Mythcon 29 - July 15-20, 1998
A Centenary Celebration
July 15-20, 1998
July 15-20, 1998
Reports from Mythcon 29
- Joan Marie Verba: “The C. S. Lewis Centenary Conference”
- Berni Phillips: “Sue Dawe Taught Lee Speth Real Estate”
- Berni Philips: Book Toss Report
The C.S. Lewis Centenary Conference
by Joan Marie VerbaHolding a C. S. Lewis Centenary Conference impressed me as a great idea, so on July 15, 1998, I found myself at Wheaton College for Mythcon 29. The weather stayed warm and mostly clear (except for a fierce storm Saturday night, which ripped one of the trees on campus in two), and the fine evenings were highlighted by the appearance of fireflies, adding to the festive atmosphere.
The main attraction of Wheaton College is the Wade Center, which is nestled in a corner of the second floor of the main library. It has a number of papers and personal items from Lewis, Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Dorothy Sayers, and related authors. Because of its reputation, I had expected an area the size of a museum, and was startled to find only 2 small rooms, each the size of the living room of an average home. Still, they did have Lewis's wardrobe that his grandfather had made, Lewis's writing desk, Tolkien's writing desk, and other such items on display. Photographs, papers, and letters adorned the display cases. (In my opinion, Lewis's handwriting is about as bad as Tolkien's.)
While I was there, I took advantage of the opportunities provided by the Wade Center and reserved time to read an unpublished manuscript of Barfield's (Eager Spring). The administrator in attendance very casually invited me to sit at Tolkien's desk to fill out the required forms (which I happily did!), and presented me with the manuscript. The work appeared to be typewritten on a manual typewriter and included Barfield's own handwritten corrections and amendments.
The official start of the conference was Thursday. The opening procession, as always, was full of attractive costumes and banners. The procession ended in the assembly hall, where Paul F. Ford gave a fascinating guest of honor speech making a connection between Lewis's spiritual experiences and diving (as in swimming). As Chair of the Council of Stewards for this year, I gave a brief address about meeting the challenges of maintaining interest in the Inklings into the next millennium, and announced the latest book of the Mythopoeic Press, Chad Walsh Reviews C.S. Lewis. Jadis (Lynn Maudlin) made an appearance, scolding Conference Chair Diana Glyer about holding a conference in honor of Lewis, but Diana expertly sent Jadis on her way.
Afternoons were filled with programming. I attended some of the offerings and spent the remainder of my time at a table in the vicinity of the Mythopoeic Society table, where many came up and discussed various topics of interest. (For instance, a small group gathered around at one point to discuss the implications -- Mythopoeic and otherwise -- of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
I found the evening programming spectacular. The first night opened with a quintet playing Celtic music. After that was a dance demonstration, and an offer to teach English dancing following the evening program. I was tempted, but there was another event at the same time I wanted to go to. Berni Phillips sang Lewis Carroll songs, which were quite entertaining, and Terry Lindvall gave a presentation on Lewis and Humor ("you'd better be funny!" I heard someone warn him facetiously). Cary Hoagland also gave a dramatic reading of the winners of the contest to write a Screwtape-style letter. Three winners were read, each on a different night.
While sitting in the auditorium watching the performances, I was reminded of Patrick Stewart's comment when he came to Minneapolis: the most lively part of the audience is always in the right front. And so it was here. They were very enthusiastic with their responses.
The highlight of the evening was a one-man performance of Lewis's The Great Divorce by a Philadelphia actor, Anthony (Tony) Lawton. He played all the parts, and the performance was absolutely riveting (even the right side of the audience was silent in rapt attention). The extent of the appreciation was shown in that almost immediately afterwards buttons appeared saying "Tony Lawton Fan Club." He wrote a nice note thanking us for all of our attention, which he posted on the dormitory's bulletin board.
After the evening program was over, I returned to the dorm to take part in the Bardic Circle. Tim Callahan read his poetry; Diana Paxson brought her harp and played a short piece based on Lewis's poetry; another fan brought his guitar and sang a song. I recited one of my exercises from voice class: a brief but heartwarming story about a man and his saw, in which there are essentially only two words: wood and saw.
