Have Smaug-proof hat, will travel: LOTR fans C.O.M.E. together for the 3rd Conference On Middle-earth

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 his demesne.

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 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 (Marriage proposals also accepted.)

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