Sorry this is late! Just realized it was never posted.

Jef Murray writes

Welcome to my newsletter for October, 2008! 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 ( )
or at: . Notices of events are at the bottom of this email.

Ponderings ============ ==

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-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.

Prospects ============ =======

- John Ottinger is a very gifted blogger and reviewer of sci fi and fantasy books. He and I met at this year's Dragon*Con, where he asked me for an interview for his online blog, "Grasping for the Wind". You can read the results at: ... view-with-jef-murray.html .

- I will be speaking about my Tolkien-themed artwork to students in a class entitled "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Spiritual Journey" on Wednesday, October 22, from 7-9pm. This class is being offered by Emory University's Aquinas Center, and is being taught by Dr. Phillip Thompson, the director of the Aquinas Center. The class is part of the ongoing Evening at Emory Writers' Studio series.

- If you have copies of any of my signed prints, whether Tolkien-themed or otherwise, your print has just increased in value(!). Beginning this month, we've completed an inventory of all signed prints that I have sold or donated over the last several years, and all of these will be included in the totals for limited print editions of each image. From here on out, all newly purchased prints will be individually numbered, and there will be a cap on total produced. If you would like to know approximately which of the numbered prints you have, please feel free to contact me.

- Divining Divinity, the first book of verse by Joseph Pearce, which includes my illustrations and cover artwork, was just recently reviewed in Dappled Things. You can read the review by going to: .

- ADC Books now has an online catalog featuring Tolkien-themed original paintings and prints from Ted Nasmith, Ruth Lacon, Peter Pracownik, and myself. In addition, you'll find collectible items and rare books featured in the ADC Books catalog. Please take a look at .