Thursday, January 30, 2020

Tolkien lecturer

It's been a busy couple of days, and I'll save another monumental event (all right, spoiler: I have a new car) for later.

In the meantime, my talk Tuesday evening on "The Forgotten Women of Middle-earth." About 30 or 40 people showed up, and despite the organizers' efforts to reach out to high schools, the audience was exactly what you'd expect at an event sponsored by a group with a name like the American Association of University Women: almost all women, almost all of some degree of middle-age, very intelligent and responsive to what I had to say, interested in Tolkien but not familiar with the esoteric details.

That's the level of audience knowledge I was aiming for, but to confirm it I took shows of hands at the beginning. Most had read The Lord of the Rings. A few had read at least one of the posthumous books, more than those who had seen the Peter Jackson movies of LotR but not read the book. To those I looked directly at the person in the front row who'd raised her hand on that one and said, "Remember that one of the wisest of all proverbs is, 'Never judge a book by its movie.'"

I told them about Éowyn and why it was so audacious at the time for her to respond to the Ringwraith's "No living man may hinder me" with "But no living man am I." I told them about Lúthien Tinúviel, the princess who up and rescued the hapless suitor who was out on an insane quest for the right to win her hand. And I told them about Andreth and Erendis, Tolkien's best-drawn and most audacious female characters, yet virtually unknown.

They asked good questions afterwards. They asked about Tolkien's view of war, a very subtle and complex matter. They asked who or what was Bombadil, a question demanding at least two separate answers, one external to the writing (he was a doll the children owned, whom Tolkien had already written about, and which he imported into Middle-earth because he could) and one internal (he's an intentional enigma: any created world which answers all your questions is a deficient one). (The third answer is to: what was he intended to mean and signify in the story.) They asked about Tolkien's wife and her education; they asked, didn't he have a daughter (yes) and what about her?

We all had a good time and they may invite me back next year.


  1. I wish I'd been in attendance, it sounds fantastic!

  2. Well done! It always pleased me to see Andreth and Erendis get their due.