Sunday, July 21, 2013

More on Mythcon 44

I saw many excellent presentations at Mythcon, but one of my personal favorites was Anna Smol's "Tolkien's Painterly Style: Landscapes in The Lord of the Rings" (a project Ms. Smol undertook with her colleague Jeff MacLeod).

I have been known to skim through Tolkien's landscapes to "get to the good stuff" (e.g., the action, the character-revealing decisions, etc.).

In her presentation, Ms. Smol put up a passage from Tolkien and showed how he described the landscape.  With the instinct of a painter, he draws the reader's eye across the scene, following natural lines and light.  (I think this could also be considered cinematic, following the camera's eye; but it certainly works for good classical painters.)  Colors are carefully chosen, subtly blended; the view in the distance is impressionistic.

For contrast, she chose a passage from Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, in which the landscape is described methodically, even scientifically -- items listed by category rather than in natural order of observation.  It's an extreme example, of course, and not necessarily typical of Pullman (one audience member noted that the style may reflect that the scene's point-of-view character is a scientist), but it helped underscore the subtlety of Tolkien's craft.

I am really grateful to Ms. Smol for opening my eyes to Tolkien's painterly style.  It had never even crossed my mind, but is so clear once pointed out.  Next time I read Lord of the Rings, I will dwell on his landscapes.

Another one that was a great hit was Trish Lambert's "How the Respective Cosmogonies of Narnia and Middle-earth Affect Grief and Hope in the Environment.”  This one, too, I found eye-opening; Ms. Lambert has thought very carefully about the grief and hopelessness in The Lord of the Rings, from the perspective of the characters within the story.  Her paper was both moving and insightful, and it resulted in an extended Q&A session.  Her slideshow presentation enhanced the talk without overwhelming it (a line that is sometimes difficult to walk). She used some well-designed animations - I especially liked Elrond's family tree, and a very cute slide that brought new life to the old cliché about comparing apples and oranges.

Kris Swank's "Good Plain Food: Diet and Virtue in the Fantasies of Tolkien and Lewis" was another audience favorite, and may be picked up for publication - so stay tuned.  

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