Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Rest of Kalamazoo XII

Then came the conference itself.

I attended all the Tolkien sessions on Thursday and Saturday (that being the grouping this year),
including the business meeting to plan out proposals for next year's sessions. We came up with some good topics  though I'm not sure how the paper I hope to do wd fit in under the umbrella.

I also went to the two CSL sessions (back-to-back on Friday)* and the two for Tales After Tolkien (ibid Sunday), though I missed the latter group's business meeting, not having noticed that when they changed the time they changed the location too. I thought both seem to have expanded their target audience with good effect.

I'm happy to say the overall level of the Tolkien papers was high. There were one or two that I thought cd have done with a tighter focus, but I thought the average was as good as I've seen at Kalamazoo.

Rather than try to review each paper, I'd like to mention two that stick in my mind a week and more later: the papers by Andrew Higgins and Kristin Larsen, respectively. AH has the knack of writing about Tolkien's invented languages in a way accessible to non-linguists like myself. In this case, he looked at four character's names from THE FALL OF GONDOLIN to see what use Tolkien made of them in the later mythology: Egalmoth, Ecthelion, Glorfindel, and Legolas. Of these, Egalmoth vanished altogether. Ecthelion survived only as the name of a Steward of Gondor (in fact, Denethor's father). Glorfindel resurfaced in LotR, with the original character who had borne that name being brought back to life (literally) to reappear in the later legends (cf. the last chapter of LotR Bk I and the first of LotR Bk II). And Legolas was taken over and applied to a wholly new character, as if the original elf of Gondolin had  never existed. AH concludes that Tolkien valued 'a well-crafted name' and sought to reuse them, using different strategies, when occasion offered.**

KL's piece, by contrast, was astronomical in focus, looking at Tolkien's fascination with an astronomical event that can't actually take place: the evening star appearing within the dark part of a crescent moon. She found two visual depictions of this in his early watercolors  (see MacIlwaine #65 p.203) and more in descriptions such as the original 1914 Earendel poem. For someone like me who was a serious astronomy hobbyist back in my Scouting days*** this was great stuff, especially since she tied it in with the Ptolemaic system. It's been known since ancient times that the moon is nearer us than any other astronomical body, but apparently a point of contention arose between those who thought Venus and Mercury were within the orbit of the sun, like the Earth and moon, and those who thought they lay outside the sun's circle, like the outer planets Mars and Jupiter and Saturn. After several years of close scrutiny of Tolkien's astronomical bits, she's coming to the conclusion that JRRT wasn't so much concerned to get his astronomy right as to capture his inner vision, possible or not, and that some of the stars and constellations he names may be fantasy invention and not correspond to any real-world equivalents.

My own paper was the last one in the last session Saturday. I'd finished the draft just before heading out to Kalamazoo but not had a chance to give it a trial read-aloud until Friday night. To my dismay I discovered that it took me twenty-two minutes to read, whereas we only get about fifteen minutes each on a panel. So I went in and did some fairly drastic cuts, shortening it by more than a third. When I mentioned this to the session moderator at mid-day Saturday, she said that actually we had time and it'd be fine if I did the whole piece. Which I did, grateful to not have a choppy delivery the way it wd have been in the abridged version.

As for the conference as a whole, there was actually a boycott going on in which Medievalists Of Color were staying away in protest over a recent dust-up between those sympathetic to the alt-right and social justice warriors. It was hard to tell if this was having much of an effect or not. On the one hand, the Tolkien sessions were really well attended and pretty much filled the room most of the time. On the other, the dealer's room was really quiet: there didn't seem to be many people book-buying until lateish on Saturday afternoon, when things really picked up.

Courtesy of Nodens Books (thanks Doug), I was able to have two recent things I worked on available in the book room: the little chapbook CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH, and the Flieger festschrift A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS in both hardcover and trade paperback. Hope the people who picked up one or the other enjoy them.

Myself I was extremely moderate in my book-buying this year, coming home with only four books I hadn't had when I arrived.First was a hardcover of THAT HIDEOUS NOVEL,**** and second a collection of East Anglia folktales and folklore edited by M. H. James, a cousin of the great M. R. James. Third I picked up a book on the Master himself: MEDIEVAL STUDIES AND THE GHOST STORIES OF M. R. JAMES (by Patrick J. Murphy, 2017). Finally, we made an after conf. visit to the great used bookstore in Three Rivers, a bit south of Kalamazoo itself, where I picked up the fourth, a picturebook I hope to pass along to one of my great-nieces.*****

For all the papers and panels and interesting new (and old) books, like Kalamazoos before the best of all was lots and lots of Tolkien-talk with my fellow Tolkienists.

And now to revise my Kalamazoo paper and start making notes for the follow-up piece. And turn back to CLASSICS OF FANTASY, which I had to put aside in mid-revision in order to work on my Kalamazoo paper.

--John R.
--still slogging through a dreary Seattle-based urban fantasy but looking ahead to better things, like the (MR) James and (non-MR) James books.

*organized by Joe Ricke and sponsored by the Lewis Center at Taylor College.

**this probably accounts for the slightly disconcerting presence in Gondor of some characters with Silmarillion names, like Hurin of the Keys; the name was probably no more unusual in late-Third-Age Minas Tirith than Alexander or Arthur are today.

***when I cd still see a lot more stars than is  now the case, though part of that is due to light pollution in these parts.

****not a book I'm fond of, but one I occasionally need to reference and the only one of the space trilogy I hadn't had in hardback, the paperback of which is starting to wear out.

*****yes, I'm getting to that stage where my nieces have nieces.

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