The Society Quotes Book

Your Editor contributes a selection of quotes from the Society’s last couple of years for your amusement.

Taruithorn is something of a stewing pot for utterances of the hilarious, whimsical or just plain odd kinds. In Michaelmas 2013, having become vaguely aware of the selection of amusing quotes from years gone by in our archived website and disappointed in the lack of any such repository for the current epoch of the Society, I instituted a Society Quotes Book. Recently I discovered while digging in the Archive that a similar item existed at some point in the Society’s history – although I was unable to track down the book itself. The present Quotes Book currently standing at eleven used pages, I include a selection of its more ridiculous offerings below:

  • Joe: “Is that Silmaril in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”
  • Eleanor: “Odysseus – just bad at reading maps?”
  • Caretaker [coming to lock up Community Centre after 2014 Banquet]: “I just saw a taxi leaving with a dragon in the back.”
  • Eleanor [during a particularly competitive game of Lord of the Rings Risk]: “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo, bitches.”
  • Agata: “Elves make very good projectile weapons.”
  • Claire: “No! The Valar don’t give a sh*t if we believe in mammoths.”
  • Hebe: “The Quotes Book contains Amrit saying ‘That’s a very attractive orc.’ ”
  • Amrit: “I wasn’t talking about you!”
  • Amrit: “ ‘An Unexpected Journey’ does somewhat redeem itself by showing us dwarven underwear.”
  • Joe: “Sexy, sexy Maedhros”
  • Eleanor: “I never said that. Also, I was drunk when I said that.”
  • Amrit: “Those Orcs are very attractive.”
  • Katherine: “You just don’t like Legolas.”
  • Eleanor: “No, I just don’t like Legolas’s eyebrows.”
  • Eleanor: “The Battle of Four Armies and One Small But Strategically Placed Air Force”
  • Claire: “Children are not pieces of wood.”
  • Martha: “Amrit, you’re clearly a very camp Legolas.”
  • Eleanor: “You know when Morgoth was going around doing the BOOM DA BOOM DA BOOM thing in the Music of the Ainur.”
  • Joe: “I never pictured Boromir raising his eyebrows at me suggestively”
  • Joe: “The Sun is basically a replacement of a replacement of an illumination solution.”
  • Amrit: “Yes, whenever we have a serious speaker meeting a few of [the C.S. Lewis Society] usually turn up.”
  • Edmund Weiner (speaker): “Well, I’m glad to hear I’m not a serious speaker!”
  • Trial of Denethor, 5th Week Michaelmas 2013
  • Judge: “While it is abuse, it may not be child abuse.”
  • Éowyn: “And why not, in a country where people routinely live over a hundred years?.”
  • Pippin: “I was forced to sing while men died around me”
  • Prosecutor: “Very traumatic indeed”
  • Judge: “Especially for the dying men”
  • Prosecutor: “So how dind Denethor appear at the time?”
  • Judge: “Warm, perhaps?.”
  • Prosecutor:Before he was set on fire.”
  • Filming “Looking for the Hobbit”, -1st Week Hilary 2014
  • Director: “So now, Joseph, Hitler!”
  • Producer: “C’est toujours Amrit!”
  • Sound engineer: “Anahita, you battery is running down.”
  • Director: “Joseph, I like the way you turn your spoon.”
  • Waiter: “No dairy?… are you vegetarian as well… and you’re vegan? I’ll go get you Rick.”
  • Rick: “Where’s the vegan?”
  • Trial for the Scouring of the Shire, 4th Week Michaelmas 2014
  • “We sentence the Rangers to be placed on a small bit of Middle-Earth with Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and moved beyond the circles of the world for all eternity.”
  • “A fate worse than death.”

What has Taruithorn ever done for us?

Alex Norrish, President 1998-99 and Miruvor Editor 1997-8, as well as Society Maia, muses on our Society’s spirit.

My introduction to Tolkien came at the tender age of seven, when my parents were confronted with the horror of an 18 hour flight, and a Heathrow bookshop that had no children’s section. Fortunately for all concerned, a frantic hunt of the shelves unearthed a copy of The Hobbit. And that was that. When we landed in Brunei, while my parents were concerned with minor issues like starting a new life in South East Asia, my one and only question was where we could find an bookshop that would sell The Lord of the Rings.

For many years, however, reading Tolkien was a largely solitary pleasure. Middle Earth was my lifeline through seven unenjoyable years at boarding school; however grim an English boarding house might be in February, you could always take your mind away to Lórien, or Ithilien, or Rivendell. And even Shelob was better company than my violin teacher. But while I knew a few other people who had read Tolkien, I didn’t know anyone else who could recite The Ballad of Beren and Lúthien in its entirety, or was on their second set of the paperbacks because the first set had fallen apart through over-reading, or who got through the worst moments of Oxford entrance by thinking that in the end the Shadow was but a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.

