Monday, June 16, 2008

Kalamazoo, Part Two

So, belatedly, here's the rest of my Medieval Congress report -- drafted before I left for the Midwest (again) at the end of May, but not posted due to spotty internet access while away and then back-burnered since we got back.

The next day, Friday the 9th, we got off to a late start (which helped offset my lingering jet-laggedness and general lack of sleep from staying up late each night talking). In early afternoon, we went to the Children of Hurin panel, a roundtable featuring Richard West, Faye Ringel, Romauld Lakowski, Elizabeth Crowll, and Vickie Wodzak.

Unfortunately, attending this meant I missed two other Tolkien papers which were part of other sessions scheduled at the same time: Hae Yeon Kim's "The Language of Evil: Visible Signifiers in LotR", which sounded quite interesting [part of the "Medieval Lit. & Film" session], and also Stephen Meyer's "Soundscapes of Middle-earth: The Question of Medievalist Music in Peter Jackson's LotR Films" [part of the "Late Medieval to Modern Medievalism" session].

These were followed in the next session (3.30 Friday afternoon) by the
Style & Re/Vision in Tolkien: panel, made up of Vickie Wodzak's "Widdershins Revising: Tolkien's Revision Strategies in Narrative", Romuald Lakowski's "Smaug & Glaurung: The Difference of Dragons", and Steve Sams' "Understanding Exile as an Element of Tolkien's Anglo-Saxonism"; there was to have been a fourth paper, Alexander Bruce's "A Consideration of Tolkien's Spelling Beorhtnoth", but this was cancelled. Of these, I naturally found the one on Tolkien's dragons right up my alley, and started what I expect to be an ongoing discussion with Lakowski after the session.

Opposite all this was another promising session that I had to miss, called "Anglo-Saxon Studies in Memory of Stephen O. Glosecki II", consisting of Jn Edward Damon's "Grendel's Kin: Myths of Man-Eating Giants", Jn D. Niles' "Beowulf & the 'Grendel' Charters: A Nativist View", and Yvette Kisor's "Totemic Reflexes in Tolkien's Middle-earth". I heard afterwards from a friend who attended it that the whole session was good, and given my interests I particularly regret missing the piece on Grendel and the Giants.

That evening (starting at 7pm) came a full-cast performance of The Battle of Maldon by Edward L. Risden -- not a translation of the Old English poem but a modernist re-interpretation; the person who played the smart Viking ("you go first") was particularly good, as was the English warrior who kept insisting that he was not THAT Godric. This was followed immediately by a two-person reading of Tolkien's "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth", accompanied by a small choir of four or five people to do the monks' chanting and voice of Cnut at the end. Just before the play was the only time I saw Shippey at the conf., but unfortunately did not get to do more than say hello; I would have liked to congratulate him on his retirement.

The next day, Sat. May 10th, was the last full day of the conference.
The Tolkien events started off with Religions & Philosophies in Tolkien as the morning session, but unfortunately I wound up going to the wrong building and so had to cross a fair amount of the campus (down a hill, through a pleasant bit of woods, and across a lake which had the only swans I've ever seen; all in all a wonderful if mistimed walk). Thus I arrived too late for Scott Vander Ploeg's "Tolkien's Consideration of Heresy in LotR", though I did get to hear Bradford Lee Eden's "Worthy of Reincarnation? Worthy of Death? Tolkien's Changing Viewpoints".

This was followed by a walk to yet another building, where some fruitless attempts on my part to access e-mail was followed by the Tolkien Lunch. This is the annual business meeting of the Tolkien at Kalamazoo folks, where they propose session topics to submit to the Congress organizers for the next year. All in all, think the meeting came up with some pretty good topics; I'm particularly pleased at the proposed Saturday evening entertainment, since I suggested it.

After the business meeting, it was time for more papers, starting with the (Sat. 1.30pm) Tolkien's Monsters session, made up of Amy Amendt-Raduege's "The Wight Stuff, or, the Long Dark History of the Barrow-Wight", Samuel Unger's "The Redemption of Wraiths: On the Nature of the Nazgul", Deborah Sabo's "Orc Bodies, Orc Selves: Medieval and Modern Monstrosity in Middle-earth", and Kristine Larsen's "Shadow & Flame: Myth, Monsters, & Mother Nature in Middle-earth". A good session, with some thought-provoking observations.

This in turn was followed (3.30pm) by Tolkien & New Media, the last of this year's scheduled Tolkien events: Robin Reid's "The Crown of Durin & the Shield of Orome the Great: Spirituality & History in Jackson's LotR", Larry Caldwell's "Stern Vision, Earnest Evasion: Neomedieval Catholicism, Peter Jackson, & the Limitations of Popular Cinema", Anna Smol's "Oral Tradition & Performance in Transmedia Storytelling", and James Vitullo's "Cross Currents in Tolkien: Role-Playing and Board Game Influences on the Larger Tolkien Discourse Community". It was an odd feeling seeing the final presenter showing various roleplaying game releases I'd worked on to demonstrate various points.

And that brought an end to the formal events. There were more meals and good discussions with friends, on both Saturday and Sunday, and some serious pokes through the Book Room(s) that ran right up until they closed down. In short, an enjoyable weekend, well worth the trip for anyone seriously interested in Tolkien (and of course anyone interested in medieval literature of every possible description). I was glad to get to see and spend time with old friends (Doug, Richard, Deborah, Phil, Jan), to meet new folks (Merlin, Anna, Deidre, Romauld, Chris V., Robin Reid, and the gentleman who published TOLKIEN STUDIES, whose name I've unfortunately forgotten). I'm sorry not to have had time to visit with Shippey, or with Drout (whom I saw, but only for a minute or so as he was rushing from one place to another) -- perhaps another time -- but it was nice to see Shaun Hughes again after so many years.

In short: Highly Recommended.

--John R.

current reading: THE DETECTIVE FICTION REVIEWS OF CHARLES WILLIAMS, 1930-1935, ed. Jared Lobdell [2003]

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