Mythcon 46, Day 2: Not English, Not French, Not Latin Christian

A towering Gandalf the Grey at the costume contest

A towering Gandalf the Grey at the costume contest

Hotel Elegante? Not so much. It officially cemented its hold on the title of Most Disappointing Mythcon Venue at lunch, which consisted primarily of cold cuts and Wonder bread. Let me say that again: Cold cuts. Wonder bread. I resisted the temptation to compress its squishiness into doughy balls of dubious nutritional value, and instead slathered on enough Gulden’s to choke it down.

Fortunately, Mythcon primarily promises food for thought, and it delivered today in a banquet of surprising diversity. Scholar guest of honor John Rateliff offered remarks at opening ceremonies on the autobiographical key to understanding Charles Williams’ Arthurian cycle of poems. (The fact that my desire to explore Williams’ work remains at basement level absolutely does not reflect on Rateliff, whose remarkable research manages to be both thorough and even a bit racy.) The day of presentations that followed ran the gamut from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Oscar Wao presentation was a work in progress, digging into the use of Tolkien references in Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to create a mythic mirror through which the Dominican experience could be reflected. Presenters Stephanie K. Brownell and Sara D. Rivera have so much fascinating material to work through here (not the least how or even if the Latin American magical realism literary tradition factors in) that they should be busy for quite some time. Their mere presence and choice of material was the beginning of a day that showed that Mythcon is not only open to ethnically and racially diverse interpretations of the Inklings, but is actively encouraging them.

Then lunch. (Hush. We will not speak of it.)

Hats off to Peter Oas, who overcame technical difficulties to give an overview of the evolution of a beloved Tolkien character, Galadriel. She seems to have been one of those creations that we authors find take on a life of their own; she started out not nearly as important or amazing as the great elven lady she eventually became in Tolkien’s mythos. (I’ve experienced this myself, principally with Songs of the Metamythos‘s Chronos, who started off in my work as a glorified keeper of the universe’s stopwatch and gradually asserted himself throughout the narrative as so much more.)

And then–oh deliciousness!–came the presentation I’d most anticipated, and Kris Swank hit it out of the park. Her tour of the very real, historical presence of people of African descent in ancient Britain, in Arthurian literature (usually playing the role of foreign potentate who eventually submits to Arthur and Christianity, only to then be ditched from the story), and in contemporary pop culture interpretations of Arthurian legend (still playing the foreigner, now of lowly  birth, and still getting ditched) was a tour de force of blunt talk, refreshing humor, and interesting revelations. Plus Swank’s sharp, smart speaking style had the room so engaged we were soon joining her in unison for her refrain of “not French, not English, not Latin Christian” (the effective definition of saracen and similar terms that lump different peoples together as “other” in medieval texts).

But don’t take my word for it; read an abbreviated version of her paper for yourself at here:
http://www.academia.edu/2494445/_Black_in_Camelot_Race_and_Ethnicity_in_Arthurian_Legend

Maybe because I lived and breathed TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the day it debuted to its finale, I found Janet B. Croft’s talk on how the character stuck with that name, and no other–and the significance of that–the most clear and well-argued presentation of Mythcon thus far. (Croft has made a name for herself–pardon the pun–by returning repeatedly to the theme of the importance of naming in various fantastical works. She intends to compile all that work into a single book, which should kick ass, to put it in Buffyish terms.) What started as a movie’s extended one-liner–the jokey juxtaposition of a typical valley girl moniker with a deathly dire role–became the essence of the show, as we watched Buffy learn to navigate her two sides, refusing to relinquish either and finding strength in the duality’s dynamic equilibrium. And I learned about the concept of the “female naming plot” for the first time.

So make like a Scooby and do your research by reading Janet Croft’s “‘It’s good to be me’: Buffy’s Resistance to Renaming” here.

By now, someone unfamiliar with Mythcon is no doubt convinced it’s the most wonkish geek gathering ever. The evening’s costume contest will erase that misconception right quick. Since everybody wins, the “prizes” themselves are an integral part of the fun (take, for example, the lovely Sand Snake who won the “Least Bloody Game of Thrones Outfit Ever” award).

As always, we finish with Bardic Circle, where songs are sung, poems shared, and stories told (I tested out some material from my next book, a light-hearted space opera I’ve been working on). I go to bed exhausted, with a head full of crazy ideas, and hungry for more.

 

5 responses to “Mythcon 46, Day 2: Not English, Not French, Not Latin Christian”

  1. Berni says:

    Thanks for providing the link to Kris’ paper on academia.edu. You saved me a few seconds in searching it out. So glad you came back this year. We all enjoy reading your blog posts.

  2. David B. says:

    The only papers we both attended on this day were Rateliff’s and Swank’s, and I agree that they were both outstanding. No surprise from these folks, whose previous work I’ve known. Rateliff’s was within my area of knowledge, but I still learned a little, and Swank taught me a lot.

    You know what I did after noshing on a few slices of cold cuts? I went out to lunch. (Easy for me, as I had a car.) Hey, but dinner, though … loved that poached salmon in cream sauce.

    • CF Cooper says:

      Smart move on lunch. I have to admit, I’m spoiled; my first Mythcon was in Michigan, where the university ran it’s own hotel on the premises, meaning we got the best of both worlds, college campus and hotel/convention center. And best of all, that massive dining facility across the way, where you could customize your meals from any number of themed dining stations. Bliss!

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