The next evening featured a costume competition, in which Deb Jones won for "best of show" as Orual from Lewis's novel Till We Have Faces, and conference chair Diana Glyer won a prize for appearing as "The Silver Chair." This year's Sizzling Egrets (Eleanor Farrell and Lynn Maudlin) reviewed, among other items, "Malacandra Attacks!" a fictional film version of Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, allegedly made by Ed Wood (rediscovered and remade by Tim Burton) and filled with wonderful cheesy special effects. Lynn Maudlin wrapped up the evening with her special songs, including one of her most notable songs, "If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead?"
Saturday's programming began with taped greetings from Owen Barfield (recorded prior to his passing late last year) and a guest of honor speech by Verlyn Flieger about the significance of Barfield's work. Afternoon events included "The Dead Inklings" panel in which various individuals portrayed J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, and Warnie and Jack Lewis. They took questions from the audience, remaining in character. Later, Tony Lawton coordinated a dramatic reading of Barfield's play, Orpheus.
Saturday evening was the banquet. We sang "Happy Birthday" to C.S. Lewis, and birthday cake was served. Traditional food sculptures were created: that evening, the head table was presented with "A Beef Observed," "A Question of Thyme," and a map of Perelandra rendered in leftovers. Verlyn Flieger excitedly accepted the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inklings' Studies for A Question of Time. The banquet speaker, David Payne, talked about his memorization of Lewis's A Grief Observed, and how that had affected him and the audiences to which he had recited the work. After the banquet an amusing piece titled St. Cecilia's Day 1963, in which Kennedy, Lewis, and Huxley met in the afterlife, was performed in the dorm.
Sunday was quite a day. The Mythopoeic Society members' meeting was just after lunch, and as Chair it was my pleasure to preside. The members' meeting was scheduled to last 90 minutes; since a number of members wished to discuss topics further, it lasted 3 hours. Many members had thoughtful suggestions as to what they wanted the Mythopoeic Society to do and how they wanted it to thrive. In particular, members were receptive to the idea of a Mythopoeic Society listserv (e-mail list), which may be implemented by 1999.
The Sunday evening program showcased the Not-Ready-for-Mythcon Players. The performance was essentially the X-Files meets That Hideous Strength: Scully and Mulder investigate the practices of the evil organization N.I.C.E.
In all, it was a most enjoyable and productive experience. I saw members that I haven't seen face-to-face for some time, did a lot of fan networking, and I even bought the official t-shirt! My thanks to all who made Mythcon 29 possible!
Reprinted from the September 1998 issue (35:9) of Mythprint.
Sue Dawe Taught Lee Speth Real Estate
by Berni PhillipsMythcon XXIX, the C. S. Lewis Centenary Celebration, came early this year, allowing us visitors from the non-mosquito regions of the country to enjoy the Midwest in what surely must have been the height of mosquito season. As it was also the height of firefly/lightning bug season, it seemed a fair trade off. What's a little blood lost compared with the joy of seeing these other creatures which must surely have wandered in from a British fantasy?
Wednesday night's reception featured very tiny dancers from the World Academy of Irish Dance. No, not hobbits or elves, but children, some of them quite young. They were adorable, particularly the younger ones, prancing about in their Celtic charm. After watching them, one could snuggle up with a bedtime story told by Mary and Conrad Stolzenbach, or attend the party hosted by our own somewhat taller elves, the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship.
Opening Ceremonies were interrupted by none other than Queen Jadis, demanding to know what was going on and why she was not consulted. Chair Diana Glyer managed to smooth the irritable queen's ruffled feathers, although Dr. Glyer swore she heard someone behind her mutter, "Dem fine woman!"
