From Aug. 3-6, 2007, the most delightfully eccentric scholarly organization in Christendom gathered at Cal Berkeley for four days of fellowship, scholarship, hijinks, shenanigans, and general revelry. The Mythopoeic Society (www.mythsoc.org, if you want more information) has as its purpose the study and promotion of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and fantasy literature in general. It connects together one of the most motley crews imaginable: Christian apologists, literary scholars, medievalists, artists and art historians, general fans, and neo-pagan gamers rub shoulders at serious scholarly papers, many of them in costume as Lewis or Tolkien characters. Simultaneously going on are things like a Golfimbul tournament, a fantasy film festival that makes "Science Fiction Theater 3,000" look tame, a Bardic Circle (for the performance of original fantasy fiction and poetry), a fantasy art show, and pretty much a Renaissance Festival and Society for Creative Anachronism meeting combined.
Neither exactly a scholarly conference nor a fan convention, a Mythcon is a perfect morphing of the two with all the best features of both and some unimagined by either (such as the infamous Not Ready for Mythcon Players). So, naturally, as usual I was in attendance, though prevented by distance this year from taking my costume, since the airlines these days rather frown on people with broadswords, daggers, and quarterstaves in their carry-on luggage. Hama, Theoden's Doorwarden, had more sense though not less vigilance.
Highlights of this year's con included a splendid paper with audio illustrations by David Bratman on music in Middle Earth, an excellent paper and a couple of panels by Diana Pavlac Glyer (English Prof. at Azusa Pacific) related to her new book The Company they Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, a well-researched volume which looks to replace Humphrey Carpenter as the standard source on the Inklings, a good paper by Mike Foster on Lewis student and biographer George Sayer, and a wonderful concert by Broceliande, the acoustic band whose album The Starlit Jewel is widely recognized as the most authentic attempt to provide settings to the poems in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Let's just say that their tenor and guitarist looks a lot like Tom Bombadil, and the soprano and harpist/recorder player could just as well be Goldberry. Oh, yes, and then there was my paper.
I presented a paper on "Sixteenth Century English Literature Excluding Drama: C. S. Lewis as a Literary Historian," a study of Lewis's most ambitious scholarly writing, the volume on the 16th century in The Oxford History of English Literature. I talked about the many things which make Lewis still a good role model for students of literature, including the fact that he was "utterly innocent of the quaint recent notion that ancient writings can somehow be elucidated by having indigestible wads of jargon thrown at them." It was well attended and well received. Diana Glyer graciously said that I had exemplified my own subject matter and performed the Herculean labor of making people actually want to read a 700-page book of academic literary history. But that was easy--the book was, after all, by Lewis. Those interested in reading the paper will find it in Bruce L. Edwards, Jr., ed., C. S. Lewis: Life, Works, Legacy, 4 vols. (Praeger: 2007), vol. 4, pp. 143-62.
Next year's Mythcon is a bit closer to the East Coast, in Connecticut, Aug. 18-21. Do join up and come and join us if you have an interest in such things! Until then, may you fare well wherever you fare, until your eyries receive you at your journey's end.