Monday 24 September 2018

Oxonmoot, Day 2

Oxonmoot 2018 – Friday, 21 September

The 81st anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit!

Being at a moot or convention of any kind is at least as much about the social parts as about the special contents (such as lectures, shows, workshops etc.), so the day really does start over breakfast, which can inevitably be enjoyed in good company – often with new-found friends.

The day-time programme at this year's Oxonmoot offered two separate tracks of lectures and papers, an art-room, a dealers' room and various workshops ... of course on top of just good company in the hospitality room or elsewhere around college (if you do not take a quick trip into town).

I started out in the Investcorp Auditorium, hearing Fiona Tomkinson speaking on “Total War and the Eschatology of Peace: Tolkien between Hegel and Levinas”. Unfortunately I was a couple of minutes late, and in the business of finding a chair and getting settled I missed a couple of key definitions that were invoked several times throughout. Overall, however, the talk did seem promising, and I would like to get a copy of the paper in order to understand and assess it better.

The next session was run by the Maggie and Mike Percival (who also organised the pub quiz on Thursday evening). The session was a preparation for a quiz they plan to run at Tolkien 2019 in Birmingham. Once more, I move that all questions about adaptations be precluded from Tolkien Society quizzes for not being about “the life and works of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien CBE” as per our objectives according to our Constitution (obviously this has nothing to do with my utter inability to answer such questions ... 😉). More seriously, I look forward to seeing the results come August next.

After the break (and the much-craved cup of coffee), I enjoyed Colin Duriez talk in the Nissan Lecture Theatre on “Affinities between Dorothy L. Sayers and the Inklings circle of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Charles Williams”. Duriez was careful to speak of “ affinities/“ such as may arise from moving in the same circles and admiring each others' work rather than making any claims to direct literary sources. Duriez focused on Sayers' relationship with C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, both of whom she is known to have been a personal friend with, though of course he also brought up Tolkien's personal distaste for the the later Peter Wimsey books featuring Harriet Vane, though Tolkien had liked the early stories quite well. I was a bit surprised to hear that Miss Sayers only visited Lewis and Williams by invitation, having heard an anecdote from Mr and Mrs Reynolds, stalwarts of the Tolkien Society, who had met Anne Spalding, who was Williams' landlady during the war, and whom he asked to tell her he wasn't at home, when a rather fan-girlish Miss Sayers turned up unannounced at Mr Williams' lodgings.

Taking a bit of time off Oxonmoot matters to sort out a couple of private e-mails brought me to lunch, after which I settled down in the Intercorp auditorium for a set of afternoon sessions starting with Murray Smith on “Farmer Giles and George – Two monarchs and their royal houses compared and contrasted”. For me, this was more an excellent introduction to the House of Hannover than anything else, but the references to the unwritten sequel to Farmer Giles of Ham were both excellent and a welcome reminder to check up on more things.

Then Ian Spittlehouse spoke on “The Wright Stuff, Part Two. ‘The E.D.D. and E, M, and W’”, which continued on from a talk Spittlehouse had given at Oxonmoot two years ago (featuring, among other things, a Minecraft reconstruction of the house of the Wright family). In this part, Spittlehouse focused on the English Dialect Dictionary (EDD) (link to search at, of which Tolkien's later tutor, adviser, and friend, Joseph Wright, was the editor. Spittlehouse mentioned a number of dialect words from the dictionary that also appear in Tolkien's writings, starting at the letter A with “Attercop” and moving on from there through a number of interesting words, hinting at a possible source without explicitly claiming it (given Wright's influence on Tolkien, it seems highly likely – almost inevitable – to me that Tolkien would have known the EDD, though that alone does, of course, not make the EDD the source (or even a source) for every dialectal word that Tolkien used which also appear in the EDD.

