Sunday, August 1, 2021

Halfling Mythcon, day 2

I got to the computer in time for my 9 AM Zoom panel (11 or 12 for the other panelists) on Tolkien's poems "Errantry" and Bilbo's song of Eärendil and their startling similarity. My job was to describe the writing process by which one poem turned into the other, a description aided by the existence of 22 varying drafts, quoted in full or part in the posthumous books. Janet Croft in her contribution to the panel suggested that not only are they the same poem, they're the same character, and "Errantry" is some sort of hallucination that Eärendil suffers during his first, frustrated attempt to pass the shadows that protect Valinor. I'm not sure I believe it, but it's an interesting theory.

Someone in the chat function chided my pronunciation of chalcedony, a key word in the poem, but they didn't attempt to correct most of the speakers' persistent mispronunciation of Eärendil. Those two dots over the a: that's a diaresis, indicating that the two vowels are separate sounds. It's something like AY-ah-REN-dil, not AIR-an-dil.

Such post-panel discussion as there was time for went well, and I hoped more of the audience would follow over to the chat function on Discord, but in the end there were just three of us posting, though we got a lot said.

An interview on MythSoc history was another program I hoped would spill over onto Discord. This time I went to the AV channel and found just one other person there. Fortunately it was an old friend and we chatted affably; gradually a few other people, both known and unknown to me, showed up and we passed some time agreeably.

The other full presentation I got to today was a panel on Tolkien and racism. This was highlighted by discussions of Tolkien's co-opting by the alt-right, from a scholar studying that, and a first-hand account by the administrator of the recent Tolkien Society seminar on Tolkien and diversity of all the ignorant abuse he had to go through over that. What do you do about such people? Well, don't let them in to your society, that was one definitive suggestion. I don't think we need worry about that much here. The MythSoc is too small and obscure. We have a few paleoconservatives, but no alt-right types that I know of.

Some useful comments about Tolkien's own racial views were made: I was particularly struck by the observation that, though the good guys in LR are diverse, that's only within the context of their all being white. (Or we presume they are. Another presenter showed fan art depicting Silmarillion elves as brown or black. Apparently fan artists are willing to do that there, but not for characters in stories of which movies have been made.) Although there is a notable passage where Tolkien humanizes a dead brown-skinned enemy soldier, he clearly had a long way to go. That was a fair criticism. But I was astounded to be told that this passage from Tolkien's letters - "I have in this War a burning private grudge against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler, [for] ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light" - showed that Tolkien was just like Hitler, only not as bad. What? Is there really no such thing as innocuous pride in one's own ethnicity's distinctive character? I thought what made the Nazis' ethnic policy evil was that they sought to elevate themselves, to lord it over other ethnicities and persecute them. Tolkien did nothing of the sort. You can praise your own without putting down others. Well, if charges like this are to be made, Tolkien is right about one thing: Hitler has made Germanic ethnic pride for ever accursed.

Summary of the online Mythcon as a technical achievement: The program items were superb. They allowed people who'd never manage to get together in person to converse, the post-talk discussions for the rest of the time slots were lively and invigorating, and the tech support was utterly vigilant and always helpful. The rest of what makes Mythcon, not so much. It's not the fault of the tech people who set them up that not much seemed to come out of the Discord sessions, at least the ones I attended (I didn't get to the Bardic Circles), but it wasn't too successful. Perhaps if we'd been pushed more directly at the Discord AV channels ...

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