Event News

Dragon Con 2017: Tolkien Content on the New High Fantasy Track

Dragon Con 2017 brought some changes for Tolkien fans. As I reported in earlier articles, the Tolkien content at Dragon Con has been folded into a new High Fantasy Track that includes a wide range of works of fantasy that are covered by the larger “high fantasy” umbrella. While the new organization meant a noticeable reduction in Tolkien content, to around 1/3 of its previous levels, the Tolkien-related events delivered the great content and experiences that fans have come to expect for Tolkien content at Dragon Con.

Prom Bombadil (Jim Wert), one of the hosts for “Evening at Bree” on Friday night. Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Friday was a busy day for Tolkien enthusiasts. The first event of the con in High Fantasy was “Namarië: Farewell Tolkien Track,” a panel that gave former Tolkien Track participants the chance for some closure with the end of the Tolkien Track. Later on, although not strictly limited to Tolkien, an excellent panel presented on “Reproduction vs. Design in Fantasy Cosplay.” On the heels of the costuming panel came the “Elf Choir” choral workshop. I finally managed to get into this panel, and had a terrific time. We learned two songs that many of us performed at the flagship event of Friday, “Evening in Bree.” A long-time tradition in the Tolkien Track, “Evening in Bree” offers great music – two bands this year, newcomer Toucan Dubh and perennial favorite the Brobdingnagian Bards – a cosplay contest, and lots of opportunity to dance. This year’s event was hosted by emcees “Prom Bombadil” and “Greenberry,” aka Jim Wert and Kirsten Cairns (Greendragon of TheOneRing.net). A real highlight of the evening for me was a truly beautiful and moving rendition of “Into the West” performed by Kirsten Cairns. The stage identities of Prom Bombadil and Greenberry tied into the Middle-earth dance party that continued after the other festivities of Bree, with a prom theme of “Enchantment Under the Mountain.”

Some of the 60 or so Tolkien cosplayers in the Dragon Con Parade 2017. Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Saturday started as always with the famous Dragon Con parade. I joined the marchers for the first time this year, and had a wonderful time! The Tolkien cosplayers’ contingent numbered around 60, a very impressive bunch. There was a special sub-group of singing Lantern Elves, who serenaded us all along the parade route. The Lantern Elves also processed around different venues at Dragon Con at other times, spreading the beautiful Elven music as they went.

Jim Wert and Constance Wagner present “Preciousss Moments with Gollum and Smeagol.” Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Later in the day, there were two panels that represent the scholarly side of Tolkien content that remains integral to Tolkien at Dragon Con. Tolkien scholar Constance Wagner, along with long-time track presenter Jim Wert, presented a fascinating panel, “Preciousss Moments with Gollum and Smeagol,” an in-depth look at the complexities of one of Tolkien’s most memorable characters. Next up was “Beren & Lúthien,” a look at the newest volume edited by Christopher Tolkien. The panelists were Jim Wert, Constance Wagner, Kirsten Cairns, and yours truly. I had a special suprise before the panel began, when two of my Red Carpet Tours Fellowship, Nishana and Tim, came up to greet me, dressed for the occasion as Beren (complete with Carcharoth chomping off his hand) and Lúthien!

Just about time to start the “Beren & Luthien” panel in a packed room with fellow panelists Kirsten Cairns (left foreground), Constance Wagner (center), and Jim Wert (standing, right). Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Two members of my Red Carpet Tours Fellowship, Nishana and Tim, come to my panel at Dragon Con in style, cosplaying Luthien and Beren. Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

On Sunday, author and scholar Michael Livingston presented “The American Tolkien,” a discussion of the question of what author may be the “true” heir to Tolkien’s legacy. You may be surprised to hear that the winner doesn’t have the initials “R. R.” in his name. Instead, Michael Livingston anoints Robert Jordan, author of The Wheel of Time series. Sunday evening brought one of my favorite regular events at Dragon Con, “Hobbit Drinking Songs,” presented by the Brobdingnagian Bards, Marc Gunn and Andrew McKee. I showed up to the show this year in my new hobbit cosplay, as Belladonna Took. No matter how you’re dressed, the Bards always put on a wonderfully fun show that always ends far too soon (from my point of view)!

The Brobdingnagian Bards warming up for “Hobbit Drinking Songs,” a fan favorite and a plain good time at Dragon Con. Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Belladonna Took (Valdis Longbeard) showed up for “Hobbit Drinking Songs” at Dragon Con 2017. Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Dragon Con lesson: never leave before Monday is done! Dragon Con 2017 saved some great Tolkien content for the last day. Kirsten Cairns (Greendragon) and Rebecca Perry (Deej) of TheOneRing.net were joined by Constance Wagner for “Still Tolkien About It: 80 Years of Middle-earth.” The panel celebrated the great tide of Tolkien that has swept through the world since the first publication of The Hobbit 80 years ago. To wind up the Tolkien content in High Fantasy in 2017, artist David Wenzel presented a wonderful talk on “The Art of The Hobbit.” Mr. Wenzel is best know to Tolkien fans for his magnificent illustrations for the graphic novel version of The Hobbit. He is currently working on a new edition of Kingdom of the Dwarfs, originally published in 1980. You can see my reporting about Mr. Wenzel’s panel here.

Kirsten Cairns (left) and Rebecca Perry (center) of TheOneRing.net are joined by Constance Wagner (right) for “Still Tolkien About It: 80 Years of Middle-earth.” Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Artist David Wenzel discusses “The Art of The Hobbit” at the last day of Dragon Con 2017. Photo credit: Valdis Longbeard.

Dragon Con 2017 was both satisfying and sad for Tolkien fans. This was the first year since 2000 that the con had no dedicated Tolkien programming track. The Tolkien-related events demonstrated their staying power with long lines and packed rooms for nearly event and panel. I feel that the High Fantasy Track staff values and recognizes the importance of Tolkien in the scheme of high fantasy, and showed sensitivity to the still sore feelings of the Tolkien fans. In my opinion, it was a promising beginning, and a good first year for the new track. Thank you to High Fantasy Track director Jennifer Liang and all her track staff and volunteers for working so hard to make the new track’s inaugural year a strong beginning with an eye toward building community.

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
— Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark,” J. R. R. Tolkien

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One Comment

  1. Constance G. Wagner says:

    Thanks for the commentary on what was a really fun weekend! Yes indeed — a good beginning. Here’s to next year!