My notes from the second panel at MidMoot 3

Joe Hoffman: Fragments of a Geographical Approach to Fantasy Criticism

This paper is on line in its entirety,  by some strange chance.  Some of the symposium attendees looked disappointed when I mentioned I’d taken out the mathematical underpinning of the Tolkien section.  You guys are great!

A couple of interesting questions came up.

Q: Did I look for an alignment of Bree-hobbit names with Englishmen living overseas?  A: I don’t have an easy source for those, but it would be really cool if they were South Africans or Australians.

Q: Did you look along the coast of Cornwall, where Tolkien spent holidays as a child?  A: (Later) I found Chubbs there, but nobody else.

Prof. Flieger suggested the name “Trotter” might be interesting.


Distribution of Trotter in the UK, computed by Oliver O’Brien

That was Tolkien’s original name for “Strider”.  She suggested that it might be from the Scottish borderlands.

A: There is certainly a hotspot there, but the highest concentration is in Lincoln. Running through my associations with that city, I recall that Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men (aka rangers) dressed in Lincoln green. That is exactly the kind of thing I no longer dismiss as coincidence when I’m thinking about Tolkien’s writing.

David Gras: Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis & the Bridge between them

David describes himself as a Christian apologist. (I didn’t know that was still a job title.)

C.S. Lewis didn’t embrace paganism the way JRRT or J.K. Rowling did.  We shouldn’t resist the mythological resonances.  Lots of phoenix imagery in Harry Potter, for example.  Harry Potter and Aslan are bridges between the human world and the Forest. Making the self-sacrifice to save their worlds.

Q: Pre-christian myths have different status from a myth derived from Christianity. A: Lewis wrote a letter on that; you don’t have to abandon the things you learn from ancient myths when you convert to Christianity. We don’t have to avoid them, we should learn from them. The Phoenix was adopted as a symbol of Christ by medieval missionaries. Jesus was portrayed as a white stag; Harry’s patronus is a white stag.

Q: how do you deal with Christians who say that witchcraft is evil so christians must avoid it in books? A: It’s just brought in as a connection to mythology. The things in the book don’t have anything to do with actual Wicca. It’s there to communicate a moral about light, not inform about darkness.

Q: Nobody thinks they’re evil. Witches think they’re a force for good. A force within yourself (hereditary) isn’t what they think. A: When JKR was asked about that, she said that real Wiccans laugh at her books. The Navajo are kind of objecting to her latest work, by the way.

Michelle Markey Butler: Good People Doing Bad Things

A shared theme doesn’t require direct influence. It’s not a cage match, pitting authors against each other to see who did this better. Shared themes are handled very differently by Tolkien and Rowling.  Her examples are Boromir & Sam vs. Lupin, Dumbledore, & Harry.

Boromir accepts that Aragorn is the leader, which is a self-sacrifice. The fact that he’s a good guy is obvious to adults, but children don’t get it. Chesterton: children are innocent and love justice; adults are wicked and prefer mercy. One of the most psychologically-realized characters.  Sam is the hero, but he pushes Gollum past any chance of redemption. The most cynical observation in the book — that people frequently do real damage from just trying to help others.  Note:  It’s widely said that George R.R. Martin is a cynical reboot of Tolkien. This isn’t really true. JRRT has such a deep streak of cynicism that no such thing is needed.

Lupin taught most of the magic. But then he abandons his pregnant wife.  Dumbledore is kindness, patience, and wisdom. Until we learn about his past problems, like plotting to take over the world & rule through wizardry. How could the Dumbledore we thought we knew make those choices?  Harry makes choices that lead to the death of his godfather. He trusts his dreams too much, even when his friends urge him to wait. Harry can’t be a solitary hero. Without his friends, bad things happen.