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© 2010 Festival in the Shire Journal. All rights reserved.

Festival in the Shire
Review by Sue Wookey

Well, I'm back - not to the Shire but from it. 'It' being three days of Tolkien filled fun in Wales. If you've been following this blog you'll know I was exhibiting in the Art Exhibition there and have come back thrilled to be hanging amongst such terrific art. I've decided I should give up painting fantastic trees after seeing Rodney Matthews 'Old Man Willow' but I guess I'll just have to do better! I have to thank the volunteer organisers for hanging my work and setting up my prints and cards for me in the Festival Shop. You were heroic. All in all I was very pleased with how the exhibiting went.

BUT - it wasn't all exhibiting, of course. There was a fantastic Conference where papers were given by (amongst others) Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, John Garth, Colin Duriez and Cary Olsen. I admit I was in seventh heaven (is there an eighth heaven? I might have been there too...). I learnt so much, there was plenty of laughter along with the scholarship (did I mention Tom Shippey?) and one talk that I will never forget from John Garth, who read a very carefully put together series of excerpts of the letters of Tolkien's great TCBS friend, Robert Gilson. Gilson's niece was in the audience as we followed his time at school with Tolkien, through to his army training, journey to the front, his hopes and fears. Gilson died in the first major push at the opening of the Battle of the Somme and hearing his own words as he prepared for battle in the horrific mud of the trenches was unbearably moving. I'm hoping, like everyone in the talk, that there will be a book so these very well written letters can be shared.

Outside the Conference there were many other smaller talks, music, storytelling - how wonderful to hear Beren and Luthien told out loud from memory! - and re-enactments. All this and beautiful scenery too!

And from Sue Bridgewater:

The main speakers:
L to R: Olsen, Dimitra Fimi, Garth, Flieger, Shippey, Duriez, Alex Lewis (hidden), Colin Manlov and Ruth Lacon.
© Sue Wookey

The Conference was excellent, a wonderful mix of Names and of rising stars, my head is swimming with all the stuff to assimilate from those talks.

 What I saw of the fan Expo suggested that the content was good, but that perhaps the turnout could have been better, ditto the festival and reconstructions.  That must be disappointing but I hope it won't prevent you from trying again in the hope of building the event up.  Maybe it's mainly us nerds who are more used to the idea of assembling for a Tolkien event?  Your main aim of bringing together the various strands of interest is very important, perhaps a little slack in the schedules would allow for more crossover?  I saw things I would have liked to attend but could not tear myself away from the Conference.  Incidentally, a tabled format for the schedules would have helped, so you could see easily what things were happening at what times and where.

 The venue was good, including the catering and access, although I for one am relieved that I had locally-based accomodation, it would have been exhausting to manage anything other than that.  

 I wonder if August is the best time?  While it is true that both academics and fanatices are free of teaching commitments then, it may also be the case that many people have family holidays etc already booked?

 One disappointment for me was the bookstall; not qua bookstall, but for me and for some others I spoke to, a more general stock would have been excellent, both of new and second-hand Tolkien materials.  Collectors items are lovely but not all of us do collect, nor can we afford the cost of signed items, for example, when all we want are working copies.  Just a thought.

 I enjoyed it immensely,  and thank you again Mark and all the others who worked so hard to provide this experience.

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