Saturday, September 2, 2023

Tolkien's yahrzeit

Saturday is, as one of the Oxonmoot speakers pointed out, the 50th anniversary of Tolkien's death. To think I first read his work when he was still living ...

I heard several papers online today. I haven't got everything, though, as the program they're running the schedule on causes most past events to disappear from the list even after you press the "show earlier events" button. But all of these were very fine.

1. The noble Jeremy Edmonds traces the history of the assumption that "the Authorities" who mysteriously rule on the legitimacy of Bilbo's "What have I got in my pocket?" riddle (in the Prologue to LR) are the Valar, and concludes that yes, that was Tolkien's intent, regardless of scholars who can't believe the Valar would spend their time on something so trivial. Regarding the One Ring? Maybe not so trivial after all. Remember also that the riddle game is a mighty matter of lore in Norse mythology ... and often includes, as a legitimate riddle, a question to which only the questioner knows the answer.

2. Christian Trenk on Galadriel and Celeborn as a power couple. He's not a cipher as sometimes thought: he's the home affairs guy, welcoming the visitors and seeing to their comfort. Galadriel is the Foreign Secretary. Of course, when Celeborn says that if he'd known about the Balrog he wouldn't have let them in, that doesn't speak well of his immigration and refugee policy.
This paper was apparently inspired by the "They're taking the hobbits to Isengard" video (the only form of the Jackson movies I actually enjoyed), which contains Celeborn saying, "Tell me where is Gandalf, for I much desire to speak with him." In the book it's Galadriel who says that, and she says "tell us." Christian thought there was a paper in that, especially when he brought Tolkien's drafts in.

3. The redoubtable John Rateliff on writing to Inklings (Owen Barfield, Robert Havard, David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, some others). He undertook this in the late 1970s and early 1980s, figuring they'd not be around forever and the worst they could do was brush him off. Actually they were very friendly and he met some on trips to England. He showed some letters on screen and read from them and others. The main thing he learned is something I've been trying to put across for some time: that the Inklings were an amorphous, loosely-knit group, not a tight club. Many didn't know each other or their work very well; some didn't consider themselves Inklings at all. (They weren't the only ones.) I took notes.

4. Cameron Bourquein, very illuminating on a character history of Sauron across the history of the legendarium. Most people there knew he started out as an evil monster cat in The Book of Lost Tales, but there were also a wizard and a demon in that book that went into the oft-mutating and many-named character. (Wizards and demons and cats? Oh my!)

5. Hannah Emilius on anthropocene environmental issues in Middle-earth. Yeah, I should say so. Sorry I missed most of this paper as my internet connection kept fritzing out.

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