The Oxford Tolkien Conference 2006 at Exeter College

Member's reports from Tolkien related events.
Iolanthe
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Post by Iolanthe » Thu Sep 07, 2006 3:08 pm

Tolkien and the English Language: The Word as Leaf
Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall and Edmund Weiner
Time to add some thoughts on this talk from my notes!

As Merry has said, these three speakers all work full time revising the Oxford English Dictionary and have recently produced a new book The Ring of Words (OUP 2006) about Tolkien’s time on the OED. All three speakers took it in turns to talk about different aspects of this, and all included a lot of new research not contained in their book.

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Peter Gilliver (L), Jeremy Marshall (C) and Patrick Curry (R)

© Iolanthe

Peter Gilliver started us off by telling us that Tolkien was introduced to the OED by William Craigie, Tolkien’s English Lang and Lit tutor. He was the 3rd editor of the OED and, like Tolkien, loved Fairy Tales, sagas and was one of the foremost Icelandic scholars in Britain. Craigie was working on ‘V’ and thinking about ‘W’, which is full of Germanic words, so he was looking for someone with expertise in that field. As Merry has said, ‘U’ had been put on ice because of the horrible, endless ‘un’ prefixes. Craigie ultimately worked on ‘U’ for 8 years!

On Craigie’s recommendation Tolkien joined a team of lexicographers to work on ‘W’ after the war. But working briefly on the Dictionary wasn’t the end of Tolkien’s involvement with Oxford University Press (OUP). From these OUP connections Tolkien found himself working with Kenneth Sisam on OUP Middle-English texts, Sisam doing the translations (I think…) and Tolkien the glosseries. The second glossary Tolkien worked on was for a new annotated translation of Chaucer, which he started in 1923. Tolkien had so many troubles to deal with during this year that he kept putting the glossery off and making excuses until he had to promise, in 1924 to ‘Cram Chaucer into any cracks of time that are left’. It was finally finished in 1924 but was so long he was asked to compress it and produce explanatory notes. He ‘Cram(med) Chaucer into any cracks of time that are left’ so unsuccessfully that it was temporarily shelved until 1930. In 1951 he was still working on it (Gilliver told this whole story to hilarious effect). The OED was in despair but didn’t want to drop Tolkien because he was a respected Professor. Sisam later called Tolkien ‘A rogue. He has held up Middle-english studies for 20 years…his time is given to fairy stories.’ Eventually the OED gave up and the Chaucer translation was never published. Tolkien eventually asked for the manuscript as it contained ‘notes useful to him alone’. One can only wonder what the OED thought of that!


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Edmund Weiner (R)

© Iolanthe

The second part of the talk was by Edmund Weiner. Weiner produced a strong argument that Tolkien had read Kingsley’s tale Hereward the Wake. This story is a reconstruction of a lost English world and Weiner traced many words in it like ‘oliphaunt’, ‘Hollin’, ‘Deeping’, ‘Helm Hammerhand’ and many others which Tolkien later used. Hereward the Wake is a work of fiction but Kingsley used many Early English terms. Weiner then showed us the texts of many Norse works which contained familiar names like a 'King Gandalf', 'Treebeard' as used as a taunt (a pun on Thorir Wood-Beard), 'Vargi' (Wolves) which may have given rise to wargs and others too numerous for me to make notes on! He also found a concentration of words used by Tolkien in Joseph Wright's Old-English Grammar of 1908, though he conceded that Tolkien could have found those words from other sources. He was struck by the number of them in one work though: Mathom, Glede, Orpanc (skill=Orthanc), sea-kings, entisc (of giants), daegol. Again, there were too many for me to catch them all.

The final part of the talk was given by Jeremy Marshall. He concentrated on Tolkien and the word ‘dwarves’. Tolkien himself confessed that it should have correctly been dwarfs but that once he had written ‘dwarves’ he had to go on with it, although he said (I think?) ‘dwarrow’ was the most correct language usage and he wished he’d used that. Marshall argued that the plural ‘dwarves’ could really be more correct than ‘dwarfs’. He said he was going to argue for ‘Tolkien the Writer’ against ‘Tolkien the Philologist’. He presented us with many literary references to dwarves (Bulwer-Lytton and others) showing that this had started to become, even before Tolkien, the more common literary use. He also pointed out that Tolkien felt that ‘dwarves’ as a plural went better with ‘elves’ and they were analogous. He also mentioned that the use of ‘dwarven’ is restricted just to Tolkien (my 1920’s Chambers Dictionary only gives dwarfish). He finally left us with the thought that Tolkien may have permanently changed the usage and that ‘dwarves’ was appearing increasingly as the more usual plural in newer dictionaries whereas before it was always given the epithet ‘rare’. I wonder what Tolkien would have thought of that?