The only person I knew of who shared my love of Tolkien was Anna Bowles – in the year above me, and therefore entirely out of bounds in the strict hierarchies of a girl’s boarding school. But both being Oxbridge candidates in English gave a tiny amount of latitude, so I think we managed to have about three conversations over the course of two years; and I knew that, when Anna duly went up to St John’s to read English a year ahead of me, she had become editor of the mysterious publication Miruvor.

And so in due course I pitched up at Freshers’ Fair in 1995, utterly terrified, holding on to Anna’s welcome-to-Oxford note and the knowledge that somehow, somewhere in this crowd of people there must be some kindred spirits.  But Taruithorn was in the last room of the whole Fair, and by that point I was starting to feel hunted: there are only so many student societies touting for your custom you can take. And then I came into the last hall, and amidst the whole terrifying confusion of OUSU, and OU, and OUDS, and the Oxford Tiddlywinks Society, I saw that someone had hung the banner of the Tree and the Stars.

And that was it. I met Anke and Ian and Matthew that day; and a few days later, a whole cluster of new members and Olden Folks who would become my closest friends at Oxford. Taruithorn went far beyond a mere literary society: it was a glorious group of people who taught me an enormous amount about how to have fun for the sake of it; how to put time and effort and creativity and delight into something which was completely mad and frivolous, but wonderful at the same time. Whether it was writing and recording superb parodies like The Song of the White Tree, or solemnly thinking up Dwarvish dishes for a five-course banquet, or spending hours on creating a fabulous Smaug costume just because you could – Taruithorn was the home of so much talent, and glorious eccentricity.

And it wasn’t just creativity. Along with the tolerance of other people’s eccentricities went an enormous amount of warmth and kindness. I will never forget Sunday evenings at 18 Howard Street, Anke and Ian’s place, where Anke had dressed the vacuum cleaner in a Vorlon costume and we spent months watching our way through Babylon 5, eating a different chocolate dessert between each episode. Or the stress-filled hours before various banquets, where the committee took it in turns to support each other through nervous breakdowns as the meringues refused to whisk; and then washing up afterwards in a haze of exhaustion and goodwill. Or Anna’s suggestion that we post a guard over the Fireworks Night bonfire to prevent people from widdling on the potatoes, which became an instant catchphrase: Sarah Mackie’s performance of Don’t Widdle On The Potatoes, to the tune of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, made it onto the Taruithorn CD and remains a classic of the genre.

Most of the other people I knew thought that Taruithorn was mad. Actually, now that I am an Olden Folk and spend my days with the kinds of people who focused their time at Oxford on becoming President of the Union, I would say that Taruithornians as a whole were outstandingly sane. So it is fantastic to see the society still going strong – congratulations to everyone who has kept the spirit of Taruithorn alive! Mae govannen!

Early Memories

Chris Seeman, one of the Society’s founding members, shares some reminiscences from the earliest of days.

Has it been a quarter of a century already??? I guess that makes us original Taruithorners quite ancient – dare I say “well-preserved.” 1989-1990 was most definitely a year to remember. Yankee exchange student/Middle-earth enthusiast arrives in Oxford and discovers to his amazement that there is no active smile in the heart of Tolkiendom. This cannot be borne! And so Taruithorn was born somewhere in the depths of Christ Church.

One of the things I remember from our first meeting was trying to decide what to call ourselves. “Ancalagon” was one of the first suggestions “because we’re not nice people.” (Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.) I remember lots of punting on the Cherwell and lots of role-playing into the wee hours, but most of all lots of friendship – we still keep in touch with one another after all these years. Let there be no Breaking of the Fellowship. Take care, all.

Banquets remembered

Loïs Moss, President 1994-95, Wrexham Representative 1993-94, Society Demi-god, and Banquet chef many times, shares her memories of Banquets past.

When I joined Taruithorn in 1992, the banquets were very different to the ones held now. The society had only been going a few years, so probably the most distinctive difference is that back then the age range of attendees was far smaller and there were no children. The banquets also started in the evening, making them shorter, these factors combined to create quite a different atmosphere. They were certainly more drunken, riotous and I was going to say adult, but thinking about it, today’s banquets seem more adult, so perhaps a better way to describe it is they seemed more teenage. Banquets were an excuse to dress up, eat and drink far too much, and then stagger back to your room or someone else’s and pass out. This was helped by the fact that the clearing up was done the next day, so none of us had to be in a fit state to make sure the place was left tidy at the end of the evening.

