Saturday, May 8, 2021

behold, a Tolkien conference

Thanks to the magic of Zoom, I got to attend a conference today that I'd never been to before.

The Tolkien scholars invaded the International Congress on Medieval Studies about 20 years ago, initially under the leadership of Prof. Jane Chance. This event is held annually in May by Western Michigan University, which is in the town of Kalamazoo. As a result, the congress is never called by its name. It is called "Kalamazoo." As I found as soon as I heard of it, you just have to know what the metonym means.

Kalamazoo is an appropriate place for Tolkien scholars to be: Tolkien was himself a medievalist scholar, and medieval influences and styles are all over his fiction. There'd been occasional papers on Tolkien in earlier years, but now there were several full sessions - a paper session at an academic conference is 3-4 papers by different people on putatively related topics, stuffed into a 90-minute time slot. And for several years, there were more sessions every year, not all of which were all that medievalist; there were panel discussion sessions; and also there were play readings, there was music, some serious and some satiric. Tolkien began to take over Kalamazoo.

But all did not remain well. A few years ago the conference organizers blew the whistle and limited the formal Tolkien group to a few, like 3, sessions per year, although they also began accepting Tolkien sessions proposed by others. So the Tolkien group started up its own annual fringe conference. That's what was today. The main show starts on Monday.

I've never been to Kalamazoo. Two main reasons: one is that, unlike many Tolkienists, I'm not much of a medievalist. Most of the rest of what goes on is outside of my expertise. The other is that Kalamazoo is cleverly located far from major airports. It's difficult and time-consuming to get to if you're from far away. My priority is Mythcon. It's tricky to add a hard-to-reach congress of huge scope (it lasts a week, longer if you add the fringe) and limited personal interest to that if your budget or time is restricted, and mine has been.

But this year, after being wholly cancelled last year, Kalamazoo moved online. I don't have to leave home to attend, and I'm not stuck at the conference when there's nothing on that I want to hear. So I signed up. I also signed up for the Tolkien fringe, likewise online.

And I've said enough that I think I'd best leave the actual fringe conference for a later post.

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