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Archive for the ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’ Category

Unexpected being the key word, in this case.

If you’ve been following this blog with any regularity, you know that Wood-walkers just put on a symposium on the subject of The Hobbit.  While the presentations there did tie in with the new Peter Jackson three-part epic of the same name, quite a few of them (and in turn, quite a few of us) were more focused on the original text as a part of Tolkein’s work. Don’t get me wrong- we did talk about some of the later versions of The Hobbit, and the keynote address about different illustration styles used across the globe was absolutely fascinating – but these were usually in context of how the variations were more or less faithful to the original. There was a good bit of good-natured trash-talk about the animated version, for instance, which seemed to be widely considered… well silly. Unfaithful to the original, certainly, and at least a little nonsensical in how it had changed the story.  We weren’t all clear on how Tolkein’s slim children’s book would translate into three movies of at least two hours, not yet, but surely it couldn’t be worse than that Rankin and Bass tomfoolery.

So it was with the symposium in mind that I went to the pre-screening of The Hobbit, with a copy of the book in my bag and, if not exactly high expectations, then at least expectations of something good. What I got instead was confusing. (Here There Be Spoilers.) (more…)

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Here are the individual presentations and papers that will be delivered at the Woode-walkers Symposium commemorating the 75th anniversary of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. For more information on the event, please see the Hobbit Symposium Tab at the top of this blog.

  • 9:00 am—Roundtable: Teaching the Inklings in High School and College

Session Moderator: Matthew Miller, St. Louis University

Charles Hussung, St. Louis University High School: “Teaching Charles Williams in High School”

Paul D. Nygard, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley: “Teaching Tolkien at St. Louis Community College”

Paul L. Fortunato, University of Houston- Downtown: “The Hobbit as Religious Literature: Teaching College Students about Bilbo’s Quest”

Justin T. Noetzel, St. Louis University: “The Bird and Baby Blog: Community and Collaboration while Studying the Inklings”

Matthew R. Bardowell, St. Louis University: “Of Scribblers and Inklings: Teaching Tolkien in a Writers Community”

 

  • 10:45 am—Session I: The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Life and Scholarship

Session Moderator: Ashley Nolan, St. Louis University

Nora Alfaiz, George Washington University: “‘We Are Your Friends, Frodo’: Relationships and the Relation between Tolkien’s Life and Works”

Paul Acker, St. Louis University: “Tolkien, Old Norse and Philology: Dwarf Names in The Hobbit

Anthony Cirilla, St. Louis University: “‘Not the Hobbit you once Were’: The Prosimetric Structure of Tolkien’s Hobbit”

Priya Sirohi, St. Louis University: “Tolkien and The Hobbit as Juvenile Literature”

 

  • 1:15 pm—Session II: The Hobbit among Tolkien’s Greater Mythology

Session Moderator: Beth Kempton, St. Louis University

Chelsea A. McGuire, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley: “Standing Tall beside Giants: The Hobbit as the Essential Introduction to Middle-earth”

Brian Kenna, Marquette University: “Labours and Sorrows: The Role of Memory in The Hobbit

Amanda Cherian, St. Louis University: “The Aesthetics of Song and Map in The Hobbit

Ruthie Angeli, St. Louis Community College-South County Center: “Separating Truths from Myths of Tolkien’s Female Characters”

 

  • 3:00 pm—Session III: Myth and Mediation: Tolkien Films, Video Games, and Songs

Session Moderator: Thomas Rowland, St. Louis University

Trish Lambert, Mythgard Institute: “Snow White and Bilbo Baggins: Disney, Tolkien… and Jackson”

Paul D. Nygard, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley: “The History of Middle-earth Network Radio”

Jasmine Tillotson, St. Louis University: “An Unexpected Story: Consequences of Japanese Influence on Sierra’s The Hobbit Video Game”

Paul Hahn, St. Louis Symphony and Chorus: “Singing in Elvish: Adapting Tolkien in Music and Song”

 

  • 5:00pm—Plenary Address: “Annotating and Illustrating The Hobbit

Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar and editor of The Annotated Hobbit, Tales Before Tolkien, and other fantasy literature and Tolkien criticism.

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All of the Tolkien fans out there have a busy and exciting few weeks coming up. The Woode-walkers are of course most excited about our symposium on The Hobbit, and as always, you can read the specific details at our symposium website. There are also a lot of other events and stories, and I have collected just a few here. Please add links to anything that I have missed in the comments below!

Before you read anything else, check out The Hobbit Blog, where you can read about Gollum attacking Wellington airport, watch an unexpected airline briefing video, and hear Peter Jackson talk about the entire movie-making process. That last video is the final video in a series of eight that premiered over the summer, and I recommend all of them.

A man named Emil Johansson, a university student in Gothenburg, Sweden, and my new personal hero, spent the last few years assembling a comprehensive census and family tree for the more than 900 of Tolkien’s Middle-earth characters. You can see the project here, and prepare to be blown away! Seriously, there are enough charts and statistics and maps and information to keep you busy for a whole weekend.

The Audience Research Unit at the University of Waikato (New Zealand) with Ryerson University (Canada) is conducting research into audience perception of the upcoming films, and you can find their 30 minute survey here. For more information, please see here.

Former St. Louis U. professor Tom Shippey wrote a piece for the Telegraph in which he discusses why The Hobbit is still so popular 75 years after its release.

NPR has a short interview with Corey Olson, the author of Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, one of the books that we will be raffling off at the symposium.

Geek Dad, one of my favorite blogs, has an interview with Noble smith, who tells you how to eat like a Brandybuck, drink like a Took, and otherwise live a long and happy life in The Wisdom of the Shire. Part two of the interview is here.

