Sunday, May 9, 2021

beheld, a Tolkien conference

So, the Tolkien fringe event to the Kalamazoo medieval studies congress yesterday. Nine papers, not organized into sessions but with half-hour slots each, and I managed to hear at least part of all of them. I didn't take any notes and this is from memory. Among them:

The prospectus of a plan to take Tolkien's working map of Middle-earth that he used during the writing of most of The Lord of the Rings and deconstruct it into all the various revisions and overlays, some of them literal as Tolkien made some of his revisions by sticking new pieces of paper on top. (Not, I hasten to add, taking apart the original map: this project is based on Christopher Tolkien's published descriptions of the map, including uncovering lower layers by peering through it with a strong light.)

A discussion of "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son" in its capacity as a work of drama and of alliterative verse. This is rare, since most considerations of "Homecoming" are of the scholarly essay it's embedded in. The alliterative verse part is especially interesting, as Tolkien was almost solely responsible for reviving into modern English this poetic form that had been obsolete for about 500 years. Tolkien wrote lots of alliterative poems, but this is one of the longest and most elaborate.

Twins in Tolkien, and their common characteristics. What struck me as more interesting than the main thrust of the paper is that one of these common features - echoing names - appears even in sets of siblings who aren't twins, like Boromir and Faramir. Plenty of others among the hobbits too: Belladonna/Donnamira/Mirabella.

Shared themes and poetic phraseology between Tolkien and G.B. Smith, one of his close friends who died in WW1. Could be mutual influence, could be shared inspiration from common sources. Smith's middle name was "Bache" and it turns out nobody knows how to pronounce this.

Results of survey asking young readers to name the most and least favorite, and most and least relatable, characters among the nine members of the Fellowship. Boromir was among the least favorite but the most relatable; I don't quite follow that line of reasoning. Apparently no attempt was made to zero out the influence of the movies on these ratings.

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