Saturday, September 19, 2020

Oxonmoot, day 2

The fullest day of Oxonmoot began with papers at 9 am, which is early by sf-con standards but is usually when we begin them at Mythcon too. However, that's 9 am British time. Over here it was 1 am. However, since as usual I was up for a good part of the middle of the night, I got to attend some of those papers, and finished up at the late night time of 1 am British, which was only 5 pm here. I think all the post-11 pm presenters were Americans, which made it a little easier.

One paper I heard consisted of its presenter rambling learnedly but incomprehensibly for half an hour on the deep structure of Tolkien's sub-creation, but most of the items were impressively lucid. I particularly liked one on Tolkien's role in the hippie/counter-culture of the 1960s (some very thoughtful considerations on the significance of this), a light but interwoven comparison of Tolkien to A.A. Milne, and the personal account by the woman who, out of a sheer sense of charity, undertook to equip many of the cash-poor small-town school libraries in Montana with copies of The Lord of the Rings to supply their clamoring students who'd seen the then-new movies. Her most ingenious move was to recruit customers by attending a Montana state library association conference as a vendor.

Unsurprisingly, the most entertaining paper of all was another scientific study by the learned and vivid Kris Larsen, this one exploring how Tolkien messed up the phases and visibility of the Moon. Don't worry, she said; everybody makes these errors. At least the phases were right in The Lord of the Rings, because Tolkien was working from a desk calendar (but that still doesn't mean he knew what times the Moon would be visible or from what angle). But in The Hobbit, the lunar cycle is 28 days. It's amazing how often this wrong figure is put down as correct.

There were a few other good papers which I only caught part of, either because I only then got up or because I had to get back to sleep, but one thing I was up for all of was a panel on "New Voices in Tolkien Scholarship," featuring four PhD students (one already with the degree) from various countries working mostly on reader-reception issues. (One of them would like you to fill out her survey.) They were posed questions on how they've found their research careers going, their own relationship to Tolkien fandom, etc. Unfortunately I was distracted through much of this by the chat function where someone wanted to berate me for a complete misunderstanding of what I was saying.

An hour's interview with the most definitive Tolkien scholars Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull consisted mostly of recollections of how they got into this. That, still as yet somewhat inexperienced in the work, they got commissioned in 1992 to write a book on Tolkien's artwork is not so surprising as the stunningly thorough and authoritative tome they published only three years later. That's where they proved their genius. And of course much more has followed. This time the distraction in the chat function came from the audience's attempts to identify the books shelved behind them as they spoke, which were not part of their Tolkien collection.

Also during the day were items that I might have sat through contentedly were this in person, but which just didn't appeal so much from an office chair on a small screen and headphones: a set of entertainments (including a reading from Beowulf, by Danes, in Modern English) and costume presentations (which at least included closeups), a slide show of bad Tolkien-based artwork (including identifications of which David Day book the piece was usually from), and an attempt at a conference-wide group meal (which I didn't even attempt to participate in: who would want to watch me eat lunch?).

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