Saturday, April 13, 2024

Tolkien in Vermont

I attended online part of the annual one-day Tolkien at the University of Vermont conference today. This year the online vendor was something called Microsoft Teams. Please may they not use it again. It was no trouble getting on it with my Windows machine, but I had the damndest trouble staying on. Throughout the conference, on an average of twice a minute, literally, the thing would momentarily lose its signal and display an error message for a couple of seconds before reconnecting to the audio and then, more slowly, the video. Twice a minute. All day.

Fortunately for this, most of the speakers were just reading their PowerPoint slides aloud, so I had already figured out what they were going to say during their missing two seconds, but the ones that weren't ... I missed a few good jokes. Coming back from an outage to hear the in-person audience laughing at something you missed is annoying even the first time.

Also, the presenters forgot to watch where the camera was pointed. Several in-person speakers were only visible to the extent of one arm as they stood just out of camera range. A couple other times the camera suddenly switched angles so that we had a facial close-up, looking up the nostrils, of someone in the audience.

However, the presentations were good. Lots of Jungian and/or Freudian interpretations. The keynote speaker, the invisible Sara Brown (invisible because her PowerPoint started before she came up to the podium, and afterwards was standing in the wrong place for the camera), compared the burden of the Ring to Simone de Beauvoir's polemics against the burden of pregnancy, which was quite a comparison. I think it was she who also pointed out that the other Rings are also burdensome, noting Galadriel and the Dwarves, though it took another speaker to suggest that perhaps bearing the Ring of Fire explains why Gandalf is so cross and irritable all the time.

Yet another speaker pointed out that Sam is also cross and irritable. I've always found him an unpleasant character, but I've never found agreement on that point. Maybe this will explain it.

Then there was a paper pointing out that Tolkien's intent for some of his fictional languages to sound 'harsh' comes out a lot different if you speak a human language that he'd classify that way, like German or Turkish; one describing "The New Shadow" as a story about the failure of pedagogy (don't scoff: Borlas actually admits as much); and a couple good reinterpretations of The Hobbit: one arguing that Bolg the goblin has good reason to resent the Dwarves' treatment of his people, and one analyzing why the ponies in The Hobbit get killed while those in The Lord of the Rings survive: the earlier book's lighter tone make it possible to kill off minor characters without injecting unwanted notes of tragedy.

A good conference; I'm just sorry I kept missing bits of it.

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