This is the Mythcon 51 presentations video archival page. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Council of Stewards has decided to host a virtual “Halfling” event, July 31-August 1, 2021. “Those interested in attending the significantly cheaper online event should register for the Virtual "Halfling" Mythcon 51, here.

The virtual approach will be very different from our usual Mythcons, but what we miss out on we hope to make up for in new and different ways, and we’ll see everyone in person again, once it’s safe to do so. On some level this is a chance to get back to our Mythopoeic Society roots and gather with friends (if virtually!) to just discuss what we love.


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Saturday, July 31st
9:00 AM

Mythcon 51 Opening Ceremony

Janet Croft, University of Northern Iowa
Leslie Donovan, University of New Mexico
Megan B. Abrahamson, Central New Mexico Community College

9:00 AM - 10:00 AM

Welcome to Mythcon 51, our Virtual Halfling Mythcon!

10:00 AM

Cities and Strongholds of Middle-earth, Part 1

Cami Agan
Birgitte Breemerkamp
Nicholas Birns
Marie Bretagnolle
Robin Reid

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

The Cities and Strongholds of Middle-earth panels bring together seven of the chapters to appear in the upcoming volume of the same name from MythPress. The volume explores the habitations of Middle-earth across the ages, as well as the cultures responsible for those built structures. Presenters will briefly explain their chapters in order to leave plenty of room for discussion.

Moderator: Cami Agan
Panelist: Nicholas Birns
Panelist: Birgitte Breemerkamp
Panelist: Marie Bretagnolle
Panelist: Robin A. Reid
Tech Mod: Tim Lenz

Philology and the Lived Imagination: Vico, Collingwood, and Tolkien

Reno Lauro

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

This paper endeavors to uniquely address a question proposed by Tom Shippey in a guest editorial for Mallorn issue 45. “[R.G.] Collingwood and Tolkien were both Fellows of Pembroke College for nearly a decade till 1934, when Collingwood took up a Chair at C.S. Lewis’s college, Magdalen. Did the three of them ever talk about, agree about, disagree about the subject of folktales, on which Collingwood was working and publicly lecturing in the 1930s?” (Shippey 4). In order to answer Shippey’s question, I suggest that ‘folktales’ may not be the only or best way into this investigation. While we know that ‘folktales’ were certainly discussed between the two scholars, a deeper and more fundamental connection may lie in a shared view of language, history, and imagination that has its common source in the philological philosophy of Giambattista Vico (1668–1744). Most significant to understanding Vico’s complex philology is his “master key” –the assertion that there was a time when humans lived and expressed a poetic mode of being in the world, or as Vico calls it, a “wholly corporeal imagination”. I will lay out the principles of Vico’s corporeal—or lived—imagination and demonstrate the unusually close proximity to Tolkien and Collingwood’s unique projects. This is particularly significant in terms of Tolkien studies as Collingwood’s influence on Tolkien, though overshadowed by the influence of Barfield’s Poetic Diction, may be as or even more significant during Tolkien’s highly productive period between 1929 and 1939. In conclusion, the paper will demonstrate the manifold points of contact among the three (Vico, Collingwood, and Tolkien) that should conceivably make future readings of Tolkien impossible without the inclusion of Vico and Collingwood.

Paper presented by Reno Lauro.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

Q&A with Mythopoeic Award Winners

Dennis Wise
James Gifford
Theodora Goss
Yoon Ha Lee

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

Q&A with Mythopoeic Award Winners (Roundtable) Steward of Mythopoeic Awards Dennis Wise will lead conversation and Q&A with some of last year’s Mythopoeic Society Award winners: James Gifford, Theodora Goss, and Yoon Ha Lee.

Tech Mod: Cait Rottler

11:00 AM

'Her Enchanted Hair': Rossetti, 'Lady Lilith,' and the Victorian Fascination with Hair as Influences on Tolkien

Kathryn Colvin

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

The Victorian poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti appears upon first glance to be an unlikely inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium: though both were medievalists, Tolkien’s reputation for chaste prose contrasts sharply with Rossetti’s famously “fleshly” work. However, a close reading of both—setting Rossetti’s poetry, particularly “Lady Lilith” and its accompanying painting, alongside Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and posthumously published material from The Silmarillion and The History of Middle-earth—reveals a compelling and previously unexplored connection between the Victorian cultural mythology of magic hair (as epitomized by the “hair-mad” Rossetti) and Tolkien’s detailed and often supernatural portrayals of women’s tresses. According to my research, I believe my paper (published in Mythlore issue 137, Fall/Winter 2020) to be the first proposal of Rossetti as an influence on Tolkien, and also novel in its academic attention to Tolkien’s portrayals of women’s hair. One point at which Tolkien’s writing lets down its own figurative hair is in its sumptuous descriptions of female characters’ abundantly flowing locks, the desire they inspire in others, and even their weaponization: in his distinct and sensual attention to women’s hair, I assert that Tolkien was inspired by the Victorians in general, while his depictions of the characters of Galadriel, Lúthien, and Melian are strikingly similar to the femme fatale Lady Lilith of Rossetti’s poetry and painting.

