Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kalamazoo Day Two

So, to continue:

THURSDAY MAY 11th (Morning Session):

XI. QUEER BORDERS, HIDDEN KINGDOMS: PERCEPTIONS OF WALES IN JRRT'S WORK by Dimitra Fimi looked at Tolkien's elusive contact with various things Welsh -- things which seem suggestive (e.g. place names) but can't quite be pinned down -- such as a trip he took to Wales as a child to which he referred in old age but about which we know almost nothing. She praised Jim Allan's AN INTRODUCTION TO ELVISH (1978) for how well it holds up, forty years later. I think it was as part of this presentation that she pointed out that the memorable phrase the walls of Wales, which I'd assumed was a well-known usage, is in fact Tolkien's own coinage, which he uses twice (once in FALL OF ARTHUR and once I think in ENGLISH AND WELSH).

XII. BRAN AND BRENDAN AND ERIOL AND AELFWINE by Kris Swank was another piece (the third?) in what has become an excellent series by K.S. looking at Tolkien's Irish antecedents. The focus this time was on THE COLLOQUY OF THE ANCIENTS, a key text in the Ossian story and probably the biggest gap in my own reading of Irish myth. I was pleased to see her call out Wm Morris's THE EARTHLY PARADISE (wh. I'd argue was the key inspirational text that launched Tolkien on THE BOOK OF LOST TALES PROJECT) and Lady Gregory's GODS AND FIGHTING MEN (an old favorite of mine, sadly neglected; where I first learned about the Tuatha de from).

by Yvette Kisor argued that the Korrigan of A&I contributed to the later description of Galadriel. I thought she made her case but unfortunately took few notes and so can't reconstruct her presentation, other than she pointed out the parallels: beautiful fay by her fountain (called by some a witch) granting a  favored visitor magical phial or philtre.

THURSDAY MAY 11th (Afternoon Session):

XIV. THE CLASSICAL ORIGINS OF TOLKIEN'S ELVISH LANGUAGE INVENION by Andrew Higgins looked at Quenya as Elf-Latin, suggesting that Tolkien deliberately made Quenya more like Latin is some ways. It's Andrew's gift that he can talk about Tolkien's invented languages in a way that the nonphilological can follow and appreciate. The big carry-away from his talk for me was a side point, a passing reference to young Tolkien passing his (?Oxford entrance) exams in Greek and in Scriptural Knowledge. I've sometimes seen that argument made that as a Catholic Tolkien wd not have been that familiar with the Bible, which I've always thought an odd claim. But hearing this reference from Andrew, I realized that by finding out what sort of things wd have been on that 'Scriptural Knowledge' test we cd show at least a baseline.

XV. SING, MUSE, THE WRATH OF BOROMIR, DENETHOR's SON: THE WORKINGS OF THUMOS AND LOFGEORNOST IN JRRT by Dennis Wilson Wise makes the case for Boromir as a hero by presenting his words and deeds and beliefs in the best possible light. Feeling that the author has rather stacked the deck against Boromir,  D.W.W. uses the key terms thymos, lofgeornost, and ofermod to provide contexts for his behavior and parallels from classical and medieval (Old English) perspectives.

XVI. TOLKIEN'S CLASSICAL BEOWULF by Jane Chance, the founder of 'Tolkien at Kalamazoo', gave an intriguing piece on Tolkien's famous BEOWULF essay, focusing on his actual presentation of the lecture, in which a relatively young man attacked the conventional wisdom of his elder, distinguished colleagues. She also focuses in on Tolkien's election to the professorship at Oxford to provide context, and details specific scholars, some of them legends within the field (Ker, Craige, Chambers), whose considered opinions he was attacking -- some perhaps even to their faces (I strongly suspect Chambers was there that day in 1936). It wd be interesting to be able to get a sense of the room, of how they responded to his iconoclastic speech.

--more to come.

--John R.
--current reading: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DINOSAURS -- an enjoyable and informative read so far (I started with the next-to-last  chapter).

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