In ancient Greece, you could count on everybody knowing that
Odysseus was a well-traveled Ithacan king, and that it's a bad idea to
sacrifice Clymnestra's daughter. This Greco-Roman pantheon carried over into
the Industrial Age. In addition, we had the Bible: a common cultural touchstone
from Birmingham to Baden-Württemberg. You could take Paradise Lost to a German burgher, and while he'd say
"Unglaublich!" a few times, he'd get the basic story.
In the pan-religious, pan-racial universality of the last
century, we've replaced old champions with new ones. Batman, Harry Potter,
Captain Kirk. But of all these goodly states and kingdoms (to quote my old pal
Jim Keats), the grandest is the one that deep-browed J.R.R. Tolkien rules as
I'm talking about The Lord
of the Rings. A universe so complete that ... well, I really don't know how to
begin. So I won't bother, because the charm of a universal mythology is that
we're already acquainted with it.
In 1969, Jan Howard Finder, then a graduate student at the
University of Illinois, organized The
1st Conference On Middle-earth. It was a respected academic conference on
the works of Tolkien at a time when The
Lord of the Rings was yet to be taken as seriously as it is now. In 1971,
Finder organized The 2nd
Conference On Middle-earth, also a success.
Over the next 40 years, Finder would go on to become one
of the most prolific SMOFs
in the world of science fiction and fantasy. And on Saturday, March 26, he's
going to present The 3rd
Conference on Middle-earth.
The scope of this conference is somewhere between Comic-Con
and an academic conference, and the spirit is very inclusive. The 3rd COME is described as a discussion of "J.R.R. Tolkien, his works, works based
on Tolkien and his works, criticism, teaching Tolkien in the classroom, the
books' impact on oneself and/or the world, the films & the film industry,
the music, the art, the fannish side of this universe and its impact, and
anything and lots more."
This includes, for example, a showing of Ringers: Lord of the Fans, but also gets
pretty hardcore. Take John Lamb-Bentley's paper, "The Little Middle Earth
Project In Spain." Bentley explains: "The paper which I was requested to submit
to the Conference concerns the project to actually create Middle Earth in the
region immediately North of Madrid. This region has a topography which matches
within 60% of Middle Earth, with mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, etc., in
the right places... A few of these can be seen in Benarda blog."
The 3rd COME represents not just the
celebration of Tolkien's work, but also perhaps the only time such an
all-encompassing spectrum of fans will meet. Today, the influence of LOTR
completely pervades our society and every medium-is-the-message you can think
of. But when Finder first discovered the mythos, he says, "we were almost like
a cult. Full professors would submit papers to Tolkien in the '60s but not let
anyone on the college staff know about it. Tolkien was a ‘kids' book and
unworthy of serious academic research. That being said, academics did apply
their talents to developing marvelous papers that fans saw, but no 'serious'
academic would. Their loss."
If you're going to the 3rd COME, you probably
didn't need Laser Orgy to tell you about it. You've got your tickets, your
Smaug-proof hat, and your Middle-earth puns all ready ("In Mirkwood, the king of
rock ‘n' roll is Elvish Presley!"). But even if you're not going, check out http://www.3rdcome.org and do yourself a favor: read the abstracts for the papers. And since you've already had the misfortune of being
born a couple hundred years too late to sing of arms and the man-say at least,
in the name of J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jan Howard Finder, and our great
collective imagination: Frodo lives.
Arafat Kazi is a
copywriter looking for a job, so if you're a hiring manager at an ad agency,
please check out his portfolio at http://arafatkazi.carbonmade.com. (Marriage proposals also accepted.)
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