Mythcon 40 at UCLA, July 17-20

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Voronwë the Faithful
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Mythcon 40 at UCLA, July 17-20

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I thought I would mention that Mythcon 40 (the 40th annual conference of the Mythpoeic Society) is going to be taking place at UCLA (in Los Angeles) from July 17-20. The theme of this year's conference is "Sailing the Seas of Imagination." The scholar guest of honor is Diana Pavlac Glyer, author of the great book The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community and the author guest of honor is James A. Owen, artist and writer of the noted independent comic book Starchild, and the young adult fantasies Here, There Be Dragons and The Search for the Red Dragon.

I will be presenting a paper entitled "Reconstructing Arda: The Second Prophecy of Mandos" on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. And on Sunday morning at ten, I'll be sitting on a panel discussing "Tolkien in the Twenty-first Century." I'd love to see some of you there. Even if you are not from Southern California, it's not too late to plan to travel on out there. I'd love to see some of you there!

Here is the schedule. And here is the main page, with information about registration, room and board, etc. The last day to preregister is July 6!
"Among the tales of sorrow there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures."
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Primula Baggins
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Post by Primula Baggins »

That is so cool, Voronwë. 8) Did you have any idea what Arda Reconstructed would lead to?
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

No.

(How's that for a nice brief answer?)
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Post by Frelga »

Sounds super-awesome, V. Best of luck!
There should be a word for the microscopic spark of hope that you dare not entertain in case the mere act of acknowledging it will cause it to vanish, like trying to look at a photon. You can only sidle up to it, looking past it, walking past it, waiting for it to get big enough to face the world.
- Terry Pratchett, Mort
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Here is my brief report on the conference.

We arrived on Friday evening, too late to attend any of the papers or festivities. But I did get to meet a few people, including David Bratman, the "reader" who made such excellent suggestions for revising my book, leading to it's publication.

Saturday morning, after breakfast, everyone gathered outside for a processional, and then the opening ceremonies, lead by the conference chairperson, Sarah Beach. One comment that she made caught my attention. She mentioned that there had been some pushback to her choice of James Owen as the author guest of honor. I guess that must have been because he uses fictionalized accounts of the Inklings in his books, taking broad liberties with the facts. But over the course of the weekend, I found Mr. Owen to be both quite witty and engaging, and also quite knowledgeable about the Inklings. He took part in a number of panels and had a lot of good things to say.

Following the opening ceremonies, Diana Pavlac Glyer, author of last year's MythSoc Inklings scholarship award for her book on the Inklings, The Company They Keep and the scholar guest of honor, gave her keynote address, entitled "Sailing Out to Sea In Our "Coracle of Verses." The title was taken from a line in the prologue poem of the first book published by C.S. Lewis, a book of verses entitled Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics published in 1919 under the name Clive Hamilton. The line in the poem is "In my coracle of verses I will sing of lands unknown." For those who don't know (I didn't), a coracle is a small, simple round one person boat used in different places, mostly in Asia. In true college professor form, Dr. Glyer passed out handouts of the full poem, and went through whole thing. She used the idea of the coracle as a metaphor for this early "primitive" work by Lewis as a precursor for much of the work of the Inklings. It was a lovely talk which I enjoyed very much. I've never been much of a fan of Lewis's, but I really like this poem, particularly the last two lines, which could easily be referring to important aspects of Tolkien's work (though of course at this point the two of them had no idea of the existence of the other):

Sing about the Hidden Country fresh and full of quiet green
Sailing over seas uncharted to a port that none has seen


This was followed by the "Keynote Panel" entitled "Inklings and Creative Community." It was basically a discussion about how to work in collaboration with others. The panel consisted of Dr. Glyer, James Owen, the fantasy author Tim Powers, conference chairperson Sarah Beach, and Sam McBride, author of Women Among the Inklings. I found the comments of Owen and Powers to be the most interesting. It was particularly amusing when the panel members were asked about advice about how to work in collaborations, and Powers replied "Don't." He then clarified that he meant that it was better to not work in a collaboration than to try to force one that didn't really work. I thought that made a lot of sense.

After lunch, I attended a paper called "Divine Intervention in The Lord of the Rings" by a young man named Sklyler King, instead of Sam McBride's paper "The Company They Didn't Keep: The Influence of Inklings Outsiders" (there was also a Roundtable discussion on Young Adult Fantasy going on at the same time). I wish I had attended McBride's presentation. King mostly reviewed material familiar to any serious reader of Tolkien's work, without giving much in the way of his own perspective. He was clearly nervous, and in addition to many ums and uhs he spoke too fast and often lost his place. His paper was badly organized and went on too long. In addition, some of his facts were simply wrong. Most grievous was probably his statement that the only way that mortals could reach the undying lands was by dying. There is nowhere in Tolkien's work that I can think of where he says that mortals go to the undying lands when they die; on the contrary, they leave the "circles of the world." King had a few good things to say, and I certainly applaud him for trying, and encourage him to keep studying Tolkien, but I have to say that his paper was the low point of the conference for me.

