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Mark T. Hooker

A MythCon Omnibus *

There were also real, live concrete and steel bridges that were important to the participants of MythCon XXXV. To get from the MythCon hotel to the elegant Michigan League Building on the campus of the University of Michigan, where most of the day-time conference activities took place, the participants had to cross two bridges: one across the Huron River and one across railroad tracks. As Sharon Bolding pointed out in her paper on movement between the real world and the world of the fantastic ("Defining Boundaries and Frontiers Between Worlds in Medieval French Narratives"), in the Celtic folklore tradition, crossing a body of water was an indication of crossing into a magical realm. (I think that a MythCon qualifies for that designation.) The railroad tracks under the second bridge were obviously the line that goes to Hogwarts, as there were a number of Harry Potter papers and Masquerade entries. I was intrigued by Kathryn McDaniel's exploration of the 'elvenmistique' ("Why Won't They Be Free: J.K. Rowling's House-Elf Problem") and Amy Sturgis' examination of 'adultish' critics who unjustly accuse adult readers of Tolkien and Rowling of being 'childish' ("For Whom Does the Hogwarts Bell Toll: Rowling's Problem, Tolkien's Solution").

A sign that we passed each time we approached the bridges said: "The Bridges are Now Open Again! Thanks for your Patience." We, obviously, had arrived at just the right time. Any earlier, and we would have had to find the local equivalent of the Bucklebury Ferry, and the theme of the conference would have had to be changed to "Ferries to Other Worlds" (or should that be "Ferries to Faerie"?). [1]

Once on campus, there was another bridge to be crossed. Lunch--an important event in any Hobbit's day--was only to be found by crossing a footbridge that offered passage over a busy street. The bridge, however, seemed to possess a certain magical quality that made it hard to find for the uninitiated. The author and the well-known editor of the august journal Beyond Bree, despite the maps provided to guide us through the wilds of campus, wandered around for a while in search of it, before discovering its location. The author thought that it was a lack of markings in Tengwar that made the maps hard to read. The editor suggested that the organizers would have been well advised to induce a Balrog to stand on the bridge, serving as a beacon to lost travelers. The author, though a dinner companion had remarked that he looked rather Gandalfian, was less inclined to a confrontation with a Balrog, and thought that a Troll would have been a better choice. It being mid-day, the Troll would have been turned to stone by the sun and would have presented no danger to the traveler, while being an unusual enough feature on the landscape to attract the attention of hungry, lost Hobbits.

A MythConian wag suggested that the theme of the conference should have really been "Buses to Other Worlds," because the participants were bussed to and from the con venue each day (twice on Sunday). Another MythConian remarked that the buses would long be a topic of conversation. Indeed, the sight of Galadriel and Hermione Granger alighting from a yellow school bus was a remarkable one, not likely to be forgotten.

The name Ypsilanti, which adorned the school buses pressed into service as shuttles was also a topic of conversation. No one could figure out where the name came from, and the guesses ranged from Greek to Finnish to fantasy. In reality, the town of Ypsilanti, Michigan is named after a Greek Hero, not of the classical period, but of the early nineteenth century. General Demetrius Ypsilanti (1793-1832) came to prominence for his actions against the Turks in the Greek war of independence.

That particular piece of trivia should have been in the otherwise excellent MythCon XXXV Program Book. The book had almost everything else: a complete list of the Mythopoeic Awards (plus the current nominees); a chronology of MythCons; "A Few Historical Words on Mythopoeic Society Scholarship" (David Bratman); a list of notable round-number anniversaries (like the 130th anniversary of the birth of G.K. Chesterton); a list of Publication Anniversaries for works by Tolkien, Lewis and Williams to celebrate in 2004 (like the 50th anniversary of the original British publication of FotR and TT [publication of RotK only followed 11 months later due to wrangling about the appendices]); a list of attendees; and, of course, a bus schedule.

Ted Nasmith did an unscheduled presentation on his development as an artist, beginning with his early love of drawing cars, and other shiny things like airplanes. He apparently now occasionally accepts commissions for portraits of cars from people who own cars that cost more than my house. He showed an example of this kind of portraiture, in which a photo-realistic image of someone's beloved car was placed against a background that would have felt very much at home in a forest landscape from Middle-earth. A volley of names for cars made in Middle-earth followed (we were, after all, only 25 minutes from THE Motor City, Detroit), in which the audience was asked to imagine driving a "Shadowfax 2000" (shades of Harry Potter) or a "Brandybuick."

The worst pun of the conference was a play on where it was located: Ann Arbor Mythigan.

The auction was fun as always. It is as much of an entertainment event as a buying opportunity. The auctioneers (Eric Rauscher and Bruce Leonard) are witty and their repartee with the buyers (mostly with Lynn Maudlin) is good. A signed first edition of "The Road to Middle-earth" went for $25. A Gandalf for President button was only $5. (Too bad that there were not more of these.) And for a mere $50 you could have acquired an antique map of Middle-earth. Gary Hunnewell spent more than he should have, triggering a penalty clause in his agreement with [wife] Sylvia about the auction. Above his limit, she gets matching funds to shop with.