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The Inklings Corner (and our guide), The Eagel and Child

© Iolanthe

Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
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Post by Merry » Thu Sep 07, 2006 5:18 pm

Oh, my goodness, friends, you do not know what a treasure we have in Iolanthe! What a great report--many thanks.

For those who do not know, the Eagle and Child is the pub where C. S. Lewis and Tolkien (and assorted other Inklings) spent a lot of time, during which they read drafts of their work to each other. I was able to visit the establishment twice to soak up the ambience (and some hard cider and lots of cigarette smoke!)--it was like a pilgrimage. Father William even kissed the outside of the building when we left the last night!
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Riv Res
Manwë
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Post by Riv Res » Sun Sep 10, 2006 11:08 pm

OK...I have finally gotten here and through about half of your wonderful reporting, and I am just thrilled for you both to have been there. It is like breathing Tolkien air. Will finish the rest VERY soon. Keep it coming if there is more. :wink: :D

Oh...and many, many, many thanks. :oops:

marbretherese
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Post by marbretherese » Mon Sep 11, 2006 12:08 pm

Just also to add my thanks, I am enjoying reading this thread very much!
"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


http://www.marbretherese.com
http://marbretherese.blogspot.com/

Iolanthe
Uinen
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Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Post by Iolanthe » Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:45 pm

Glad you're all enjoying it! There is plenty more. I shall be writing up another talk soon :D .

I've just started reading Gilliver, Marshall and Weiner's book The Ring of Words. I was worried I might find it a bit dry as it is totally philological but I'm actually finding it fascinating, concertrating as it does on Tolkien's love of words and language. It's also a very nicely bound anf presented book. I always like books that feel nice as well as read well!
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
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Location: Middle-west

Post by Merry » Mon Sep 11, 2006 7:00 pm

Another thing the OED guys told us was that there are two different covers for the books in the UK and in the US: the publishers told them that US Tolkien lovers are all hippies from the 60s, so the US cover is sort of psychodelic, where the UK one is more subdued! :roll:
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

bat'leth
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Joined: Mon Sep 18, 2006 10:08 pm
Location: Calgary

Post by bat'leth » Mon Sep 18, 2006 10:26 pm

Merry and Iolanthe were excellent ambassadors for your community, and the conference was both stimulating and fun. I'm still telling stories about it to others and still trying to read the ridiculous number of books I bought at the conference book sale. I've just heard this news:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ ... nment/home

which will rescue me from living amidst only the secondary sources.

The mix of people was truly remarkable, very far from a typical academic conference but not any less thoughtful and intelligent. The dinner company was starting to remind me of Bree, Rivendell (or the Canterbury Tales); priests and monks, academics, journalists, librarians, undergraduates, grad students, a woman home-schooling her daughter using the conference as part of the lessons - and representatives from the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. To our European counteparts, your multilingualism shames me!

I have notes of some of the sessions I attended, so I'll dig them out and see if I can add anything. And thanks to Merry for encouraging me to write a book - I might take you up on that, and I'll at least get my thoughts down for an article or two.

Merry
Varda
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Post by Merry » Tue Sep 19, 2006 3:09 am

Look, Iolanthe! 'bat'leth' is here! 8) Welcome, friend! We'd love it if you'd help us describe the events of the conference. I, too, continue to tell stories of the events at Exeter to anyone who will listen--it all seems a bit dream-like now. I have heard from a couple of our European counterparts in their most excellent English.

Interesting news about the Hurin story. I wonder how extensive the story is beyond what we know.

I was serious about the book!

(bat'leth = Klingon weapon?)
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Post by Iolanthe » Tue Sep 19, 2006 12:34 pm

Hello bat'leth :wave:! It's lovely to see you again (virtually that is :wink: ). Any conference contributions, in fact any contributions, will be very gratefully received! It's gone very quiet around here. We had a great week, didn't we? I had severe withdrawal for quite a while afterwards!!! I like your comparison with Rivendell. I always wanted to go there 8) .

