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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


Conferences

Musings of a Pipe Smoking Man

by Lee Speth

It 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.