Mark T. Hooker
MythCon XXXIV *
MythCon XXXIV was held 25-28 July 2003 at the Scarritt-Bennett Conference Center in Nashville, TN. The Center is an oasis of peace and quite with an air of a quaint, old-timey, small university campus about it, located in the middle of the Music City. The architecture was suggestive of something older, but a cornerstone gave away the construction date for the auditorium as 1950. The dining hall reminded me of the great Dining Hall in the Harry Potter movies, except this one was not quite as large as the one in the movie. I kept expecting the high, vaulted ceiling to do something magical, but it never did. The food, while not magical, was certainly palatable.
The theme of the conference was "From Athena to Galadriel: The Image of the Wise Woman in Mythopoeic Fiction." I felt strangely out of place with a non-feminist topic. Almost all of the others were. My topic was "Nine [type-setting note: cross out the word Nine and write the word Ten above it, leaving the word nine visible.] Rings for Russian Men." I had proposed a paper with a feminist topic: "Tanya Grotter, the Russian Harry Potter: a knock-off, or a parody?", but the selection committee decided that they would rather hear about the Russian translations. I subsequently did the Tanya Grotter paper at Nymbus-2003 (the first Harry Potter Conference), which was held the week before in Orlando, FL.
The change of the title of my presentation from "Nine Rings" to "Ten Rings" was brought about by the last-minute arrival of the manuscript of the Umanskij translation (ca. 1975) to which I had not previously had access. The paper was followed by a slide show of Russian illustrations of The Hobbit, and by a video of a Russian stage production of The Hobbit. Everybody laughed at the illustrations' depiction of Bilbo's hairy feet, which in Russian are a lot more hairy than in English because the Russian word normally used for feet in the translations means the appendage from hip to toe. All agreed that the stage dragon and the spiders were well done, but lamented the absence of the trolls, and of Gandalf's 'shady hat' in the play.
Unfortunately, while doing my own presentations, I had to miss: Wayne Chandler's "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Call of Immortality," Lois Westerlund's "Shadows: Dark and Otherwise,' and the panel on "Writing Fantasy in the Shadow of Tolkien," moderated by Sherwood Smith.
The guests of honor were Sherwood Smith (author and long-time member of the Tolkien Society) and Dabney A. Hart (renowned C.S. Lewis scholar). Ms. Sherwood spoke on her literary career, which began at age 8. Her stage presence was captivating. It even made me want to read some of her books, which number more than 25, especially the one about the little girl who goes to wizarding school a la Tanya Grotter. Ms. Hart regaled the audience with tales of wise women in Literature (with a capital L), illustrating her point with the story of her grandmother, who knew how to make sure her sons kept their shirt-tails tucked in: she sewed lace around the lower edge of their shirts. A native of Nashville, her southern accent so captivated Don Williams, that, in his introduction, he said that he would want to listen to her no matter what she had to say, though he was sure that the content would be equally enthralling. He was right.
The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (Carl Hostetter, Arden Smith and Patrick Wayne) held a fascinating Quenya workshop, where they introduced some new Quenya materials: Tolkien's own translations into Quenya of 5 Catholic prayers: the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, the Gloria Patri, the Sub Tuum Praesidium and the Litany of Loreto. The analysis was insightful, and the presentation entertaining. Though the materials were printed in Vinyar Tengwar numbers 43 and 44 (January and June of 2002), seeing the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship in action was more than worth the price of admission. For dessert, Arden Smith served up a delectable lesson in Tengwar calligraphy, and handed out copies of two of the prayers in his studied, elegant Tengwar hand. [Note to Nancy: If you ask him, he might let you print one of the Tengwar prayers for a line or two. I can scan it in for you, if he OKs it.]
The panel on teaching Tolkien was very interesting. Alex Bruce, Ernelle Fife, Mike Foster and Amy Sturgis offered a great number of practical hints on how to present this complex topic to students. (Now, if I could just convince the department chair that Tolkien is worth teaching.)
The discussion of the Mythopoetic Fantasy Awards nominees and the Kazad-Dum book toss were very enlightening, as participants explained why one should read the nominees and spelled out why the books being tossed were not worth the paper they were printed on. Surprisingly, one of the tossed books sold at the Society auction that followed that afternoon for $7. After the tosser's (Mike Foster) review, you would have had to pay me a lot more than $7 to read it.
The masquerade was well attended with participants representing a wide range of fiction and fantasy characters. My favorite was Pippin, played agilely and energetically by Tristan Hunnewell, who, having ascended the stage, convincingly delivered Pippin's trademark line: "They come in pints?!" The next day, I had one with him and his father (who, of course, organized the Golfimbul tournament).
The 'Not Ready for MythCon' players did a wonderful piece on Galadriel's presentation of gifts to the Fellowship, in which a Greek chorus recited the lyrics from a number of well-known modern songs in a cadence that, while appropriate for a Greek chorus, gave the lyrics a tremendous comic impact. Frodo's gift was greeted with a recitation of "A Burning Ring of Fire," as in "It burned, burned, burned, that ring of fire."
That same evening saw a presentation of "Revenge of the DWEMs," a play by Don T. Williams that beat post-modernist literary theory around the head and shoulders with a pizza. It featured the characters Socrates, Erasmus, Novus Criticus and Postmodernica. While Postmodernica was played by Ruby Dunlap, Mr. Williams assured the audience that there was no hidden subtext in Postmodernica's gender. The role was originally written as Postmodernicus. The decision to cast ms. Dunlap in the role was simply a result of the limited pool of available actors.
My favorite T-shirt from MythCon: "Never Judge a Book by its Movie."
My favorite malapropism from MythCon: "Mythic Pig Fiction" (Mythopoetic Fiction to those who missed the allusion).
The participant/presenter from furthest away: Gabrielle Greggersen, from Brazil. She spoke on "Imagination and Wisdom: an analysis of Lewis' female characters in the Chronicles of Narnia."
A good time was had by all. Many thanks to the organizers!
[*]MythCon XXXIV - ежегодный конгресс, проводимый Мифопоическим Обществом (The Mythopoeic Society). Крупнейший в Северной Америке конгресс, посвященный фэнтези. В этом году он проходил 25-28 июля в г. Нешвилль, штат Теннесси.
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