Last Alliance spends evening in Rivendell, talk with ‘Tolkien Professor’

By Craig Fraser

EDMONTON — The lights were set dim in the Heritage Lounge at Athabasca Hall, making it dusky as a hobbit’s home. Those who had gathered, some in bare feet, elf ears and curly wigs, huddled around the “Table of Elrond,” awaiting to hear from the mightiest scholar of their ultimate orc-slaying hero, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Night in Rivendell- skit

Last Alliance member Andrew McDonald does a verbal skit from The Lord of the Rings to the rest of the group on the Night in Rivendell at Athabasca Hall on Nov. 16. Photograph by Craig Fraser

The Last Alliance student group at the University of Alberta hosted its An Evening in Rivendell event at the Athabasca Hall, on Nov. 16. Members shared excerpts and skits from their favourite Tolkien works and took part in a highly anticipated Skype Q&A session with world-renowned Tolkien scholar and professor Corey Olsen.

The evening began with the members sharing skits and excerpts from their favourite Tolkien pieces. Gathered in the cozy Athabasca Hall lounge, some dressed up as hobbits, others were just happy to be enthralled in the evening’s festivities.

“It was a smashing success, and shall hopefully become an annual affair,” co-founder and president of the club Megan Engel said of the evening.

Performances ranged from reading excerpts from books, spoken dialogue from scripts, songs in performed in Elvish and even members’ own pieces inspired by Tolkien.

“It’s a cool event,” said group member Andrew McDonald. “I’m doing a scene involving Gollum, so don’t get creeped out.” McDonald entertained the gathering of about 25 people with reading a dialogue from The Lord of the Rings where he impersonated the character Gollum to near movie-like perfection.

Night in Rivendell- reading

Last Alliance group member and vice president Mitch Liddell reads his favourite excerpts from The Silmarillion, and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to group members at the Night in Rivendell event on Nov. 16. Photograph by Craig Fraser.

Other performances included group vice president Mitch Liddell reading from The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s posthumous release, and The Return of the King, the last installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Also, group member Ian Mahood, cleverly dressed as a hobbit, delivered a self-written preface to a children’s story he hopes to publish, which he says was inspired by Tolkien’s works after he read all of the legendary author’s novels.

Later in the evening, the group had its long-awaited Skype chat with Olsen, the “Tolkien Professor,” who holds two bachelor degrees and a doctorate degree, and teaches at Washington University. Olsen also has established an online university called The Mythgard Institute, which offers studies in fictional literature.

When he called, an almost inaudible hush took the room as he riveted the student group with their questions about Tolkien. “Tolkien inspired a lot of singing in his work,” Olsen said to one question. “Singing is part of making. Making is a part of poetry. That is craftsmanship. It’s an instrument. A literary weapon.”

To Engel, the preparation was a part of this magic. “This is so exciting, we all have questions so we take turns asking them, hoping he can touch base with everything we have,” Engel said to rally the troops before the Skype session. With projectors, speakers and cameras set up, the group excitedly sat and waited to ask their questions about their favourite works of literature.

The session itself was aired on Middle-earth Radio, in which Olsen contributes to under the pseudonym The Tolkien Professor. As well, Olsen saved the discussion to create a podcast that he releases in part on his personal website and in some occasion, full length to iTunes.

“It’s going to be cool, we’re airing this live, and a lot of people would appreciate the discussion,” Olsen said as he came live to the group. “Everybody has awesome questions from what I can see.”

The call with Olsen lasted over an hour, exhausting the conversation with character analysis, descriptions of literary techniques employed by Tolkien, as well as philosophical discussions to Tolkien’s inspiration for his novels.

The evening ended after Olsen’s chat interview, as Olsen said he was quite impressed with the questions he received.

“They offered a lot of insight,” Olsen said in a post-event interview, “I told them I wanted to be involved with their group, hopefully co-hosting other events and discussions.”

After the event, Engel congratulated the group for their behavior and dedication. “Everyone was so respectful of the performances and of Dr. Olsen,” Engel said. “I truly believe we are doing something fantastic and unique with our Society.”

The Last Alliance meets every Monday at the Athabasca Hall from noon to 2 p.m. It is finishing The Hobbit this semester as a study and plans to study The Silmarillion next term.

The next evening event is The Father Christmas Letters, scheduled be held on Dec. 7from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The group will discuss Tolkien’s posthumous release of the same name. The event will be at the Heritage Lounge inside Athabasca Hall on the University of Alberta campus.

Take a look at the Balrog rap, created by Tolkien fans Mason Repka and Brandon Tourangeau.

1 Comment

  1. I think the article confuses Middle-earth Radio with the Middle-earth Network.  Dr. Olson has not, to my knowledge, ever participated in any of Middle-earth Radio’s broadcasts.  The Middle-earth Network is separate from Middle-earth Radio (sort of like Saul Zaentz’ Middle-earth Enterprises, formerly called Tolkien Enterprises, is separate from the Tolkien Estate).