Tolkien 2019, on the edge of the faerie
A meeting with the Elves in a short trip to Birmingham, a journey of adventure and joy with wonderful performances, dedicated reports and picturesque surroundings, over 5 days of Tolkien 2019 with surprises, authors, and stories.
One of the two streets the hotel has the entrance to
The city hall near the event venue
An old looking street leading upwards
The opening ceremony: people listening
One of the numerous events on the programme
A book with Tolkien's drawings in the dealers room
“… Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. (...) No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien there was no stain”.
(J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings”, 1954; Book II, Chapter 6: Lothlórien)
- The event
- Day-by-day breakdown
- Things I liked and disliked
- Special feature: Interviews Exclusive
- Tolkien in Moscow and worldwide
- Articles about Tolkien events
Birmingham's street and square
Another busy street next to the hotel
A report on the first day of 5-day event
Tolkien 2019 is a 5-day celebration of the author and his works that unlike the world renown and yearly Oxonmoot repeats around every 7 years (2005, 2012, 2019).
It encompasses Tolkien's works and their study in an atmosphere of many international communities visiting and relating stories of how they feel about Tolkien's legendarium. Among the events scheduled tightly on the full 5 days programme (4 and a half with a preambula, pre-event on the eve) there is entertainment, learning, communication, amazement, and creative work.
The workshops, Koffee Klatches, reports, performances and meetings all enroll an array of Tolkien lovers. Talking to each other and learning of the experience of like-minded Tolkiendili is one great thing of the quite many. To name but a few, the beauty of the settings, the atmosphere of the joy, and the anticipation of the great things to come.
The newly born wonder of the event is still warm in the hearts of its visitors, as they arrive and make their way through the labyrinth of the hotel, a gigantic maze where Tolkien's secret treasure lies hidden in different rooms to be found. When they depart, their pockets are heavier with the finds, their hearts lighter, and their smiles wider.
Next Tolkien event is planned for 2026, and already looked forward to greatly.
The Tolkien 2019 is greatly reminiscent to one of the Council of Elrond, the gathering of old friends and new arrivals. The “Many Meetings” of those who love and read him.
B. The event
A mazelike building of the hotel leading to different streets
The opening ceremony and most important events are held in the Horton Suite, which is transformed multiple times a day from a large hall into two adjacent rooms divided by a wall with separate talks; smaller events run in minute conference rooms on the 3rd floor, from Opal to Topaz and others.
While the Horton seats up to 500 people when in one room setting, it can still accommodate around 250 when split into two; the smaller rooms only seat up to about 15 to 50 people maximum with some having to sit on the floor. It's all workshops, Koffee Klatches (a coffee event to talk to celebrities), signings, performances and reports.
Just like Russian events, there's an art exhibit and the dealers room where one can buy memorabilia, but also books in large quantities which is quite uncommon at Russian events; strangely they are a bit far off from the main scope of the programme (one is up and down a mysterious corridor leading away from the main point and the other off the street in a bakery).
The main floor, as I start referring to the space between the Horton suites' both sides and the stairs to other rooms, is equipped with the registration desk and a number of cards for those arriving (some come into the room with their bags straight from the airport or train station it seems, arriving straight into the Horton suite all ready for the opening ceremony) and a large number of employees are usually behind or around it.
What strikes me most is how different and similar the event is to Moscow and St. Petersburg (Russian) events; although larger in size, with attendance of up to 500 people, it is still rather comfy and friendly and welcoming; it remains a Tolkien event throughout, with its bright faces and great performances.
The event includes not only daytime reports, book announcements, and workshops and talks with celebrities, and signing, but also evening entertainment programme with a play, an orchestra performance, a banquet and a masquerade party.
Among the guests and speakers there are representatives from the German Tolkien Society, the Dutch, the Italian and the Russian one; I also encounter Spanish people and Americans. You might find John Garth standing in line with you for the Tolkien 2019 tote bag or Tom Shippey on a lecture by one of the Tolkiendili.
