Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mythcon in Mich., again

The previous Michigan Mythcon was at the U of M in Ann Arbor in 2004. Perhaps to give equal time to the universities, this one was at Michigan State in East Lansing. Last time, programming and housing were so far apart we were bussed between them, the only time that's happened, but less of an inconvenience than might have been thought. This time they were in the same building. MSU maintains a hotel and conference center on campus. The conference center is very small: one cozy auditorium, a few meeting rooms so tiny that even our breakout sessions filled them up, and a banquet hall just large enough. The sleeping rooms, reportedly converted from dorm rooms, were also tiny. The bathrooms got particular comment: so small that the shower was in a corner of the room with only a curtain hanging from the ceiling to mark it; not even a low tub rim to keep the water from spreading all over the floor. Ycch. And the auditorium was kept so perishingly cold that hardly anyone except me liked it. Other than that, a serviceable venue.

Meals aside from the banquet were in a sprawling multi-station cafeteria on the second floor of a huge modernist student center across the street. The food was tolerable if you were only eating there for three days, longer than which it would have quickly palled.

The most provocative paper on the program was Megan Abrahamson on Tolkien and fanfiction. Contrasting Tolkien's famous dream of having "other minds and hands" contribute to his mythology with his furious denunciation of fans who offered to publish sequels to The Lord of the Rings, she stopped short of making the usual accusation of hypocrisy (usual, that is, from fan-fiction landsmen against authors who don't like it done to their works) by treating the first statement as somehow negating the second. In fact, however, she'd made the usual error of fan-fiction landsmen of entirely mistaking the conditions under which authors object to fan fiction, which mistake underlies every accusation of hypocrisy, and every specious defense of the long and noble history of fan fiction, ever written. Nevertheless an exceedingly well-crafted and tightly-woven paper.

My favorite paper was by another student named Megan, Megan Naxer. She's in music theory, and gave a close musicological analysis of Donald Swann's Road Goes Ever On song cycle. I described this work in my article on Tolkien and music as "a sophisticated art song cycle ... sensitively and expressively arranged," and it was pleasing to see this judgment confirmed by someone far more expert in the technical matters than myself. The paper demonstrated Swann bringing out in his music, and even elaborating on, the characteristics of the species to whom the poems are attributed, while leaving open the question of to what extent this is due to Swann's perception of the species from the book, and how much is just due to his musical response to the characteristics as expressed in Tolkien's verse styles.

My own paper was a critique and analysis of the story and artwork in three classic children's picture books by P.D. Eastman: Sam and the Firefly; Are You My Mother?; and Go, Dog, Go! I thought it was about time that picture books received the same level of somber scholarly study as older children's literature now currently being wasted in direly boring McFarland essay collections, though I fear I did not succeed at being as reductionist or tedious as my models. (My initial goal had been to exorcise the demon, as Asimov exorcised stuffy scientific literature in his thiotimoline papers.) Instead, my audience sounded positively entertained!

And I also got to introduce the scholar Guest of Honor, which I began with the words, "When I was eleven years old, though I didn't know it yet, I wanted to grow up to be Douglas A. Anderson," and then explained why (I made my own primitive attempt to construct what would later appear as the variorum in his Annotated Hobbit), and I had my usual gig of narrating the presentation of the Not Ready for Mythcon Players (E. Farrell & B. Rauscher, concoctors), a typical stirfry of influences to which they gave a title which I pronounced, stretching it out a little for effect, "Watership Downnnn...ton Abbey."

The most elegant ever, and least wasteful of food ever, contribution to the annual banquet food sculpture was made by Wendell Wagner, who honored author GoH Franny Billingsley's most recent novel by walking from table to table with a glass of water, striking the edge with a spoon for a ringing sound, and pronouncing, "Chime."

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