Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost: The Quest for Oxford’s Tolkien Society

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Anathea Woirhaye
December 1, 2022
Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost: The Quest for Oxford’s Tolkien Society

I make it no secret that I am a huge Tolkien fan, and I will talk about him as much as I think people can tolerate. He is, as I have mentioned, a major inspiration for my applying to Oxford—his blend of history and fantasy is very creatively compelling. Bearing this in mind, it should come as no surprise that I made it my mission to join the Tolkien society in Oxford before I was even accepted into the program. I scoured their website, not updated since the 2010s. I stalked the social media sites and was very excited to meet other Tolkien fans in a place the man lived and worked. 

All I had to do was find it.

Now, the first place I thought to look was at fresher’s fair. I searched high and low, and even asked people at the Oscar Wilde society (I thought it would be in poor taste to ask the C.S. Lewis table). There was no trace of them. People said they might have disbanded, they might have not met in years, but I was determined. A new Tolkien show had just come out! Surely all hope was not yet lost. I went back to their website, found their email, and sent an email, a last attempt to contact the society. Maybe they, like the ring, had passed into shadow.

I got a response quite quickly, with the term card attached. The first meeting was that Friday.

To be fair, all of this could've been avoided had I sent the email first. Oh well. There is a lesson in there about taking initiative. Anyway, with all of that finally arranged, I could attend the meetings! I could meet fellow Tolkien fans and discuss our favourite work. 

And I did. It was wonderful. From the long discussions about adaptation and timeline, character and minor work, the Tolkien society has been everything I ever dreamed of it being. 

So the Tolkien society is not so approachable to a non-fan audience. Our first Soc meeting included a game of heads-up where we played as common characters such as Quickbeam and Erestor, but also the more obscure, like the cats of Queen Berúthiel and Frodo Gardener. A couple weeks later we had a talk about our favourite Silmarillion characters and enthused about Fingolfin. It was a community I really appreciated. So often in my life I have found it hard to share my interest with the work, while respecting that others do not want to have long conversations about things they are uninterested in. I love and respect my friends, but finding a community where everyone was just as excited as I was about Tolkien’s work was a very positive experience in my time here. Oxford, as a university, gathers together so many people from different backgrounds. In other Tolkien-fan groups I have been in, I have found it hard to be included, but the society drew together such a great group of people, all spurred on by their enthusiasm.

I think what I’m trying to say is that, if you have kind of uncommon interests, it can be hard to find places where you belong. I know this is not new information, but I think I personally forget how hard it is trying to make a space for yourself. Even though to others it seems weird and silly, I know my love for Tolkien’s work is anything but consequential. I’ve had a poster of Sam and Frodo in Mordor on my wall for the whole semester, and looking at it has given me comfort and hope during this difficult term. Sure, I am not trying to save the world by writing a lot of essays, but I am on a journey to do something very difficult. I need to remember that, while technically my Oxford experience is a solitary one, people around me care for me, and we can do this together. My friends in tolkien society share all of the love for this art with me, even if we don’t know each other as well as the Fellowship. 

In the middle of the semester, we took a tour around Tolkien’s Oxford. I was very excited to go, but I had no idea it would be so moving. Seeing the places I had become familiar with over the last semester with new eyes—the place where Tolkien lived in the last few years of his life, the building where he lived as an undergraduate, and the house his family lived in when he taught at Oxford—profoundly affected me. I went to visit his grave which he shares with his wife, inscribed with their names, as well as Beren and Luthien. I reflected on my lifelong love of his work, and what it has brought me.

It truly is a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Anathea Woirhaye square headshot

Anathea Woirhaye

I’m a third year student at the University of Redlands, pursuing an alternative education through the Johnston Centre of Integrative Studies, and I am studying abroad at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. This essentially means that I design my own major, and instead of grades, I get written evaluations. I study History, Film, Literature, and Art. I’m deeply involved in the community, which means I love going to meetings and deciding policy! I love to sew costumes and clothes and to watch old movies with friends.

Destination:
Term:
2022 Fall
Home university:
University of Redlands
Hometown:
Whittier, CA
Major:
History
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