C. Day-by-day breakdown
- Expecting: On the eve of the event
- Day 1: The opening, theatrical performance
- Day 2: Orchestra
- Day 3: The banquet
- Day 4: Masquerade and party
- Day 5: Closing
1. Expecting: On the eve of the event
Gandalf and his friend on the main floor
I'm arriving on Tuesday 6th, and an informal meeting at 7 pm is expected downstairs at the Bacchus bar.
The hotel is joyous with people who have come to the event. The Tolkien 2019 is open one day before it officially starts while I meet Emilie from the gallery at the lifts, Francesca and Karl in the lobby talking to others (Karl's T-shirt cheerfully says “Gandalf is Birmingham in 2019”) and Mike carrying some heavy objects that look like huge crowns for the Ents, life-size and all1.
Those are the people I'd been communicating with during my time of arranging the trip. Mike warningly states that I'm not supposed to see the (presumable) crowns and hurries to a different floor. A man in blue T-shirt turns out to be the president of the Tolkien Society1. It's strange to see them come out of the passageways as in fairytale and look so real, wearing everyday clothes and yet having Tolkien in their hearts.
In an informal meeting downstairs at the Bacchus bar in the evening which is located under the building of the hotel I encounter members of German, Spanish, Russian and even Dutch Tolkien societies. Many of them are regulars at these type of conventions and visit most of these events each year. They all have memories of history of Tolkien movement in their countries, and I listen to stories of different events held in Germany and tales of forum wars in Russian-speaking community while a very impressive Gandalf with a staff and a notable laugh make their way around the place.
Those who come in later also discuss the illustrators and authors, and the upcoming Koffee Klatches, for which they expect to meet Alan Lee, Tom Shippey, Ted Nadsmith and John Garth2.
Coming upstairs as the other guests leave for their hotels I find in my inbox a copy of the letter stating I have a Koffee Klatch with Tom Shippey the next morning, and Birmingham goes to sleep (with some of the guests leaving the bar as late as 11 pm).
2. Day 1: The opening, theatrical performance
A drawing workshop on Day 1
Massimiliano Izzo's report on Elves and Faeries
“Leaf by Niggle” performance in the evening
Day 1 starts with the opening ceremony with guests arriving from all parts of the world to participate in the Tolkien 2019. A short video is shown to highlight the key points of the Tolkien society history throughout the years, and the chair adds his description of the upcoming programme.
Next up is Tom Shippey with his report on research in the field of authors to come after and before Tolkien, speaking of his goals to investigate this filed further.
While in Horton A there's talk of the Tolkien and Digital Philology (a report by James Tauber) in the neighbouring Horton B Bob Blackham is speaking of the Tolkien's Birmingham.
“To the origins of fairy-tales” (Enrico Spadaro report) in the Opal room is running late while I'm taking a look at the Tolkien's exhibit at the Drummond room (all of them being additional rooms upstairs), or so I think; for as we enter the room it turns out the next talk is on, “On the nature and corporeality of Elves and Fairies according to Tolkien” panel by Massimiliano Izzo.
David Doughan in the Opal room is referring to music and composers for his “Reputations” report.
There's a panel in Topaz with a lot of people drawing (a drawing workshop).
During the pause I see kids wearing colourful badges at the bar and encounter several people carrying books at the elevator. The selection includes those of John Garth, Oronzo Chilli (the one being presented at the conference, “The Tolkien library”), Tom Shippey and others.
People still find it hard to eat and drink with so many of the different events at hand, also with the dealers room and the arts exhibition at different venues (the first one is accessible through a maze system of the hotel interconnecting stairs and the other one is a couple of streets away).
I rush off to the Koffee Klatch with Tom Shippey where there's talk about the authors before and after Tolkien.
Oronzo Chilli's “The Tolkien library“ (presented at the conference), Morris and other books are mentioned, among them “The proverbs of Middle-earth“3. Tom names “the survival genres” (such as riddles, proverbs, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and also personal names and place names which Tolkien was most interested in) and mentions that Tolkien believed that this stuff hadn't gone away, it just went underground, and points out that Tolkien would take a genuine interest in a telephone directory reading names and deriving their origin. On one of the talks with him he mentions,
“And Tolkien then says, “And what do you think the name Neeve derives from?”