That’s not to say that no tidying up was done. One tradition which had already become established by the time I joined was that at banquets and other parties, a mathom would be constructed by Mark Poles at the end of the evening. This was made from a combination of leftovers of whatever had been drunk, so wine, beer, cider, fizzy drinks, fruit juice, port… all went into the bottle together. At the next gathering, the mathom would make an appearance, usually as a forfeit option. At one end of Trinity term party, when playing pass the parcel, my forfeit was to sing a Tolkien song or rhyme. Anyone who knows me knows I’d rather do almost anything than sing (or dance) in public so I chose instead to down in one, a pint of the now rather dubious looking mathom from the previous term’s banquet (and possibly the Christmas party since there was often a kind of solera-style system going on with mathoms). Things went a bit hazy after that, but whatever else was in it, there was definitely cherryade. In spite of that, to this day I’d still rather down a pint of dodgy-tasting mathom than sing or dance in public. Mark still makes killer cocktails, and if I have learnt anything, it’s to never trust a cocktail made by a teetotaler, it will make you fall over!

In light of the general alcohol consumption, it was probably a very good thing there was no dancing at the early banquets, that very much being the preserve of the Arthurians. A fact I was very glad of, had there been dancing, I’d have probably never joined Taruithorn. Costumes were most definitely a big thing though, though there wasn’t a costume competition they just added to the general atmosphere. Food-wise things were simpler back then too. We usually had just 3 courses and a meat and a veggie option for each course. Compared to the lavish many-coursed ones I’ve been to in more recent years, that seems very Spartan now. Though that’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of the food provided and there was always definitely plenty to drink.

The high value placed on eating and drinking with the common theme of Tolkien as the excuse to bring us together, appealed to me greatly as I’ve always had a Hobbit-like love of food, right from being a small child. Although there aren’t that many descriptions of food in Tolkien’s works, the passages of the Dwarves descending on Bilbo and eating him out of house and home, Beorn’s breakfast and the cake-making in Smith of Wooton Major always appealed to me. Some of my earliest memories are food related, standing on a chair aged 2 ¾ grating apple (and my fingers) into mincemeat at Christmas stands out as a favourite. As I got older, I grew to love cooking almost as much as I loved eating. In my teens I really wanted to go to a local college to do a catering course, but for a variety of reasons I ended up at Christ Church doing Biological Sciences, lamenting the fact that we didn’t even have a microwave available to us to do the most basic of cooking. So it wasn’t really a surprise when I found myself eagerly agreeing to cook for the Taruithorn banquet in my second year, such did I miss being able to cook during term time.

The first banquet I’d attended had been Hobbit themed and the ones prior to that had been Barad-Dur banquets, so for the first one I catered we decided it was time for the Elves to have a turn. There was some ‘debate’ amongst the banquet committee as to what Elves would eat, but eventually it was decided Elves would definitely eat pâté, so that took care of the starter. The main was venison in red wine with juniper, cooked to a recipe provided by Andrew McMurry. Sadly cruel eld prevents me from remembering what potatoes, vegetables or vegetarian options were provided, but the venison stew sticks in my mind. Not least because I spent the night before the banquet chopping up huge lumps of venison into bite-sized chunks and dropping them into the freshly cleaned salad drawer of my fridge to marinade in red wine overnight. There was a minor panic upon reaching the kitchen in Magdalen the next day, with the revelation there were no pans large enough to cook the stew in, or even a suitable combination of smaller ones. Cue the ever helpful Andrew making a very quick trip to Boswells with the instruction to buy the largest pan they had. He was successful and for the grand sum of £18 a 20 pint aluminium pan was procured which I own to this very day. Dessert was homemade brandysnap baskets with ice cream which I was able to provide thanks to taking over the kitchen at 9 York Place, home to Victoria Clare, Mark Poles and Stephen Lander for an afternoon. The whole experience taught me that catering for 30 on a single domestic electric oven isn’t the easiest thing to do, enough oven and hob space was definitely a challenge and so I was very glad I’d decided on cold starters and desserts.

With the budget we’d allowed for the banquet I was able to ensure there was plenty of money to procure enough alcohol to float an Oliphant. As well as buying in all the usual beer, cider, wine and port, I decided that we’d welcome people to the banquet with a punchbowl full of my very own special version of Miruvor. I seem to remember that in addition to providing free-flowing libations for the banquet there was more than enough alcohol left for the end of term party and we also made about £120 profit. The idea had been that if would be nice if we could make a bit of money from the banquet which could be used to help subsidise future events such as Gandalf’s fireworks and to provide a cushion in the bank account. As it was, having been so successful with the Rivendell banquet, I was able to go on a massive shopping trip after Halloween to purchase props for the planned return to a Barad-dûr banquet in 1995. My favourite purchase being a candle shaped like a hand, with a wick in each finger end which ended up in pride of place in front of Sauron on the top table.