Valparaiso University is hosting a Tolkien Conference in early March that will feature some great plenary speakers, a symphonic performance, a themed banquet dinner, and a ground-breaking presentation on Beorn and Tom Bombadil on Sunday morning at 10:30 by an up and coming young scholar.

Oh, and there is a movie coming out in a few weeks that you might be interested in seeing…

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Disarmingly delightful, Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien packs about as much literary punch as his more widely known Hobbit-based works. Smith is as dense with symbolism and interwoven with Tolkien’s deep seated convictions about faerie, craft, the metaphysical, as it is with his uneasiness about where one fits into a world limited by belief and, uncomfortably, luck. Perhaps fate fits better than luck though, and one wonders how much applicability can be found in such a personal (even, in some ways, exclusivistic) work.

I personally find Smith beautiful for a number of reasons, some of which we brought up in our discussion of the work this week:

1. The family dynamic resonates most powerfully with me. How is the reader to understand the relationship Smith has with his family? When Smith returns from his final wanderings in the land of Faerie, he expresses regret, explicitly and implicitly, at being absent from his wife and children for so long. It is striking to observe that his son, a young man at this point (old enough to oversee the work of his father’s smithy), holds no animosity at his father; indeed the family appears charitably to understand Smith’s long absences. What are we to make of this?

2. Tolkien’s short story, “Leaf by Niggle,” employs the figure of the artist to explore the tension between creative genius and intersocial responsibility (as I read it)–a fitting choice. Smith, on the other hand, elevates the profession of cooking to a priviledged position: It is through the cook’s baking that the gift of creativity is passed to Smith (and others). Certainly, in light of Tolkien’s devout Catholicism, there are eucharistic undertones in this, but how many facets of it does the narrative display?

3. (And I wasn’t aware of this until we compared editions of Smith with each other during the discussion) There may some interpretive difficulties which invite codicological (?) scrutiny: Does Smith encounter “eleven” (Del Rey edition) or “elven” (from Tales from Perilous Realms) mariners, before whom he collapses and who pass over his fallen body?

In the Fall of 2010 I taught Smith in my Introduction to Short Fiction course, and my students had very strong reactions (positively and negatively) to the story; so I include here the discussion points I used for the three days we spent studying and discussing it (page numbers are from the Del Rey edition, which includes Farmer Giles of Ham).

  • How do you think we’re to relate to the town of Wootton Major (cf. 9)?
  • Why kitchen?
  • What about mention of invitation mistakes (10)?
  • What of the change of the Master Cook after his holiday, or his up and leaving in general (11-12)?
  • What about Nokes’ lack of knowledge concerning children’s tastes (14)?
  • What is the significance of memory (15, 26)?
  • How should we understand Nokes’ interactions with Alf Prentice?
  • How do you read the star coming to the boy, Smithson, and its ultimate unveiling and coming to rest on his forehead (21-22)?
  • What about the extra quality of beauty added to the usefulness of Smith’s creations, or hi desire to create simply for delight (23)?
  • Why is Faery called a “perilous country” (24)?
  • How does the tone change, and what of the different episodes in Faery (26-33)?
  • Does the narrative seem deeply personal?
  • What of the proper names in the story?
  • Why a queen without throne or crown (36)?
  • Why is Smith ashamed at the memory of Nokes’ fairy figure on the cake (37-8)?
  • What of the emphasis on sorrow (cf. 38)?
  • Why do you think there is only one star (cf. 41)?
  • What of the idea that Rider had arranged for Alf to give Smith the star, but that Nokes thwarted their carrying it out (44)?
  • What do you think of the theme of not-knowing (44-45)?
  • Edith Tolkien is the dancing woman!
  • What about the oldness of the “new” or the newness of old tradition (45)?
  • What do you make of Smith’s inability to see and Alf’s willingness to help (46)?
  • How are family ties viewed (46)?
  • How about Alf’s willingness to relent (47)?
  • Interesting at how freely precious things are held (cf. 49).
  • Why is the shadow the truth (50)?
  • How should one understand Nokes’ memory (50-53)?
  • With respect to Nokes, Tolkien doesn’t seem to be saying people like that are obstinate, but that those who are obstinate become as Nokes was.
  • What about the disposition of Alf to Nokes and Nokes to Alf (54-57)?
  • Why do you think Tolkien gives Nokes the last word (58-59)?
  • Concerning the matter of “determinism” it is interesting that Tolkien doesn’t present it in a deterministic way; in fact he shows how free will acts of its own accord, and that what is determined isn’t affected by it (cf. Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’ [5]).
  • What about the similarity between the endings of this and LotR? Tolkien doesn’t think that the most wonderful things happen in this world, but he thinks that comfort and consolation are very important.

Please feel at liberty to offer possible answers to these points, or to pose points of your own.

ME

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After thoroughly enjoying Colin Havard’s delightful stories about his memories of and knowledge about the Inklings, I began to think about what other kinds of events the Woode-walkers should organize i nthe future. A large turnout, skillful moderation (with two moderators no less), and inquisitive audience moved my imagination, and in my mind I thought thoughts and dreamed dreams that might have been put this way: “Today SLU; tomorrow the world!” After a second or two, reality returned to my thinking, along with the original question: What can the Woode-walkers do next to sustain its initial success with its Pub Talks?

For me, the question raises an interesting dilemma. How far should this reading group of medievalists go to reach a broad audience? Certainly Tolkien and Lewis were scholars of medieval language and literature, but I suspect much of the audience in our Pub Talk with Colin Havard were interested more in the connection to Tolkien and Lewis as literary producers, if not more, than in their still-important scholarship. This is not a bad thing at all. Indeed, many of us came to be medievalists because of our initial enjoyment of Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. So, is it important to reach wider audiences when planning events as medievalists? I do not have an answer, but I wonder if others ponder this as well.

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