Wessexmoot 2016 – 22nd October
Our long-planned moot took place, sadly without Carol, Rosemary and Tim, who could not be with us this time. They were much missed and remembered particularly in a dedicated toast to absent friends once we had finished the more structured part of the afternoon and moved on to a rather more alcoholic venue. Because of the ‘moot’ this report takes a rather different form to the usual ones.
The schedule for the afternoon itself began with a presentation by Ian of the paper he gave at this year’s Oxonmoot, on Joseph Wright in Oxford. Wright was influential in Tolkien’s student life and their friendship extended to Tolkien being an executor of the wills of both Joseph and his wife Elizabeth. Ian’s research has revealed minor and quite major misrepresentations of aspects of Wright’s biography.
We were also treated to Ian’s Powerpoint presentation which showed among other things his reconstruction of the Wrights’ house in Oxford (long torn down) which he had created using Minecraft, the online building tool. The house was important in Tolkien’s life as it was the venue for hobbit-sized Sunday teas during the years when Wright was his tutor.
For Ian, the highlight of his presentation at Oxford was spotting the Tolkien scholar Dimitra Fimi in the front row of his audience, and then discovering she had tweeted her approval. We all showed our appreciation in a more traditional manner, with applause and questions.
Our next presentation was from Chris on a work very much ‘in progress’. He is working on Tolkien and Insularity and his research is directed towards examining why so many locations in Middle-earth guard their isolation so carefully, and how this is eventually broken down. Chris suggested that basically Tolkien is arguing that isolationism doesn’t work.
Mike added another dimension when he directed attention to Gan-buri-Gan’s plea for his people to be left in peace. Was isolation achievable, Mike queried, only when a society was too primitive or resource-poor to bother with? The rest of the group asked other questions and expressed encouragement and enthusiasm for the research to be developed further.
Our final presentation was from Laura, who gave us a summary of the Anglo-Saxon talks she had enjoyed at a recent History Weekend in Winchester. She spoke with great approval of Michael Woods’ lecture on King Alfred, and with equal enthusiasm on Tom Holland’s lecture on Aethelstan and the making of the Angelcynn. It is often forgotten that Aethelstan was the first king to unite all the realms of Anglo-Saxon England.
Once we had left the Library and settled ourselves in the Frog and Parrot across the square, our discussions continued in a more informal style, although with no less rigour. Mike prompted me to think further about one aspect of my current research that I have not so far considered. Angela mentioned that she is taking the publication of her book on Aragorn in new directions, and Chris and I held on to our opposed views on the possibility of Gollum’s redemption. I tried to persuade Chris to write a formal response to the essay that was published in The Inklings Journal where I argued that based on textual evidence and anthropological theory Gollum could never achieve redemption. Chris’s views ably challenged mine and would enhance the debate on the characterisation of Gollum and its moral dimensions.
Having worked up an appetite and enjoyed a few aperitifs (or coffee in my case) we made our way to what has become our usual dinner venue and continued the evening until we had finished ‘filling up the corners’. Happily, no one, as far as I know, had to be taken home in a wheelbarrow!
Our next reading remains as we agreed previously, ‘The Battle of the Pelennor Fields’ and ‘The Pyre of Denethor’. It seems particularly apt that the Battle chapter coincides with our meeting on 12th November, Remembrance Weekend, in the year of the 100th anniversary of Tolkien’s participation in the Battle of the Somme.