Oxonmoot 2020: A Review and a Fellowship

Being a Tolkien fan for so long, and someone who has been studying his works, one of my desires was to participate in one of the most important Tolkien fandom (and scholars) events created and organized by the Tolkien Society based in the UK. As I live far away, in Chile, and travelling is not cheap, I always thought that I would have to wait until being a granny (almost) to attend the event. But this year, despite covid bringing us tragedy around the world, it also brought some great things. The Oxomoot had to be online, and allowed many more Tolkien fans and scholars from around the world, like me, to attend. This was the first Oxonmoot online ever, and it is estimated that it will be the only one for the others who are expected to combine physical activities with online ones. The Oxonmoot has existed since 1974, a year later J. R. R. Tolkien left this world to reunite with Edith.

It was an honour not only to attend as public; but also as an activity organizer; and to give the talk on my paper “The Call of the Spiders: A Feminist Reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shelob and Ungoliant”. I thank the Tolkien Society for having selected my paper, for accepting the Poetry Activity I had proposed and for trusting me to organize it.

Let’s find out how this year’s Oxonmoot was!

Oxonmoot 2020 had 543 attendees from 41 countries. Not only from Europe, but from North America, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Something so beautiful considering that it is Tolkien’s works who join us all, no matter our nationality, gender and age. Literature speaks to everyone, maybe in a different way but it unites us.

The program was diverse, there were interactive activities like the Telerin Circle (reading your favourite passage from Tolkien’s works). Creative Workshops (Baking; Paper Craft; Runes, Cirth and Tengwar; Yarnbombing; Show and Tell). Writing Workshops (Epic Style: Learn to write and distinguish Germanic & Celtic narrative techniques; Writing Fanfiction). Games (Middle Earth in Quarantine; Dungeons, Dragons & Denethor (A D&D workshop); Riddles). Music and Video. Discussions (Expanding Fandom: Tolkien through a multicultural lens; Many Meetings: Tolkien societies as hubs for international youth events; Side by Side with a Friend: Friendship and togetherness in Tolkien’s writing; Fantasies of Time and Death; How archaeology influenced and informed JRR Tolkien’s legendarium). Poetry Activity. And also, An introduction to the Tolkien Society Archives; a Dance Activity and a Quiz.

As the one who proposed the Poetry Activity, I need to say some words. I thank The Tolkien Society and the participants, again for trusting me as a moderator but also for editing an anthology with the recompilation of the poems read by the poets who participated in the activity. I had so much fun reading them and enjoyed them so much. In every single poem, I could see the passion towards Tolkien works and I was so excited when I found out that together they constructed a narrative that followed Tolkien’s. I thank Mike Percival for being the one who helped me with the organization, who was my zoom steward despite being busy and focussed on the other activities in the Oxonmoot as a co-chair. As well as for being the video editor for sharing the activity. And to Elena Davison for procuring the correct anthology in the website in speed so fast as Shadowfax. Regarding readers who participated in reading works by J. R. R. Tolkien and his associates, I must remark that their reading skills were impressive, it was clear that they had put their hearts and soul while reading. I was speechless.

Oxonmoot 2020. Logo. The Tolkien Society. Designed by Jay Johnstone.

Aside from the mentioned activities, there was an Art Exhibition, which included works from artists around the world, which was very rich because it was possible to evidence the different techniques and views of the characters we love so much by Tolkien. I was particularly touched by the artwork on Melian by Emily Austin. And by an artwork called “Amarie, my dear, I have returned” by Maureval, which showed the reunition of Finrod and Amarie, something that I always expected would happen explicitly in the story. But, also, there were some works from the well-known Tolkien illustrator, Ted Nasmith. It was possible to experience the exhibition by visiting an online museum through Kunstmatrix.

As well, there was a Masquerade, where participants could show their own cosplays. I love the originality!

I wish I could have participated live in all the activities, for they seemed so good, but the time schedule cannot fit everyone, or at the time some activities were running, I had the Poetry Reading or my talk. But the good thing is the Tolkien Society provided recorded videos with the activities to catch up!

Other attractions of the Oxonmoot were panels. There was a panel that particularly called my attention, named “Diversity in Tolkien Scholarship and Fandom” moderated by Sultana Raza, with Elaynna Choi and Sarah Westvik as panellists. I am happy that The Tolkien Society allowed such activity to take place, and to Sultana for her great moderation. I agree with so many things that were said on such a panel. It is fundamental to recall that one of the conclusions was that the important question is not whether J.R.R. Tolkien was racists or not, but how his readers and fans understand, spread and use his works. Anything with the name of J.R.R. Tolkien should be as diverse as his legendarium with tolerance and respect. The context on when the books were written cannot be ignored, for it is certainly different from nowadays, but it is fundamental to respect and consider how the works are understood nowadays by different people around the world and also from diverse gender, women, LGBT community and men. What Sultana pointed out is very important to remember:

“Tolkien works present archetypes that can be applied to almost every culture, they talk to human nature rather than to a specific society, which makes his works timeless. What matters is how people, talk, spread, teach, adapt his works. It is a responsibility for all of us to make it available and a safe space for everyone, no matter their cultural background”

Straightly related to this panel, there was another activity called “The Expanding Fandom – Tolkien Through a Multicultural Lens” organized by Sultana Raza. I subscribed despite being on Sunday at 7:00 am in my local time (and I am not a morning person). I am very grateful to Sultana for organizing this activity. It was very nice to see how Tolkien fandom is lived in other countries like Serbia and Poland. As well as how it is experienced by the LGTB community. Although, it struck me the vision and perception the world has about Latin America, which is far from reality. We have those big brands that are able around the world, like Starbucks, but we do not have all Tolkien’s works, because of an editorial problem from Europe.