Cooking and catering remain things I very much enjoy doing. For a number of years now I’ve helped run the catering at Fools and Heroes Summerfest, which since it’s a LARP event allows me to combine my loves of catering and costuming. I’ve also catered or made celebration cakes for a number of events for family, friends and work. Without doing the Taruithorn banquets I’m not sure I’d have had the confidence to do all those things and that would have been a shame. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had in knowing you’ve just turned 15kg of meat into dinner for dozens of hungry people, so I’m always looking for new opportunities to indulge my passion.

Over the past 10 years or so I attended several of the banquets again and seeing the changes that have gone on gave me pause for reflection. Whilst it was thoroughly enjoyable for all us oldies to turn up to the banquets for a mini reunion, our very presence did turn the banquet into a very different beast. I wondered what I’d have thought as a student, to a load of middle-aged people I didn’t know turning up to our main event of the year. We also seemed, to my mind at least, to be somewhat more rowdy and apt to get drunk on the whole than the current members, polishing off all the alcohol by about 9.30pm one year…. Ooops! Realising the pool of potential attendees was getting increasingly large, I decided not to go to the banquets anymore. It would be a shame if a current member missed out on the experience at my expense. The idea of doing an oldies banquet was mooted after that, and there seemed to be general interest. A suitable venue is proving more difficult to find, but watch this space….

I still look back at my time in Taruithorn and the banquets in particular with great fondness, not least because I gained a wonderful group of friends for life. The banquet may have changed almost beyond recognition from what it was back in my day, but it’s still a brilliant experience not to be missed during your student days.

If you’d like to relive a taste from a Banquet past, then here is the menu and recipes from Rivendell 1994.

Rivendell 1994
Welcome drink – Miruvor
Starter – Chicken liver pâté or homemade cream cheese pâté served with bread rolls,
Main – Venison with red wine and juniper
Dessert – Homemade brandysnap baskets and ice cream

Venison with red wine and juniper
This recipe has evolved over the years and I seldom stick to the exact recipe. You can add any number of additional things to it too, harder root vegetables such as carrots and potato can go in at the beginning with the meat. Sweet potatoes cook a little quicker so I’d add them after an hour’s cooking. Barley should be added along with the mushrooms. Ensure if adding barley that you stir during the remaining cooking time and watch the liquid level as it will absorb quite a lot of liquid as it cooks. A handful of cranberries or redcurrants, fresh or frozen can be nice too added with the mushrooms if you’d like more of a fruity flavour.

2lb/1kg venison, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8oz/250g mushrooms, cut into chunks
1 bottle red wine – preferably something soft and fruity, like a Merlot or Grenache.
1 tblsp of crushed juniper berries
A few sprigs of thyme and parsley, chopped
A bay leaf
2 tblsp of redcurrant jelly or sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil
A few tblsps of cornflour or plain flour to thicken the sauce if required.

Method – Night before serving
1. The night before you want to serve the stew, cut the venison into bite sized chunks and put into a non-metallic container. Cover it with the red wine and add the crushed juniper berries.
2. Cover and refrigerate until required.

Method – Day of serving
1. Get the venison out of the fridge and drain off the red wine and juniper berries into whatever you’re going to cook the casserole in. If it’s a slow cooker, set it on high to heat up. If it’s going to be done in the oven or a pan, start it heating in the oven or in the pan. Cover the dish if you are able if cooking in the oven or a pan or alternatively check and top up the wine as necessary as it cooks.
2. Sauté the onion in some oil, adding the garlic when the onion is looking translucent. Cook until the onion starts to take on some colour. Add to the slow cooker, casserole dish or pan.
2. Brown the drained venison in some oil. Add to the onion and wine along with a bay leaf & herbs.
3. Cook for about 5 hours in a slow cooker on high, 2 hours in the oven or in a pan. If cooking in a pan, ensure you stir every so often to prevent it sticking.
4. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook for another hour or so until the meat is tender. Uncover the casserole dish or pan if cooking by that method to reduce the liquid.
5. When cooked through and the meat is soft, you can thicken the gravy if necessary by mixing a little cornflour or plain flour with some additional cold water or wine and stirring through. Allowing it to boil for a few minutes to cook the starch and allow it to thicken before adding any more.
6. Taste and season with the red currant jelly, salt, freshly ground black pepper and additional herbs and juniper if desired.

