Though the Hobbit quiz was recently created to mark the opening of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” its genesis goes back to 1964 when Jan Howard Finder first encountered J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings.
“I just got finished with my master’s in physical chemistry,” said Finder, 73, in a recent interview. “It was just a masterful story. I just got lost in it. I drove around and wondered, ‘Where in Middle-earth am I?’”
Finder wasn’t alone in his fascination. Tolkien’s books have sold in the hundreds of millions.
The now-retired Finder, an Albany resident, is more than just a fan of Tolkien; he’s also the main organizer of the Conference on Middle-earth, in which people present papers or speak on panels about the author, his works and his influence.
The first conference was at the University at Illinois in 1969 (where Finder was working on a degree in academic administration); the second was in 1971 in Cleveland State University (where he was working in academic administration). Though most of the presenters were academics, Finder said they probably didn’t tell their departments about the conference because Tolkien wasn’t fashionable at that time.
That’s certainly changed today, as academia has accepted popular culture and Jackson has created a juggernaut with his films. One website (http:/annasmol.net) lists a dozen Tolkien-related conferences in 2012-14, including Finder’s Third Conference on Middle-earth (Part 2).
Last year, Finder brought back his conference for one day at a hotel in Westford, Mass. In that 40-year lapse, Finder had lived and worked abroad and had gotten busy with other things. Among those other things, he has been involved with sci-fi and fantasy conferences, including Albacon and Worldcon, which was in Chicago this year and where he was the emcee for the Masquerade, a showcase of fan-created costumes.
At last year’s Middle-earth conference, papers included titles such as “Christian Platonic elements in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium”; “Blondes Have More Fun!: Images of Legolas Greenleaf”; and “Two films to do The Hobbit is one too many!”
For the 2014 conference, Finder has set up a website at http://www.3rdcome.org/ detailing dates (March 28-30, 2014), place (Westford Regency Inn in Westford, Mass.) and how to submit proposals for papers and panels (via email at email@example.com).
The conference, Finder said, is a chance to “just talk hobbits for two and half days, and argue if Balrogs do have wings or not.”
So why does Finder do it?
“It’s fun,” he said, later adding: “I don’t have the skills to do all the research, so I do the easy part: I put on a conference. You come. You do the hard work. You write your paper. I get to read it, and I sound smart when I use references to it.”
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