Tom elaborates on his version, and then:
“Ah”, he said, which meant “No”.
The “Leaf by Niggle” is a theatre performance of one person who drinks his coffee from a cup on stage, drives his bicycle on stage and shows his tree and the desire to finish the picture. Funny enough, not knowing this to be one of Tolkien's works, I find most parts of it horrible, except for the tree and the leaves (those parts that remind me of him the most); but then I encounter the word for it: poignant, in a description showing the work to be his.
The play gets a standing ovation from the crowd.
3. Day 2: Orchestra
Marquette University's performance scroll of working with archives
Sian Pehrsson''s reports on Faramir and fiery mountains
Thursday opens up late for me. After midday I visit Bill Fliss's presentation of the Tolkien collection at Marquette University, with a time scroll showing their work reordering the archive, and other projects, among which are the “Fellows Hub”, a digitalized library of magazines with search available, and the gathering of Tolkien mentions: memorabilia throughout the world.
Later on John Garth speaks about the towers of Birmingham, and as I ask him about the interview we rush to geologist and writer Sian Pehrsson's two reports in the smaller Diamond room.
In the first one she lists the existing volcanoes and the similarities between them and those in Tolkien's works in Middle-Earth; in the other, she relates her tale of how Faramir is reminiscent of Lieutenant Robert Gilson based on John Garth's research.
During the KK with Dimitra Fimi I am surprised by several of her quotes, especially her referring to Tolkien's legendarium as a culture of a whole culture:
“How does one person create the mythology that a whole culture usually creates?”
Orchestra performance follows with great songs and familiar tunes, some of them from “The Hobbit”, and others from the “Chronicles of Narnia”.
I miss the Open Mic Ents because of a suddenly looming interview with John Garth which ends up late into evening hours.
4. Day 3: The banquet
The quizz on Tolkienology
The banquet and my happy table
Celidh, people dancing with band's cues
Friday is a day full of entertainment and surprise. It starts with a game show, a quizz about the Middle-earth.
I drop in to the Smials Forum only to find that a couple of fans from different parts of the world have self-organized themselves (the organizers just didn't turn up).
And further it goes to the German Tolkien Society panel. I'm in for the KK with Tom Shippey, however I arrive too late only to find a line standing. Being under the impression that they are all waiting for the celebrity to arrive, I dwindle too long and simply rush back downstairs.
The German community is quite huge, and I believe it is the only one which is so consistent except for the TS in the UK itself, although I'm told that the Dutch one is at least equally rallied.
In Germany, there's a general community with Smials in different cities.
In Russia, we have neither Smials nor a whole community. The only one large enough that I know of is in St. Petersburg and has a magazine (being issued several times of the year) called “Palantir” with scientific articles in the field. During the event I hear that the German TS has its own paper called “Der Flammifer von Westernis”, and the Dutch one “The Lembas”, while of course the Tolkien Society has the “Amon Hen” pamphlet.
The Marquette University has a digital collection for them and others called the “Fellows Hub”.
In “Tolkien's reactions to others' Middle-earth art” by Jeremy Edwards I learn of the adjectives he would describe covers and pictures of the fans as, among them the “frightful”, “horrified”, “horrible”, “vulgar”, “in many ways astonishing”, and “mordoresque” (also “Mordor hideousness”).
On my way I run into Oronzo Chilli and some of his Italian acquaintances who also seem rather numerous and friendly and I'm surprised by his knowledge of the Russian publications of the “LOTR” (“over 10 titles — like a nightmare for a collector”, he says).
Brian Sibley speaks a lot about the movies in his talks, mentioning both the crew and the director (Peter Jackson) in his presentation and speech and making a nice joke about cast having affiliation with SAS. He is very artistic in the way he imitates voices and behaviour when relating a speech on a conversation after with others.
After the Koffee Klatch and pictures we go downstairs with Brian Sibley for an interview, and as he mentions we barely have time to change into our suits.
The hotel is a maze and a labyrinth full of strange passageways some of which tend to lead you all the way around the building and others just lead nowhere. The only lift is a mystery for it arrives and departs on what seems like mere whimse.