Thursday was Lewis Carroll day, commemorating the hundred year anniversary of his death, and to mark this, there was a subset of programming concerning his works. I was able to participate in this, performing some of Carroll's familiar poems set to music by Liza Lehmann. This was quite an adventure. I had faxed the music to Alene Campbell a month or so prior to the conference, but we had never met in person and had no chance to work on the music together until the day before we were to perform. And I threw in one more song on that day. We had great fun working together. The most challenging part turned out to be finding a position for the piano that was in the right general area on stage with enough light that she could see and where the overhead vent did not blow the music off. By the end of the second rehearsal, we were ready to go in to business as piano movers. The evening performance was great fun, and if any of you thought you heard any mistakes -- we MEANT to do that!
Probably the highlight of the conference was Anthony Lawton's one-man show of Lewis's The Great Divorce. He was very faithful to the text, cutting out chunks just to fit within our time strictures. I think all of us were pleased to find what a wonderful actor he is. This was worth the time and money spent getting to Wheaton, even if nothing else had been scheduled.
Mythcon regulars suffering from insomnia are probably aware of bizarre antics which sometimes occur late at night. They may have heard the word "golfimbul" bandied about. To me, one of the most shocking events of this Mythcon was not the scheduling of golfimbul, but the scheduling of the second session at 6 p.m. This was very unsettling. We were trying to figure out what that bright yellow thing overhead was. Oh, yeah, the sun. We've never seen that during golfimbul before. Still wondering what golfimbul is? Let's just say it involves a doll's head, athletic ability (or display of a lack of) and Gary Hunnewell.
The masquerade started 40 minutes late but was well worth waiting for. Sylvia Hunnewell had done a terrific thing, working with the kids on costumes representing their favorite Narnian characters. Claire Lenander was so cute as Reepicheep! And Ryan Evans had cleverly devised a centaur costume. Without a doubt, though, the best masquerade entry was Diana Glyer as The Silver Chair. Silver Chair, get it? She's the conference chair, it's a book by Lewis -- that's right. She festooned herself with silver garlands and clutched a similarly covered lawn chair. Following the masquerade, Gary Hunnewell asked some of us golfimbul losers to come up and, with kazoos, serenade the winners as they came forward to collect their medals. A special award was given to Emily Rauscher as a Linguist in Training. (The traditional insult in golfimbul is "you throw like a linguist.") She was SO embarrassed, hiding her face up on stage, but I noticed that she wore it the rest of the night and at the banquet.
Sizzling Egrets (Lynn Maudlin and Ellie Farrell) reviewed the current crop of Lewis films: "The Return of the Devil's Advocate," based on The Screwtape Letters, "The Wreck of the Dawn Treader," featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, and my personal favorite, Ed Wood's "Malacandra Attacks!"
Some times the daytime programming is as amusing as the evening. Following the interview with "Rosie O'Donnell" (Laura Simmons) and "Joy Davidman" (Edith Crowe), it was suggested that next year we hold the trial of Joy Davidman. Accused of being a collaborator with Lewis on Till We Have Faces, she will be put on trial and we will have Joy in the dock. I suggested we call it "A Brief Observed." On the Dead Inklings, panel, Mike Glyer got off the best line when, in his role as Warnie Lewis, he was asked, "What was the most amazing thing you found in heaven?" and he promptly responded, "Charles Williams."
The seriousness of the banquet is traditionally offset by the silliness of the food sculpture. With the return of Sue Dawe, accoutered as Fairy Hardcastle, to the environs of Mythcon, we had our Food Sculpture Foundress to prepare a lovely scenic panorama of Perelandra, complete with floating islands and a Green Lady, Ransom, and Unman. Our table offered up "A Question of Time/Thyme," "Halve His Carcass," and "A Beef Observed."
Instead of hosting a book discussion, Khazad-dûm opted to launch the First Annual Book Toss. Prompted by our endless discussions of how we would love to toss certain books against the wall, we decided to turn our dreams into reality at the conference. Books tossed included a sample doorstop from Robert Jordan's never-ending epic, A. N. Wilson's biography of Lewis ("This thud's for you!" declared Mary Stolzenbach), two of the three books in Lewis's space trilogy, a novel by Sheri Tepper, and the Brust and Bull collaboration, Freedom & Necessity. Thud.
