You may have noticed my recent inactivity on this blog and my silence during two of the most important periods of the year: Tolkien Week and Hobbit Day. Yet, as you may have also noted, I found myself engaged by a rather unique event.
The following post is an attempt to provide a brief account of my first experience attending this year’s Oxonmoot, organised by the Tolkien Society.
A pleasant mixture …
I was present for two whole days between Friday 21 and Saturday 22 September at St Antony’s College in Oxford, where the convention took place. There were two reasons for my attendance: to visit the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition and deliver a paper to other attendees at Oxonmoot. The weather was somewhat cloudy, with the occasional light rain and a rather keen, chilly breeze.
As it turned out, I think the only way I can really describe the experience at Oxonmoot is by utilising one of Tolkien’s own quotes when describing the tranquil environment of Elrond’s Last Homely House in Rivendell:
“His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.”
— Chapter 3, ‘A Short Rest’, The Hobbit
This, I believe, truly encapsulates what I felt as I attended my first ever Oxonmoot. Whether you decided to attend a talk, or commit yourself to a discussion among fellow attendees, visit gorgeous Middle-earth artworks on display, or simply sit down within the serene atmosphere of the campus, the day was yours to make.
Arguments in Elvish
Grown-ups could be seen walking around, wearing hooded cloaks or woollen dwarf beards, others gathered outside for a quiet session of pipe-smoking, while a few braved the rain in Elven dresses to take photos underneath a mallorn-esque tree in one of the campus’s quadrangles.
At one point, I even saw an attendee walking by himself, reciting — or rather, arguing with himself — in Elvish (possibly Sindarin).
It was all rather surreal and extraordinary.
So many things … so little time!
Finally, here was a group of people — of all ages, sizes and nationalities — who shared a common passion and interest as I did: Tolkien.
The whole festive atmosphere felt like a family reunion of strangers; strangers who I was not initially acquainted with, but was immediately made to feel at home. People came up to me to assist in queries or general directions. Others offered their thoughts on Middle-earth subjects and listened to your opinions.
The only concern I had was the looming talk I had to deliver on Friday afternoon.
A nourishment to the soul
The talks in particular — where an entire auditorium was filled with people who understood a cheeky Númenórean in-joke, or expressed a particular sentiment when reading The Silmarillion (a sentiment which I would have felt often but unable to describe to anyone else) — became the ultimate Oxonmoot experience.
Listening to fellow Tolkien enthusiasts present their papers, thoughts and ideas, was really a nourishment to the heart and mind. Indeed, I don’t even remember feeling hungry for the two days I was there. The hours passed swiftly and no thought of anything else beyond those University walls passed through my head.
The last talk took place on Saturday afternoon by renowned Tolkien scholar, John Garth. His presentation on the pact made between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to write a sci-fi and time-travel story respectively, was extraordinary, insightful and a privilege to be able to experience live.
But just before all this, came my turn to deliver a talk …
A picturesque setting … St Antony’s College in Oxford
A fulfilling experience
I was nervous. I admit.
No matter how much I tried to suppress any negative thoughts of all that could go wrong, the idea of standing up in front of an audience and convey my ideas on Tolkien, overshadowed that first day at Oxonmoot.
Don’t get me wrong. Naturally, I had willingly offered to present a paper, and I was equally looking forward to it. Yet, those doubts and trepidations always found a way to niggle my brain.
Still, the long morning was over and I found myself standing up and walking towards the podium to deliver the final talk of the day. The room was not quite as full as I had hoped and feared, still there were about 30 individuals waiting for me to begin my presentation.
Revisions underway ...
I hooked up the microphone, slotted-in a data stick (which carried my presentation) to the laptop, and shuffled through the much-creased and worn papers of my talk.
The topic in question was something I had posted on this blog a few years back, which I had now significantly revised and re-titled as “The Shadows Where the Mewlips [really] dwell: Mapping the road to Mordor?”
(Perhaps I’ll post the full paper here if there’s enough interest)
But at that moment, as I stood there and gazed at the audience looking up at me, I dispelled all fears and forged ahead with my talk I had rehearsed countless times. The next 20 minutes or so were to be a mixture of concern, humour and expectation. The audience’s expressions wavered between blank faces, others who scowled and — more hopefully — a few who nodded in genuine agreement at the statements I was making.
I also spotted the occasional slumbering troll who couldn’t resist closing his eyes, as his head began to droop slowly forward. Whether it was a case of weariness from having been at the talks all day long, or whether this reflected the somewhat boring nature of my presentation, I do not know.
I half-fancied hearing a gentle snore or two at one point, but I dismissed any further concerns and trudged on.
In the midst of it …
Finally, the presentation was over and the instinctive applause followed. It was now question time and old fears came back to haunt me. What if I had failed to consider an important point that debunked my whole argument? How could I answer someone who had at least an additional decade or two of Tolkien knowledge in hand? What if my whole presentation made no sense?
Thankfully, I had no cause for such fears. There were a few forthcoming questions and other statements that agreed or supported what I had presented. At the end of the talk, a few audience members came up to me to offer their thanks and gratitude. I cherish this moment above all else at Oxonmoot.
A few thanks
I would like to thank the organisers, members of the Tolkien Society, for such an extraordinary experience. I’m not one to mingle and socialise with such enthusiasm and fervour as others do. I rather prefer staying at the back and watch, and listen and learn. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful experience.
The Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth Exhibition
I will never forget the moment I walked up the steps of the Weston Library and into the exhibition hall. Such treasures and emotions awaited me inside. I thought I knew a lot about Tolkien, his life, his academic work and his writing processes. Yet, at this exhibition I discovered so much more, and my appreciation and passion towards his works have only been embellished.
Yet, I shall reserve a full review of the exhibition in a future post to be published very soon.
Till then, see ya!