1 70cl bottle of Midori
1 litre bottle of Vodka
2 litres of lemonade
Lots of ice
Mint leaves, edible flowers and/or Marachino cherries to garnish

1. Place the ice in a large bowl. Err on the side of more ice rather than less and larger chunks or cubes of it if you can so that it chills rather than dilutes the mix.
2. Pour the vodka and Midori over the ice and stir.
3. Gently pour the lemonade over, stopping to let the foam subside and then stir gently.
4. Garnish with mint leaves and edible flowers if you’re feeling posh, Marachino cherries if you’re not!

Some personal reminiscences of a superannuated Editor

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’.

A Unique Perspective: Twenty-five years around Taruithorn

Matthew Kilburn, longest regular attendee of the Society (and Society Super Hero), shares his fascinating view of the Society’s history.

I’ve been described as an ‘accidental Tolkien fan’, for reasons which this article will help to explain. Yet here I am, asked to write something for this anniversary Miruvor on the grounds that I have a ‘unique perspective’ on Taruithorn and its history. I’m not sure why I’m here, but will try to explain what I’ve gained, what I’ve enjoyed and what I’ve learned from Taruithorn, and why I am still around.

Confessions of a latecomer
I didn’t take to Tolkien when growing up. I read The Hobbit when I was nine and was unimpressed, as I often was with books which I was told I would like and which would be good for me. It seemed rather twee and I had difficulty imagining Bilbo as anything other than the anthropomorphized bear protagonist of Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Inside Outside Upside Down, a favourite book from when I was much younger. If this betrays contrarian impulses, my shunning The Lord of the Rings a few years later, when almost all my contemporaries seemed to be reading it, probably confirms that assumption.


Lurking in the background were my memories of having read about Tolkien in Sunday newspapers a few years before, probably in the wake of the publication of Humphrey Carpenter’s biography. A self-conscious child, I was attracted by reading about Tolkien and his imagined worlds and languages, but at the same time felt I couldn’t possibly emulate them. I shunned Tolkien in part because at the age of seven or so I didn’t see any point in learning from him. Not been there, someone else has done that.

The road goes ever on, if one can be bothered to follow it. In October 1989 I came up to Oxford, where I was at St John’s but socialized little there. I joined the nascent Doctor Who Society, and ended up spending more time there than I had expected. During my first Hilary term, in the January and February of 1990, I became aware of plotting towards the establishment of a Tolkien Society at Oxford, involving Sarah Sturch, Louise Dennis and Liz Humphry. Louise, I think, suggested that I join; I declined on the grounds that I didn’t know much about or like Tolkien. I remember explaining my reaction to The Hobbit to Sarah, who said I had probably been too young for it. This was a thought-provoking put-down, as the child I had been had considered himself too old.

The King and the Professor
One society with which I did become slowly but increasingly involved was the Arthurian Society, which undertook trips – ‘pilgrimages’ – to sites associated with the historical and mythological King Arthur, staged a banquet every Michaelmas term, had speakers, dressed up in costume inspired by the dark and middle ages straddling the borders between re-enactment and live roleplaying, and so on. There were some aspects to which I was more attracted than others, but I had always been fascinated by the gap in the historical record which the figure of Arthur aimed to fill, though in the event not enough to pore away at the languages and the like to study it.

In effect, this was a move towards Taruithorn. I became unhelpfully tangled in the politics of this a little, but by the early 1990s the Arthurian Society was living on borrowed time, or at least a transfer of people from Taruithorn. Tolkien and his works seem easier to unite around than King Arthur, who can be a divisive figure in that enthusiasts are always arguing over too many points of difference to list here.

A useful entry point, though, is that I was excited by concepts which encourage a culture of creativity and adaptation. Doctor Who was written and made by teams of people with differing ideas about what they were working on and was divided into serials (and latterly episodes) with new settings. Even at less than their best, they hint at wider universes beyond the details they depict. The first active contribution I made to the Arthurian Society was a review of the film A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949). This musical starring Bing Crosby is a light-hearted adaptation of Mark Twain’s double-edged satire of late-nineteenth-century America’s contradictory obsessions with medievalism and the fast buck, but I’d argue that both are as Arthurian as Malory or Chrétien de Troyes. Tolkien’s works are part of a legendarium of a complexity both laboriously intricate and for all its detail tantalisingly incomplete; there are lacunae and inconsistencies in the core published works which invite speculation and new imaginative fanworks, possibilities only widened by The History of Middle Earth and lately The History of the Hobbit. Authenticity might lie in fidelity to and faith in the source material, and an imaginative engagement not only with this but also the intentions of the author but also a knowledge of its reception, whether these are personal to the fan creator or not.

