. Tolkien lived for over 20 yrs. Needless to say when I reached Northmoor Road, my eyes were on the lookout for #20. Odd thing about this street was that the houses went from 19 to 21 or 18 to 22. Perplexed I kept on walking and realized there was more to it. But as soon as I reached the sign on the opposite side of the road that said Northmoor Rd, it also said Northmoor Place. Now this might seem odd but I was confused as to whether Northmoor Road had ended and became a new street. This isn’t odd for Oxford as roads will, right in the middle, become a whole new road.
At this point I was alarmed. I started walking onward just incase Id find it, but I didn’t see a number 20 at all. My worst fears was that the house was demolished; but that would be absurd as the house was declared historic…or at least given historic status; meaning, that the house shall not be changed from the way it originally was at the time Tolkien lived in it.
I kindly asked a passerby about the lay of the land and wondered if she knew anything about the homes whereabouts. She didn’t even know that Tolkiens house was on the road! Somewhat perplexed I figured to not end the search and continue going straight, even if it was Northmoor Place.
Little did I know how wrongly I misunderstood the sign; for the sign was right, and I was going in the right direction; as soon as I saw a grey rooftop looming in the distance, I knew that I was close. Sure enough I found it, with a self-engraved plaque at the top of the home stating when Tolkien had lived in the home. It’s a lovely home, and is exactly something I’d picture the old Oxford don living in. It’s just too bad the home isn’t open to the public by way of becoming a museum (I figure the Tolkien estate would never allow it). Needless to say I was extraordinarily happy and must’ve freaked out one of the construction workers nearby when I asked if they’d take a picture of me in front of the house.
It already looks as if someone now owns the home again. A shame really…Lord knows what I’d do with the place if I owned it. ^_~
Feeling a bit geeky, I went to catch the bus towards Wolvercote Cemetery. I thought I knew where the stop was but somehow I missed the sign while looking at the map, so I had to wait till the bus turned around before getting off close to Wolvercote.
It’s interesting to note that the cemetery itself has won several awards for “Best cemetery of the year” and I find that funny. Not to be morbid, but it does seem a tad odd.
But it’s also a bit odd that the map of the cemetery lists where J.R.R. Tolkien’s gravesite lies. There were also signs in the ditches on the road that pointed in the way of Tolkiens grave. In a way the gravesite has become a tour spot. Whether that’s good or bad I cannot say, but I’m glad irregardless because I was able to pay my respects to the late professor.
Being at his grave gave me a shudder but also joy to see some of the things people have left behind; I myself left a personal card. I couldn’t help but think how his grave is never lonely. I’m also under the impression that he was a very short man…indeed, quite the Hobbit.
After Wolvercote I took the bus back into the heart of Oxford and got off close to Magdelen College. While the college was not yet open, I did visit the Botanical gardens. The Botanical Gardens is famous for Tolkien’s favorite tree, the “Pinus Nigra”.
It wasn’t the kind of tree I initially expected Tolkien to have liked (I guessed there could’ve been others I came across), but this was the tallest tree in the park. I was thankful to get a picture of me with the tree.
Much too excited after seeing a tree, I jaunted over to Christ Church/College. On the way to the college, I passed by Merton Street and the home where Tolkien lived during his days without Edith (the end of his life). Across the way were the Examination schools where Tolkien gave frequent lectures.
Now I wont talk of my Christ Church/College experience (It was great, dont get me wrong) but Id like to now talk of something equally important to J.R.R. TolkienC.S. Lewis.
After my self-guided tour of Christ Church I met up with members of the conference to board a bus for the Kilns tour. The Kilns for those that dont know is C.S. Lewis beloved home.
The Kilns tour was absolutely fantastic! Our tour guide was very informative and even surprised me to show another home that Tolkien abode. This home was the same home where his phone number accidentally got into the phone registry, causing crazy Americans to call him at 2:00 am in the morning, not realizing the time difference and inevitably causing him distress. I wanted to get a picture of the home but the bus flashed by too fast for my reflexes. Oh well…maybe next time I suppose.
The tour of the home was neat as we saw the newly renovated house, learned the history of the house up to its decay and restoration, and now I can say I stood in the same room where C.S. Lewis slept. It truly was an honor and humbling experience. Granted most of the books and original furniture were thrown out in wake of the owners who bought the home after Jack’s (C.S. Lewis) death. So not everything in the home is original, but the people who worked to restore the home took care in matching the details of the home by looking at old photographs, talking with some of Jack’s surviving friends who had visited the home, and other various sources. To me…it’s probably an even better home than Jack could imagine.
An even cooler thing about the home is that it has its own “reserve” for plant life and animals. A pond with a bridge is the central piece to this lovely reserve. Entering it almost made me believe for a moment I had found a place in Narnia.