The examples of similar events a couple of guests have been going to with the TS are the “The Ring Goes Ever On” in 2005 and “The Return of the Ring” in 2012.
It continues to the banquet where everyone looks quite happy toasting the queen, the friends, and the professor and applauding (and eating and chatting).
The members of TS get their 10 year (around 10 of them) and 25 year (2 of them) badges. Among the 10 y.o. is Dimitra Fimi who does a short interview after the banquet is over and the room is being rearranged for the dance.
On it goes to the Celidh, and although I miss Filking (which is making Tolkien songs to popular tunes) by several minutes I watch people dance in pairs and in groups on the scene while others clap and enjoy.
5. Day 4: Masquerade and party
Helmets & swords on the table after the swords fighting showcase
Contentants in the costume competition (masquerade)
Evening entertainment: party with decorations
I arrive late at the Sword fighting showcase only to find the swords and the helmets being packed, and there the next report starts, the Blessed trees.
There are helmets and swords around and while the gear is being packed I still admire the costumes.
Next is the history of Blessed trees of Tolkien's legendarium and their comparison with the Great Oak of England by Murray Smith that became popular since 1660 as a symbol of restoration and part of the local culture. “In all my works I take the part of trees against their enemies” is the Tolkien quote that sounds recognizable to my ear.
On a panel about collecting Tolkien René van Rossenberg, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull talk about their collected items.
I rush off to the “Waterstones” book shop nearby to buy some of the Tolkien books and very nearly miss the art exhibitions (though there is a weblink in the Tolkien Society group).
In the evening there's the masquerade (with the costume contest) and the party, where the Horton suite turns into a festive hall in 20 minutes.
People are taking pictures as I proceed to watch the performance with a surprise, for to the sounds of the music it seems the doors open and the Elves join us in the celebrations.
6. Day 5: Closing
People with bags at the closing on Day 5
Final pictures with the new decorations
Dimitra Fimi's report (on Fox rhyme) and singing
The event closes with a room full of people, hearts full of emotions and faces full of smiles.
The decorated sets of Hobbiton doors, horse banners with tables and the Moria gate still attract visitors who want to take pictures. Like on the day of the opening, people arrive with their briefcases and bags ready to travel. A great adventure lies behind, while another one awaits.
Finishing report is by Dr. Dimitra Fimi of foxes rhyme and its connection to the Old troll song that Tolkien included into the “Lord of the Rings” only after it had been with him for many years; Dimitra's singing is accompanied by other attendees in a music-like atmosphere of the large hall.
The banner of Tolkien 2019 in the Entrance Hall stands only just for another hour or two. The next event is in 7 years, with Oxonmoots in between each year.
D. Things I liked and disliked
Souvenirs in a far-away room
Books in the dealers room
Things I liked
- An extensive programme with bright performances and features
- Very different events put together
- A wide range of different-sighted entertainment
- Huge number of very accessible celebrities
- The friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the event
- A great central location of the hotel with great facilities
Things I disliked
- Somehow maze-like structure of the hotel building makes it hard to find places at first
- The events run without pause for large periods of time making it hard to fit a break
- Only one play on the programme (would've welcomed more)
- Large distances to the dealers room and the art exhibition gallery
What I liked most
- The evening performances that are quite a catcher for the public
- The atmosphere and the kids around appreciating the event as well as grown ups
- A general sense of understanding the same themes Tolkien
- The great attitude of the team who have put the whole thing together
- Huge amount of Tolkien fans in one place from all different countries
- Uncommon to Russian events
The British character and flair is visible in the welcoming ceremony, and the amount of reports is comparable although there is a lot more signing and talks with celebrities going on which some find quite an attraction, a rewarding activity in itself to pursue.
Celebrities don't really need hunting after as you run into them massively.
E. Special feature: Interviews Exclusive
John Garth's report on the towers of Birmingham
Brian Sibley's speech of dramatization for radio and film
Dimitra Fimi's fox rhyme singing
- John Garth: Tolkien biography
- Brian Sibley: Dramatization and cinematographic works production
- Dimitra Fimi: Academic perspective
- John Garth
- Brian Sibley
- Dimitra Fimi
On the importance of research in one's life and how this world is not real.