In summer 1993, when I was twenty-two, I at last read The Lord of the Rings. I found it hard going at first, though as someone who read a lot of Penguin Classics translations when I was in my teens, particularly from classical and mediaeval works, I enjoyed the sense that this was a translated text which had been through several generations of transmission before it reached us, and where each change in voice could represent a different editor or an interpolation from a variant manuscript. Battles and epic heroism never did very much for me, though my reactions came together into something satisfying with ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ as macroverse and microverse converged, and the waning of Frodo and his passage into the West made the appropriate impression for someone already conscious that victory and loss are rarely exclusive at any moment. I think I wrote about the experience for Miruvor, though I don’t have the issue to hand and (reluctant as I was to embrace word-processing, which I associated with dodgy dot-matrix printers) I was using an electric typewriter at the time and didn’t take a copy of the article.

My project of the time, though, apart from my doctorate, was the rescue of the Arthurian Society. This seemed to work at first, but involved the promotion of people whose visions were more different than I’d realised from those of the friends whose endeavour I’d joined. This was my first real lesson in the importance of people enjoying what they do and each other’s company. University societies of our kind should be relaxed, imaginative, enjoyable places, and the reformed Arthurians, initially at my prompting, had strayed much closer than I’d anticipated to being just another lecture series.

Late 1990s and early 2000s
Unsurprisingly, the focus of several of my Arthurian friends became Taruithorn, and when I finally went to a meeting – in Trinity 1995 – I encountered the sort of companionship that the Arthurians had sought, had found, and lost again. President Sarah Mackie’s introduction to the meeting was more than anything else warm and unforced without any hint of pretention. While a lot of my social life over the next seven years was spent trying to prop up and then peacefully wind down the Arthurians, I had increasingly more to do with Taruithorn, though this largely involved turning up to the occasional speaker meeting, AGMs and firework, mathom and punt parties, as I was finishing my doctorate as well as helping keep the Arthurians on life support. I did enjoy hearing the latest works by the Taruithorn Singers, including a surely still legendary song about baked potatoes. I also remained a regular attendee at the Doctor Who Society as well as a writer for non-Oxonian Doctor Who fanzines. I came back for occasional Arthurian and Taruithorn events in the period 1997 to 1999 when I wasn’t living in Oxford, often staying in a then Taruithorn-dominated house on Howard Street.


The 1999 punt party (photos from the Archive)

The 1999 punt party (photos from the Archive)

In October 1999 I left London (where I’d been living with first one and then two Taruithorn ex-presidents) to return to Oxford and a job I very much wanted at what was then called the New Dictionary of National Biography. I remember going to some Taruithorn meetings including one which ended up very merrily in our senior member Martin Grossel’s room, then I think in Blue Boar Quad in Christ Church. There was also the tenth anniversary banquet in Hilary 2000, held at St Peter’s, followed by the bearing of the Taruithorn white tree banner down New Inn Hall Street and through Bonn Square, which went without any hitch I recall despite Bonn Square’s then reputation as a haunt for the inebriated and potentially violent. However, I was not too well for the latter part of that evening and retired to the flat I was then renting in Kidlington early.

This anniversary event was well-attended, but at the time membership was going through one of its cyclical downturns. There had been talk of some sort of merger with the Arthurians, though this reunion of Arnor and Gondor did not take place as our Elessar was forced to withdraw from Minas Tirith and return north to the land of the Dúnedain. Nevertheless, some Arthurian traditions were adapted for the Taruithorn, especially the dances at banquets. For a little while things went badly. I remember turning up to a quiz preparation meeting early in 2001 where I think only five people appeared. One of the themes which emerges in the tenth anniversary Miruvor is speculation about the Peter Jackson films and the realisation that circumstances were about to change. However, the 2002 ‘Looseley [sic] Based on the Film’ banquet wasn’t very well-attended, though there were a few non-core types, and we seemed dwarfed by the size of West Oxford Community Centre.

The Taruithorn Singers (photo by Andrew Wells)

The Taruithorn Singers (photo by Andrew Wells)

Whips not necessary
During the early 2000s I kept feeling that I should really be drawing away from student concerns, but the lie was given to this by the emergence of another non-student, Colin Jack, as one of the great ideas people of the society at this point. I think it was Colin who suggested the rebadging of the society as the ‘Tolkien and Classic Fantasy Society’ and broadened its remit to discuss authors including Terry Pratchett. The strategy suggested inclusiveness and helped bring new people into the society, as did the more general wave of interest which followed The Felllowship of the Ring’s release. Most important, though, was the conjunction of personalities which came into the society and filled several gaps in the early 2000s, too many to list here, whose names are prominent in the committee lists of most of the decade. Where there’s a whip, the Rankin-Bass animated version of The Return of the King said, there’s a way; but after a few years of desperation, we suddenly and definitely didn’t need one to keep people in.

