Early History of the Society
The Mythopoeic Society was born during the first major flurry of interest in J.R.R. Tolkien: the mid-1960s boom encouraged by the publication of U. S. paperback editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Many Tolkien societies were founded at that time—their activities conducted by mail and at in-person meetings in those pre-Internet days—but most of them died off during the next few years. One reason The Mythopoeic Society not only survived, but flourished, was that it was never just a Tolkien society. Another reason was its interest in scholarship.
The Society grew out of a Bilbo’s and Frodo’s birthday picnic held in Los Angeles in September 1967, called by a college student named Glen GoodKnight. Glen wanted to start a group to hold serious discussions of the works not just of Tolkien, but of his Inklings colleagues C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. He wanted a group with a balanced interest in all three writers, and in the traditions their work belonged to, without either narrowing to a sectarian religious interest or broadening into a general fantasy literature club.
In 1971 the Mythopoeic Society incorporated (in California) as a non-profit organization and composed its first Bylaws. When, in 1972, Ed Meškys was unable to continue running The Tolkien Society of America (originally the New York Tolkien Society founded by Richard Plotz in 1965), its assets and memberships were absorbed by The Mythopoeic Society. Subscriptions to its journal (Tolkien Journal) were subsumed into the Society’s journal, Mythlore.
The Mythopoeic Society is administered by an Executive Board of ten to thirteen unpaid volunteers known as the Council of Stewards, which includes the editors of Society publications as well as the usual (and unusual) departmental and executive officers.
Local Discussion Groups
The first monthly discussion meeting was held at the home of Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog in Orange, California, in January, 1968. The topic was Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Soon there were four groups around the Los Angeles area, each discussing the same work on different weekends, and within a few years many groups all across the U.S. and in Canada. The groups began to pick separate topics, as the older groups wanted to explore more of the variety of mythopoeic literature, while the newer ones grounded themselves in the Inklings. They began publishing reports of their meetings in Society publications. Over the years, fewer Society members have lived where groups were meeting, and the importance of the groups to the Society has receded, but twenty-one chartered discussion groups in thirteen states are still meeting regularly today, with others in the process of forming. The Society also sponsors two online discussion groups through Yahoo Groups and LiveJournal. For more details, see Discussion Groups.
Mythopoeic Society publications began with monthly meeting announcement flyers, for posting and mailing to members. To spur discussions, they began including short articles about the monthly book topic. In 1970, the bulletin was named Mythprint, and became a multi-page magazine carrying lists of discussion topics and other activities, news of upcoming books and conferences, reviews of new publications, and short articles about the Inklings and mythopoeic topics. Each issue displays black-and-white cover art. Under its current editor, Ginger McElwee, and her predecessors (including Laurence J. Krieg, David Bratman, and Eleanor M. Farrell) Mythprint has published over 400 issues in its nearly forty years, usually monthly. (The current whole numbering system dates from a 1980 relaunch).
To publish longer articles, the Society began its journal, Mythlore, in 1969. This started as a quarterly including lighter articles, substantial art work, and poetry. The first issue featured both a scholarly article on Lewis’s theory of mythology and a discussion on what a movie of The Lord of the Rings should be like (some things never change). Glen GoodKnight was the first editor and edited all but six of its first eighty-four issues over more than thirty years—the remainder were guest-edited by Gracia Fay Ellwood (author of one of the first book-length critical studies of Tolkien). In 1999 Mythlore underwent a significant format change under the editorship of Theodore J. Sherman, evolving into a true scholarly journal indexed in the MLA International Bibliography and carrying refereed articles on all aspects of mythopoeic scholarship. Though its publication schedule was more irregular than not through much of its life, currently it regularly publishes double issues on a twice-annual basis. Janet Brennan Croft of the University of Oklahoma is the current editor. Gradually, Mythlore has become a respected journal in its field, and many of its articles are vital reading for anyone interested in that field. The Society has published a separate, regularly updated, index (with article abstracts) to aid researchers and readers looking for particular topics in the vast back catalog of Mythlore articles. The most recent edition covers the first 102 issues. Updates are posted online and will be added as the index is reprinted. Forthcoming supplements include indexes to all the art published in the first eighty-four issues. An index to the Tolkien Journal 1965-1976 (several issues of which were jointly published with Mythlore) has just been made available.
The Society has published a series of fiction-and-poetry magazines designed to function as “writers’ workshops in print.” Mythril was published during 1971-1980 and Mythellany in 1981-1987. The Mythic Circle, founded in 1987 by Sherwood Smith and Lynn Maudlin, currently serves that function. After several years as a quarterly fanzine with a very active letters column, the schedule and the enthusiastic submissions of aspiring writers took their toll, and it finally became an annual publication. Currently edited by Gwenyth Hood, it publishes original fiction, art and poetry (none of which now appear in Mythlore) by authors following in the Mythopoeic tradition. Back issues of most publications—both current and inactive—may be ordered in our online Store.
