Event News

‘Celebrate Tolkien’ Recap

By Jim Wert, Guest Contributor

“Celebrate Tolkien” had its inaugural gathering on November 9 and 10, 2017 at the Old Cigar Warehouse in downtown Greenville, SC.  The celebration drew more than 100 Tolkien fans from around the country, and even a few international representatives, and covered an array of geekish delights: deep scholarly dives; artistic interpretations inspired by the Professor; passionate personal accounts of the impact of Tolkien’s writings; wandering Gondorians, wizards and hobbits; and even some culinary coups (including lembas bread, Smaug Scales and a Bilbo birthday cake complete with 111 candles) created by one of those wandering hobbits, Rosie Gamgee/Emily Wert. The festivities centered around a series of presentations which were punctuated with artistic flourishes, both profoundly beautiful and engagingly comic.

Photo credit: Jim Wert.

The main pillars of the convention were a series of talks presented by a number of Tolkien scholars and lovers:

  • Devin Brown, a professor and Tolkien/Lewis scholar from Asbury University, who seamlessly and humorously wove together his personal affection and thoughtful insights on the Legendarium
  • Henry Neff, the delightful author of the fantasy series The Tapestry, mostly recounting the deep impact that Tolkien’s writings have had on his life course and writings
  • Joseph Pearce, another writer and the director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, who brought particular wisdom on how Tolkien wove his Catholic faith into his work in applicable (but certainly not allegorical!) ways
  • Carolyn Webber, a scholar, author and Oxford graduate specializing in 18th and 19th century British/European literature, and whose story in many ways mirrors that of C.S. Lewis, along with Tolkien’s influence on him (hence her book entitled “Surprised by Oxford”)
  • John Sowers, a former professor and the cofounder of the nonprofit The Mentoring Project, who brought a movingly personal set of reflections on the deeper meaning and relevance of Tolkien’s works – including a moving connection of the importance of the Sea to the continuing Music of the Ainur begun in the Ainulindalë.
  • Lisa Coutras, a PhD grad from London University, whose doctoral dissertation led to her book, Tolkien’s Theology of Beauty, and who developed further the story of Arwen, particularly her love and loss
  • Louis Markos, an author (see, for example, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: the Road to Virtue in Tolkien and Lewis) and professor at Houston Baptist University, who spoke (quickly!) on how the four Classical/Cardinal virtues (justice, wisdom, courage and temperance) and three Christian ones (faith, hope and love) are embedded into Tolkien’s stories

Tom Bombadil (Jim Wert) and Goldberry (Emily Wert) make an appearance. Photo credit: Jim Wert.

Interspersed with these talks were assorted interviews and artistic vignettes, including:

  • Tolkien-inspired original music by Eurielle (http://eurielle.com/), who joined us from the UK and led off each morning and afternoon session in numinous fashion (here’s a clip of her singing:  https://www.facebook.com/emilywert/videos/10214612363725064/)
  • Comic flourishes and impressions from Jamie Costa, a local Greenville actor; he absolutely nailed voices as wide-ranging as Ian McKellen/Gandalf, George W. Bush, Matthew McConaughey, Robin Williams and Sean Connery; and combined them into some hilarious reinterpretations of selected LotR/Hobbit readings
  • Justin Gerard, an epic artist who some may have seen at Dragon Con, and who is currently working on developing a Beren and Lúthien series; we were able to watch one of these works develop further as he painted over the course of the two days.

Just as meaningful were the opportunities to mingle among a new set of Tolkienists (Tolkienistas? Tolkienophiles? Whatever you call us Middle-earth addicts).  We had ample time for mingling over fellowship and food between sessions (including those Rosie-produced Tolkien treats).  Emily and I also carted a substantial selection of our Middle-earth Museum of Collectibles to Greenville to add some inter-session ambiance to the mix.

Photo credit: Jim Wert.

Throughout the two days, we had several folks from “Fell and Fair” (http://www.fellandfair.com) strolling through our assembly in full battle array.  They are a group of local artisans and enthusiasts who create everything from Rhohirrim and Gondorian armor to epic films to “Warrior Weekends” offering an immersive feasting/battling experience for those who prefer their heroes in armor rather than lycra and capes.  As a bonus, Fell and Fair founder Zan Campbell’s mother, Nancy, also joined the group.  She is an artist whose Tolkien-inspired work can also be found on Etsy, and who had some pieces for us to enjoy while there, and even for a lucky few to take home as prizes. (https://www.etsy.com/shop/GraceUnderPressureSC)

Here, by the way, is a fun video that combines some of the Fell and Fair folk with Jamie Costa:

The one evening we had together included an informal gathering at a local restaurant and night spot in downtown Greenville that included a bit of trivia, some group singing, storytelling, and perhaps a pint or three.  It’s rumored that Tom Bombadil also made an appearance. A ding-a-dong-dillo.

Our host, speaker, Ithilien Ranger and general driver for this hopefully “first annual” event was Dan Cruver, who also curates the Twitter account @jrrtolkien.  Dan combined humor, insight, humility, and passion to create along with his cohorts a magical two days. Celebrate Tolkien should get even better in future years!

Here are more photos from the event, courtesy of Jim and Emily Wert!


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One Comment

  1. Larry Danner says:

    Thanks for posting this awesome event!