In his talk John refers to the modern buildings in Birmingham and their history.
How and why the films about Tolkien's works can differ (in his talks and in the interview).
In his talk Brian Sibley gives a perspective of his involvement with the movies. He continues to speak about the actors and the crew.
How one author creates a culture of a whole culture, on academic and fandom background in perspectives Greece and the UK, and singing (in her talk and interview).
F. Tolkien in Moscow and worldwide
St. Petersburg, Russia's Tolkien's birthday 2019 (from KaminKom organizers) with harp sounds
Moscow, Russia's Vescon 2019, one of the largest Tolkien events in the country: quiz at the 10th anniversary
Hobbits decorations and the 50th anniversary of the Tolkien Society at Tolkien 2019
Similarities to Russian events (e. g. Vescon)
— A large number of reports and performances put together over several days
— A broad range of events with workshops, reports, art gallery and exhibit, and dealers room
— Entertainment including costume contest, a play, an orchestra, a masquerade, and a dance
— No readings, but a comprehensive amount of quotes in the reports
— People finding topics they can speak about on the spot
— Filking (a similar general concert in Russia)
— A number of workshops, including drawing and others
— Open mic also noted
— Knitting also noted at the event
Differences from Russian events (e. g. Tolkien 2019)
— Dealers room features books in large quantities which is quite uncommon in Russia; the otherwise familiar jewellery is featured in a different room at a separate time (with a slot like a report)
— Grandiose opening ceremony in a huge hall
— Ball instead of banquet in Russia and orchestra instead of harp and concerts in Britain
— A lot of references to other works being published in Britain (present in Russia on a smaller scale)
— Atmosphere of a friendly performance in UK, Birmingham compared to a meeting of old friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg
Best points of the Russian events: Interesting homelike meeting
— The contents of the reports are always at a very high level, both interesting and amusing at times
— Homelike atmosphere of a long-lost friend welcoming you
— A lot of meetings with like-minded people
Best points of the British events: Smooth friendly entertainment
— The entertainment and flair with which the event is organized
— Friendly and helpful attitude of the organizers
— Smooth organization and set up
Overall there is more talk about Tolkien and his works at the Russian events. They celebrate all things Tolkien more than the other celebrities and the meaning of his creations rather than the thoughts of others. In the UK, a very positive notion is an opportunity to enjoy the company of the authors for those who appreciate their expertise and their knowledge, or for the autograph hunters.
H. Articles about Tolkien events
A great adventure lies behind, while another one awaits.
Articles about Tolkien events in Moscow and worldwide, a faerie tale adventure full of hopes, smiles and surprises.
A wonderous tale of modern-day encounters with Elves, faeries, and other creatures in our universe.
Tolkien events around the globe, or how to meet Bilbo and Gandalf in contemporary Middle-earth
Russia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, world
First Tolkien-only museum opens in Moscow
Tolkien 2019, on the edge of the faerie
Overview of events in Tolkienology, or how to find adventure in the spirit of Bilbo and Gandalf in contemporary Middle-earth
Russia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, world
“Vescon 2019” (Moscow Tolkien convention) for the ignorant, or my first time at “Vescon”
Moscow museum of Tolkien fandom: imaginary and real
1 Employees of the Tolkien Society:
— Francesca Babini, travel coordinator of the Tolkien 2019;
— Karl Southern, daytime programme;
— Mike Percival, room arrangements;
— Shaun Gunner, the chair of the Tolkien Society.
— Alan Lee, one of the first illustrators of Tolkien books;
— Tom Shippey, one of the authors of the books about Tolkien who knew him personally;
— Ted Nadsmith, a renown Tolkien illlustator;
— John Garth, author of bibliographical works about Tolkien.
3 Books and authors:
— Oronzo Chilli, author of “The Tolkien library“ (presented at the conference);
— William Morris, a presumably important figure for Tolkien;
— “The proverbs of Middle-earth“, a book by David Rowe.