Many LOTRO players have shown a great interest in the large and growing body of serious scholarship on J.R.R. Tolkien. The Mythopoeic Society is one of the oldest organizations dedicated to the study of the writings of Tolkien and the other members of the Inklings, such as C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. Since its founding in the early 1970s, it has hosted an annual academic conference (nicknamed “Mythcon”) to present new research on the Inklings and to make awards for the best new scholarship on the Inklings and the best new books published in the fantasy genre. Much of the research first presented at Mythcon is later published in Mythlore, a scholarly journal published by the society.
I recently was privileged to attend the 42nd Mythcon, which took place in Albuquerque July 14-18. I joined the Tolkien Professor (Corey Olsen) and five other members of his weekly seminar on the Silmarillion, which airs live 0n the Middle Earth Network each Wednesday evening at 9:30 ET and is later published on his podcast feed. We had organized a panel for the conference to present some of the ideas that had first come up during the seminar and were further developed into academic papers. Dr. Olsen moderated the panel, and three of us presented papers on various topics from the Silmarillion: the importance of Nienna (Gandalf’s mentor), the role of pride in the downfall of major characters in the story, and parallels between the character Aule and the Biblical figure Abraham.
Our panel went very well. Not only did all our papers go off without a hitch, but the panel was also well attended and provoked a great deal of enthusiastic discussion afterwards. We ran out of time for the scheduled session well before exhausting the audience’s questions and comments. A highlight for us was when Prof. Verlyn Flieger of the University of Maryland, one of the world’s foremost Tolkien scholars, came up to us afterwards and commended us all on the papers we had given.
Our “Silmarillionaires” panel was only one of several great experiences I had at Mythcon. Prof. Michael Drout of Wheaton College, another Tolkien expert, gave a fantastic keynote lecture on the importance of Tolkien’s famous 1936 essay “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” usually cited as the most important work of Beowulf scholarship ever. We heard some other great papers on Tolkien as well, particularly Prof. Flieger’s “The Jewels, The Stone, The Ring and the Making of Meaning,” which compared the functions of the Silmarils, the Arkenstone, and the One Ring in Tolkien’s various works.
The fun wasn’t all academic, either. The conference took place on the opening weekend of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, so a big group of conference attendees braved the crowds to see a late showing of the film on Friday night. The Silmarillionaires also did a special live Tolkien Professor podcast from the hotel bar Saturday evening not long after CSTM went off the air! (For future reference, hotel bars aren’t usually the best podcasting venues, particularly when a DJ is playing loud dance music 25-30 feet away from you in the next room.) Verlyn Flieger sat with our group during the final banquet of the conference and told us several great stories about her own background as a Tolkien scholar.
The 43rd Mythcon will be held August 3-6, 2012, in Berkeley, CA, so if you’re on the West coast you may want to look into the possibility of attending. We were also told that Mythcon 44 will take place at Michigan State University in 2013. That’s not far from Merric and Goldenstar’s stomping grounds, so maybe we can get a live CSTM podcast from that conference! How about it, guys?