Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Valparaiso, Day Two

So, Saturday dawned all too early; second day of the conference and I'm already fighting the drag of not-enough-sleep.

Still, the first event of the day (at nine o'clock, a.m.) was worth getting up early for: Verlyn Fliger's plenary talk on BILBO'S FRENCH CONNECTION. This was in part pushback against Carpenter's claim that Tolkien suffered from a kind of Gallophobia and dislike of all things French; in part, a look at Tolkien's use of the words "adventure" and "aventure" in OFS and THE HOBBIT, tying this back to that word's usage in Arthurian romances like Chretien and the Lancelot story (and, she might have added, particularly in Marie de France).  And in part an argument that stories of knights errant (Eric, Yvain, Lancelot) had much in common with our Mr. Baggins. I thought the middle part (about aventure) outstanding and the first part (arguing Tolkien owed more to France and things French than generally acknowledged) interesting. The final part I'm not yet convinced on, partly I think because I need to go back and read Chretien's ERIC AND ENIDE and think of it in relation to THE HOBBIT.

Next came the morning sessions: of the two tracks, I went to the HOBBIT over the 'Bromancing Tolkien' one. Presided over by Doug Anderson, it had two presentations: Judy Ann Ford's piece on Peter Jackson's depiction of The White Council and David Bratman's "Bilbo in the Land of Fable". The former was the main piece dealing with the new HOBBIT movie at the conf.; thought it did a good job sorting out Jackson's changes to the story. It did not address something about the scene that intrigued me: has Saruman gone bad yet at this point, or is that still to come? I thought Jackson threaded the needle with great care here; J.A.F. took the position that he was already evil and deliberately working to forestall the Council's taking any effective action.

I'd heard an earlier version of the latter paper at a gathering a few years ago and been much impressed then; now I found the more fully written up version brilliant: a major contribution to Tolkien scholarship. David's approach here is the exact opposite of mine in MR. BAGGINS and "A Fragment, Detached" (or my own presentation here at Valparaiso the next day, for that matter) that I thought produced some interesting insights into the work: that Bilbo is like a fairy-tale hero who goes off into the wild (i.e., into fairy-land/Faerie), where he has a series of strange adventures and encounters with familiar fairy-tale monsters and beings: elves, goblins, trolls, evil wolves, dragon, et al. The strange contradictory indicators of time (did Gondolin fall ages before, or within living memory of the average goblin?) make sense if we'e in Faerie, which as he pointed out is notorious for strange variations in chronology and geography. If I had to make an analogy of the way his paper and mine relate to each other, it'd be that if you look to the right, you see some things you can't while looking straight ahead, and if you then look to the left, you'll see other things you can't see while looking to the right. But all of them were there all the time, wh. is why approaching works from different points of view can be so interesting.

Then after a snackish lunch in the college cafeteria, during which time I got to visit some w. various co-attendees I hadn't met before, it was time for the afternoon sessions. In my pursuit of attending as many HOBBIT-themed presentations as possible, I mixed and matched the next set of sessions. That is, I attended the first paper in one set (Sharin Schroeder's piece on JRRT and Andrew Lang), then shifted over to the session running opposite it in time for the second (Kris Swank's piece on THE HOBBIT's links to THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS) and third (Michael Fox's "The Narrative Structure of THE HOBBIT") papers in that session. That's the thing about dual-tracking papers: it means you have good things no matter which session you chose, which is good, but it also means you're missing out on A as you take in B. Alas.

Of these, Sharin's paper convinced me I need to learn a lot more about Andrew Lang, whom I've known mainly as an editor (and as writer of PRINCE PRIGIO, a minor but amusing work, and its still more minor sequel); what little I know of his feud with Muller* I know second-hand thr Verlyn's (excellent) book INTERRUPTED MUSIC. Kris Swank's piece did a good job going back and forth between H and FCL, showing ways each influenced the other (and also taking into account other works like ROVERANDOM and the early Man-in-the-Moon poetry). It also cited my book a lot, which was gratifying but also for some reason highly embarrassing. Why is it that I'm delighted to read someone citing my book or saying something nice about it, yet the same comments in person make me bashful and want to hide behind the person sitting in front of me? Michael Fox's piece looked at THE HOBBIT's links to various Old English and Old Norse stories, chief among them BEOWULF but also GRETTIR'S SAGA, ARROW-ODD's SAGA,** HROLF KRAKI's Bothvar Biarki, et al. I was particularly struck by his argument that Grettir starts out as a slayer of monsters but ends up being a monster himself. I've still not read Grettir's Saga (though I picked up a good translation a year or two back), but I see I'll have to remedy that soon.

