As I said previously, it was particularly wonderful to meet at last valancourtbooks, nekrokedeia, shiny_elfriend, bellatook, and many other friends, and to spend time with lizzieausten and share her birthday celebration.
Beyond my talks and panels, all of which were great experiences for me, and the debut/signing of The Magic Ring, there were many other highlights for me at The Gathering, and here are just a few of them:
* Hearing Giuseppe Festa and Lingalad perform not once, but twice.
* Seeing Mike Foster interview M. Colin Havard (the son of Dr. Robert "Humphrey" Havard, who was the personal doctor of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and also an Inkling) about his personal memories of Tolkien and Lewis.
* Meeting for the first time people I have long admired, such as scholars Colin Duriez and Marcel Bülles and artist Jef Murray, and seeing others again, such as scholar Michael Drout and artist Ted Nasmith.
* Participating in the filming of an episode of the new series Collector Showdown. My part was limited, but it took a little over two hours to film: I introduced the concept of fantasy, explained its literary and cinematic background, and provided the context for the subject of fantasy collecting. Also, I contributed most of the trivia questions used during the trivia competition and then served as judge for the creative competition. The director and producer made great use of the fans and guests at The Gathering, and I look forward to seeing how the episode appears in its final cut. The show will air this fall in the U.S. and Canada.
The Lord of the Rings on Stage
I went into The Lord of the Rings on Stage thinking that there was no possible way for any three-and-a-half-hour production, musical or no, to capture the full story of all three books of The Lord of the Rings, or even provide a taste of the story's complexity, much less manage to present the narrative in a manner that wouldn't leave newcomers to Tolkien completely dazed and confused. I was right. And yet, I really enjoyed the production. Really.
The musical had its problems. Gandalf represented at least half a dozen of them. Extremely poor timing led him to rush important lines, emphasize inappropriate ones, and consistently cut off other actors or spoil their comic/dramatic moments. I half hoped the production had altered the storyline to the degree that Gandalf might not return from his fall in Moria, but we had no such luck. He returned, with perhaps even less warmth and empathy than he'd previously possessed. Other problems were also present, including an odd setting for Gondor with miniature white buildings that reminded me of the unfortunately tiny Stonehenge in Spinal Tap, and rushed staging for Gollum's fall, which sacrificed much of the dramatic impact of the ring's final destruction.
Yet the successes were stunning. Rebecca Jackson Mendoza (a.k.a. the Princess of Alderaan in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith) made a remarkable Galadriel, and her sequence with the song "Wonder" left me with cold chills. Peter van Gestel's Samwise Gamgee was, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every possible way. I liked how the costuming and set design drew from different world cultures. The choreography was fantastic, the staging at times breathtaking (especially Helm's Deep and Sam's rescue of Frodo in the Orc Tower), and all of the creatures - the Orcs, the Balrog, and Shelob, for example - were beautifully rendered. (I lost a few months from my life span when I first recognized Shelob and saw her move.) And perhaps most importantly, they included the Scouring of the Shire! I am saddened that there isn't yet an original cast soundtrack; my understanding is that one will be recorded when the production moves to London. I'll be buying it when it's available.
It certainly wasn't a thorough retelling of the story (who ever really thought that could be done in this format?), but for those of us who know and love The Lord of the Rings, it revisited some of our favorite moments in style, at times with real insight. I would love to see it again. I recommend it to anyone who can catch it in either Toronto or London.
Bonding with Gamling and Haldir
One of my happy duties at The Gathering (thanks to the support of so many of you) was to accept the Imperishable Flame Award for Tolkien/Inklings Scholarship on my own behalf, and the Award for Creative Achievement on behalf of Glass Hammer. The V.I.P. reception began so well, though, I almost hated interrupting the fun conversations with a boring awards ceremony.
I needn't have worried. Lord of the Rings actors Bruce Hopkins (Gamling) and Craig Parker (Haldir) were the Masters of Ceremony. And they like to make people laugh.
What could've been a tedious event became something much more befitting a party. My award was announced first, and Bruce H. ran from the stage to offer me his arm and escort me to the podium. It soon became apparent that the podium was nearly as tall as I am; Craig P. made a great show of fetching a chair and helping me to stand on it. He then went on to illustrate the "Imperishable Flame" with his cigarette lighter every time I mentioned the phrase in my acceptance speech. He went down on his knees to offer me my award, and then I was kindly escorted back by Bruce H.
When it was time for Glass Hammer's award, Bruce returned and danced -- yes, danced -- me to the podium. When we made it onstage, he started to dip me (or so I thought at the time), and the next thing I knew, we were both horizontal on the stage behind the podium and tables, hidden from the audience. He stuck his feet in the air and made all kinds of silly snogging sounds (looking absolutely goofy the entire time) while I rolled around, helpless with laughter. Finally, we got to our feet, and I righted my dress and hair. Craig put me up on the chair once again, and I managed to read Glass Hammer's beautiful acceptance speech (once again with Craig on cigarette lighter duty). When that was done, I was danced back to my place. I ended up with two awards in hand, about half a dozen Elvish-and-Rohirric kisses on the cheeks, and a lot of laughs.
Good fun all the way around.
Huge thanks to Anthony and Jessica of Heren Istarion, and Ed Rodrigues of The Gathering, and their tremendous staff of volunteers for packing the convention with wonderful memories.
Some of my favorite quotes overheard at The Gathering:
"I like to think of it as mithril rather than chainmail."
"Hobbits wobble but they don't fall down."
"I think you left your ears in my room."
"There's always the Toronto Rent-A-Kilt."