But in the talk, The Future of the Tolkien Society, both problems, with the unavailability of editions in other languages, for non-English-speakers, or that not all Tolkien’s works are available in other countries was mentioned as an issue that had to be resolved. In such talk, the cooperation of international support was highlighted and remarked as an important point that had to be worked on in the future. I would be happy to help as a volunteer.

This was the first panel on diversity in Tolkiens works ever done in Oxonmoot, which is a great start, especially to spread awareness that literature should join us and not create conflicts among us.

Let’s focus on the other Keynotes, aside from the one I already mentioned (The Future of the Tolkien Society).

One was hosted by the well-known Tolkien scholar, Dimitra Fimi, which was on Friday 18th. She talked about Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, regarding this year’s 40th anniversary. She highlighted the impossibility of focusing on all tales, but selected three: “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife”, “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”; and “The Isatari”. She recalled that when Unfinished Tales was first published, it was seen as a companion book of The Silmarillion, but now it must be seen as canonical work that has value on its own. As well, as we know, the tales included here have separated books like The Fall of Gondolin and The Children of Húrin, both edited by Christopher Tolkien. Christopher was also remembered on this occasion as he passed away this year, leaving us some of the most delightful works written by his father.

The other keynote on Saturday evening was a conversation with one of the most important scholars, and we owned them because many Tolkien’s books we have in our hands are because of them, no other than Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond. I was delighted to hear them live, for I truly think that one of the most beautiful books on Tolkien is J.R.R. Tolkien: An Artist and Illustrator. I truly hope they take out a special edition and expanded edition of Letters by J. R.R. Tolkien. I love and admire Tolkien’s artwork so much, and I am grateful for Scull and Hammond to give us the possibility to take a closer look at such drawings and paintings. Also, it was so nice to hear the anecdotes on collecting Tolkien’s works and waiting for them to come out.

The last keynote before the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, was professor Yvette Krisor‘s talk was named “What Does It Means to Talk About Tolkien and Diversity? A look within and without the Legendarium”. She made clear from the beginning that diversity involved a big scope, for this reason, she focused on issues regarding race. She suggested that despite Tolkien’s works remark the importance of choice, it has to some extent a problematic portrayal of ethnicity belief influenced by the predominant ideology in the 20th century by Europeans. But, as well as the already mentioned panel above, “Diversity in Scholarship and Fandom”, she concluded that nowadays what matters is how we represent, teach, spread and use Tolkien’s works.

Now, let’s move to the Papers. I loved the fact that there were many, each one was very interesting and diverse that I felt delighted because they centred on different aspects of Tolkien’s works. I wanted to mention that it was so great that the links were available to catch up on the talks that I had missed live. You can check out all the talks and papers here.

One of the papers that called my attention was Martha Celis‘ paper entitled “The importance of music and its different functions in the works of JRR Tolkien”, she did complete research on music and explored the interesting and important role it has not only in The Silmarillion, as we can remember some passages from the music by the Ainur, but also its role in The Lord of the Rings. I am going to appreciate Tom Bombadil and Treebeard even more.

A paper that surprised me very much was Ian Barnstead untitled “Bilbo, the Existentialist Hero”. I was very moved by the analysis on Bilbo, his possible philosophical meaning in The Hobbit, beyond its literary nature, and his relationship with Samwise Gamgee.

I wish I could talk more about papers, as I said before, I appreciated the diversity on themes: language, psychology, art, leadership, music, ecology, gender studies, to name some. But I think I have written enough, otherwise, it would be a very long review.

From Oxonmoot Facebook website

Finally, and not less important, I must add that I was very touched with the Enyalië (Remembrance Ceremony) the choice of the poem was great, “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” and it seemed to be perfect for this time as it is a comic nice one and I am sure professor Tolkien would have been very happy to hear it. The flowers that were bought by the Oxonmoot organizers in the name of everyone who attended were so beautiful. I honestly never thought to experience such a beautiful ceremony online, and it resulted brilliant, sharing the emotions with so many fellows who love Tolkien’s works around the world but everyone with our hearts in Tolkien’s grave and Shaun’s reading.

I truly hope that next year I will be able to join again. It was such a great time and a beautiful opportunity to share the love for J.R.R. Tolkien, whose works join so many people and have given us hope and strength in the most difficult times, reminding us that not all is lost as we might think it is. Tolkien’s works have created a fellowship that unites readers from all over the world.

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