In January last year, the Society made a rare television appearance, on which Anahita Hoose (Treasurer 2013-14 & 2015-present, Miruvor Editor 2011-12, Society Hero) gives us her report:
Yes, it’s true – our society is featured in Cerigo Films’ upcoming documentary, À la récherche du Hobbit (Looking for the Hobbit), broadcast on the Franco-German channel Arte, in December 2014. This surprising turn of events came about after the director, Olivier, and other members of the crew made a trip to Oxford for reconnoitring purposes in autumn 2013. They initially contacted TolkSoc to ask if we could give them any advice on Tolkien-related places to film, but after Amrit, Joe, Martha and I met them we accidentally managed to impress them so much that they decided to put the four of us on camera.
The connecting theme of Looking for the Hobbit is illustrator John Howe’s quest to find the inspiration behind Tolkien’s invention of hobbits, in the course of which he discovers sources for other elements of the legendarium in various European mythologies and locations (with a somewhat controversial focus on Arthurian inspirations). The series also features the Sorbonne academic Leo Carruthers, with whom we are seen interacting in the first episode.
We spent the morning of the first of the four days it took to film our scenes in the Eagle and Child, reading to each other out of Tolkien books, over copious amounts of tea. Such, apparently, is the manner in which we spend our mornings as a society; at least, the idea is that Leo enters to find us about our characteristic activities. Joe’s exemplary spoon-twirling abilities qualified him for special directorial praise. Being filmed was a novel experience made more embarrassing by having microphones concealed under our clothing – I was surprised at one point to find a cameraman descending upon me with the words “Anahita, your battery is running down.”
We all felt very awkward the first time we were required to converse on camera (rather than hiding behind Tolkien’s words), with the horrendous and hilarious result that, when asked to respond to Amrit’s reading of the first description of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, what we produced was a sort of critical examination of his fashion sense, each of us expressing a preference for a different item of wizardly attire (“I like the boots.” “But what shade of blue was the hat?”). I rather suspect Olivier of enjoying our pain too much to say the magic word “Coupez!”
On the morning of Day Two, Joe and Amrit were filmed talking to the wizard-like John Howe. The morning was livened up by the producer accidentally breaking Amrit’s phone; she later bought him a replacement. In the afternoon, all four of us joined John Howe in Exeter dining hall. John (forbiddingly silent though he initially appeared) proved extremely approachable and good at drawing people out, but he did not show us the contents of his sketchbook. He was supposed to have just returned from his European travels in quest for the origins of hobbits, so Joe had the difficult task of asking him whether he had succeeded without sounding like an interrogator or an examiner. Then, when John confessed that he had discovered pretty much everything about Tolkien’s sources except what he’d been looking for, we had to reveal that we had the answer – hobbits were based on ordinary English people – and could cite the proof texts from the Tolkien books we had about us as usual.
On Day Three everyone assembled for lunch in the Royal Oak, including Leo. Not having met us before, he greeted each of us with the words “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo”, to which, somewhat distressingly, none of us were capable of responding adequately without asking him to repeat it. (I also found eating in the Royal Oak as a vegan something of a trial, since the only vegetarian dish on the menu could not be prepared without dairy products. Waiter: “Are you vegetarian as well?” I: “Yes.” Waiter responds despondently. Martha: “She’s a vegan!” Waiter (more despondently): “You’re vegan as well?”…)
We were then driven to Northmoor Road, which we were filmed approaching with Leo (from the wrong direction if we’d really walked from the Eagle and Child, where we were to be filmed offering to show him Tolkien’s houses). We spent the afternoon being filmed in the road, which we regularly had to leave to avoid being run over by one of the many learner drivers out practising their skills, and being instructed by Olivier to say less about Tolkien than we wanted to. During this time we all learned to dread the words “Encore une fois!” In compensation, however, we were each presented with a thematically appropriate marzipan figure (either a wizard or a hobbit), which was a lovely surprise.
On Day Four we had to present ourselves at the Eagle and Child again at 8 in the morning. Accordingly, I slept blissfully until 8.30, when I was woken by Joe ringing me and dressed very hurriedly before joining everyone else for a morning of casual on-camera chat with Leo, culminating in our being filmed walking off with him, ostensibly to Northmoor Road. We were then released to go on with our lives, having had an unquestionably memorable experience!
You can read more about the documentary at http://www.cerigofilms.com and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cerigo-Films/112115042200325, where some pictures of us have appeared. [Additionally, we hear that those travelling on Air New Zealand can view our performances at will – Amrit.]