Digital Recovery at the Prancing Pony… Podcast… Moot!

Oh, what a joyous springtime it has been, dear readers! As the sun begins to shine more warmly upon our faces and blissful summer approaches, I look back on this past year and what it has meant for me as an educator and as a student. I’m constantly in awe of the things that my students teach me, and all of the things that I have yet to learn and devour. This year has had its trials and its problems, but it has also shown me that we are all continually growing, learning, and discovering new things, even as adults. Recently, I had the opportunity to present some of the lessons that I have learned from my students and I reflect upon how much I still have yet to do and learn.

The Prancing Pony Podcast held their inaugural moot last weekend, and it was a rousing success (If you are a fan of Tolkien but unfamiliar with the Prancing Pony Podcast, I highly suggest that you give them a listen)! Not only was this their first virtual Moot (a setting to which many organizations have struggled to adapt), but it was their very first Moot… well, ever! Thanks to the hard work of various volunteers, producers and coordinators (the lovely Katie McKenna!), and of course the Valiant and Stalwart Hosts, Shawn Marchese and Alan Sisto, a fun and raucous time was had by all. The various participation platforms- whether it was through Zoom, Discord, and multiple Slack channels- made for rich discussions, silly side conversations and jokes, and new friendships to blossom over the course of the three days without detracting from the presentations. We were able to interact with one another in ways that, frankly, would have been distracting and insufficient during an in person conference.

The Moot’s theme was focused on the notion of “Digital Recovery.” Tolkien discusses the notion, and indeed the need for recovery in his famous essay, “On Fairy Stories.”

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining—regaining of a clear view. …so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces.

J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”

Personally, I cannot think of a better topic for a digital moot, especially in a time when the pandemic has forced so many of us into isolation. In the past year, we had to find alternative ways to bond as a community… and boy, did we! In this Moot, our shared love of Tolkien and Faerie brought hundreds of people together, and the digital world was a means to uplift us rather than hinder us.

There were so many fantastic presentations from everyday members of the PPP community to prolific Tolkien scholars such as Amy H. Sturgis, Tom Shippey, Bill Fliss, and Michael D.C. Drout. Their topics were incredibly rich and gave us insight into the many gateways that one can engage with Tolkien’s work. From fandom studies to oral histories, from Old Norse to Old English… Tolkien invites us all to engage with his stories in a multitude of unique ways. Their talks also gave us the opportunity to reflect how readers connect with one another through a shared love of stories. There were incredible scholarly presentations, artistic and creative demonstrations, workshops, and reflections on how Tolkien has taught us all to hope, especially in times of darkness.

I had the wonderful privilege of presenting with my good friend, James Tauber. Together, we reflected on our friendship and the wonderful work that has come out of our collaboration since our first meeting. Initially, we had hoped to collaborate on teaching materials in person before COVID hit, but unfortunately the pandemic had other plans, leaving poor James stranded in Australia. However, thanks to the digital nature of my work on Outschool and the Digital Tolkien Project, we were able to collaborate and plan for my Hobbit Book Club in a way that we had not even dreamed of. If you recall, dear reader, the same James Tauber wrote a series of guest post on the nature of “planting linguistic seeds” in children through The Hobbit. Together, we took the seeds of his blog post and created a curriculum that engaged my students.

What was truly inspiring, however, was the fact that my students were able to teach the two of us as well. More than once, my students made fantastic observations about the text that excited all of us! Of course, my first instinct would be to check my research and to check with James to see if anyone had ever commented on these observations before. This created what we termed our “cyclical feedback loop,” in which student observations would lead to our research, and would then lead to teacher prompts and questions for the students to use as a reflection.

James and I chose this process as our example of Digital Recovery because it was such a beautiful light in a dark tunnel. The nature and success of our work and our partnership was changed- in fact, I think, for the better- because of the pandemic and the move to online teaching. Would my students have engaged in the same rigor in their lessons if we hadn’t been forced to work online? Would our collaboration and our partnership have been the same, or nearly as successful? I truly think not.

After the presentation, many participants asked us thoughtful, moving questions about our pedagogical process and the nature of teaching Tolkien to young students, particularly in the online format. In fact, many participants asked if I taught adult classes! While I currently do not, the idea of doing so is particularly exciting and of course the cogs in my brain began turning… As a result, James and I created a contact form for those who might be interested in adult classes and book clubs- please feel free to fill out your information if you are interested!

Finally, I want to give a rousing “thank you” to Alan, Shawn, Event Coordinator Katie McKenna, and the many producers and volunteers who made the Prancing Pony Podcast Moot such a success. It was an incredible few days, and it was another incredible example of Digital Recovery that we all so desperately needed in a time when hope can be hard to find. Our health has been renewed, a clear view regained, and all things can be seen clearly again. Thank you, all.