Paper by Kathryn Colvin.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman

The Mythopoeic Fantasy and Scholarly Awards Discussions

David Lenander

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

A roundtable discussion of the Mythopoeic Society Fantasy Awards, and Mythopoeic Scholarly Awards process. This Roundtable is also for discussing any recent books that may or may not have been considered on the preliminary Awards list, and which set the stage for this year's finalists (as yet unknown!). Everyone is welcome to join in with their responses to books mentioned or other outstanding, Awards-worthy books.

Moderator: David Lendander
Tech Mod: Cait Rottler.

(Un)Fair(ly) Unknown: New and Neglected Arthurian Television Programming

Carl B. Sell
Richard Fahey
Michael Torregrossa
Rachael K. Warmington

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

The Arthurian tradition abounds with Fair Unknowns, characters whose identity and true worth is revealed only slowly over the course of an adventure. In this session, we’d like to adopt the motif to look at new and neglected television series that make interesting use of the legend and deserve more recognition by scholars.

Moderator: Carl B. Sell
Panelist: Michael Torregrossa
Panelist: Richard Fahey
Panelist: Rachael K. Warmington
Tech Mod: Tim Lenz

12:00 PM

Adam’s Task: Naming and Subcreation in Good Omens

Janet Brennan Croft

12:00 PM - 12:45 PM

Names are, in one sense, the outward indication of a power negotiation. The namer, the one who bestows a new name or uses an already-given name, reveals, through the choice of name they give or use, their relationship to that which they name. The act may indicate a more or less equal relationship; it may be an attempt to exert power over someone or something by imposing a name on it or by using a name that will influence those who hear it; or it may be a signal of submission and subordination, using a name to flatter or placate someone or something more powerful. In Genesis 2, naming is the first officially delegated sub-creational task, for God does not name the animals, but brings them before Adam to see what he will call them. All humans have the power to name, to rename, to take a new name, to give a nickname, to deny a name, to deadname . . . and Good Omens, book and show alike, is rife with significant acts of naming by both humans and other powers, from Crawley renaming himself Crowley to the constantly changing self-claimed sobriquets of the Four Other Horsemen. Adam Young, though, has this power in spades. Reality bends to his will, and his acts of naming *stick* and change what he names. While other name stories will be examined in this paper, the naming acts I will concentrate on will be the naming of Adam himself, Adam’s naming of the hell-hound as he comes into his power, and his climactic act (in the show) of naming Satan to be not his father, and thereby making it so.

Tech Mod: Alicia Fox-Lenz.

The Keystone or the Cornerstone? A Rejoinder to Verlyn Flieger on the Alleged “Conflicting Sides” of Tolkien’s Singular Self

Donald Williams

12:00 PM - 12:45 PM

In “The Arch and the Keystone,” Mythlore 38:1 (Fall/Winter 2019), 5-17, Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger argues that the conflicts and contradictions she sees in Tolkien’s essays and fiction do not call for harmonization but rather should be embraced for what they are: “two opposing and conflicting sides of one person, whose contention makes him who he is as well as what he is, the keystone that creates the arch” of The Lord of the Rings out of the friction of the two sides (16). Unfortunately, the alleged contradictions, e.g. between the despair of the Beowulf essay and the hope for eucatastrophe in the essay “On Fairy-Stories,” reflected by light and darkness in The Lord of the Rings, are created by her failure to understand Tolkien’s biblical worldview, where the impossibility of salvation in this lifedoes not contradict, but is the logical setting for, the hope of a redemption not fully realized until the next. Thus an understanding of Tolkien’s biblical eschatology dissolves the alleged tension and lets us replace Flieger’s keystone with the cornerstone of faith in Iluvatar and the true hope of Middle-earth.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

1:30 PM

A Saga Re-Written: The Character of Odin and J.R.R. Tolkien's Addition of Eucatastrophe in "The New Lay of the Volsungs."

Matthew Gidney

1:30 PM - 2:15 PM

In this paper, adapted from the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, I will argue that Tolkien was not interested in mimicking Norse mythology nor endorsing the Nordic worldview, but rather re-writing Norse mythology in accord with its true light. This concept of “true light” is drawn from a letter by Tolkien to his son Michael in which he laments the corruption of “that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light” (Carpenter, Letters 56). Tolkien had an Augustinian conception of evil, believing that good is primary, evil secondary. Therefore, a good thing like Northern courage, in Tolkien’s view, could be corrupted, yet beneath that corruption, it still retained its true light. The true light of Northern Courage was, in Tolkien’s view, something worthwhile which he desired to see redeemed.