The second afternoon sessions (2.30 to 4) began right away. Here there was no doubt where I would be, since I was moderating the session in Room A (more on THE HOBBIT), opposite those in Room B (more Bromance). Here I didn't take many notes, since I was busy moderating. The first speaker of three was Laura Lee Smith, whose "This Is of Course the Way to Talk to Dragons: Ettiquette-based Humor in THE HOBBIT" compared THE HOBBIT's concern with politeness and mock-politeness with Carroll's ALICE books, MacDonald's CURDIE books, Milne's POOH, and Wyke-Smith's SNERGS. One thing she highlighted was how politeness ebbs and flows depending on power: characters at a disadvantage are distinctly more polite than those who feel in a stronger position.

Next came Paul Catalanotto's "Down, Down, and Into the Dark: Evil in THE HOBBIT", which among other things looked at manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Virtues in HOBBIT characters, particularly looking at the ancient concern for philoxenia (hospitality). I was particularly struck by his description of Smaug as "luciferian". His conclusion was that the lesson of THE HOBBIT for young readers is simply this: Evil is real. By contrast, Trish Lambert's "From Ear to Eye to Film: The Evolution of THE HOBBIT" argued that the oral origins of THE HOBBIT left their mark on the story; indeed, that some of the early chapters read like transcriptions of the latest storytelling sessions. I've come to be skeptical about those oral Hobbit tales myself, but she's certainly right that he was originally writing for "an appreciative audience" (his own children, particularly the three sons) and did a good job extrapolating from  the theory into how we might see it in practice. In the latter half of her essay she sequed into discussion of the various film adaptations or attempts at adaptations: Zimmerman, Carpenter's stage play, the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT, and the current ongoing Peter Jackson. All in all, quite a good session, with an array of questions afterwards.

From hence, we walked over to the university Chapel (a huge college church that looked like a great ship sailing across the campus) to hear an informal talk already in progress by Jonan de Meij, composer of SYMPHONY No. 1: THE LORD OF THE RINGS (which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary). De Meij talked about how he came to write the piece, which parts he's written in which order (he wrote part four, Moria, first), why specific keys were used at specific points (the ending in peaceful C-major), changes he'd made to the orchestration over the years (extra cellos to join the rather unusual soprano sax of the original), et al., following this with a question-and-answer session. I actually enjoyed the talk even more than the performance that followed: it was interesting to learn that he'd started with the idea of wanting to do a large-scale work, and looked about for a suitable text, only then come across Tolkien and decided that would make a good basis.

The Concert itself followed, conducted by de Meig himself. I have two recordings of the symphony, one a cassette by a military band, of all things, the other by the Amsterdam wind ensemble.*** This live performance was far and away superior to either -- so much so that it made me wish there'd been a way for them to have recorded it and made this performance available.

Afterwards, a group of us got together, it being too early to go over to the banquet, and set forth seeking hot tea and coffee and a place to sit and talk for a while. The little campus cafeteria had closed by now. We knew there were Starbucks nearby but not exactly where, and didn't feel like casting about trying to find it when we were travelling in multiple cars. So we decided we'd just settle on the Dairy Queen that was within sight of the campus. A good discussion over acceptable tea and bad coffee followed: getting together with friends and fellow Tolkienists is one of the best things about these occasional gatherings,**** and this was no exception.

Have to say the Dairy Queen were as nice as cd be at a largish group that came in, bought v. little, and stayed talking for a good long while (it probably helped that the college was on spring break and there were few students about, so we weren't taking up a table others might need).

Finally, there was the banquet. Some of us stood around outside talking until almost all the table had filled up, so we picked the one that was still mostly empty, which turned out to be the one de Meij and Brad Eden, the conference organizer, were at. So we not only had more enjoyable conversation among outselves but also got to talk more with the composer, who again showed himself to be full of interesting things to say. I had no idea that there are thirty-two recordings of his Symphony available (soon to be thirty-three in a few more weeks). Of these, he recommend the Wind Orchestra recording I have as the best recording available of that version of the symphony, while he said the London Symphony one was the recording he'd recommend of the full orchestral version.

And then, after a feast and dragon-cake and many cups of tea, it was back to the room to get some sleep and be ready (a) to check out in the morning before the first session and (b) to have everything ready for that session, which was to be my own plenary presentation. And, despite shorting ourselves on sleep again some, that's just what we managed to do.

More to come re. the third and final day of the conference.


current reading: the same.

*my general impression (from OFS) having always been that both men were obviously wrong, I'd previously lacked the impetus to delve into their works first-hand or at any length.

**this being the Arrow-Odd who went to Permia, as all readers of WHOSE AFRAID OF BEOWULF will no doubt recall.

***Here's a link to the cassette; apparently the same recording is now also available on cd:


I cdn't find a link to a cd of the Wind Orchestra version, but it is available for download:

And finally here's the full symphonic version, which I've not heard (but which I'll have to pick up, now that I know it exists and that de Meij recommends it):


****another, of course, is meeting new people who are going good work that I wdn't know about otherwise

UPDATE (3/5-13)
I've corrected de Meij's name: it's JOHAN de Meij, not 'Jean". I've also fixed a typo ("lucierian"). Thanks to sharp-eyed Merlin for catching these.

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