The Not Ready for Mythcon Players this year presented "Jose Chung's 'From Deep Heaven'," Scully and Mulder investigating the N.I.C.E. Eric Rauscher was a suitably unintelligible Merlin. Arden Smith made a divine Fisher King. And the Head was played by the golfimbul head. To quote "Scully," "Let the English set up their own X-Files!"
Later that night, the ever enterprising Sue Dawe and her sardonic sidekick, Lee Speth, painstakingly taped together I-don't-know-how-many paper napkins to form a large banner. With an artistically lettered SOLD emblazoned upon it, they draped it the next morning over the sign for Wheaton College. And this is how Sue Dawe taught Lee Speth real estate.
Reprinted from the September 1998 issue (35:9) of Mythprint.
Musings of a Pipe Smoking Man
by Lee SpethIt has already been revealed that I assisted Sue Dawe in the surreptitious and, I suppose, unrecorded sale of Wheaton College. Our motive requires to be explained, but all shall be made clear as this report unfolds. As to the title above, I am not by custom a pipe-smoking man. The title refers to my dramatic role with Mythcon's resident troupe of players, a troupe surpassing all others in motletude.... This will also be described in its course. And I'll mention my medal.
The observance of C.S. (Jack) Lewis's 100th birthday, along with that of his friend Owen Barfield, was a natural occasion for special Mythopoeic Society focus, and all stops were pulled out in a lavish six-day conference. The program blazoned forth a princely collation of lectures, panel discussions, audio-visual shows, song, dance, tales, costumes and mummeries. No tobacco or alcohol though; whatever the predilections of Jack Lewis and his cronies, this was Wheaton-of-the-Evangelicals.
As usual, I spent much of every day behind the Society dealer's table, bringing Mythprint, Mythlore and Mythic Circle to the starving masses (along with mugs, t-shirts, character pins, and the new book from the Mythopoeic Press). It was brisk at the table. I did take in some of the daytime programming, increased my library from other tables, placed some bids in the art show, and occasionally ventured out of the air-conditioned Graham Center into the still heat of an Illinois summer, where one might glimpse John Docherty of England sailing his mini-kites.
Nighttime brought the fireflies, tiny darting flashes above the lawns and among the trees, picturesque and unusual fauna to a Californian. Others complained of mosquitoes. These critters used to target me like a desert oasis when I was young, but -- an unlooked for advantage of age -- they no longer seem to regard me as plasma du jour. I went unscathed, perhaps because mosquitoes at Wheaton College aren't allowed to drink where any alcohol has ever been in the bloodstream.
Others have mentioned the many entertainments that enlivened the evening. Highlights for me included Cary Hoagland's purringly nasty readings of Screwtape pastiches and Berni Phillips's rendition of Carroll carols. I think the highlight for almost everyone was Tony Lawton's riveting one-man performance from The Great Divorce. Perhaps the low point of the daytime programming was a short film in which the recently dead G.K. Chesterton visits George Bernard Shaw in order to evangelize him. The apparition, bafflingly, does not budge Shaw's disbelief in personal immortality. GKC passed to glory is a deal gloomier than he seems to have been in mortal life. And the makers of this odd little audio-visual tract seem unaware that Shaw hated the name "George" and was never called such by his friends.
On a higher artistic plane, the Not-Ready-for-Mythcon Players delivered That Hideous Strength as an X Files episode. This reporter was recruited by Dramatist, Director, Producer, Costume Designer and Casting Director Ellie Farrell to personate the Pipe Smoking Man. "Stand there and look enigmatic," she said, pointing stage right and handing me a pipe (in her capacity as Wardrobe Mistress). I think I took direction creditably, even if it wasn't Brando playing Stanley Kowalski (or even Brando playing Dr. Moreau).
