We're back from Mythcon 48, held in the Newman Center, a building which takes the 7½th floor concept from Being John Malkovich and really runs with it, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign IL (half a block from the city line with Urbana that bisects the campus).
Though small, and bereft of some old regulars suffering health or finance issues, Mythcon was livened by lots of new people, many of them young, many of them students or recent former students, e.g. of Leslie Donovan's at UNM. This confirms my feeling from Signum's Mythmoot that recruiting and welcoming students who voluntarily and enthusiastically sign up for courses on our topics are the way to go; which makes sense since when the Mythopoeic Society started half a century ago - this year is literally our 50th anniversary - it was mostly college and high-school students.
I had a fairly busy convention for programming, with one full-length paper and two shorter presentations for panels, plus narrating the Not Ready for Mythcon Players, but later for that, and for the question of "So what else is there to do around there?" Champaign-Urbana is famously not near anything worth noting; this turns out not to be quite true. For now, other papers I attended included:
The Guest of Honor speeches by the archivists of the two major US Inklings collections. Laura Schmidt of the Wade Center gave a basic educational talk on what archives are good for, with plenty of illustrations from her own Inklings and others collection. William Fliss of Marquette U's Tolkien collection, lacing his speech with Tolkien allusions, discussed addressing the accessibility problems with the material in his charge.
This was actually particularly interesting. The Tolkien papers were donated at two different times, one set with first access on 1970s microfilms and the other with Christopher Tolkien's annotated photocopies (the originals are fragile and only used when the copies aren't sufficient), and kept under different arrangements, plus security regulations require using only one reel or folder at a time. But if they're digitized, researchers can look at whatever they want instantly and compare items across the board, plus the reproductions will be better. So that's what they're working on. (Still only onsite, though, for copyright reasons.)
A father-daughter pair of papers on the Deadly Sins in Tolkien: Gollum's envy and Thorin's avarice.
Our first-ever paper on Orphan Black, an sf tv show I've actually seen, on the mythological resonances in the character of Helena. Singling her out in this way made me realize that, at least so far, Helena has a three-part story separated by the hinge points that Janet Croft identified in the paper.
Yet another paper by John Rosegrant providing brilliant psychoanalytical insights into Tolkien's characters. He does this every year. This time the best part was his declaration that trying to pin down who or what Bombadil is misses the point.
A thought-provoking paper concerning the story, quite clearly false but reported in a couple early books on Tolkien, that his mother, Mabel, had been a missionary to the harem of the Sultan of Zanzibar in her youth. (And sometimes since repeated from there.) Where did this rumor come from? Nancy Bunting believes that the story has two independent sources - I'm not so sure that the second one is independent, and need to check up on exactly what it says - that it must have come from Tolkien himself, and that his mother had made up the story and told it for reasons of her own, which Nancy is confident she's found; further, that it's not the only time Mabel embellished an otherwise puzzling story, the other concerning her baby son. If this paper ever gets published - I advised Nancy on where I thought she should send it - you can read all about it. Until then: well, you should have been at Mythcon, shouldn't you?