Thursday, May 17, 2018

Back from Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo Day One)

Well, that was a busy week. In fact, I was so busy going to papers, prowling the book room, and having Tolkien discussions with Tolk folk that I didn't have time to blog about it as it was happening. To make up for that, here is the first of several posts covering highlights of the extended weekend.


The official Medieval Congress started on Thursday, but I flew in Tuesday in order to be on hand for the Tolkien Seminar, an independent event held just before the conference but not part of it. This was held off-campus in the basement of a local church and, I thought, went really well. There were ten presentations in all  scheduled for that first day:

I.  EOMER GETS POETIC: TOLKIEN'S ALLITERATIVE VERSECRAFT by Luke Baugher-Sheldon took a look at Tolkien's alliterative verse and suggested that he may have been the twentieth century's leading practitioner thereof (I think Auden might be most folk's first choice).

II.  THE CLOUD OF UNSEEING: MYTHS TRANSFORMED AND PSEUDO-SCIENTIFIC INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS by Kristine Larsen looks at nineteenth-century attempts to explain difficulties in the first chapter of GENESIS arising out of its description of Light (Day and Night: First Day) preceding the creation of the Sun and Moon (Fourth Day), comparing this with Tolkien's Myths Transformed in MORGOTH'S RING (HME.X). I found this particularly interesting because just a few days before I'd seen a documentary on Bill Nye (the Science Guy) in which a modern-day Creationist made much the same arguments she'd described from the better part of two centuries ago.

III.  LIKE YET UNLIKE: THE UNCANNY AND THE SODOMITIC IN TOLKIEN'S SARUMAN by Chris Vaccarro looked at Saruman's various sins (pride, anger, impatience), laying stress on various passages and phrases in the draft LotR that presented Saruman in a slightly better light and suggests he is capable of repentance, particularly one scene in which Merry's kind gesture sparks a genuine response. My favorite line was "the wish that the Wicked can be saved". I did find it slightly disconcerting that he pronounced 'Saruman' as if it were spelled 'Sodoman'.

IV. WHO IS MR. BLISS, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY WHAT KIND OF CONCERTINA IS HE PLAYING?: FILLING A MINOR LACUNA IN TOLKIEN STUDIES by Michael Wodzak was an informal but informative piece about two traditions regarding two different versions of this instrument, analogous to the fiddle and the violin: one a folk-instrument for home and local entertainment, the other part of the classical music tradition.

V.  Session V. was unfortunately cancelled; it wd have been about "the ring motif in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages".

after a quick break for lunch, the sessions resumed with my own presentation:

VI. TOLKIEN'S METEORITE: A PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION by John D. Rateliff marked my own contribution to the gathering; more on this one in its own separate post. Thanks to Kristin Larsen I even had show and tell; she brought two small meteorites (one metallic, the other stoney) to pass around. And I brought a flake from a meteor from Mars.

VII. TOLKIEN ON 'HOLIDAY' by Andrew Higgins drew attention to the curious theme of how badly things tend to go in Middle-earth on special occasions (most notably the Fall of Gondolin and the earlier attack on the Two Trees). More generally, he looked at holidays, feast days, and celebrations. It made me wonder: isn't Fr. Christmas's point of view in an exactly inverse position to our own, since his day of work is our day of celebration?

VIII. THE GLISTENING OF DEW DROPS: TOLKIEN, HOPKINS, AND INSCAPE by Vickie Holtz-Wodzak suggested affinities between Hopkin's verse and JRRT's works. While I only know of one direct reference to Hopkins by Tolkien I think it quite likely T. knew at least some of H's work. And certainly there were Inklings connections: Ch Wms edited two major books by Hopkins and I'm pretty sure Ch Wms. brought his friend and co-worker Gerry Hopkins, the poet's nephew, as his guest to at least one Inklings meeting (though I haven't yet had time to hunt down the reference for that).

IX. THE TOLKIEN ART INDEX by Erik Mueller-Harder revealed a project of breaktaking scope I hadn't even known was in the works. It's basically a database with a little thumbnail of each known and published piece of art by JRRT, carefully indexed and cross-referenced so you can quickly search for a specific image, or grouping of images (for example, by typing in a search term such as 'trees'). It reminded me of Dr. Blackwelder's TOLKIEN PORTRAITURE  project years ago. Kudos to Mueller-Harder for having put in so much work to create and fine-tune such an amazingly useful resource.

X. MAIDENS OF MIDDLE-EARTH VIII: WOMEN OF THE EDAIN, performed by Eileen Moore, was this year's representative of 'TOLKIEN UNBOUND (which is sometimes dramatic readings, sometime musical performances)', but I missed it this year because I needed to be in the book room at that time, helping to set up the Nodens Books table.

--John R.

--current reading: a (disappointing) collection of essays by Martin Amis.

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