My most useful skills seemed to be the ability to drive and the possession of a car. The car helped with bonfires and banquets, and the driving could also be applied to hired minibuses. Two fellow-conspirators and I drove a busload of Taruithorn to Sutton Hoo in Trinity 2004, which I remember for headlines about interest rates alarming the homeowners in the front seats, certain people being more hands-on with the exhibits in the museum than was allowed, the general light and open vistas of that Sunday, my bursting someone’s theory about algorithms supposedly used to determine when route confirmation signs appeared on primary routes by pointing out gently that they always followed junctions, and apparently none of the talkers, singers or sleepers in the back of the minibus noticing that we had decided to drive back via Cambridge, where we had or sought supper. Less than a year later, I was part of a group which made the visit to the university assessor which led to the successful deflection of an attempt by the Tolkien Estate’s solicitors to charge us a licence fee for the use of Tolkien’s name, a cause taken up by other societies; I felt I’d taken part in something useful, defending respectful communal enjoyment of someone’s work from those insisting that every exchange of ideas should be understood as a commercial trade.

By this time Taruithorn was firmly settled in Christ Church for regular meetings, and I remember a period when by the good grace of Dr Grossel we made great use of the fellows’ garden, not only for the strawberry party but also for a becloaked dramatic reading and even a ‘history meeting’ where we explored the archive. There were walks through Port Meadow, via the Perch when it was still a riverside pub of the amiably self-referential eccentricity increasingly rare in Oxford, complete with giant chess pieces and swings, and where our wander back might involve being witness to fighting cows and being greeted by horses starved of human company. There were discussions about fantasy, fact and fiction into the night over ice cream in G&Ds or over coffee and tea in college rooms. This was a happy period when I found myself enjoying simple pleasures with what I now realise was unnecessary guilt. I thought I was gatecrashing another generation’s party, but if I was, I seemed to be made welcome.

Banquests, guests and cards
The mid-2000s saw the banquets blossom beneath a lattice of creative talents of which Tora Hallatt was the most enduring and most celebrated. There were several people who would only attend the banquet, so extensive was its reputation, despite it being held in the North Oxford Community Centre in Summertown, well beyond the traditional borders of student Oxford where Wolfson and St Hugh’s are in lands where live dragons, in school or otherwise. I was glad to get to know many older members better too.

The 2002 Banquet (Photo by Matthew Kilburn)

The 2002 Banquet (Photo by Matthew Kilburn)

The 2003 Banquet (photo from the Archive)

The 2003 Banquet (photo from the Archive)

004_banquet (5)

The 2004 Banquet (photos from the Archive)

The 2004 Banquet (photos from the Archive)

After my salaried job in Oxford finished in 2006, Taruithorn helped provide a distraction from the uncertainties of a freelance career. Highlights included the visit by the authors of the Ring of Words, who seemed taken aback by the energy and volume by which everyone greeted each other and caught up on happenings and gossip, and meeting the Swedish Tolkien Society when they visited in May 2009. They presented us with a set of home-made trading cards, which by the time this article sees print I just might have placed in the Society archive where they belong, six years late.

During the 2000s I became a semi-regular attendee at Oxonmoot, the annual Oxford-based gathering of the Tolkien Society held in a college in September on the weekend closest to the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. I initially went to see old Taruithornites there – the earlier generations of Taruthorn were more closely connected to the Tolkien Society than their successors, as a look through early termcards shows. I also hoped to research potential Taruithorn speakers. There have been a few people whom I’ve sounded out about coming to Oxford, only to find they live too far away to make a visit to Oxford practical. I eventually joined the Tolkien Society and came close at some points to being more involved in it. For several years the committee of the Tolkien Society met in Oxford, sometimes leading to confusion if Taruithorn wanted to use a room in a college which the Tolkien Society were using. After one of these meetings, I joined some of the committee, which included some old Taruithorn members, for dinner, and I was informally asked by some of the officers if I’d consider being editor of its journal Mallorn, which I declined. I was also vaguely involved on the fringes of Oxonmoot planning at one point. However, I realised I had many other interests I would be better exploring, and I seriously thought I might block people with a greater passion for the professor and his works. There was also a nagging suspicion that my lack of knowledge of Quenya and Sindaril or of genealogies of Numenor, Gondor and Arnor would lead to me being found out quickly.

Ageing well
There was a perhaps inevitable distance between me and Taruithorn by the end of the 2000s. I helped precipitate an argument about Miruvor’s future where I tried to propose a solution which could be all things to all people and only contributed to postpone the continuation of the magazine in any form for some time. One summer, following my misconstruing a message from Martin Grossel, I thought we needed a temporary new senior member, which turned out not to be the case. After these, I deliberately decided I was out of the loop and stepped back.