The annual Masquerade was held on Sunday night. The Hunnewells were, as per usual, well represented, with miss Hunnewell winning the award for 'Best Hermione Granger (with cat),' and young master Hunnewell winning an award for his interpretation of the coconut-shell horse from Monty Python's The Holy Grail. Tim Callahan and Co 'bridged' the gap between Men in Black and LotR with their representation of a computer generated 'Agent Elrond Smith,' who was looking for a certain Hobbit. Mary Stolzenbach was particularly striking in her long, flowing, golden tresses and towel, for which she was awarded the prize for 'Best Towel.'

This year's author guest of honor--Neil Gaiman--was an excellent speaker, regaling the audience at the banquet with his reminiscences of reading the Inklings again, and again, and again, and again when he was young. The most unusual moment from that talk was his explanation of his love of parenthetical asides, which he used to great effect as a judge for the Masquerade in thinking up the winning categories (see miss Hunnewell's award above: there was a second Hermione [without cat]: Christina Dickson, on the arm of Oliver Wood, the gallant young captain of the quidditch team, played by her husband, Adrian Cook [did I miss something in the books?]).

Neil Gaiman was also the target of this year's 'Not Ready For MythCon' theatrical piece: a parody of "The Sandman." It was funny, even for those of us who have not read Gaiman's work. The most memorable scene was Patrick Wynne's near suffocation embraced in the bosom of a well-endowed 'Not-Readi-ette,' who was also notable for her auction repartee.

The last panel of this MythCon was an appraisal of "Revenge of the DWEMS," a play by Don Williams presented at MythCon XXXIV, in which Post-Modernism was beaten soundly around the head and shoulders with a pepperoni pizza. Critical reception of the play had been negative in some quarters, and this panel was intended as an opportunity for further discussion of the play's significance. I personally found the play thoroughly entertaining, with a certain 'satirical' ring of truth to it. The comments of the members of the panel who took umbrage at the play failed to convince me otherwise.

The rejoinder that the authority of the author's intended meaning was not privileged when ordering a "pepperoni" pizza in Italy struck me as unconvincing. While it is true that the pizza listed on an Italian menu comes with strips of bell pepper and not with round slices of peppered salami (in Germany, the same menu item comes with Jalapeno Peppers), the authority of the intended meaning of the author of the menu is not compromised. It is the reader's interpretation of the text of the Italian (German) menu that is faulty.

In translation theory, this type of faulty interpretation is known as a "false friend," i.e. a foreign language term that looks like it should mean the same thing in another language, but doesn't. Anyone who has been to Europe and been unable to locate the rest rooms on the "second floor" of the building should understand why. In Europe, the floor at ground level is not numbered, while in English, that is called the "first floor." The European "second floor" is, therefore, really the American "third floor." My favorite example of this from LotR is when Tolkien says that Frodo was missing "the third finger" of the right hand. (R.282, Chapter Four of Book VI "The Field of Cormallen") In the majority of the European translations that I can read, Frodo is missing his middle-finger and not his ring-finger. [2]

In his contribution to the Program Book for MythCon XXXV, the Scholar Guest of Honor, Charles A. Huttar--Miltonist turned Inklingist--cautioned us all not to be caught up in the thrill of our own insight, mirroring our own attitudes and feelings. This is a very hard row to hoe, because as Anais Nin (1903-1977) once insightfully said: "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are." Huttar, nonetheless, feels that the Mythopoeic Society can be proud of the sort of sound scholarship that it has helped to call forth over the course of its history. I would agree.

A great time was had by all. Many thanks to the organizers, whose gargantuan efforts made this MythCon a successful reality. Congratulations to Marion VanLoo, whose new granddaughter deserves our thanks for kindly waiting until after MythCon to be born, so as not to distract her grandmother from the task of keeping MythCon on track. Thanks also to all the participants, without whom MythCon would be nothing to write to Beyond Bree about.


Notes:

[1] Yes, I know that it is a cheap shot, but as Jim Henson of Muppet fame once said: 'I'm worthy of it.'

[2] For a more detailed explanation, see my "Dutch Samizdat: The Mensink-van Warmelo Translation of The Lord of the Rings", Translating Tolkien: Text and Film, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2004.


[*]MythCon XXXIV - ежегодный конгресс, проводимый Мифопоическим Обществом (The Mythopoeic Society). Крупнейший в Северной Америке конгресс, посвященный фэнтези. В этом году он проходил с 30 июля по 2 августа в Университете шатата Мичиган.
Отчет был опубликован в сентябрьском номере журнала "Beyond Bree".


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