April 02, 2004

Wheeler's Conference Epic

Right. So I'm still blogging, obviously. Congratulations. You're all frigging geniuses. Except for those of you that clearly aren't. Clearly, Mr. Fry has me pegged. I am completely addicted to publishing myself on a regular basis. In a brief aside before we move on, I hope you all played The Worm Game that was linked in that last post of mine.

I would also like to note an incident that occured in English Lit II on Wednesday. Dr. Watson was sitting in Mr. Payton's office, yakking about Conference stuff, when the bell rang for class. I decided to hang about the door so I could just happen to run into him when he came out a few seconds later. He proceeded to sign me up for a time to do volunteer work on Friday, and then I asked him if he would be attending class. He would.

I followed him down to his office, and informed that the day's topic of discussion was Joseph Conrad when he asked. Then we went to class. Power Point wasn't working, he was having a little trouble pronouncing certain words, and he had brought the wrong textbook. He sent someone to get the right one, and looked out at the rest of us.

Dr. Watson: After the Conference this weekend, I'll get my life back, and then things will be better.

Myself (Yeah, like I'm gonna let that go by . . .): *respectfully raises hand*

Dr. Watson: Yes, sir?

Myself (in an eager and curious tone): When do we get our lives back?

Anyway, I wanted to record that because opportunities to even attempt something that resembles a *zing* don't surface around Dr. Watson on anything like a regular basis.

And now it's time to talk about . . .

The 7th Annual C. S. Lewis and the Inklings Conference

I had a lot of fun. This was an amazing experience, and I am very bitter that we don't get this kind of thing more often. I essentially got to spend an entire day talking shop with several dozen hardcore and intelligent Inklings nerds, (as opposed to the average garden-variety one finds wandering at large amongst the general student body), not to mention scholars. It was a long day, yes. I had to wake up at 6:30 to get ready to attend. And I had to get myself all dressed up and wear a tie, which I am not particularly fond of doing (for various reasons . . . most of them attached to laziness and an aversion to discomfort). But I really didn't care about all that.

I met Scholl coming out of SAGA and sent him off to put on something that wasn't shorts and sandals before meeting Ardith inside the Education building. In due time, Anna came along, and Scholl eventually returned. Wilson showed up after the opening general session, and we were all there for the entirety of the day.

I shall now attempt to record the portion of the conference that I attended as briefly as possible.

8:00- Dr. Woodring addresses everyone together, giving a 15-minute devotion on the subject of "Who is Jesus?" He quoted both Dorothy Sayers and C. S. Lewis extensively. He clearly started off on the right foot . . . with a jab at the SC members present. "I'll go ahead and start now, and everyone else can come in late and sit down. I'll just feel like it's another one of my classes . . . Yeah, I see some of the same people, in fact." *pointed look at us* You think I just have some kind of persecution complex? His first response upon seeing me walk into the building ten minutes before was not a pleasant "good morning" but a bitterly humorous expression of amazement that I had managed to get up and look so awake when I slept through so many of his Bib Lit classes last semester.

8:15- Bruce Edwards of Bowling Green State University, our keynote speaker, talked for about an hour on "Re-enchanting the Christian Imagination: C. S. Lewis and the Inklings." I quite enjoyed his talk. He was a good speaker, and his address was essentially a quick recap of the most important themes we covered in last semester's Inklings class. He used a lot of the same quotes that Dr. Woodring would read regularly, and generally discussed things like the Inklings' aversion to allegory and preference for "Religious Myth," as well as their vanguard action (as it were) in bringing fantasy and science-fiction out into the light of respectability amongst mainstream Christians.

9:25- Four sessions to choose from . . . AGH! There will be 12 papers presented during the next hour and twenty minutes, and I can only hear three of them. Scholl and I choose Section D. Anna, Ardith and Wilson decide to go attend Section C (which looked, and apparently was, quite excellent . . . perhaps one of them will post on the stuff they got to hear that I missed).