Have I mentioned my medal? The decoration was my first in the adrenalin-spurring game of Golfimbul. Students of this sport are aware that it is played in three stages -- Accuracy, Distance and Golfimbowling. The Distance round was conducted in the daytime this year (due to a misunderstanding of a legal nature), and perhaps I had a diurnal advantage. I came in second to Doctor Distance himself, Bruce Leonard, and, that night, received the silver medal in a particularly touching four-kazoo ceremony. So why did we sell the college? In a nutshell, truth in advertising. It has long been traditional for Mythcon program books to itemize the "Sale of College Land." Sue Dawe had formed the resolve that the activity should at least appear to have some substance. I was pressed into the position of henchperson. With great patience and about a ream of napkins, we created a huge banner on which Sue could letter "SOLD." On Monday morning we held a photo op at the imposing Wheaton College sign, an upright monumental affair at the driveway entrance. Then we moved the sign to the cafeteria for the closing ceremonies. The Market Economy now reigns supreme throughout the globe. Why should a Mythcon site be exempt?
Reprinted from the November 1998 issue (35:11) of Mythprint.
Mythcon 29 Report
by Christiana Shepard and Cacie MillerMythcon 29 was one of the best experiences of our lives, and we'd like to share all about it! We met over a George MacDonald e-mail list in January, the two of us arguing against universalism, and we quickly become good friends. While talking one day, Mythcon came up, and both of us thought it sounded wonderful, but little did we know that we'd actually be able to attend!
After much planning and overcoming many obstacles, we met with a hug at O'Hare airport on July 15 where Christiana's great-aunt Mrs. Hawethorne picked us up, and opened up her home to us during the 5 days of the conference. After getting our rather large amount of luggage into the house, we headed down to Evans MacManis to register. The friendly, hard-working registrar -- Lynn Maudlin -- instantly recognized us by our smiles and excitement, and so our Mythcon experience began. After registering, Lynn introduced us to Guest of Honor Mr. Paul Ford, who, along with other Mythconers, was engaged in a discussion in a small, comfortable room. That evening's program was held outdoors in a festive environment which introduced us to Mythcon, and also there was a wonderful performance by the World Academy of Irish Dancers.
At 8:30 the next morning we headed to the procession, Christiana in Scottish highland attire, and Cacie in medieval garb. We were stopped by a gentleman on the way who wanted to know if we were from "Scotland or England or Ireland or one of those places." It took several minutes to explain that we were on our way to a "Mythopoeic Procession." The opening speech by Mr. Ford was wonderfully inspiring, and after that we watched an informative and rather comical video interview with C.S. Lewis's driver, Mr. Clifford Morris. After lunch that day, we headed to the conservatory, which we had discovered the night before, where we sang and played piano and flute duets in halls and halls of lovely pianos. While we were there, we discovered that CSL's "Evolutionary Hymn" sings perfectly to "Guide Us, Oh Thou Great Jehovah." We laughed through the whole thing. At 2:30 we went back to Barrows Auditorium for Lynn Maudlin¹s slide show "C.S. Lewis in Ireland." While she showed this, she also read portions of Lewis's autobiography Suprised by Joy which greatly enhanced the slides. Then we watched an "Oral History" videotape of George Sayer, who related many Lewisian anecdotes, from humorous to sentimental.
After supper, we enjoyed the evening program, where three witty Screwtape letters (well, not THE Screwtape...) were read, followed by a speech on Lewis and humor by Mr. Terry Lindvall. Then came the highlight of our Thursday, an accurate portrayal of Lewis's The Great Divorce by actor Tony Lawton. We immensely enjoyed Mr. Lawton's changes of accent (especially the Scottish of the fictional George MacDonald!). Friday we started off the day watching the George MacDonald slideshow: beautiful pictures from Scotland and Italy, where MacDonald spent a good deal of his later years. After this, we joined in the George MacDonald panel, which had a lively discussion on universalism and other MacDonald matters. After lunch attended the panel "How Mere Was Lewis's Christianity" which was followed by wonderful debates -- mostly theological. There was a wide variety of opinions and views, and so plenty of room for discussion!
That night, after much preparation, we went to the Mythcon Masquerade. What a time that was! Especially, when, at the end, we won the award "Most Graceful Naiads" which we still joke about! Miracles DO occur! Later that night we enjoyed still more "Screwtape Letters" as well as the music of Lynn Maudlin -- a lady of many talents! Saturday morning we attended the humorous, informative "Interview with Joy Davidman," after which we attended the likewise humorous and informative "Dead Inklings" panel. Both of these presentations gave us information we wouldn¹t have otherwise retained; after all, what better place to hear it then from the mouths of the "authors" themselves?
