by David Bratman
In one respect, Mythcon XXX reminded me of the 1994 Mythcon in Washington, D.C. The weather began terribly, but quickly improved to a state of Mythcon magic. In Washington it was the rain; in Milwaukee, it was the heat. We were baking away in our only partially air-conditioned building on Friday (and the early arrivals even more so on Thursday), but the committee worked valiantly to take advantage of what cooling capacity there was, and by Saturday evening there was nothing to bother us but the mosquitoes who wanted to play Golfimbul.
In another respect, Mythcon XXX was like Boulder in 1996: very small, but choice. This was the first time Mythcon had been combined with Bree Moot, a smaller conference with traditions of its own. What emerged was perhaps somewhere in between: perhaps a hundred members, quite a few of them new to Mythcons, of whom some were Bree Moot regulars and others were not. There was plenty of interesting programming, but the schedule was relaxed and not over packed. There were no stages: the main programming was all in one medium sized room.
The Cousins Center was an interesting place to have a Mythcon. Throughout the weekend the large, rambling building was almost entirely deserted except for us and a few kitchen staff, and the doors were locked. (One could always leave the building, of course, and we had a pass-code to re-enter by a side door, but there was still an eerie feeling of being locked in by ourselves.) It was quite pleasant after the temperature cooled down. The food, as usual, functioned best as a mealtime conversation piece. The most notable consumable was the Mock Dragon’s Tail, a frosted chocolate and yellow cake baked by Georgie Schnobrich and brought into the banquet by the knight Hildifons Took (alias Gary Hunnewell).
In keeping with the relaxed tone of the conference, all three of the Guests of Honor gave informal, entertaining speeches of personal reminiscence. Gary Hunnewell produced with a flourish the first-ever newspaper interview of him, from when he was a young Tolkien collector in 1978 aged 15. Sylvia Hunnewell presented us with copies of a set of postcard-sized prints of her new portraits of characters from Farmer Giles of Ham, and promised that, pending her imminent graduation from the role of mother of pre-school children, she will do more artwork in the future. Doug Anderson told of the friendships he’s made with the families of authors whose books he’s championed, in particular the children and grand-daughter of E.A. Wyke-Smith, author of The Marvellous Land of Snergs.
The serious programming came out quite nicely, what I was able to see of it. A panel of experts on Catholicism and Tolkien’s life served up an interesting collection of talks on his religion. Another panel of a different sort of experts distinguished the mythopoeic from the non-mythopoeic in current supernatural TV shows. Ted Nasmith showed a fascinated audience some of the sketches and thinking behind his Silmarillion illustrations. The session generally considered best was one containing two talks on the theory of fairy stories: Verlyn Flieger on Tolkien’s recognition of the reality of fantasy, and Fernando J. Soto on the logic of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense. My own paper on the wrong turns and abandoned notions to be found in “The History of The Lord of the Rings” was well-received. But I was most impressed by a pair of distinctively lucid linguistic papers by the husband and wife team of David and Dorothea Salo. He discussed the resemblance in phonology and morphology of Quenya to Latin and Finnish; she analyzed naming patterns in Dunsany and Le Guin, finding the former untutored but evocative, and the latter learned as well as imaginative.
Other reports will, I expect, tell more of the Masquerade, the Not-Ready-for-Mythcon Players’ production of “Uppity Warrior Women of Middle-earth,” and the reading of Kenneth Morris’s play The Archdruid, all of which I was involved with. I’ll just mention that the quiet opening dialogue in the last, between Verlyn Flieger and Lynn Maudlin, was the most moving piece of drama at Mythcon in a long time, the more impressive for not having been rehearsed. Greg Rihn read Farmer Giles of Ham to us one evening: yes, all of it. This might seem tedious, but he read so well that it was quite captivating.
The dealer’s room looked distinctly emptier at the end of the conference than at the beginning. The art show, in the same room, was small but had fine displays of the highlights of Sylvia Hunnewell, Ted Nasmith, and Paula DiSante. There was a high proportion of sartorial elegance at the banquet, notably the entrance of the Rauschers: Eric in a tux, Bonnie in a fine dress, and elder daughter Emily in something ravishing by Jessica McClintock out of the Bronte sisters.
There were some expeditions out, as well. Early arrivals had dinner together on Thursday at Milwaukee’s top German restaurant, Mader’s. Many of us got out to the Marquette University Archives, where Tolkien’s papers lie. A fine exhibit of manuscripts, especially from Farmer Giles, had been set out, supplemented by the microfilms of Gary Hunnewell’s fanzine collection, the five-foot shelf of Richard Blackwelder’s binders of articles on Tolkien, and the infamous 1958 film treatment of The Lord of the Rings, which made arresting reading. Whatever Peter Jackson does to the books, it can’t be this bad.
Thanks to Chuck Elston and his staff at the archives, and to the committee: Richard West, the chair; David Emerson and Janice Bogstad for programming; Matt Fisher and Ellie Farrell for publications; Greg Rihn, Jeff Long, Jo Ann Johnson, and David Lenander for all the exhausting behind-the-scenes work; and many others for their contributions.
Reprinted from the September 1999 issue (36:9) of Mythprint.