-Paper #1: Pam Jordan of Taylor University (specialty, Victorian Lit) presented "Reflections on Hamlet from the Inklings." Very interesting, for the most part. She actually looked at criticism written by Lewis, Williams, MacDonald, and Chesterton . . . Not all of them are Inklings, but they all have legitimate business being there. Her paper was a bit ambitious . . . clearly she could have written as much as she had just from the criticism of one of those authors. As it was, hers was the longest paper in the session, and she said she had cut a number of chunks out of it. In any case, it was interesting to note where the four men agreed and disagreed. All of them were very similair in their ideas, especially concerning the question of Hamlet's hesitation, (they all seemed to agree with the theory that Hamlet does not, in fact, hesitate at all, but acts when he needs to, and just as he wants to), but each had quite unique and fascinating reasons to back up those ideas.

Paper #2- E. B. Hawkins of Lamar State University (specialty, Old and Middle English Lit) presented "What About the Heroes? -- Tolkien's Answer." This was a very fun paper, providing an in-depth examination of how Tolkien treats the subjects of immortality and an afterlife for the various species in Middle Earth . . . especially the manner in which he rewards the main heroes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. She noted that, while there is some sort of hope of an afterlife implied indirectly, Tolkien absolutely refused to spell out the answer to those questions. Instead, he grants extended lifespans and other rewards to his main characters as more tangible positive benefits for their heroic actions . . . but they all still die. I was somewhat amused in the discussion afterwards when it became quite evident that Dr. Hawkins was rather bitter about the lack of a confirmed happily-ever-after ending to the trilogy. She obviously had that passion for the work that I am always pleased to discover in a new acquaintance.

Paper #3- Sheba Kulothungan of Southwestern Assemblies of God University (specialty, Early American Lit) presented "Allegory and Symbolism in Lewis' Poems: His Definitions, His Display, His Dynamism." In terms of the overall balance between presentation, choice of topic, and excellent analysis, this was the most enjoyable paper I heard today. Dr. Kulothungan contrasted Lewis' poetry with the poetry of the American Puritan writers and of Emily Dickinson. She noted particularly that both Lewis and the Puritans wrote about "mere" Christianity, but she was curious to discover what precisely Lewis was doing that made his writing so much more profound, accessible, and alive than the writings of the Puritans. She referred to the Puritans as "scaling the mountain of an unknown God with the pitons of symbolism and allegory." Lewis, on the other hand, "scaled the mountain of symbolism and allegory using the pitons of the truths about God that he recognized intrinsically." She drew attention to the fact that, while the Puritans regarded the spiritual realm as incorporeal and ethereal in comparison to the solid, concrete "real world," Lewis saw the "real world" as merely a dim, dirty shadow of the reality of the spiritual world. Very cool stuff, and I just can't get enough of it . . . There was a lot of other cool stuff, as well, but I don't remember it in such detail. Scholl was exceptionally pleased when Dr. Kulothungan, as he put it, ripped into Emily Dickinson, but I digress.

10:45- Break time . . . We all gather in the hallway to confer and generally agree that this is really awesome. And we eat some really really delicious blueberry muffins. Dr. Watson comes along and drops a task on us (chiefly Scholl) as volunteers. Namely, to track down pertinent information on a number of local tourist attractions and put it together on one piece of paper to be distributed. We all accompany him upstairs to the labs (there being only ten minutes of break left) and grab what we can. Wilson, Ardith, and Anna trickle off to Section B, while I go to Section C, saving a seat for Scholl as he toddles off to repackage the information we have accumulated. He fails to show up, but Ardith suddenly wanders in, so I give her his seat.

Paper #4- Melanie Hix of Oklahoma City University (Graduate Student) presents "Consumption of the Inner Spirit: Gagool and Tolkien's Gollum." I was very interested in this paper for two reasons. First, King Solomon's Mines is one of my favorite books of all time and Gagool's death is one of the more memorable scenes. Second, I was interested in hearing a paper that was doing basically the same thing that I was doing. That is, comparing something from Tolkien's work to something from another author's and suggesting that he might have drawn from that source in the process of creating his own work. If you've ever read King Solomon's Mines you can start drawing half a dozen parallels right away, and if not then I won't be able to clarify things by elaborating further. Good paper, though.