On Sunday, after attending a very informative and interesting panel on Major Lewis, we prepared for the Sunday memorial service at choir practice. Christiana did a lovely descant on her flute as well. And the presentation of "The Weight of Glory" by Mr. David Payne was quite inspirational! That night, we attending the celtic concert by The Crossing with our friends the Johannesens who we met at Mythcon. What a night! The music was quite powerful, enjoyable, and encouraging. It was also our last Mythcon event, as we had to leave for the airport early the next morning. Parting was difficult, but we managed, and our memories of Mythcon 29 will live for a long time!
Reprinted from the November 1998 issue (35:11) of Mythprint.
Book Toss Report
by Berni Phillips, for Khazad-dûmWeary of taking the high road, this year Khazad-dûm chose to take the low road at Mythcon and, instead of a book discussion, sponsored the first annual book toss. This was on Sunday afternoon, opposite the C.S. Lewis Memorial Service, which was expected to lessen the crowds (hey, they had to put it some time). Instead, we were more hampered by the never-ending members' meeting which tied up three of Khazad-dûm members in their capacity as members of the Council of Stewards.
There was a bit of discussion as to exactly which wall should receive the honor of literary impact. I was of the opinion that the wall shared by the book toss and the members' meeting was the obvious choice in an effort to hasten the close of the latter. Alas, I was disregarded.
The first toss was made by Mary Kay Kare, standing up for literary-minded fantasy fans everywhere as she hurled book 5 of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The numbered volume -- and a hefty tome it was: I hope MK didn't hurt herself -- was chosen deliberately to illustrate the pointlessness of these beyond-trilogies. I was unable to capture all of Mary Kay's colorful remarks, but she summed them up by saying that he seemed unable to tell the difference between writing and mere typing, and that she really wished she could hurl the author against the wall instead of this pale (if weighty) substitute.
Mary Stolzenbach next stepped up to the plate with A. N. Wilson's biography of C.S. Lewis, a timely tome. She quickly recounted many errors the book contained while lamenting his snideness and general attitude of an intelligent posterior. With an echoing, "A. N., this thud's for you!" she delivered a mighty thunk against the wall.
Yours truly was torn between which of the two Sheri Tepper novels she desired to punt. I finally opted for The Family Tree as it was the most recent and therefore could lay no claim to the author's having grown since then. While I find many things in Tepper's writing to admire, there are just as many to deplore, and her books tend to be split as to which of these gets the upper hand. In Family Tree, Tepper has expanded her repertoire beyond man-the-sex-equals-evil into man-the-species-equals-evil. Advising her to have stopped with Gibbon's Decline and Fall, I gave it my best shot, throwing it against the common wall, still trying to break up that members' meeting.
By this time, we had depleted our supply of books physically present to throw and the discussion moved on to books which they would like to throw if they had them handy. Sarah Beach made a list of these, but I did not record them. I decided it was time to drag the Khazad-dûm stewards out of the members' meeting so they could toss their bookies.
Our own kindly web administrator, Ellie Farrell, tossed C. S. Lewis's Perelandra, denouncing it as "irritating, not very profound, not very subtle" and she also didn't like the characterization of the Green Lady. Not to be outdone, Edith Crowe threw another of Lewis's trilogy, That Hideous Strength. This, in fact, was actually the inspiration for the book toss. (Edith sheepishly gathered the book up again, saying she had to return it to her household's collection. All other books were available to any who desired (dared?) to take them.)
Unable to pry my spouse from the meeting, I threw his book for him. As Proxy Bratman, I hurled Freedom & Necessity, citing David's scorn of its history and his assertion that only an utter cad would write so of his love life.
Sarah and the others continued dissing books after this, but I decided that if I couldn't throw them for real, it wasn't fun anymore, so I left, sated for the nonce.