Memories from ages past from Anna Vaninskaya, Miruvor Editor 2001-2 and 2005-7 (as well as President 2004-05 and Secretary 2003-04)
‘O agéd city of an all too brief sojourn’
I first became aware of Taruithorn about eighteen years ago. I was sitting in the Math Resource Center [sic [that was the author’s [sic], not mine – Editor]] of Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, Colorado and surfing the net on an Apple Mac during a free ‘period’. Tolkien had been my life since about 1992, and I thought of Oxford as one would think of the Heavenly Jerusalem – a place no mere mortal such as myself could ever attain to in this life, but one whose contemplation could solace the weary soul. And then I saw it – the Taruithorn website – and photographs of some Taruithorn Holiday (of the mid-90s it must have been). I looked at the unknown faces. There was no inkling in my mind of the future, but I have remembered that moment ever since.
Less than four years later, I rushed into a room in the Exam Schools and went straight up to the Taruithorn table, my heart pounding. The person manning it (Russ Shannon?) was doubling as an Arthurian, so I joined the Arthurians on the spur of the moment as well. I came out of Fresher’s Fair elated: the impossible had happened, the dizzying gulf between the Math Resource Center in an American suburb far far away and the glamorous and mysterious world of those people in the online photographs had been bridged.
Exactly fourteen years ago (Hilary 2001) I became Miruvor editor. That too was unplanned. I had no idea, my first Michaelmas, of the internal politics of the society, of the perennial desperate scramble to find and co-opt new members onto the committee. Walking down Queen’s Lane with Lukas Lehmann on a dark and cold evening, I felt the offer of the editorship as an unexpected and unearned honour, both thrilling and frightening. Oh for those prelapsarian days! When the turn came, a few years later, to serve as Secretary and then President, the awe had long since evaporated, but the Taruithorn of those later years (c. 2003-2006) had instead become a homelike, comfortable place, that fit like the proverbial glove. We had no shortage of committee members then! Committee meetings – with turnouts of ten or above being commonplace – were almost livelier than the Friday meetings proper. This was also the time of the Russian hegemony – we occupied all the main posts, and on our watch the battle with the Tolkien Estate solicitors over the licence fee was fought and won. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive! And I too finally went on a Taruithorn Holiday.
Back in 2000-2001, I had been aware of the presence in the society of a certain mathematician from Teddy Hall. I knew that he spoke Russian, that he had a weird hairdo, and that he was the treasurer, and – as such – on the receiving end of exasperated rants from certain members who shall remain nameless. We did not exchange two words that entire year. By the time I went on the Taruithorn Holiday, we were dating – and hiding the fact strenuously from everyone in the society. I now have no idea why – but we would time our comings and goings to make sure that no one would notice we were heading in the same direction. If it had not been for Taruithorn, I would have missed all the fun of a clandestine love affair. Then we gave up on the charade and got married – neither the first nor the last in a long line of Taruithorn weddings.
Part of the D.Phil. thesis I was writing when I was president focused on late-Victorian and Edwardian socialist societies. I thought at the time that the nature and history of Taruithorn as an institution showed some remarkable parallels with those societies, and I think so still, though it has now lasted longer – a quarter century! – than quite a few of them. But of course it is not just the dynamic of Victorian socialist societies that Taruithorn replicates, but that of any small voluntary organisation, although with the constant turnover of student generations everything happens at an accelerated pace. There is no time to ossify – the constant infusion of new blood prevents that – but there are plenty of opportunities to splinter and fall apart, to take the wrong turning and scare off potential new recruits to the Cause. This has not happened yet, and long may Taruithorn continue – until a three-volume history of the Society is published by Oxford University Press. And then the game will be up.
Between summer 2001 and Michaelmas 2003 I was back in American suburbia, working – with full conscious intent this time around – to get back into the Heavenly Jerusalem. I succeeded, and the fallow years were mercifully cut short. In 2006 I technically moved to the Other Place, to take up my first job, but I continued living in Oxford, editing Miruvor and attending meetings. By 2008 this was becoming progressively harder to do, and in 2010 the gates of Tolkien’s City were finally shut upon me and I went as an exile into the North. I had been clinging on for a good decade: much of it frustrating and awkward, but much of it glorious beyond anything I had experienced before or since. For the last five years I have watched things unfolding as Húrin from his seat in Thangorodrim, though Taruithorn’s fate has been a happier one so far than that analogy implies. When I am released at intervals to wander back, I exclaim, in the words of the old Oxford eulogist:
How changed is here each spot man makes or fills!
In the two Hinkseys nothing keeps the same […]
Here came I often, often, in old days –
I see each new generation of Taruithorn pass by like
A troop of Oxford hunters going home,
As in old days, jovial and talking […]
But let it never be said of me as of Arnold’s Scholar-Gypsy: she ‘came to Oxford and [her] friends no more’.