I’m not sure why or when I started to pay more attention again; or perhaps I was never really away. So here I am, scanning old Miruvors for the internet, helping administer the Taruithorn International Facebook group, and turning up to committee meetings to comment upon anniversary plans, and writing for this publication.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, I have failed to submit my decades-promised article on why I was right not to like The Hobbit when I was nine. Perhaps I am displaying my respect for tradition in this regard. Perhaps I am admitting that the article is unfinishable. Perhaps this is because I was wrong.

Taruithorn represents and helps realise the breadth of experience and the humanity of its inspiration. We have not actually hijacked a bus as undergraduates, nor have we collectively taken up pipe-smoking, but I like to think J.R.R. Tolkien would find us convivial company. Viewed across the society’s twenty-five years, its members past and present have become a society of (among others) medical practitioners, of engineers, of charity workers, management consultants, librarians, neuroscientists, publishers, ethicists, civil servants, astrophysicists, procurement specialists, teachers, computer scientists, geneticists, clergy, university administrators, psychologists, artists, accountants, internet marketing gurus, and even the occasional philologist or literary scholar. Often people have managed to pursue several different careers, sometimes at once, and make them complement each other. Tolkien of course understood his characters through different aspects, depending on their company, their location or especially their own choices in the face of a world of unfolding change. As a society, we seem always to have cooked a lot, with a noticeably sweet tooth at times, though what we drink – and how alcoholic it is – has changed with the inclinations of the Oxford members of the day.

We don’t live in the Undying Lands. Oxford is a tangible and mortal place and the university only part of it. Each time we meet might be the last gathering of that particular fellowship. I’m not alone in that my time with Taruithorn has involved its fair share of lost, won, and unrequited loves, though the society has been very good at making marriages. Most importantly it’s the friendships, the acceptance and celebration of variety and creativity for their own sakes, the equality and openness which stay with me. In a fraught and competitive world of multiple tutorials, uncertain futures and contested presents, Taruithorn has managed to be an oasis of amicability, community, frivolity and free expression for a quarter of a century now, and long may it continue to do so.

Silver Jubilee

The Society’s Senior Member since the founding, Lord Morgoth himself (as well as Society Demi-God), Dr Martin Grossel reflects on 25 years of Taruithorn in his contribution to the Anniversary issue.

It has been a very great pleasure to have been associated with the Tolkien Society over the last 25 years if only in a minor capacity. It is a considerable achievement to have sustained an active, non-sporting University society over such a long period of time.

Particular highlights, of course, include the annual Banquets which have always been a pleasure to attend and are remarkable because of the number of former members who continue to support them, often accompanied by their families. Such long-term loyalty is very special and in my experience unknown in other Universities. Furthermore the catering and decoration provided by members has always been a huge success.

The various commitments of my professional life have often limited my ability to attend meetings on a regular basis but I have always enjoyed the Trials (though the activities of both Morgoth and Sauron were clearly misunderstood by the Court!) and I am sure all of those who were present will remember Morgoth’s Matches! There also used to be vacation trips by members in the summer and it was a great pleasure to catch up with a group who were walking in the Lake District several years ago.

Other events worthy of particular mention include the Reduced Lord of the Rings performances and the range of visiting speakers that the Society has been able to attract over the years.

I wish the Society every continued success and congratulate all those who have contributed to its achievements to date.

Taruithorn’s 25th

To start off the 25th Anniversary issue, the Society’s Creatrix, Sarah Wells, remembers the Society’s founding.

Twenty-five years?  Already?  Can’t be, it’s only (looks at watch). Oh.

I suppose other people are filling the pages of this venerable magazine with where the time all went to, so I shall look instead at where it all came from.  The story of Taruithorn starts, of course, rather more than twenty-five years back.  Our parent body, the Tolkien Society, had been gathering yearly in Oxford since 1974; I had been making my own pilgrimages to Oxford as part of this since I was 9.  There had been a few attempts at starting an Oxford Tolkien Society over the years, none very large or long-lived, and now remembered only as faint rumours.  In any case, there was no local Smial or University society when I came up in 1988, an impressionable fresher but veteran Tolkien fan.

I can still remember the pleasure of discovering the Geek Ghetto in my first Freshers’ Fair; it was clear there would be no shortage of like-minded people.  Naturally I signed up for at least half the clubs there, and it wasn’t many weeks before I was sure that Tolkien was not, after all, entirely without honour in his own country.  A year later, therefore, having found my feet, my confidence, and a decent supply of good friends to help out, I circulated a few posters, booked a room, and lit the fuse.
The rest is either in the Archives, or too scurrilous to repeat, at least until the 125th anniversary comes round!