I'll be writing up another account later this week :D . Plus more photos. Real life and singing in a show has got in the way a bit over the last few days.

"The Children of Hurin" is exciting news!

Make sure you write that book.... :wink:
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Post by Iolanthe » Thu Sep 21, 2006 3:48 pm

Verlyn Flieger
Gilson, Smith and Baggins: Sacrifice and Meaning in France and Middle-earth.
Image
Verlyn Flieger (centre), Michael Devaux (right) at the evening reception
[copyright]Iolanthe[/copyright]
Let me start off by saying that this was the talk I enjoyed most in the whole Conference. Verlyn Flieger is such an engaging and moving speaker that I almost found myself in tears at one point.

She took as her starting point Sam’s closing words from ‘The Lord of the Rings’; ’Well, I’m back,’. As we know he’s back from the Grey Havens and has arrived home, Flieger posed the question – what is he really saying?

She then went on to talk about the Immortal Four of the TCBS club – Gilson, Smith, Wiseman and Tolkien and how they wanted to change the world. When Gilson died on the first day of the battle of the Somme Tolkien reported that he ‘went out into the wood to think’. As a result of that long and painful examination he wrote to Wiseman that he had come to see Gilson’s death as a winnowing, that his greatness wasn’t to achieve or to be a mover, but to be the spark of fire to set the rest of the TCBS alight. His value was what he was in himself, not in what he might accomplish. Here was Tolkien trying to find meaning, to rationalise Gilson’s death in terms of their desire to change the world. Trying to find the sense in a seemingly senseless death in a useless battle.

Flieger quoted Gandalf’s words that many that live deserve death and many that die deserve life, and here was Tolkien, in the wood, looking for answers. Did he deserve to live and Gilson to die? Was Gilson not meant to be great? Was Tolkien meant to live in order to be great?

Out of the TCBS only Tolkien and Wiseman survived the Great War. The Silmarillion grew out of these losses. Soon after Gilson’s death Tolkien started writing about the fall of Gondolin in a terrible, wasteful and senseless destruction and Fleiger asked if this mythology’s function was to address the larger issues of life and death that Tolkien had struggled with when he ‘went out in to the wood to think’. She quoted Shippey’s comment that Tolkien’s work was closer to the writers that were forged by, and wrote about, the Great War than the later fantasists who followed him. In the Silmarillion there are many lost battles and deaths. Even The Hobbit had the two young dwarves, Fili and Kili die uselessly in a battle, as well as their king, Thorin. Bilbo comes home, but they do not. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Sam comes home, but others do not. Fleiger quoted Parker (?): [roughly from my notes] ‘Tolkien has raised a world that it may be destroyed and that we might regret it’, and read us part of the ‘Lament of the Rohirrim’: Where now the horse and the rider…?, full of loss and yearning for all that is gone.

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The Chapel, Exeter College
[copyright]Iolanthe[/copyright]

Frodo was never ‘back’ the way Sam is at the end. Unappreciated, wounded, sick, Frodo is never the same Frodo that left the Shire. Flieger said that Frodo was never meant to be an interesting personality like Merry, Pippin, Sam or Bilbo. He is not a mover, doer or achiever of great things outside his having the Ring and his determination to destroy it, but an ordinary person with no outstanding talents except great friendship, like Gilson. He does what must be done because it must be done. Flieger emphasised that she was not suggesting that Frodo is based on Gilson, or that he was a conscious model for that type, only that Gilson’s life and death was a framework in the back of Tolkien’s mind. Tolkien recreated that ‘little, complete body’ of the TCBS in the Fellowship of the Ring, and then deliberately broke it (in Frodo). He ‘made it go crack’, just as he had described the impact of Gilson’s death on their world in his letter to Wiseman when he said that ‘all had gone crack’.

Sam was back. It was a ‘Well, I’m back’ not a ‘Well, I’m back. He was back. But not the others, not Frodo, Boromir, nor Theoden. They were not back and never would be.