Last Seamus Harnill-Keays from the local historical society in made the claim that the Buckland we know on the east marches of The Shire was inspired, not by Buckland in Oxfordshire, but by Buckland estate in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. The evidence was, in my mind, very flimsy, and relied too much on “might-of-been” and “could-of-been” suppositions and a willingness to embrace random similarities as evidence (just how many do you think have drowned in England when going boating after a very wet party ...?).  While the evidence is, admittedly, also too insufficient to reject the hypothesis, it is also much too insufficient yet for me to do other than ask for (far) more evidence.

The last period of sessions, I spent going to the Art Room and the Dealers' Room (conveniently placed in the same building). The Tolkien-inspired artists in the Art Room comprised (going round counter-clockwise from the entrance), Ruth Lacon, Ted Nasmith, Tsvetelina "Elmenel" Krumova, Jay Johnstone, Pauline Baynes, Stephen Walsh, Anke Eissman, and Soni Alcorn-hender.  Most of these are of course well-known and admired and need no further introduction, so I will simply let you take a look at my snaps (quite deliberately not showing the individual works in a good quality – click through to the artists' own web-sites). See my photos at the end of this post.

Towards the end of the afternoon, college was flooded with the participants of the now regular Dwarven Beard Workshop – Dwarves (of all genders) sporting fine beards, both long, short and ... well ... special ...  It really is such a joy to see the creativity that Oxonmooters can exhibit in constructing their Dwarven beards.

At dinner on Friday we did the toasts as per the ancient Rules (well, perhaps more like guidelines ...), to the Queen, to absent friends (yes, I was thinking of you!) and to “The Professor!” – toasting the Professor with three hundred other people at an Oxonmoot is ... well, special.

After dinner, we all waited round for the Masquerade and the “ents” –the little performances, or entertainments, of varying kinds that are put on by members of the Oxonmoot. None of this is, of course, professional, but all are enjoyed in the good spirit of the moot, though of course one may at times find one's attention wandering when it proves difficult to keep up with a long reading of own poetry (I find it increasingly difficult to sort out background noise and focus on just one source of sound, which makes it near impossible for me to follow a reading once the level of the ‘buzz’ in the room begins to rise).

We had some both hilarious and wonderful performances from both Masquerades and Ents, ending with A Elbereth Gilthoniel in polyphonic song so beautiful I still get goosebumps when writing this up three days after ...

Pictures by Ruth Lacon (left) and Ted Nasmith (right)

Art by Tsvetelina Krumova, “Elmenel”
See See note 1

Art by Jay Johnstone

Art by Pauline Baynes (left) and Jay Johnstone (right)

Art by Stephen Walsh

Art by Anke Eißmann

Art by Soni Alcorn-Hender, “Bohemian Weasel”

Note 1:  Despite what I said above, I'm going to add a couple of words about the art of Tsvetelina Krumova because most of it is of a different kind from most of the other Tolkien-inspired artists we know and love. Tsvetelina Krumova mainly works with calligraphic art, where the text itself is the artwork, and for a word-lover such as me, there is a particular pleasure in seeing the words made into art at more than one level. Also, her maps are stunning examples of what might have been hanging on the walls in e.g. Bag End (in the spirit of Tolkien's Book of Mazarbûl facsimile pages, where the text transcribes into English. Back

Saturday 22 September 2018

Oxonmoot, Day 1

Oxonmoot 2018 – Thursday, 20 September

I had arrived at St. Anthony's on Wednesday evening, and so had the whole day on Thursday – of course in order to be able to spend some more time in the Tolkien – Maker of Middle-earth exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries. On Wednesday evening, I had also found out that Harm Schelhaas (from the Netherlands) was in town and had a ticket for the exhibition at the same time slot as I had, so we set out together from St. Anthony's to have a bit of breakfast on the way to the Weston Library where the exhibition is.

Coming in with Harm proved a real boon (thank you very much, Harm!) as he had already visited the exhibition and could point out many of the highlights (including two or three errors – one being two swapped translations in the interactive Elvish stands, and others related to the 3-D map thing (I later also found the erroneous claim that all the Dwarf-names in The Hobbit were taken from the Elder Edda [the list of Dwarves in Völvuspá]).

Having thus been introduced to some of the highlights (and some of the “notice this” features and exhibits), I set out to go through the exhibition.

