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).

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