Did you know that the Garden of Eden is in Alexandria, Virginia? Actually, no, it isn’t: Eden is a Moveable Feast. My Garden of Earthly Delights is wherever an eclectic and eccentric group of people gather to share their love of literature, learning, art, music, or God. You may have read my piece about the second Hobbit film, in which I wrote about how the company in which we view a movie colors our interpretation of the work.
This past weekend was another of those mini-Edens, in the company of many of the same Mythgardians with whom I saw the Hobbit at MythMoot II. Indeed, this event was a regional meeting so that we wouldn’t have to go a whole year without the wise company of Corey Olsen, The Tolkien Professor. So this past Sunday’s event consisted of Flash Sessions: mini-papers and prompts designed to get Corey and the company talking on some of our favorite Tolkien-related concepts.
I led off the event with C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams ‘Solve’ the Problem of Evil. Then Corey responded by talking about Tolkien’s Augustinian response and his embrace of Mystery.
Thomas Johnson talked about Disney and revisionist fairy tales, such as Maleficent, in The Fairy Tale Craze in TV and Film Today. He talked about how these films try to upend traditional morality, but how Disney has continued to replace the grittier fairy tales with their cutesy, sanitized versions.
Then Neil Ottenstein asked a good question: “Should the producers of the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game have revealed the nature of the games to the viewers or kept it as a surprise to them? How important are surprises in adaptations?” This led to an excellent discussion of other movies and books with surprise endings that re-interpret the whole story (Life of Pi, Blade Runner, Inception) and how we read/watch and re-read/re-watch these.
After lunch, Mike Therway presented a word-search study called “In the Mood for Doom.” He did a word count of occurrences of “doom” in LOTR and talked about how these reveal thematic and narrative elements.
Next, Dom Nardi used his political science expertise to analyze exit vales and tyrannical policies in Middle-earth in his talk “Politics in Middle Earth.”
Shellie Kennedy shared some thoughts about male relatives — the families of Rohan, Gondor, and Durin — in “Blood is Thicker: Tolkien’s Perspective on Family.” Of course, in the discussion that followed, questions of “Where are the women? Where are the mothers?” came up. Obviously, some one talked about JRRT’s loss of his own mother at a young age. Corey pointed out that really Tolkien is doing something with Medieval culture in LOTR: most women died young in the Middle Ages! 1 out of 3 women died in childbirth, so motherless children were very common, as were stepmothers.
The last two scheduled presentations were very much discussions, without a mini-paper to start us off. Trevor Brierly opened up “Chaucer Time — An Opportunity for Chaucerian Discussion,” and John Costello led “Lovecraft Time — An Opportunity for Lovecraftian Discussion.” The Chaucer conversation was magnificent; Corey is currently teaching the second of two online courses in Chaucer offered by Mythgard (I’ve audited both), so he is very much in a Chaucerian frame of mind. He talked about why he loves Chaucer: primarily because Chaucer is so very hilarious and self-deprecating, and his narrators are some of the funniest people on the planet. His narrative strategies are arguably unparalleled. He also talked about reception history: how Chaucer was under-valued for centuries because readers didn’t understand how to pronounce Middle English, which led to the widespread belief that his poetry didn’t scan. He also discussed Shakespeare’s debt to Chaucer.
We didn’t talk about Chaucer’s thoughts on Love; I very much wanted to ask about Chaucer’s response to Dante’s Romantic Theology. I mean, we had discussions on politics and religion, but none on sex. Lame.
There was a little time left (thanks to April Kleuver’s amazing management and sci-fi sound effect for an alert), so Ed Powell shared a talk he had kept in reserve: “Meta-Textual Musings: Reconciling the Writings of Middle-earth.” He discussed JRRT’s ret-coning obesession and narrative strategies (a little like Chaucer’s actually), leading to the conclusion that Peter Jackson must have been working from a flawed text that “Tolkien called disorderly, discursive, and confused.”
Then we all reconvened at the Bilbo Baggins pub for good food, drink, and conversation. Although I didn’t get to talk to everyone, so I probably still don’t know half of them half as well as I should like, yet I like all of them at least as well as they deserve!