Paper #5- Joe Cristopher of Tarelton State University (some variety of Doctor or another) presents "A Four-fold Interpretation of the Narnian Father Christmas." This paper was thick . . . excessively so, I thought. It was kind of hard to follow and by the end of it I wasn't quite sure what point he was trying to make. Also, the intent of the paper got a bit diluted in the after discussion when he spent a good five minutes discoursing on a tangent. All I know for sure is that he was examining different ways of explaining the presence of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

12:25- Time for lunch . . . Scholl, Ardith and I get our food and spot Dr. Hawkins sitting in a nice, neutral, empty sort of spot, so we surround her. We had a good time discussing this and that with her, mostly at random. Anna showed up after she finished doing . . . that whole volunteer thing (I wasn't paying attention, so I don't know what it was). Loius Markos, of Houston Baptist University, gets up and does a drama that he had already done in chapel that morning: Screwtape's Millenial Toast. In it, he pretty much eviscerated modern teen culture, much to the amusement of the very much non-teenagers that the crowd mainly consisted of. In fact, here's the entire thing, online.

At the end of his monologue, he made reference to signals from "Chairman Muckrake" at the back of the room. I turned around to glance at Dr. Watson (the Conference Chair) and he was looking right at me with a rather funny expression of surprise, confusion, and amusement. Then he got up to dismiss us and so forth at the end of the thing.

Dr. Watson: As Chairman Muckrake, I must say that was one hell of a speech!

1:30- After walking briskly back to my room to retrieve a hard copy of my paper, I returned once again to the Education Building to attend the John Brown University Student Forum. I wasn't particularly keen on any of the papers in the next two sets of sessions, so I figured I'd see what the students from Andy's school had to offer. Scholl, Sharptiano, Barbour, Dr. Solganick, and Dr. Hawkins were all in attendance. I can make this fairly brief, I think. Three of the papers were essentially Power Point presentations and the computer was being mean and hateful. So Scholl got to play techie while the one student that didn't have her paper associated with the computer got up to read.

Paper #6- Evelyn Baldwin (Junior, English Education) presents "Gods by Machine: The Semi-Pelagianism of J. R. R. Tolkien's deus ex machina Resulotions." This was by far the most delectable title on the entire program, and the paper did not disappoint. She took a look at how Tolkien manages to get away with having main characters who are, ultimately, never able to save themselves without some outside help, and still stay believable. There was, of course, a brief discussion of important things like the origins of the term deus ex machina and its use and abuse in literature in general. Clearly I can't do this one justice, but it was good stuff.

Paper #7- Mariam DiPasquale (Sophomore . . . I think, Anthropology) presents "Boxen and C. S. Lewis's Childhood." It was all about the fantasy world of Boxen that C. S. Lewis created with his brother Warnie when they were children, and it included all sorts of illustrations that he had done and so forth. As far as that goes, it was rather interesting. It would have been a lot more interesting if she had spent a decent amount of time showing us how these childhood games influenced his later work, but whatever . . . It was too long considering the lack of substantial material, her Power Point really could have used help, and I think it would be safe to say that I was at least mildly bored by the end. Scholl, apparently, was ready to scratch out his own eyeballs and use them to plug his ears, but then, he is a person given to much excess.

Paper #8- Megan Lein (Sophomore . . . I think, ironically I have no idea what her major is) presents "The Great War, Tolkien, and the T. C. B. S." This one was considerably better than the previous one. The Power Point worked better, it didn't drag as much, etc. It was a report on Tolkien's small (4 guys), close group of college friends and the influence that they had on his early life, as well as a brief recap of what happened to them in WWI. Two of them died, and Tolkien was, of course, deeply affected by this. Again, there was some analysis of the influence that this had on him, but I thought that it needed more to really give it a point. However, I found the topic itself to be quite interesting, personally, never having heard the full story before. Scholl was quite weary of Power Point by this time.

