The new year is often treated as a fresh start and an opportunity to look forwards at the significant events over the coming 12 months. And in 2017 we do indeed have a very exciting year ahead, but first I want to look back over the previous year and explain why I think 2016 was a great year for Tolkien.
First, the Seminar. Our Seminar firmly established itself in 2016 as the go-to place for Tolkien scholarship. We achieved a record-breaking attendance as students, scholars and academics came from across the UK, Europe and North America to attend the one-day event in Leeds. Sitting with the International Medieval Congress, the theme was, “Life, Death and Immortality”. It is a credit to Tolkien’s abilities as a writer that 100 years after he started writing scholars continue to discover new angles in his works.
Our pièce de résistance in 2016: Oxonmoot. The Tolkien Society has been holding Oxonmoots since 1974, but this one was a triumph of organisation by my colleague Elena Davison and her team. Over four days, around 250 people from across the globe came together for a weekend of academic nourishment, literary engagement and social enjoyment! Not only did we have the Bake Off competition, but attendees also enjoyed a one-off and exclusive production of a Tolkien stage play…
In 2016 the membership of The Tolkien Society continued to grow to new heights. We smashed through the 1,200 barrier, continuing the growth we have experienced over the previous two years. It is a sign of our success as an organisation that we continue to grow, that people see us as an organisation they value, and an organisation with a mission they believe in. But, more importantly, to us, new members mean new friends.
In 2016 we were treated to a number of publications which opened up new experiences for readers. First, in May, The Story of Kullervo was finally published in the US. The Story of Kullervo was one of Tolkien’s very early explorations in myth-making as he retold part of the Finnish epic The Kalevala. In Tolkien’s own words, this was “the germ of my attempt to write legends of my own” which was the clear ancestor to the story of Túrin we know today.
Following in the footsteps of 2008’s Tolkien On Fairy-stories, two Tolkien Society members – Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins – worked together to produce an annotated and expanded version of Tolkien’s essay A Secret Vice. A Secret Vice was a lecture first delivered by Tolkien in 1931 about Tolkien’s (then) secret vice for inventing languages; this edition contains the longest ever published version of Tolkien’s lecture and is a fascinating insight into the importance of languages in myth-making for Tolkien.
That wasn’t all! We also had Verlyn Flieger’s edited edition of Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun which, although does not form a part of Tolkien’s wider legendarium, again sees the Professor exploring language and myth-making. And, of course, there are some elements which will be familiar to readers of Tolkien’s other works.
And finally, after several years of waiting, The Hobbit Facsimile First Edition was published in September. Packaged with a protective slipcase, this edition is an (almost) exact replica of the first edition version of The Hobbit published in 1937. Why is this important? Because, in particular, the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” was significantly different at that point as it hadn’t yet been amended to bring it in line with The Lord of the Rings; this editions gives us in the 21st Century to experience The Hobbit in the same way children did in the 1930s and 40s.
Honorary Membership for Alan Lee
In April, we had the great honour of hosting Alan Lee as our Guest of Honour at our Annual Dinner, where we awarded him with Honorary Membership of the Tolkien Society. Lee has illustrated The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Children of Húrin, and we will see his artwork again this spring in the new book Beren and Lúthien. Lee’s work has done so much to promote Tolkien over the years, and making him an Honorary Member was a small token of our gratitude.
Stage Play of Leaf by Niggle
2016 had one big event that we could hardly believe: a stage play of Leaf by Niggle. Leaf by Niggle is a lovely little story by Tolkien which is deep in message: whether you read it as a story about friendship, creativity or redemption there is no doubt that it is an exquisitely touching tale. Richard Medrington and Puppet State Theatre Company put together a marvellously accurate production which toured Scotland before coming to our very own Oxonmoot!
If 2017 is half as good as this, we’re in for a good year!