In 2000, the Tolkien Society seminar was held at Bristol on the weekend of July 1st.
Report by David Doughan, abridged from Amon Hen 164.
There were four papers on this theme. First, Christine Davidson, concentrating on change, spoke about growth and enlightenment in The Lord of the Rings. She looked at the personal development (or lack thereof) of such characters as Pippin, Merry, Frodo, Samwise, Aragorn, Arwen and Boromir, among others. She followed them through various choices, life crises, and (in the case of Boromir) in articulo salvation.
Next, Allan Turner was concerned with Ages, in his paper on legendary and historical time. He examined the differing perceptions of time in myth and legend as distinct from historical chronology, with particular regard to Tolkien's use of the term "ages" in the narrative, contrasted with the cut-and-dried Ages of the World in the Tale of Years (or Tales of Years, depending on the particular drafts or editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). Informal discussion of the points Allan raised continued throughout lunch.
In the afternoon was Alex Lewis' paper "That timeless place" (described as a keynote presentation). This was a fascinatingly discursive overview of a number of major issues, centring around the reason for Elvish serial longevity, not to say immortality (proximity to Aman?), but including such major issues as whether animals (let alone Elves) have souls, the genetic modification of the crop sources of lembas, and why Cirdan had a grey beard. The fact that in this after-lunch session not only was everybody patently wide awake but paying close attention was an indication of the interest Alex inspired.
Then we came to John Ellison, who claimed to have discovered a revisionist paper given at a fringe meeting of the 283rd Annual Conference of Gondorean Historians. Here the author (H. Irvine Shagrat IV, occupant of the Chair of History at the University of Minas Morgul) claimed to unmask the propaganda of the self-styled Gondorean Federation in creating a pseudo-history of the establishment of the organised equalitarian Melkorian and Sauronic states against the encroachment of the disorganised clans under the domination of the aristocratic warrior caste self-designated as "Elves", (with pretensions to immortality and a hot line to a supposed pantheon of "Valar"), and their subordinate "Men", with their coastal maritime imperialism styled "Numenorean" . This, of course, involved the demonisation of the proletariat as "Orcs". Space is too short to demolish this piece of Mordor-denial (the issue of the Nurnen-GuLag was deftly skirted), but it can at least be said that it provided an original explanation of why Sauron XII and his successors came to be known as "The Dark Lord".
The above papers were the core of the Seminar. However, it can increasingly be seen that the main purpose of the Seminar is continuous discussion of Tolkienian themes (with excursions into Eco, Marques, Bulgakov, Joyce et al.), which this year began on Friday evening in the hotel bar, continued in the "Coronation Tap" next door to the Clifton Bridge Visitor Centre (very loud, very crowded, but great cider), and persisted at and between mealtimes throughout Saturday and Sunday morning (including, probably, the visit to the Westonbirt Arboretum, which I regret having had to forgo - did they actually find an Entwife?). In all this was another rude gesture to those of the LitCrit establishment who claim that Tolkienists never read anything else, and certainly never think about what they read. Once more, gratitude is due to Nick for organising it for us.
Report by Chris Crawshaw, slightly abridged from Amon Hen 164.
"Given Tolkien's love of trees, what better place to visit than one of Britain's largest collections of them," said Nick Xylas when suggesting a venue for this year's Seminar weekend outing. What better place indeed? Westonbirt Arboretum is a magical place which would gladden the heart of any Ent. Sadly, due to lack of sufficient time we were only able to look at a small part of the 600 acre site.
The Arboretum was founded in 1829 by Robert Holford, a wealthy landowner who began planting trees for his own interest and pleasure. It now houses one of the finest collections of trees and shrubs in the world. Described as a 'garden for all seasons' and with 18,000 specimens there is always something in flower or looking at its best throughout the year.
Those of us who were able to visit the Arboretum wandered along the tracks through a small corner of the site trying to find various trees of interest to us, including a specimen of a Pinus Nigra, a tree said to a favourite of the Professors. Yours truly amused the rest of the party by occasionally disappearing into the undergrowth every time I spotted a yellow foliaged tree, in order to identify it and subsequently photograph it. Did someone mention trees? Those of you who were at the AGM will understand why such activity was necessary. Those of you going to Oxonmoot will find out in due course.
After a fine picnic lunch we used the remaining few minutes to look at the visitor centre's shop, before having to go our separate ways. It was a lovely day. Thanks Nick for choosing such a fine end to an excellent weekend.