When the tour ended, I headed back to Magdelen College. Upon entering I remembered the tour guide at the Kilns mentioning that there used to be a back way from Magdelen that you could walk all the way to Jack’s home. Of course that way is restricted now due to other colleges and homes. He also mentioned that this was the same college C.S. Lewis worked as a tutor for. There were two other famous people (Literary famous) he mentioned that also worked at Magdelen and they are honored by having red flowers over their former rooms. The rooms were used in the filming of that old film Shadowlands; however they’re now closed off to the public.
Pleased with the shots I was taking of the college, I then proceeded towards Addison’s walk. To describe the experience of Addison’s walk for me would take more than this report can permit me. However I will say that for those that love a good hike, then this nature walk is just for you! It truly was a wonderful experience, and not one worth missing if you come to Oxford!
My Tolkien pilgrimage was coming to an end: I literally had seen and done almost everything imaginably Tolkien (and somewhat C.S. Lewis, granted I think I’m becoming even more a fan of him now than I ever was before).
This is the end of my report for now. In my next Ill talk of my visit to Exeter College and my conference outbreak with Joseph Pearce, author of Tolkien: Man and Myth.
Arriving on Thursday afternoon to find events already in progress before the Opening Ceremony that evening, I hardly stopped until collapsing into bed shortly before midnight. Then I couldnt sleep for all the data processing going on in my brain.
As well as 150 or so scholarly papers presented over the five days, there were drama workshops, excursions to Oxford and areas of Birmingham associated with Tolkien. There was near continuous showing of Tolkien related videos during the day and, for insomniacs or those with more stamina than me, showings of the three extended versions of the films on successive nights, starting at 11.30pm. Also a number of dramatic productions.
To give a flavour of the programme I give a short description of the events I attended in the form of notes I made as an aide-memoire. Notes in parentheses are my own thoughts
The War Within ; Frodo as Sacrificial Hero
Hobbit trinity. As Frodo disintegrates, Gollum absorbs his aggression and Sam his hope and humanity. Well argued and presented but no evidence quoted form text to support this.
She noted that in the film Sam carrying F appears as one entity.
With referenece to the fight with Gollum on Mt Doom, the film shows external realisation of the fight within Frodo.
Tom Shippey and John Garth panel
Disappointingly shallow with a certain tension between TS and JG. TS playing to the gallery. Members of the audience had a more in depth knowledge of the Great War than TS.
Priscilla Tolkien as VP of Toklien Society spoke on how she saw the appreciation of her fathers work grow from a tiny seed to a great tree with many branches. Ditto the Tolkien Society
Farmer Giles of Ham
Very enjoyable, amateur production. Dragons especially impressive costuming. The actor playing Garm picked up on dog behaviour and mannerisms very nicely.
On Fairy Stories: The Hinge between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
V good. Showed how JRRTs style changed during the time he wrote On Fairy Stories to encompass the points he made about successful fairy stories internal consistency, taking Faerie totally seriously.
Audience member suggested faults in Hobbit due to initially having been told to his children, not written down. Cf Father Christmas Letters.
Crossing the Threshold: Doors and Other Passageways in Tolkiens Words and Images
C Riley Auge
Stand on the threshold contemplation before action
Doorway leads to change/growth in a character Can be of four types
·Barrier need to pass the barrier before we can see that which surrounds and pervades us. E.g. Tolkiens analogy of fish which has no idea/inkling of the water which constitutes its environment until it is out of it
·Demarcation line between reality and alternate reality such as dreams.
·Framing of the view a character has of the landscape/future before him
·Tunnels/woods/forests. Anthropologically, initiation, rebirth
Window shows a limited, not full view. There is often a reference to the level of light seen leading to a feeling of well-being or otherwise. Position of window reflects status character sees himself as having.
Look at Tolkiens drawings and paintings as well as writing
Tolkiens Birmingham- The Roots of Middle Earth
Postcards dating from early 1900s of Cole Brook, Wake Green Road, Moseley Village, Kings Heath plus recent photographs of the houses in which Tolkien lived and the surroundings of his early life in Moseley and Kings Heath.
Left after an hour to go to
Circles and Lines: Containment and Progression in Tolkiens World
Stereotypically, circles are Celtic, representing stability, comfort, home and also stagnation. Closed, for ever turning inward. Gondolin. Matthew Arnold the Celts are always defeated.
Lines represent adventure, attack. Norse, Teutonic, Saxon
Circles are typical of hobbits and to lesser extent, elves in Lothlorien. (fighting the long defeat cf the Celts)
Culture of Men: Preponderence of straight lines, particularly in Tolkiens drawings.
Someone in audience pointed out that elves are reborn if they die (circle), men take the straight road.
Verlyn Flieger, scheduled to give a talk on Tolkien the Modernist, instead read a hitherto unpublished essay of Tolkiens on Smith of Wootton Major in the form of a story from the point of view of some of the other characters. This will be included, along with other drafts, notes and essays, in a new edition of Smith of Wootton Major to be published in September by Harper Collins.
Influence of Climate on Myth: Tolkiens Theory and Practice.
