Robert Jordan Lecture at the Library Society

Last night I spoke for about an hour at the Charleston Library Society about Robert Jordan as an “American Tolkien.” The talk appears to have been a success. About 70 people showed up according to the chair of my department, which may be some sort of record. I have no better guess, I’m afraid — I don’t usually count such things, since I figure 5 or 50 doesn’t matter for what I’m trying to say — but I can confirm that it was standing room only. There were late-arrived folks outside the room trying to listen in.

The Charleston Library Society has a great building in the middle of downtown — new facilities on the inside, old facade on the outside, yet filled front to back with that wondrous smell of books that warms the intellectual heart — and the staff were exceptionally helpful and friendly. I highly suggest a trip down there for folks in the area.

I had a PowerPoint presentation, which is a first for this here medievalist, but it worked smoothly and even earned some approving comments from a few PowerPoint power-users. Beginner’s luck there, for sure.

More familiar to me — and far more special — I had a material culture segment of the talk, in which I brandished some replicas of medieval weapons in order to prove a point about Jordan’s particular brand of philological creation. I had my own trusty bastard sword for this purpose, of course, but what was more remarkable was that I had one of Jordan’s own weapons, as well. He had an enormous, jaw-dropping armory, and parts of it are being auctioned off at the moment on eBay. About a week ago I asked the Rigney estate if there would be anything I might borrow for the purposes of this talk. Astonishingly, they said yes, and on Tuesday I drove down and picked up three amazing pieces from his collection: a custom Randallmade bowie knife and a samurai set of a katana and matching wakizashi. Unable to bring them all, I used only the katana for the presentation, but it was enough to make my point (hah!). Quite an honor. The blades are all still set on the dining room table downstairs, and I must keep reminding myself that I don’t get to keep them. Alas, my loss is your potential gain: all three, I believe, will be on eBay soon enough. Don’t miss your chance to own a piece of Jordan’s collection! Lord knows I’d be bidding if I had the money!

I’m my own harshest critic, so it’s natural that I don’t think the whole talk went as well as it could have. I flubbed a couple of words and lost track of my place in my notes for a second or two a couple of times when I made eye contact with the audience for too long… but no one seemed to care or notice. So that’s good.

Indeed, from the congratulations afterward, it seems it was one of the better talks given at the Society recently. I’m feeling quite pleased.

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