One of the reasons that I was annoyed that King went overly long is that I was scheduled to follow him with my paper, "Reconstructing Arda: The Second Prophecy of Mandos." I ended up starting about ten minutes late, but that was okay. I'm happy to report that my presentation went quite well, and my paper seemed to be quite well received. I'm not particularly well-versed in public speaking, but I think I did okay; the audience seemed to be paying close attention. My paper was partly taken from the discussion about the Second Prophecy in my book, but expanded greatly (I would say that less than half of it closely tracked the discussion in the book). Most of what I added related to detailing the history of the Prophecy (including an interesting parallel with Tolkien's newly published poem "The Lay of the Volsangs," pointed out to me in a thread here by solicitr) and the books of Clyde Kilby and Elizabeth Whittingham, which I felt very much helped bolster my argument that Tolkien did not intend to remove the Second Prophecy from the Quenta, and that it provided an important element to his mythology. There were a number of quite insightful comments and questions at the end, most of which seemed to be supportive of my view (and some of which provided some additional rationales that I had not thought of before). Overall, it was a satisfying experience, though quite draining to be the center of attention like that.

After I presented my paper, I took an hour off to recharge my batteries a bit. I probably would have attended Angie Gardner's paper "The Life and Times of Hilary Tolkien" among the four (!) different presentations going on that time, but I missed it.

Following that came my one big dilemma of the weekend, with two papers that I was interested in seeing. David Bratman was in the Auditorium presenting a paper on "The Inklings in Fiction." And Janet Croft was in Plaza A, presenting "Naming the Evil One: Onomastic Strategies in Tolkien and Rowling." Even though I haven't read Rowling, I ended up deciding to attend Croft's paper. I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed it a lot, but I hear that Bratman's paper was a real tour de force, and I'm sorry that I missed it. But that's the way it goes sometimes at these conferences. I chose Croft's paper because I really am interested in the power of names and naming, and I thought her discussion was lively and erudite. She focused mostly on the naming strategies used by and for Morgoth, Sauron and Saruman in Tolkien's work, and Voldemort in Rowling's work (with a little of discussion of the applications of names to Gollum by Frodo and Sam). I thought it was a fascinating subject, and one that can be mined much further. (In fact, Croft indicated that she was particularly interested in exploring and comparing the different ways that Túrin and Aragorn each collected their multitude of different names). I even found the discussion of Voldemort interesting, even though I haven't read the Potter books. I was interested to note that the bulk of the questions and comments at the end were about Rowling, not Tolkien.

Following this, I stuck around the Plaza A for Bill Stoddard's paper "Simbelmynë: Mortality and Memory in Middle-earth" skipping the roundtable discussion on Teaching Tolkien led by Leslie Donovan, and the Panel on Fantasy in Art and Other Media. This was another excellent paper. Stoddard has a slow, quiet, soothing voice that I found particularly well-suited to his subject, which again was one that I was quite interested in. I thought Stoddard did an excellent job of showing the interplay between the mortality of Man and the longeval deathlessness of the Elves with memory in Middle-earth. A very worthwhile paper.

That ended the scholarly presentations for the day. After dinner, there was a "Reader's Theatre" presenting an adaptation of Dorothy Sayer's play Love All, adapted by Sherwood Smith. It was quite entertaining. David Bratman in particular was excellent as a writer who has run off to Venice with his actress mistress. Unfortunately, by this point I was exhausted and left towards the end, missing the masquerade that followed entirely.

The following morning, I really wanted to attend Mike Foster's discussion "In the Belly of the Balrog: Tolkien and the Book of Jonah" but my computer crashed and I ended up missing almost the whole thing while I fiddled with it. Pity; that would have been interesting.

On the brighter side, while I was waiting for my computer to reboot, I spent the time reviewing what I wanted to say in the panel that I was scheduled to sit on at 10:00 a.m. on Tolkien in the 21st Century, and I'm glad I did. The panel was moderated by Nancy Martsch, editor of the newsletter Beyond Bree, and consisted of her, myself, Janet Croft, Tolkien linguist Arden Smith, and Leslie Donovan, a professor who teaches both medieval studies and Tolkien. We started out with a discussion of the films and how they influenced interest in Tolkien, led by Janet Croft (who edited the book Tolkien on Film). I then led a discussion about Tolkien on the internet and how the films have sparked a tremendous amount of discussion about Tolkien's work on the internet, some of it very insightful. I mentioned, of course the Moral Universe threads as having some of most insightful discussion of Tolkien's work that I have ever seen anywhere, including in scholarly books, and I also pointed out that my own book started as a discussion at HoF. I also mentioned that the messageboards that have sprung up as a result of the films have done more than provide a venue to discuss the films and Tolkien's work; they have also provided a community in which people can discuss a lot more than just Tolkien-related issues, and have been a venue that have allowed people to make life-long friends. I was pleased that I had had the opportunity to review what I wanted to say, because I was able to make my initial remarks without reading them or referring to notes, and with no ums or uhs. This was followed by a discussion led by Leslie Donovan about teaching Tolkien and about the increase in scholarly works about Tolkien. Arden Smith then talked about what is going on with the linguistic works of Tolkien that he and his three colleagues are editing and publishing. Nancy then asked each of to state what we would like to see more of in Tolkien studies. Most of the rest of the panel focused on discussion of Tolkien's shorter works. I added a different idea; the need for more criticism of Tolkien by people who understand and appreciate his work. My point was that virtually all of the negative comments about Tolkien's work have been made by people who have no understanding of or appreciation for what he did. In response, it seems like Tolkien scholars have had to bend over backwards to show why Tolkien should be appreciated. But no one is perfect, not even Tolkien, and criticism of his work by people who have studied it and understand and appreciate it would be so much more valuable than the superficial criticism made by mainstream literary critics. Nancy also had me give a short overview of the situation with the Tolkien v. New Line lawsuit. We ended with a short but fairly vigorous question and answer session.

