And welcome to my newsletter for September, 2011! Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these newsletters regularly, please drop me an email or subscribe online from my website (http://www.JefMurray.com
) or at: http://groups.google.com/group/Mystical_Realms
. Notices of events and items of interest are at the bottom of this email.
I have posted three new painting images on my website. These include "Slayer of Darkness", "In Her Father's Garden" and "Fangorn Revisited", all of which are in my Tolkien gallery. You can see all of these by going to http://www.JefMurray.com
and clicking on the "Newest Works" button on the top of the page.
As always, these and all of the images in my online galleries are available as signed and numbered limited-edition Giclee prints.
Do let me know how these new images strike you!
The first strangeness was being escorted by a wizard down the dirt road to the registration building. But apart from Gandalf, who regaled us on our walk with his knowledge of American Shaker history, we could also see other cloaked and gowned figures plodding down paths and bustling beside picket fences.
Lorraine and I had just arrived at A Long Expected Party in Kentucky. And, although there were jarring moments that reminded us otherwise (Gandalf at one point excused himself to answer his cell phone in the midst of what might otherwise have been a protracted discussion of Shire road construction techniques), it seemed that the city we'd left behind that morning had been part of a bad dream: here there were no more gas shortages; no more political debates; no more predictions of financial catastrophe. Here, instead, were old oak trees, rolling hills with sheep, goats, and cattle. Here were ponies prancing in pastures as well as draught horses tugging carts beside drystone fence-bordered barnyards.
Never mind that this Shire had furry feet in two very different metaphysical spaces; it seemed, as it often is with prayer, that the efforts of the organizers had transcended time and space. We almost felt that if we walked far enough away from the village center, we'd encounter a nothingness beyond which we could travel no further; a boundary that protected us from the outside world so that we could reflect, for a time, on the important things.
That first evening saw most of us settled in, and we gathered in an enormous Pipeweed-drying barn for supper and lamplight tales. Once the sun set, the gloaming pooled through slatted barn walls and screech owls punctuated story and song. Music was primarily Hobbit-fare, and was warm and welcoming. Later, Gandalf regaled with ghostly tales
just frightening enough, I suspect, to trouble the sleep of those whose other cares had all been left behind.
The ensuing days in the Shire were filled with stunning sights and mystical moments. Fog-filled mornings had Hobbits huddling. Crispy bacon, biscuits, and sausages washed down with strong coffee fortified us for long hours of listening to talks, fencing, hiking, and even testing of furred feet on riverboat cruises.
The second evening brought us to the Hall of Fire, where many of us were coaxed into sharing stories, songs, and skits. Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, Eowyn, Galadriel, Arwen, Aragorn
all were present, as were Dora and Angelica Baggins, various Rangers, plus others of the Istari. We even had an appearance by Farmer Giles of Ham(!). And we were serenaded again, not only by Hobbit ballads, but also by Elven tunes of long ago. Late, late on the second evening, the bravest stayed up for a ghost walk through the village. Dares were made and accepted by the intrepid at the site of the most-haunted smial in all the Shire.
The final full day dawned to much nervous anticipation. Bilbo's big party was to begin at 6pm, with preliminary games starting at 3 in the afternoon. Lorraine and I were housed near the Party Field, and at one point in the afternoon, we spotted dozens of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Rangers, and Wizards outside our bedroom windows, apparently on a treasure hunt. The sight was startling; fields that had seen only sparrows and jackrabbits were now seething with fair folk of every kith and kin. But for the fullness of the afternoon autumn sunlight, we would have thought that the Barrows had been opened and the glorious men and ladies of the Downs called back to life.
Bilbo's party was, of course, the biggest and best part of the whole weekend. There were various entertainments, including the teaching of the Springle Ring to those who were inclined to dance, more Bard music, an encore of "May it Be" by an elven maiden, and enormous quantities of food, drink, and birthday cake. We were all taken by surprise at one point by the appearance of a Black Rider on horseback just after dusk, but the Rangers drove it off before it could cause any mischief.
Bilbo's speech came, and we were all surprised and delighted by his complete disappearance at the end of it
many of us knew what was coming, but the reality of it still came as something of a shock.
There's so much more I could say about our time in the Shire. Aside from the planned events, the land itself healed wounds and smoothed furrowed brows. We heard cows first thing each morning, lowing in the fields. We heard coyotes off in the distance each afternoon. Brilliant crystalline stars reeled through the Milky Way all night long, and immense autumn gusts buffeted the Pipeweed Barn during daytime gatherings.
Our trips to the village (we were housed about a mile and a half west of Hobbiton) played out like nature dramas; we saw hawks, possums, rabbits, coyotes, and even a skunk on our rides to and from town. One sparrow, apparently unaccustomed to such magical devices, swooped into our car one morning, perched on the steering wheel, and would not leave; it was apparently intrigued by the strangeness of this new sort of carriage.
When the final morning dawned, with just the barest outline of sun greeting the thick autumn mists, we didn't know what to say to all of the new friends we'd met. It was certainly not clear that there would ever be such an event as this again in our lifetimes. And many of us felt in our hearts that this weekend would stand as the closest any of us would ever come to truly visiting the Shire
unless, of course, a greater Shire awaits us once our journey on this earth is finally done.
[This remembrance of ALEP 1 in 2008 is reprised here to refresh the memories and whet the appetites of those who will be joining us later this month for ALEP 2!]
A Long Expected Party 2 (ALEP2) will be held late this month in Shaker Village, Kentucky. For those of you who missed the original ALEP in 2008, please consider joining us this time `round! This event is held in perhaps the most "Shire-like" place in the US, and we expect the camaraderie and fun enjoyed in 2008 will be a welcome respite from the world's woes. For more information, and to book your place in the festivities, see www.alep2.us).
The 2012 Jef Murray/ALEP2 Fantasy Calendar continues selling fast! It has now been sold in the USA, Canada, England, Ireland, France, and the Netherlands. This 2012 calendar is loaded with painting images from Middle-earth, and it is being published in support of the upcoming ALEP2 (A Long Expected Party 2) gathering of Tolkien fans in Kentucky in September (see www.alep2.us). You can order your copy at www.JefMurray.com .
The Middle-earth Network ( http://middleearthnetwork.com
) is fast becoming the "Go To" place for news about Tolkien-related events and for discussions on the social network, http://mymiddle-earth.com/
. There are contests, postings of artwork and music, plus Middle Earth Radio. Most recently, Maerech of the Dunedain Radio held and interview with Tim, JP, David, Marc Gunn and myself on the original "A Long Expected Party (ALEP)" in 2008, as well as a discussion of how this year's event is expected to play out. Tune into the Middle-earth Network for rebroadcasts and other great news and features!
The Return of the Ring 2012 (see http://www.returnofthering.org/)
will be a huge Tolkien-themed conference and gathering at Loughborough University on 16-20th August, 2012. I am delighted to have been invited to appear as a guest of honour at the event and am looking forward not only to sharing my paintings and sketches, but also to participating in panels and presentations. You can book reservations now online.
Tolkien biographer Joseph Pearce and I collaborated on an EWTN TV special on J.R.R. Tolkien that is now available on DVD. The production includes dozens of my illustrations of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and it focuses on the Catholicity of Tolkien's magnum opus. You can order the a DVD of the show at: http://www.ewtnreligiouscatalogue.com/TOLKIEN+S+LORD+OF+THE+RINGS+A+CATHOLIC+WORLD+VIEW/shop.axd/ProductDetails?x=0&y=0&keywords=Pearce+Tolkien&edp_no=22609