After the Tolkien Centenary Conference in 1992, Glen GoodKnight and Patricia Reynolds of The Tolkien Society (UK) co-edited a 450-page volume of proceedings, co-published by the two societies and sent to Mythlore subscribers as issue 80 of the journal. The Proceedings (now out of print, but contents and abstracts are available) also became the Society’s first book publication. The Mythopoeic Press was first proposed in the 1970s, and once created in 1995 it has interested itself both in reprints of rare works by authors of mythopoeic interest, and in essay collections of new scholarship. Its titles in print include plays by Charles Williams, essays and stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, and collections of new essays on Lewis, Native American fantasy, and on the Lord of the Rings films.
The Society has sponsored other publications over the years, including the work of what has been known since 1988 as the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship. Its two journals, Vinyar Tengwar (edited by Carl F. Hostetter) and Parma Eldalamberon (edited by Christopher Gilson) have published many rare and previously unseen linguistic papers by Tolkien himself, as well as studies of his invented languages and of translations of his work.
To give its far-flung membership a chance to meet, and to present papers orally with audience response, The Mythopoeic Society has been holding conferences since its early days. These began with a one-day Narnia Conference in 1969, and the first annual Mythopoeic Conference was held at the Claremont Colleges (near Los Angeles) in September, 1970. This conference, “Mythcon” for short, has continued each year since. Through 1975 it was always in the Los Angeles area, then branched out elsewhere in California and Nevada. The first Midwestern Mythcon was held in 1985 at Wheaton College, Illinois, because of the presence of the Marion E. Wade Center there. Since then it has been in various places in the continental United States, once in Hawaii, and once in Canada. In 1998, Mythcon returned to Wheaton for a special C.S. Lewis Centenary Conference, and twice, in 1992 and 2005, has crossed the ocean to Great Britain for the large anniversary Tolkien conferences in Oxford and Birmingham (organized by the Tolkien Society) which The Mythopoeic Society co-sponsored.
From its earliest days, Mythcon has usually had a Scholar Guest of Honor (whose interests are reflected in the conference theme) and an Author (or artist) Guest of Honor. Their keynote addresses have been highlights of the conference, and on several occasions have become chapters in the scholars’ subsequent books. Mythcon also hosts numerous papers and presentations on all aspects of mythopoeic scholarship. Following the 1969 Narnia conference and the first three Mythcons, the Society published small informal volumes of conference proceedings, but in subsequent years, papers were submitted to Mythlore if the scholar so chose.
The annual Mythopoeic Awards were first presented at Mythcon II in 1971. They came in two categories: one for fantasy fiction and one for scholarship. In 1992 the categories were increased to four: fiction was split into adult and juvenile categories, and the original scholarship category in Inklings studies was joined by one for general myth and fantasy studies, reflecting the broadening basis of Society scholarship. Fiction awards go to a work published during the previous year that best exemplifies “the spirit of the Inklings”. The scholarship awards go to books published in the previous three years. Each year the Awards are chosen by volunteer juries of Society members, then announced and presented in a ceremony at the Mythcon banquet. The actual award is a reproduction of one of the lion statues that rest outside the entrance of the New York Public Library. Inevitably, it became known as the “Aslan.”
The Society has had close relationships with other societies, particularly Tolkien-oriented ones, over the years (such as the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship). Besides the conferences and proceedings co-sponsored with The Tolkien Society, the Society has held conferences in conjunction with Westercon (the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference) in 1972, and with Bree Moot (conference of the American Mensa Tolkien Special Interest Group, publishers of Beyond Bree) in 1999. The first Mythcon was co-sponsored by the Tolkien Society of America, then the oldest established Tolkien group.
So from its small beginnings, The Mythopoeic Society has blossomed into expressing and supporting mythopoeic interests and scholarship in many ways—discussions, conferences, magazine and book publications, and awards. Our members include tenured professors, independent scholars, devoted readers with no academic background at all, writers and artists. All are united in finding mythopoeic literature richly enjoyable, worth studying in detail, worth expressing one’s thoughts on in print, and worth discussing with each other. Please look over our web site in more detail; we also have a Facebook page.
Compiled by Edith Crowe, Corresponding Secretary. Earlier and shorter versions of this article were written by David Bratman (in the Mythcon 34 program book) and by David Bratman and Edith Crowe (published in Amon Hen 218, July 2009, pp. 28-30). Other text and/or ideas contributed by Lisa Harrigan (Mythopoeic Society Treasurer) and Janet Croft (editor of Mythlore).