Starting with the parts showcasing Tolkien's life from childhood to world-famous author, which were very nice, but ultimately didn't add much new to neither knowledge or understanding of Tolkien's life.

Seeing the original fan-letters from young Terence Pratchett, from Iris Murdoch and not least from (as she was then) Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Margrethe was quite an experience, though of course their existence and (at least most of) their contents were known, there is something a bit more magical about being in presence of the original (that same feeling of enchantment and awe filled me, both as a physicist and a Scout, when standing in front of that original World Scout Badge that Neil Armstrong brought to the moon).

And that particular magic was my main take-away from the exhibition, even despite the many, many wonderful small details that could be gleaned from the exhibits.

The artwork that is on display is well preserved: the colours are still full and vibrant, and the details are sharp. I was in many cases struck by the size of them – the originals are generally smaller than I had thought, making the detail even more impressive (and yes, I probably ought to have known based on the various books that often state the size of the original, but the actual meaning of those measures often doesn't really register until I stand before the actual original).

Much of the artwork is of course well-known, so – besides the enchantment mentioned above – the particular experience of seeing them in the exhibition mainly contributed two things for me:
  • An overview coming from being able to see the entire piece with related pieces next to them. This is especially true of the many maps that have been reproduced in black and white with varying success in the History of Middle-earth series. 
  • The ability to correlate between different pieces. I particularly wanted to take a look at all the images that Tolkien had done of Elvish architecture (not that there are very many of them) and correlate them.
This brings me to some of the main points, I came away with (yes, I did manage to get some things out of it, despite being in that enchanted state nearly throughout).

The maps – particularly those for The Lord of the Rings really ought to be more broadly available in better reproduction than what is given in the History of Middle-earth series (unfortunately it is not possible in the shop to purchase a reproduction of Tolkien's own map, but you can buy a copy of Christopher Tolkien's map with his father's and Pauline Baynes' annotations, and you can buy a copy of Pauline Baynes' map).

Rivendell. Tolkien never did much in the way of illustrating Elvish architecture and other results of Elvish craft, but he did do illustrations of Rivendell, which are fundamentally different from the way it is usually portrayed. Though I am not aware of any Tolkien drawings of e.g. Elvish furniture, interior decorations etc. I am convinced that Tolkien would not recognise the usual illustration (which I suppose is mostly Art Noveau in style) as depicting his Elvish cultures in Middle-earth. Tolkien did portray the city of Kôr (later renamed Tirion on the hill of Túna) on the shores of Aman (or, as one of these pictures is named, The Shores of Faery).
Looking at the symmetrical designs Tolkien did for his Elvish heraldic devices, at the images of Rivendell, and more broadly at what we know about Tolkien, I think that the Arts & Crafts movement would be a more likely source of inspiration for artists wishing to portray Tolkien's Elvish crafts and arts (though possibly the overloaded style of e.g. Arts & Crafts wallpapers would not be appropriate for larger surfaces – there would need to be some more free space, but without the Art Noveau curls etc.).

Oh, and I really like Tolkien's work in the Book of Ishness – marvellous! I shan't try to analyse or rationalise it, I just know that I like that work very, very much.

Having spent some 3 to 3½ hours at the exhibition (far too short, but one does need to move on), I visited the shop to buy a few souvenirs, and then moved on for some errands in town including ordering a wreath for the Enyalië to be laid down on behalf of the Copenhagen Tolkien Society, Bri (Bree).

Back at St. Anthony's it was time for registering, unloading, and a bit of dinner, and above all, for greeting friends both old and new.

The only Oxonmoot-related event on Thursday was the pub-quiz in the evening. Now, that was a diabolical quiz! The maximum number of points was 90, and the winning teams (we had a tie!) scored 64. Fortunately I had some very clever team mates, so we managed to score 58½ points, which I think was quite fine. Many thanks to the Percivals for organising this (though I would, of course, prefer that anything related to adaptations was banned entirely ... I have no chance of contributing to answering that kind of questions).