Delivered with verve and emphasis, Rhona argued that climate affects the feel and atmosphere of myths from different parts of Europe, in particular contrasting the Nordic myths with the Greek and Roman. The Nordic from lands of vast forests and icy winters; the Greek from a rocky landscape and strong sun. She then turned to the Celtic myths of Wales, Scotland and Ireland with their tamer landscapes and less extreme but more misty climate to find the Fairies of Celtic myth such as the Mab****** less dangerous but more nebulous.
She also drew our attention to the gender of the sun in the different language groups. In the romance languages of Southern Europe derived from Greek and Latin, the word for sun is masculine, implying strength, hardness. In the Germanic Northern European languages it is feminine, comforting, gentle and warm. A Russian member of the audience informed us that in Russian and other Slav languages sun is neuter and what did she make of that? To which there was no satisfactory reply.
Male Friendship in The Lord of the Rings: Medievalism, the First World War and Contemporary Rewritings
Looked at physical demonstrations of affection between men in medieval art and photos and writing of the First World War. Is our modern Western European culture the one out of step in regarding hand-holding, kissing and hugging as having gay connotations (unless of very short duration on a football field)? For Eastern Europeans and Asians it is perfectly acceptable for young men to go around with their arms around each other.
(Note: I might add that our LOTR actors, especially the hobbits, seem to be doing their best to remedy this.)
Alan Lee kindly returned for a second, unscheduled signing session to accommodate those who had been turned away this morning for lack of time. A gentle, unassuming man who courteously obliged those who wished to have a photograph taken with him
The Reduced Silmarillion Company Matthew Woodcraft, Matthew Reid, Matthew Vernon and Mark Waller
Very silly, very funny. Do see if you have the opportunity.
Dramatisation: Oedipus and Turin, Doom and Fate
The Greek Tolkien Society
Dramatisation of first the story of Turin, then Oedipus. Both heroes try to twist their fate and avoid the predicted path but by doing this, they actually fulfil the predictions.
(Note: Galadriel (on her mirror): Some (visions) never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path, to prevent them.
From somewhere in the Silmarillion: He who runs from his fears may find he has but taken a short cut to meet them)
Eyeing Sauron: Tolkien Translated into the Language of the Cinema
Gwydion M. Williams
Poor presentation in both content and style. Did not consider how else it might have been done apart from saying that he, personally, would not have changed/omitted certain bits. Far better analyses have been done on TORn, with more understanding and in greater depth.
Transfigured Sadness: The Sadness of Fulfilment in The Lord of the Rings
Excellent. Delivered with wit and humour, David questioned why, when LOTR has a pervading air of sadness, is it liked so much and repeatedly reread. He argued that a our view of the world will inevitably be sad as a result of continuous disappointment in ourselves and our achievments or lack of them. This can lead either to disfigurement, as in the case of Denethor, or transfigurement in which sadness leads to beauty, exemplified by Frodo. (My note: the image of film Frodo at the Grey Havens immediately springs to mind)
Quoting St Augustine and T S Eliot, he put forward the analogy of music. Sounds only become music when the notes give way to new notes and the longer the notes last, the sadder the music sounds. Gondor is a city where the old are unwilling to give way to youth, the steward is unwilling to give way to a potential king and there are too few children. (My note: The applicability to current Western popular values is there; although the pendulum may now have swung too much the other way with the cult of youth, it is recognisable in the reluctance to accept ageing and low birth rate.)
The Lord of the Rings international audience project
This was a progress report on the study of the audience for Jacksons film. It made no claim to be representative since the 25,000 responses to the questionnaire were self-selected. Preliminary results seem to show that repeat readers of the book enjoyed the film more than one-time or non-readers and (I think I am right in this) of those who enjoyed the film the majority regarded the theme of the book as myth or legend, allegory, a spiritual journey or threatened homeland. Apparently it is unusual in audience research to find that book-lovers also enjoy the film adaptation.
The results of the study are expected to be published as a book next year.
To Bear This Burden: Frodos Resistance to the Ring
Sadly, I have mislaid Judiths handout on which she had drawn up a table analysing the stages of Frodos conflict with the Ring on which I also made notes. I do however remember that it was an excellent and thoughtful presentation.
Wagner, Tolkien and the Ring
Michael Scott Rohan
Michael began with a provocative quote from A N Wilson : Tolkien copied Wagner, gutted of religious significance or sexual interest, What sexual interest? What religious significance? But the charge of plagiarism is harder to refute.
He then listed the similarities between Wagners Ring Cycle and The Lord of the Rings, of which there are many, too many for Tolkiens comment Both rings were round and there the resemblance ceases to be credible. However, there are also significant differences, most notably that Wagners subtext is anti-religious whereas most people agree that there is a religious undertone to Lord of the Rings. (Note: one also might argue that Wagners great hero, Siegfried, is physically strong and brave but morally and intellectually weak, whereas Frodo does not have the physique of a traditional hero but is morally superior.)