‘The Lord of the Rings’ is the song Sam fears will never be sung. It is full of romantic Germanic heroism in Helm’s Deep, in the Pelennor Fields, in Theoden, Aragorn and Eomer and also of the reality of war in Frodo and Sam who are the footsoldiers slogging through the mud. Flieger gave us the picture of men returning from war unable to speak about what they have seen, stricken dumb ‘in the woods’ (I can’t remember her exact reference) and Tolkien in the wood pondering Gilson’s death. She feels that the First World War and it’s sacrifice ultimately meant nothing in terms of the fact that it didn’t lead to any real change and that this is a strong undercurrent in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Did Tolkien want to create somewhere where sacrifice had meaning and did lead to something better? Not that sacrifice was meaningless, not that no perceivable good came out of it, but that a new world could rise from its ashes.

Image
99 Holywell Street where Tolkien lived 1950-53
[copyright]Iolanthe[/copyright]
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
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Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Post by Merry » Thu Sep 21, 2006 5:16 pm

Iolanthe, your best report yet--many thanks! I have nothing to add in terms of ideas, but my memory of Dr. Flieger's reading of "Where are the horse and rider?" is profound. At that point in the conference, she was beginning to lose her voice, so it cost her something to read her paper. But you could have heard a pin drop in the room during her dramatic reading. Maybe we should try reading LOTR aloud!

Iolanthe's photo of Dr. Flieger and friends was taken in the fellow's private parlor, an elegant room in which we were allowed to take our pre-prandials twice. I learned that the fellows at Oxford don't make much more than I do at my little private US college, but the perks that go with the job seem outstanding!
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Airwin
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Location: Misty Mountains

Post by Airwin » Fri Sep 22, 2006 2:51 am

Iolanthe, awesome report! Very moving. :clapping: :worship: I can imagine why you would have been near tears.
Merry wrote:Maybe we should try reading LOTR aloud!
I am actually reading LOTR aloud! I'm reading it to my daughter (nine, and she assures me she's not scared of it...yet) and while doing so I've noticed details that escaped me before. I can highly recommend it!
Namarie,

Airwin

Iolanthe
Uinen
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Post by Iolanthe » Fri Sep 22, 2006 10:26 am

I actually do read the poetry aloud when I'm reading the book - I find it transforms it, it's just made to be declaimed as it is all through the book when they are always being recited by someone for others to hear.

Verlyn Flieger's reading of 'Where are the horse and the rider?" was very moving in the context of her talk. I confess that's where I had a tear rolling down my cheek. It really choked me up. I had the great pleasure of sitting next to her at dinner afterwards and we were talking about how interesting it would be to know what everyone's favourite Tolkien lines were after I told her that she had already recited some of mine!

Hey - that would make a good thread :idea: :!: :D
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

marbretherese
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Post by marbretherese » Fri Sep 22, 2006 12:19 pm

Thanks, Iolanthe, for this latest report. Verlyn Flieger's analysis explains a lot: I've never warmed to Frodo as much as to the other members of the fellowship, and now I know why. But even when I read John Garth's book I didn't connect that to Gilson's death. It's fascinating stuff !

I'd love to hear more from the conference from all of you who were there, when you get the chance to post something!
"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


http://www.marbretherese.com
http://marbretherese.blogspot.com/

Lindariel
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Post by Lindariel » Fri Sep 22, 2006 1:51 pm

I also highly recommend reading The Hobbit and LOTR aloud, preferably to or with some one you love. I have very happy memories of reading these books in installments to the elder Miss L when she was 6 (she's nearly 10 now -- where did the time go?). I wondered if she'd be able to stick through them, but she was completely captivated, asking questions when she wasn't sure what a word or phrase meant and having no problems with people, places, and things having sometimes many different names. She also loved it when I gave each character a distinctive sounding voice. It's a little scary how similar my Gollum voice was to Andy Serkis'! "What has it got in its pocketses?!!!"

In addition to the poems taking on a new life, the long descriptions of landscapes that I would often skip over when reading silently also became much more compelling when read aloud. Several times Miss L stopped me during one of these passages to get crayons and paper so she could make a drawing of what we had "seen" through Tolkien's words.

Needless to say, Miss L has seen all of the LOTR movies and has become a devoted Tolkien fan. I am looking forward to repeating this reading exercise with the younger Miss L in a few years (she's 4-1/2 right now).

Merry and Iolanthe, I envy you this wonderful experience and thank you for your illuminating reports and the wonderful pictures!
Lindariel Image

“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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