After that panel, I caught about half of the panel discussion on "Lewis versus the World" in which panelists Sarah Beach, James Owen, Glen Goodnight (the founder of the Mythopoeic Society, attending his first conference in years), Don Williams and Hannah Thomas. The discussion focused mainly on the attacks on Lewis by Philip Pullman and other atheists, and was very lively to say the least. The highlight for me was when Don Williams made the point that "new atheists" don't seem to have any understanding of what people of faith believe or why (and that many people of faith don't understand what atheists believe, and why), and then recited from memory the poem of an "old atheist," Thomas Hardy, ending by saying that he could never imagine Richard Dawkins saying anything like that.

After lunch, we decided to get away for a bit, and took a walk to the Fowler Museum of Culture, so we missed that afternoon's presentations. The main thing that I am disappointed that we missed was a Homage to Pauline Baynes, a slideshow presented by Glen Goodnight. We got back in time for the live auction at 4:00 p.m. There was a silent auction through the weekend, but anything that got more than two bids went to the live auction. I had donated a signed copy of my book. I have to admit, I was quite entertained by the fact that my book was the one item to incite a bidding war, with it finally going to Arden Smith (who amused himself and me by translating the fragment of the inscription that can be seen on the cover).

That night was the banquet, with lots of good food and drink and better company. Glen Goodnight made an emotional speech talking about his history founding the society and history with it. Then James Owen made his keynote address. He talked a little bit about a paper that he written about the Silmarillion when he was fourteen that was about one loremaster passing on knowledge of this history to the next. He really caught his stride when he told a story about how he was recently given a tape recording that he had made when he was two years old, in which he was leaving instructions for "big Jamie" to be reminded about how to fly. Really moving stuff.

This was followed by the entertainment for the evening. First was the very hilarious "Dead Inklings Panel" in which David Bratman played Tolkien, James Owen played Charles Williams, Donald Williams played C.S. Lewis, and two others (whose names escape me right now) played Warnie Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. It was hilarious. The main point was that they were critiquing and criticizing Diana's book about them. I was shocked and ultimately quite pleased that my paper was also spoofed, with Donald Williams as "C.S. Lewis" commenting about "that version of the Silmarillion that got published, it didn't even have the Second Prophecy of Mandos in it" and then Bratman as Tolkien riffing on that further. Next was a musical interlude led by Mike Foster of songs by Bob Dylan adapted to Tolkien themes. Very clever. Finally, there was the skit by the "Not Ready for Mythcon Players" about three pirates based on Tolkien, Lewis and Williams searching for treasure. The funniest line was probably when the introduced "Long John Tolkien" and he said "my name is "Ron" not "John". This was a reference to the fact that in his books, Owen refers to the Tolkien character as "John" even though he was always "Ronald" (or "Tollers") to his intimates. But the funniest thing was Arden Smith dressed as cheerleader, complete with fake breasts, because there was a cheer-leading competition or conference, or something, that was going on the same place all weekend.

The following morning we got up early and flew home, so we missed all of the presentations that day, as well as the closing ceremonies. Oh well. Still, it was definitely a very enjoyable and educational experience.
Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Wed Jul 22, 2009 8:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Primula Baggins »

Oh, my goodness. Thank you so much for posting such a detailed description. I don't know whether to be delighted that I could vicariously experience so much of the conference, or frustrated that I couldn't simply have gone to it myself.

It sounds as if your part of it was a great success!
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
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Post by N.E. Brigand »

Great report! For the moment, I'll just add that it was great to meet Voronwë properly (two years ago we spoke for all of 30 seconds) and that both his paper and his contribution to the panel were excellent.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

It was really great to get to spend some time with you. I can't thank you enough for going out of your way to make Beth and I feel so comfortable. It really went a long ways toward making the weekend so enjoyable. And I can't wait to read your full report; I sure was impressed by how many notes you took, and the insightful and knowledgeable questions and comments that you asked/made.
"Among the tales of sorrow there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures."
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