Greetings from Middle-Earth and Narnia! I’m back to tell you about the weekend of literary bliss that was Lewolkien 2017. This small conference is the next best thing to lounging in your own hobbit hole for second breakfast. It’s for anyone and everyone who loves good company, great stories, and has a heart for the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Every quest needs a guide
The conference was hosted by Castle Ministries and took place March 24-25th in Strawberry Plains, TN. Castle Ministries gets its name from the modern day “castle” on the property which overlooks the beautiful Smoky Mountains.
So there we were, sitting in a castle, overlooking a mountain valley, and talking about the fictional works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien! Doesn’t get much better than that. The only things missing were suits of armor and a jousting tournament.
Our guide for the weekend was Dr. Devin Brown, a professor from Asbury University. Though I was unfamiliar with him going in, his talks were captivating from start to finish. He had everything but the pointy hat and staff. He’s written nine books on Lewis, Tolkien, and their works, but he was imminently approachable, as thrilled to wax eloquent about his favorite authors as we were to soak it in.
I ended up purchasing two of his books, A Life Observed, and The Christian World of the Hobbit. As a Christian, Dr. Brown has a deeper understanding of these two authors and their work than most scholars and I can’t wait to crack open these two tomes.
A Life Observed is a “Spiritual Biography” of Lewis. As I’ve only read Surprised by Joy, most of what I know about Lewis’ life comes from that and sporadic bits I’ve picked up here and there. I’m excited to deepen my understanding about one of my favorite authors of all time.
My Favorite Session
I decided to pick up The Christian World of the Hobbit because I’ve always wanted to explore more of the Christian themes in Tolkien’s stories about Middle-earth. In Narnia, the Christian imagery practically leaps of the page, but in Tolkien’s stories about hobbits, wizards, and nazgul, such things are often implicit or hidden. Tolkien’s Christian worldview overall is fairly clear in the larger arc of his stories and in the nobility of his characters, but I am keen to learn more.
Dr. Brown did cover some of these ideas in his lecture on Christian themes in Tolkien’s work, but a lecture can only cover so much. I’m hoping the book will dive into more depth. Still, that session was certainly my favorite of the many we had over the weekend. Tolkien’s work feels a little richer to me now after having sat through it.
All the talks underscored one of the three main feelings I took away from this weekend and that was this: I felt a little like I was back in college again. In a very good way.
None of my professors in college loved Lewis and Tolkien, but the ability to just pour over a subject and plum the depths of a book are something I haven’t really done in quite some time, at least to that extent. And I did not realize how much I missed this!
A far green country under a swift sunrise
The second impression I took away from the weekend was the satisfaction of being able to discuss and consider the spiritual truths of literature. How wonderful it was to discuss and consider the lovely scenes between Aslan and Lucy, to consider Gandalf’s role as more than just the leader of a quest to save Middle-earth from some temporal evil, to hear echoes of “a far green country under a swift sunrise,” as Tolkien puts it.
And this did not stop at the consideration of the individual stories themselves. In a session entitled, “Is Man Mythic?” Dr. Brown explored the transcendental nature and overall tenor of Lewis and Tolkien’s works as a whole.
In a century which sought to reduce man to a mere animal, a bag of blackjack neurons, these two authors wrote about men capable of great and glorious things. Not because of any inherent ability of their own. But because they are made in the image of God. Because they live in an inherently moral and ordered universe where heroic deeds, pity, and compassion make sense and have consequences.
Something to write home about
Finally, this gathering was for me, a moment where I could step away from the solitude of my writing pursuits and all the wear and tear of the daily grind and talk about what I love: reading and writing. So often it is easy to think that I’m working in a vacuum. The struggle to have your voice heard amidst the endless waterfall of of the publishing world is a daunting one to say the least.
But taking time to reflect on everything I love about books helped put the juice back in my blender. And boy does it taste good. Even though it was not a writing conference per se, I’m more committed to writing than I was when I left. And that is a very good thing.
We really should do this more often
Sadly, Lewolkien 2017 was over all too quickly. As people said their farewells and headed off to their own hobbit holes, a few of us lingered behind, talking about how we could keep the spirit of the conference alive throughout the year. We threw a few ideas about, like a Facebook group or trying to get together during the year. But whether or not that happens, the embers of this fire will sustain me at least twelve more months, perhaps more.
Perhaps it wasn’t the Inklings, but I think Lewis and Tolkien would have had a merry time. I know I did.