This exciting event was a 7-hour brain-feeding frenzy for nerds. We met at 10 am on a Saturday (during parents’ weekend, a football game, and the outer bands of a hurricane) to talk about fantasy literature, science fiction, and Tolkien. I’ve been attending some version of these Mythgard events for a few years now, and I must say: the scholarship is growing up! But what’s really exciting is that the baby academics are growing into real academics, without losing their enthusiasm and without killing the joy of the literature. It’s grand.
So we started the morning with three papers on Tolkien. Dominic Nardi, a PoliSci guy, talked about “How to Adapt Politics in The Silmarillion for the #SilmFilm Project,” and some funny stuff about government problems when the participants are immortal. Tom Hillman gave a paper entitled “Hobbit Verses Versus Verses By Hobbits.” It was a very beautiful look at the variety of techniques Tolkien uses in the poetry in The Hobbit and LOTR. I loved his detailed look at rhythm and rhyme, with their social and emotional implications; this may have been the best paper all day.
Then Marie Prosser did “One-Word Trivia!” about hapax legomenon in Lord of the Rings. It was a hilarious (and also intelligent, and well-supported) word-game about terms that occur only once in Tolkien’s works. Her presentation was so popular that it continued for an extra hour over lunch. It’s amazing how far you can go into a deep discussion of Tolkien’s world-building by following the implications of just one word.
After lunch, I had the very great privilege of interviewing the magnificent Dr. Verlyn Flieger onher brand-new edition of Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervogiving a donation to Signum University to support innovative online education, and don’t forget about the Creative Writing contest I’m running at the same time!)
Then we got to hear April Neal Kluever talking about “Gods and Aliens in Tolkien and Lovecraft,” Kevin Hensler leading a discussion on “Consideration of the Strange and Sophisticated Materialist Theology of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series,” and Dr. Dan McMahon using a presentation on “Narrative Strategies in Ted Chiang’s Speculative Fiction” to try to persuade us to read Chiang’s work.
The last third of the day was called “Speculative Fiction Across Media,” and it fell apart just a little bit at this point. I think there were a few too many sessions; Dr. Flieger’s should have been quite a bit longer, and the whole day did run over (intentionally) by about half an hour. So let’s have few sessions next time, with a much longer block for the special guest.
Michael Therway had a fun talk about “The Sarlacc, The Rancor, and Jabba the Hutt: George Lucas’s Trifurcated Dragon” in which he argued that Jabba takes on most of the qualities of the fairy-tale dragon. Neil Ottenstein gave a fly-by called “Prophecy from Oedipus Rex to Babylon 5”: a list of various prophecies in literature and film. Thomas Johnson talked about Into the Woods, mostly comparing the musical and the film. Brandon Minich examined “Twin Peaks as a Dark Faerie Story,” and Trevor Brierly closed the day with a discussion on “Last words on Faery from Tolkien?” about what might have been the last nonfiction prose JRRT wrote regarding the land of Faery and fairy tales (from an essay he wrote in 1966 to go with the publication of Smith of Wootton Major).
The best part of the weekend for me was spending so much time with the Signum people, especially the big brains: Verlyn Flieger, Corey Olsen, Ed Powell. I got to talk to them about many important subjects (such as the new job I’m doing of Thesis Coordination for the M.A. students)—and including a goal we at Signum/Mythgard should strive to meet in the next couple of years. Many of the presentations here and at other events, as well as many of the papers I grade in my capacity as Preceptor for Signum courses, are comparison papers. Their premise is often: “Such-and-such is similar to so-and-so in these ways.” They are often interesting, entertaining, and engaging comparisons. What we want to work toward now is deeper analysis. We want to look at what is gained by such a comparison. We want to ask which text influenced the other, and what evidence there is of such influence. We want to know why the comparison matters and how it enables us to read either or both text differently. We want to ask, in short, “So what?” about our comparison and then answer the so what question rigorously. So that is one of my goals in my teaching at Signum and in whatever capacity I may continue to have at events: to encourage the deeper analysis. Students, scholars! Step up. We can do this.
Plus we need some papers on Charles Williams. Obviously.