Paper #9- Ruby Vasquez (Sophomore, History) presents "Tolkien's Revisions in the History of Middle Earth." I thought this one was rather good. She examined the three different versions that Tolkien wrote of the story of Turin Turambar and paid special attention to the differences in the workings of fate in each version. I don't remember who told us this, or when, but sometime during the Inklings class I remember hearing that if the audience of your paper could just watch your Power Point presentation and eliminate you from the picture entirely . . . Well, that's problematic. Ummm . . . duh. This paper would have benefited enormously from simply being read, as we didn't really need to see any pictures or anything of that kind. That notwithstanding, it was a worthy effort.

3:40- Now the real "fun" begins, with everyone I know (and myself) presenting practically all at once. I sat and listened to Anna Ross present "The Presence of Eros in The Screwtape Letters" and to Ardith present "Stereotype Used Effectively:Portrayals in That Hideous Strength." Both excellent, of course . . . I had heard portions of Anna's, as she was in my group last semester, and I had also heard Ardith's, of course.

4:45- The final session . . . Randy and Scholl both go before I do. I hadn't heard Randy's paper, "Unusual Women: Luthien and Orual." Clearly, I need to hear it again. I liked what I heard, but I probably only caught one word in four . . . I was a bit distracted. Scholl presented his "Creation and Afterlife: A Comparison of the Worldviews of Two Inklings." Naturally I'd heard that one before . . .

And then it was my turn . . . last paper of the day for everyone in the room ("What Dreams May Come: The Purgatory of Dante and Tolkien"). Interesting crowd we had managed to collect . . . I guess it was one of the occupational hazards for being in a session with Scholl after pretty much attending the same sessions with him all day. He had collected quite a following by this point.

Upon later reflection, it reminded me of one of those storybooks for very small children which follows a day in the life of the main character. They journey throughout the day, meeting new people and having new experiences and so forth, and then at the climax of the thing all of the people he has encountered throughout the story gather together with this main character as the center of whatever is going on . . . I'm not sure if I'm quite getting across what I mean, but there it is.

The entire JBU contingent snagged one wall, apparently returning the favor of our attendance at their session (and Scholl's generous helpings of technical assistance). We had been pestering Dr. Hawkins the entire day, of course, so naturally she slipped in. Even Dr. Jordan, of the Hamlet paper, found her way to this session, somehow or other. And naturally there was the mandatory contingent of available SC members, available, as always, to show some friendly, semi-questionable support. Gallagher and Martinez had come dragging in from . . . wherever for the previous session . . . Anna had just presented in the same room the session before . . . etc. Dr. Olson was heading up the session, due to yet another recent schedule change, and she was clearly having far too much fun with all of the goings-on. There were people there, and I knew virtually all of them, that's what I'm saying. It was weird, but clearly more enjoyable that way.

And then it was essentially over. I opted out of the dinner and seeing Shadowlands performed that evening in favor of attending Hootenanny (and I'm clearly not getting into that right now). The Conference was truly an epic experience, and I expect it will be handy discussion fodder for some time to come yet. You should go find yourself one to attend, because it is very much a lot of fun.

And speaking of epic, I can't help but wonder if this post is a record-breaker . . . for me, I mean. I have no idea how long the longest blogpost ever might be . . . Are you still reading this?! Good grief! Clearly I wrote this particular post with the express purpose of keeping certain details fixed in my own memory. If, for some reason, you're still there, it is clearly time for both of us to go find something constructive to do.

Personally, I'm casting a vote for sleep. *looks around* Clearly I am talking to myself as I am the only one in the room. That makes it unanimous. Good night.

Posted by Jared at April 2, 2004 11:59 PM | TrackBack