If you can't get along all that easily to Tolkien Society events, what a treat to have the TS come to you!
The Southern Hemisphere Tolkien Seminar was held in Melbourne, Australia, on Saturday 28 August, and I thought Párendili members might enjoy a little taste of the occasion.
Our theme, 'Tolkien's Odyssey - Middle-earth and Beyond', was an apt one, as nearly all participants had embarked on a considerable journey to be present. This included guests from UK and USA, as well as many parts of Terra Australis. In specifying Melbourne, Australia, I draw a distinction with Melbourne, Florida, one I trust was brought to the attention of our presenter from Miami. There is quite a difference between a journey of 30 minutes and 30 hours, and we might have had an unexpected contribution to the seminar theme of journeying if matters had not been clarified (and it has happened...)
All the papers drew spirited and vigorous discussion. The first, from our eminent Miami friend, took a fascinating look at the 'Mystical Journey of Threes', focussing on tales from The Silmarillion: Thingol and Melian, Beren and Lúthien, and Túrin Turambar, noting the propensity for "myriad sets of threes involving fate, self-sacrifice, and love, as well as treachery, deceit, and doom".
There was a lovely description of the Maiar as 'helper spirits', setting them in proper relation to the Valar, the angelic powers. In the background we were treated to visual images of the First Age from some of the best Tolkien artists, including a magnificent Cuiviénen and a poignant image of Túrin and Nienor/Níniel at Haudh-en-Elleth. Happily the technology worked well all day, always a fine achievement and an immense relief to organisers. An extremely lively presentation came to the sombre conclusion that fulfillment of a quest doesn't necessarily bring happiness or ultimate success. Túrin's doom, on top of Thingol's fate and the passing of Beren and Lúthien, made sure of that. The mood was lightened immediately by the ensuing discussion, which ranged far and wide, somehow taking us to the works of Wagner and possibly the quote of the day: "Wagner's music is better than it sounds". Only the arrival of morning tea interrupted general hilarity over that.
In more demure spirit we heard a marvellous paper from a contributor in Italy examining Frodo's spiritual journey, including elements deriving possibly from Tolkien's devout Catholic faith. The paper was superbly read by a presenter who first dutifully confessed his own lapsed Catholicism but handled all the religious terminology faultlessly. Parallels were drawn between the Secret Fire and Holy Spirit, and the beneficent spiritual qualities of lembas and the communion host. At the conclusion the reader was asked if he wished to consider unlapsing, and perhaps he was not the only one to ponder that question in his heart.
Our third paper was another treat. Thoroughly well researched and presented by a member from the Australian capital, Canberra, it focussed on journeys with or encountering the Elves. Backdropped once again by lovely images from the Tolkien canon, we pondered what travellers learnt from the Elves they encountered, and what, if any, effect the Fellowship had on the Elves. Plus a marvellous new word was coined: Treebeard's tendency to interpolate large slabs of compounded Eldarin words in his speech led to the term "entropomorphism". That deserves to catch on.
After lunch came another treat: 'A Kingdom for a Stage". That little quote from Henry V launched us into a brilliant revisiting of the Fellowship's great journey, comparing some of its features to those of a game of chess. After all, in The Hobbit Tolkien presents a theory for the origin of golf, so why not hint at the origins of chess too? Along the way we were posed with some interesting thoughts on Tom Bombadil, including a well-argued proposition that Goldberry may have been his daughter rather than partner. And some Fourth Age mirth was injected with the observation that Gandalf was fortunate the West-gate of Moria wasn't protected with a three-strike lockout spell when he forgot the password.
Our final paper was an excellent dual presentation from two New South Wales members: 'Frodo and the Fellowship - The Hero's Journey'. This focussed on heroic journey as defined by scholar Joseph Campbell, and Hollywood's mode of retelling myth narrative. Campbell's theory - borne out in many film formulas, including Peter Jackson's trilogy - essentially involves a sequence of developments from a comfortable protaganist "not made for perilous quests", to the offer or promise of supernatural aid on an unexpected quest, a journey of many twists, turns and reversals (cleverly summarised as 'Into the Belly of the Whale'), and a return or homecoming, often to an uncertain, ungrateful or even hostile reception.
Convenor Michael Kennedy and Tol Harndor smial members did an excellent job with the facilities and amenities. There were regular and plentiful supplies of food and drink, with a well-stocked bar near at hand to satisfy cravings for ale, though in our case the priority was its very fine cappuccino.
Dinner afterwards was well worthy of hobbit-folk - surely praise enough - ensuring any remaining cracks were pleasantly filled. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Tolkien Society event, and look forward to many more like it. To all participants and contributors, fare ye well!