Saturday, August 10, 2019

oh yes, Mythcon

After my last report, written in the middle of the night last Friday when I couldn't sleep, on subsequent nights I got more sleep, and was so busy in the day there was no opportunity to write. After a long day-and-a-half drive home afterwards through the high desert, to avoid the LA traffic, I collapsed in bed and was only perhaps fully awake again two days later. Which was B's birthday, so I had other occupations, like taking her out for a pancake breakfast and then fixing our special meatloaf for dinner.

Despite various pre-con planning calamities, the event itself went well with no major disruptions, and people adapted to the odd workarounds we'd had to install, like moving the dorms to a different building, and then two different buildings, from the one where the cafeteria was. Having cafeteria meals limited to a 45-minute time window seemed alarming, because at most buffets you can wait almost that long in line to get your food, but it worked, partly because the site strictly limited the number of on-campus groups eating in any one window, and partly to other techniques like setting out lots of plates with the day's entrees (two of them) and sides on counters, so diners could take one immediately with no back-ups. It did mean you were stuck with whatever they served, but if you only liked part of what was on the plate you could come back and get another.

What most concerned me as con programmer was space in the programming rooms. With three rooms each seating about 45, and total attendance of over 130, it was likely that the more popular items would overflow. I tried to prevent that by scheduling items of similar popularity against each other, and it seems to have worked. There were a few items with a number of extra people standing in the back, but so far as I know nothing spilled out into the hall. My decision back in the planning stage to stick with these rooms was justified, to my great relief.

Two presenters cancelled at the last minute, both due to family medical emergencies (there's going to be more of this as we and our loved ones all grow older, alas); in both cases they had finished papers which we gave to other readers and carried on.

Our late substitute author GoH (due to more medical stuff) Tim Powers had a couple topics he said he wanted to explore, so I gave him panels to do this on. The keynote panel, in which he interviewed three scholars (all women) representing the Inklings, went very well. He raised questions from a professional author's POV for these largely amateur authors, beginning with asking their attitude towards and concern with the money they made from their work. It's a good question, which the scholars responded to coherently, but one which rarely gets raised. The other panel, on Catholicism in fantasy, never really got organized, and expended itself largely in telling anecdotes and jokes about priests. Which I guess is what happens if you put a group of Catholics together without an agenda, just as I've discovered at sf cons that if you put a group of authors together without an agenda, they'll talk about agents.

I was on one panel myself, on the early days of Tolkien fandom and scholarship. As we were each asked to give our background, the first speaker had read Tolkien in high school in 1967, and described having very much a "Summer of Love" context to his experience. I was next, and said I encountered Tolkien when my fifth-grade teacher read The Hobbit to our class in 1968. But it wasn't the Summer of Love or even the summer after, as these were deeply socially conservative suburbs and I had no way of contacting the rest of the Tolkien-reading universe. I didn't connect with fandom or find anybody at school interested in him for another seven years, and they were long years. Where others were captivated by the languages, what captured my interest was the history and timelines. So, when eventually The Silmarillion was published, I was the first person to publish a "Tale of Years" for the First Age, having noticed in the text enough bits like "Fifteen years after that battle, this happened" to piece one together. This data of course all came from the Annals, but we didn't have the Annals, and worked with what we had. That was my first contribution to Tolkien scholarship; later, as editor of Mythprint, I reviewed all the History of Middle-earth books as they were published; and during that period also wrote for Beyond Bree a potted summary of every book about Tolkien that had ever been published, because I'd read them all. At that time they'd all fit on one shelf. Today I have two bookcases full, and I no longer have everything. This work got me invitations to contribute to anthologies, and the gig writing "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" after Tolkien Studies began in 2004. When I was asked to do that, I went through the previous year's bibliography I'd be working from, found I had all the books to be covered, and realized I could do this. And it's been on from there.

Evening stuff went well. Saturday in the student union's raked theater, with a brief costume presentation (4 entries, including B with a humorous "what really happened to the Entwives") and a pleasant concert by a folk duo our chair discovered; Sunday banquet in an appropriate hall, with the usual food sculptures to drive the GoHs mad, the Not Ready for Mythcon Players to drive the audience mad (I narrated as usual, with better luck than usual at being able to keep an eye on the shenanigans I was describing), a recorded video talk on allegory by our withdrawn GoH John Crowley (having seen this already, I'd been most concerned about the clarity of the audio, which came out fine), and the Mythopoeic Awards. Scholar GoH Verlyn Flieger was stunned to receive an award for her latest essay collection, but she shouldn't have been: it's a great book. I'm now at home reading the strange and charming children's literature winner, Bob by Mass and Stead.

Had another day and a half to drive home, so spent it avoiding LA. Out to Riverside on Monday afternoon, staying over there in Moreno Valley (formerly Sunnymead, which at least I know where it is), and the next day cutting through the high desert by way of the Cajon and Tehachapi passes before heading down to Bakersfield and then onto I-5 for home in time to feed the kitties.

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