Monday, May 26, 2008

Kalamazoo & Lilly Too (part one)

So, two weeks ago I got to go to the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo -- not an archaic parliament but an annual meeting of medieval scholars from across the country and beyond. This is a gathering I've wanted to attend for several years -- I even had a paper accepted for the 2004 conference called "To Recall Forgotten Gods From Their Twilight", on Tolkien's, Machen's and Lovecraft's use of Nodens, but had to cancel when I was unable to attend. Not only are there Tolk Folk I enjoy seeing among the regular attendees, but I knew it'd also be a good chance to meet Tolkien scholars I don't know and spend more time with others I don't know well. This year things finally came together, thanks largely to the generosity of my friend Doug in letting me stay at his place, and I was able to attend -- just as a member of the crowd, since I found out I could go far too late to put in a paper proposal, but still able to attend all the sessions, visit the book room(s), &c.

On the day before the conference, though, we had an added treat: Doug and I headed down to Bloomington to spend the day at the Special Collections at the university there. The Lilly Library owns a collection of Denham tracts that is by all accounts the most complete in the world, and the only one known to contain the specific tract that marks the first known appearance in print of the word 'hobbit'. Not only have I now held that page in my hands, but I strongly suspect it was this exact same collection (bound in a handsome volume back in 1860, and more recently belonging to nursery rhyme experts Peter & Iona Opie) that formed the basis for the Folk Lore Society's two-volume edition in 1892 & 1895. Having also recently discovered yet another version of Denham's list, this one published in 1846, two years earlier than the oldest version known to me when I finished up RETURN TO BAG-END, this helps flesh out the history of the Denham-hobbit connection. Also, leafing through this collection I was able to get a better sense of what the individual tracts (merged together by the Folk Lore Society editor) were like, and also to confirm that several favorite bits were original to Denham himself, not interpolations by the latter-day editor.

As for the conference itself, it was huge. At any given time there were perhaps some fifty panels going on, each with three or so participants, each giving a paper or presentation. The "book room" was actually a series of rooms filling most of one building's ground floor, and not only included a lot of university presses with choice releases for sale (or at least pre-order) but also a booth with amber jewelry, one with beautiful reproductions of medieval seals, and (best of all) one with a wonderful selection of medieval coins.

Of the panel sessions, one of the very best papers I've heard in a long time came in the very first session I attended ("Medieval Otherworlds: Faerie and the Ambiguous Supernatural in Romance and Beyond"), a piece by one Richard Firth Green of Ohio State University titled "Did People in the Middle Ages Believe in Fairies? The Case of Broceliande". It was so good that if it were available in a book I'd buy it, and I hope that at some point in the future it will be. The same session also included pieces on Walter Map and on Chaucer's use of Fairye (Faerie).

Midday that Thursday was devoted to many meetings: I got to meet the publisher of TOLKIEN STUDIES, had a chance to visit briefly with Shaun Hughes, whom I'd not seen in years, and had time to catch up with Phil (Kaveny) and Jan (Bogstad), friends from the days when I used to live in Milwaukee and they in Madison. I also got to meet Deidre Dawson, Merlin DeTardo, whom I knew through his postings on the MythSoc list, as well as Anna (Smol?). All this was interspersed with a first prowl through the book room, followed by dinner at a Tolkien themed restaurant. That evening came the first item on the Tolkien Track: the "Teaching Tolkien" panel, with no less than six presenters:

Judy Ann Ford's "Teaching Tolkien in a Team-Taught History and English Class"
Yvette Kisor's "Using THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH in Group Projects"
Jennifer Lynn Culver's "Exploring Syntax and Diction through the Races of Middle-earth"
Eileen Marie Moore's "Teaching Tolkien's Languages"
Kristine Larsen's "Teaching Tolkien in Science Classes"
Stella Wang's "Teaching Tolkien to Chinese-Speaking Students in Taiwan",
--the whole thing moderated by Robin Reid, the administrator of the "Tolkien at Kalamazoo" track.

After the presentations, some of which were v. thought-provoking, I had the chance to meet up with Richard West and also Debby Rogers, the latter of whom I'd not seen in far too long.

(to be continued)

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