Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Valparaiso, Day Three

So, Sunday morning it was hard to drag myself out of bed but highly necessary that I do so, since we had to check out of the hotel, eat breakfast, and get to the campus (not that it was v. far) before nine o'clock, when it was my turn to present the third and final plenary speech of the conference: "In the Company of Dwarves: THE HOBBIT's Influence on THE SILMARILLION".*

I'd been fretting about this piece ever since I finished it more than a week before (unusually for me, who usually runs a deadline right up to the last moment, and sometimes slightly beyond). Oddly enough, it was not my conclusions that worried me but the syntax. My Marquette piece ("How THE HOBBIT Came to Milwaukee") of a few months before was deliberately casual in tone, including bits of personal reminiscence and the like. This time to make my point I had to go into detail about just when elements entered into the mythology, where specific changes were made, and their significance in light of other details in other works. In short, an extremely detail-oriented argument heavily depending on the audience's being able to keep the relative dates and relationships of all the works I was discussing clear while hearing me read it aloud. And for some reason I found it impossible to set out all the information without resorting to relatively complex syntax, with the danger that what I wanted to say might get tangled up in how I was saying it. Luckily, Janice gave it a read-through the first night of the conference and gave me some good advice on relatively minor ways I cd change the phrasing that greatly improved the piece.

And, to my relief, the presentation itself went well. I always consider it a win when the audience doesn't charge the stage with pitchforks and torches, but there's also always the fear that they'll just shrug and say 'so what?': that the mountain of argument only receives a molehill of revelation. Luckily, that seems not to have been the case; I got a lot of good questions afterwards, and heard good things about it from people whose judgment I trust.** So, a happy ending. Here's a picture of me presenting it:

(thanks to Jason Fisher for the link)

The mid-morning sessions, the last scheduled events on the conf., quickly followed: out of two interesting sessions, I chose the one dealing with Bombadil in it, this being a long-term interest of mine (having once years ago presented a piece on "The Importance of Being Bombadil"). So while I missed pieces by Tolkien linguist Eileen Moore on "The King's Letter", by Heather Patnott on "What Names Do For Narrative", and by David Weber on "The Virtue of Hope", I did get to enjoy Justin Noetzel's "Beorn and Tom Bombadil: Mythology, Narrative, and The Most (Non) Essential Characters in Middle-earth", wh. was enjoyable to listen to but difficult to sum up; the most interesting part for me was his association of Tom Bomb with the Celtic Otherworld and tales of the Tuatha de Danaan. This was followed by what was for me the last presentation of the conf., by Thom Foy, an independent scholar who I think said was making his first presentation, on "Satisfying the Skeptic: Truth, Knowledge, and Tolkien's Music of Creation", a wide-ranging piece that covered everything from crop circles ("people make them!" a no-nonsense farmer told Foy and his wife, who'd come to marvel at one for themselves) and Hurin's curse to see everything through Morgoth's eyes to string theory and quantum theory.

After the usual questions, the roomful of people dispersed. Emerging into the hall, I found the conference had more or less ended. It broke up quickly and quietly, with people just slipping away; most were already gone by the time I wandered out of the meeting room after that last session. So didn't get a chance to make my final farewells of some, but there's always next time.

In short: Brad Eden put on a great conference, and I'm glad I made it. I'm honored to have been one of the plenary speakers, and hope to soon see several of the papers I heard this weekend in print.

And then it was off to Milwaukee, and then to Harvard, and then Rockford; enjoyable visits to many a Coulter; a day (T.3/5) of being snowed in in our extended stay with nine-and-a-half inches of snow (that'll teach us to be nostalgic about Midwest winters!); a day at Marquette; getting to see my friend Jim Pietrusz, all too briefly (probably the best-read person I know; we can go on and on for hours talking about books); more visits; much talk of Lewis and Clark and Yellowstone and John Colter; finally a cat-petting session (Fr.3/8); slowly succumbing to a travel-cold; returning home; being laid low with said cold. More posts as the mental fuzziness and physical not-at-all-wellness recedes.

--John R.

*my original title having been "Anchoring the Myth: The Impact of THE HOBBIT on Tolkien's Legendarium", but I had to change that when my thesis changed in the course of researching and writing up the paper -- as is sometimes the case: you start out with an idea, do the research to see if you can prove it, and wind up with conclusions altogether different from what you started with.

**I got a particularly glowing response from David Bratman, whose own paper I think one of the best I've seen on THE HOBBIT, on his blog: 

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