Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mythcon report, part 1

B. and I had a saintly day yesterday. We flew from San Antonio home to San Jose via San Diego. We'd been in San Antonio for the weekend, of course, for Mythcon, the annual Mythopoeic Society conference which settled up there this year.

San Antonio was beastly hot. 3 digits F. were normal. Fortunately we didn't have to head out much. Mythcon was self-contained inside a typically perishingly air-conditioned big cubic tower of a hotel on the edge of a commercial strip out in the country-club suburbs of the city. Small breakout programming rooms were up on the top, 20th, floor, as was the con suite (evening socializing). Meals and plenary programming were in the large function room wing down on the lobby level. Every time a group of us headed down in the elevator from the 20th and pressed that button we were, as I didn't refrain from pointing out, embarking on the Descent Into L.

Scholar Guest of Honor was Andrew Lazo, whose vocation as a high-school teacher is perhaps responsible for his intense and even eccentric lecturing style: anything to keep those kids engaged. For his keynote speech, he talked of the Inklings - Lewis and Tolkien in particular - as creatures of the modernist period, engaged in redirecting the modernist impulse in a different direction, straightening out a wrong direction that dated to the traumas of WW1. Canonical modernists used myth too (Eliot and Joyce most obviously), but the Inklings had a different use in mind. Lazo described Lewis as flipping myths around. When Eustace becomes a dragon, he's the inverse of Narcissus. Lewis also runs myth through as a theme. Lazo referred to scholar Michael Ward's theory that the Narnian books are each controlled by one of the Greek planets; then he quoted the Fox, the Greek tutor in Till We Have Faces, calling the local goddess Ungit their version of Aphrodite. Ungit is Aphrodite, Aphrodite is Venus, Venus is Perelandra. It all ties together. Lazo also became here one of the small band of heroic scholars correctly analyzing the much-misread "Problem of Susan". In quoting Lewis saying that perhaps Susan will eventually get back to Narnia in her own way, he concluded with, "Susan needs to come to Mythcon."

Author GoH was Midori Snyder, who spellbindingly told the Sudanese myth of the Monkey Girl and explained how it helped give her strength and direction in her own life. A very brief version of this appears on her website, but it lacks both the detail and the intense fascination of her oral storytelling. Later I was with a small group who heard her tell another African folk tale, the story of two men who cuckold each other, amusing as well as captivating.

There was also a plenary speech by another Lewis scholar, Robert Boenig, who'd won our scholarship award for his book on Lewis and the Middle Ages last year. He spoke on the character of the materialist magician in Lewis's fiction (Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew, the scientists of the N.I.C.E.) and its application to the primary world.

All three of them were on the closing panel on Monday, at which Boenig described himself as a strange figure on the Texas A&M campus, teaching classes on Tolkien and walking around with a wizard's robe and staff, to which Lazo added, "... and declaring to his students, 'You shall not pass!'" Each was asked to recommend a favorite story. Boenig the medievalist offered the Lais of Marie de France. (Pronouncing that last word correctly, he was asked how to spell it.) Lazo described how his imagination had been baptized by Alexander's Prydain and Le Guin's Earthsea, and for a more recent book, offered Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad. Snyder named the folk tale "The Armless Maiden," of which she's also written on her blog.

Mythopoeic Awards went to: Adult fiction, Uprooted by Naomi Novik; Children's fiction, Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon; Inklings scholarship, Charles Williams: The Third Inkling by Grevel Lindop; Myth and Fantasy scholarship, The Evolution of Modern Fantasy by Jamie Williamson. I was on the scholarship committee and those were both my top choices.

Next year's Mythcon will be July 28-31 in Champaign, Illinois, and that's all the information I have about that.

There were many fine papers and ... a concert. More on all that later.

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