What do Tolkien and “The Office” have to do with each other? Nothing, really. But at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the newly founded Finer Things club is bringing together both worlds by reading and discussing “The Lord of the Rings” in a club themed after the popular show.
You don’t have to be a fan of “The Office” to be a part of the Finer Things club. All that is required is a love for wholesome literature and some casually edifying discussion. This low key, literary-focused club offers students who have nothing in common except a love of intellectual (or not-so-intellectual) learning to come together and take time off from academic studies.
Senior Cianna Vaughan felt the inspiration to start the club when one of her professors went off on a tangent during one class this semester. She explained how Dr. Wiker, a professor of humanities and Catholic culture, was explaining the cultures of life and death and used this tangent as an opportunity to encourage his class to read “The Lord of the Rings.”
“He said that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ world promotes the culture of life,” said Vaughan. “He basically said that it will transform your life. So, I became curious. I had never read it, so I wondered why he said that.”
Vaughan’s interest was sparked, and she decided that the best way to undertake the big work of literature was to share the process with others. She appreciates how the club provides an opportunity to relax in an edified and structured way.
“It’s something that you will enjoy and will be better for you in the long run than taking, say, an hour break from school to watch Netflix,” she said. “I think it’s something that’s a little more unifying, something you can walk away from and think, ‘Oh, I didn’t just waste an hour.’”
Vaughan, a fan of “The Office,” took the name for her club from the Finer Things club in the show, a club whose mantra is “no work talk allowed.”
The club has been meeting every Monday evening in the Mulieres Clarae Dei household common room. The members listen to an audio dramatization of “The Lord of the Rings” while drinking tea. Each week they will listen to one chapter and then discuss it in a casual way.
“Sometimes, we have sort of deep conversations, and sometimes, it’s just like, ‘This character is funny.’ It’s pretty chill,” Vaughan said. “There’s no pressure. It’s not like an intellectual thing, where you have to know what the symbolism is. You can just listen. If you do know, you can say it.”
The club is very small in its early stages, with only a few people showing up each week to listen and discuss. But Vaughan said that they have built a very comfortable community.
“It’s cool to build that connection with someone that I didn’t know that well before and just have that good conversation,” she said. “It’s (also) unifying; it brings you together in a special way.”
The Finer Things club is not sure what direction it will take once the members finish “The Lord of the Rings,” but Vaughan said they may do poetry or some other works of classic literature.
The goal is to select works “that are enjoyable and relaxing to listen to but are also good for you,” she said.
Vaughan said that this is the perfect club for students who like to read but can’t find the time because of classes and homework.
“You don’t get any time to read in college,” she said. “And you don’t get any time to do things that are enjoyable, good for you and fruitful because you are so busy doing homework. So, just taking the time, one hour a week, to come to Finer Things club, it’s just relaxing and enjoyable.”
Transfer sophomore Elizabeth Williams and freshman Tanya McInnis, who attend the Finer Things Club regularly, said that it is a nice and relaxing way to start the week.
“The Finer Things club is a peaceful environment where you can just sit, drink tea and immerse yourself in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien,” said Williams. “What’s not to love?”
Anyone who is looking to escape from the academic world of papers, projects and presentations should consider the Finer Things club. As Pam from “The Office” put it, it is an opportunity to “return to another age, a time of refinement and civility.”