This project is clearly demonstrated in The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, where Tolkien tampers with the saga at such a foundational level that it is hardly appropriate to still refer to the poem as Norse. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun follows the familiar character of Sigurd along his well-documented quest, led on his way by a god named Odin, but Tolkien’s poem takes liberties with the story that shake it—thematically—to its core. The Nordic worldview, characterized by its distinct theory of courage, was a worldview entirely built around the idea that the earth and everyone in it was doomed to ultimate defeat along with their gods, and their response, as modeled by Odin and the rest of the Aesir, was to defiantly fight on to the bitter end. The Nordic worldview was one that acknowledged that the world was a cold, brutal place full of cruel and violent people, all predestined for suffering and destruction without even the hope that their gods might save them: a bleak and demoralizing prospect to say the least. Yet, the ancient Norse were known as hardy, relentlessly courageous people, despite their gloomy worldview. Though they acknowledged the bleakness of their position, they were determined to go down to the grave laughing defiantly, with heads held high until the very last. This, in a nutshell, is Northern courage. Yet, in Tolkien’s “New Lay of the Volsungs,” he inserts a messianic promise of redemption and suggests that death in fact will be overcome, even if it is not entirely clear how. On the surface, this insertion may seem a small detail considering how few lines are actually dedicated to it, but it is a detail which undermines the entire tapestry of Norse mythology, a move which cannot be mistaken as a mere mistake or misunderstanding coming from a student of Norse language and literature such as Tolkien. Tolkien’s subversive addition was a calculated move and part of his project to rewrite Norse mythology in order to present Northern courage in its true light.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

Mythopoeic Dungeons & Dragons

Megan Abrahamson
Bethany Abrahamson
Nyssa Gilkey
Cait Rottler

1:30 PM - 2:15 PM

Ever since Tolkien’s “Hobbit Burglar” became the off-brand “Halfling Rogue” of roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, D&D has been indebted to Tolkien and other fantasy literature, and much fantasy media has indeed since modeled itself on D&D. For this Roundtable, our panelists (themselves a D&D party of 9 years) wish to invite audience discussion of the mythopoeia of D&D: its influences, its inventions, and its impact. Is D&D the “Mythology for England” Tolkien talked about creating, specifically the part about leaving “scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama” (and dice)? Or can D&D grow beyond its pseudo-medieval, Eurocentric, and Tolkienian fantasy roots?

Moderator: Megan Abrahamson
Panelist: Bethany Abrahamson
Panelist: Nyssa Gilkey
Panelist: Caitlin Rottler
Tech Mod: Alicia Fox-Lenz.

Writing Against the Grain: T. Kingfisher's Feminist Mythopoeic Fantasy

Robin Anne Reid

1:30 PM - 2:15 PM

In "On Fairy-stories," J. R. R. Tolkien defined and defended the genre of fantasy by quoting and then explicating his poem, "Mythopoeia." Tolkien's theory of mythopoeic literature can be applied to his own fiction, but, increasingly, scholars are applying it to other texts including superhero films and contemporary fantasy novels (Holdier, Kane). In this presentation, I argue that three of Kingfisher's series, the Clocktaur War, Saint of Steel, and Paladin, set in and around Anuket City, fit some of the characteristics of mythopoeic fantasy identified by Tolkien while swerving notably from others. Thus, Kingfisher's fantasy is similar to work by the writers Faye Ringel interviewed for her essay, "Women Fantasists: In the Shadow of the Ring." Performing her own feminist swerve on Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence, Ringel concludes that while the "women fantasists accept some of Tolkien's premises, they differ strongly with him on the subject of women's roles" (165). Tolkien's necessary characteristics for a mythopoeic text involve textual elements and reader response. A mythopoeic fantasy is set in a secondary world that is internally consistent; the "magic" must "be taken seriously," and the best of the genre involves "the Consolation of the Happy Ending" (32-33;75). Tolkien makes it clear that this genre is for readers who appreciate it, no matter what their age, challenging the assumption at the time that fairy stories were only suitable for children. Recovery, escape, and consolation are how mythopoeic fantasies impact readers. Tolkien makes it clear that fairies (elves) are not required while his epilogue places the genre firmly in his Christian belief system. Some of the elements in Kingfisher's series that are mythopoeic are: the coherence of the secondary world, across three series with different characters; a version of Faërie, called the Vagrant Lands; the presence of magic, called "wonderworking." Elements which swerve decisively from Tolkien's criteria are the lack of kings and heroes; the presence of religious institutions and their orders; polytheism; the widespread distribution of wonderworking along with the lack of wizards; the focus on female protagonists. powerful male characters. Since Kingfisher is writing fantasy romance rather than epic fantasy, the protagonists include a forger, a perfumer, and a widowed housekeeper who inherits a magic sword. These swerves from Tolkien's definition strengthen my experience of recovery, escape, and consolation as a reader, responses that grew stronger during my re-reading of her work during the first year of the pandemic.

Tech Mod: Leslie Donovan.

2:30 PM

Etiam periere ruinae: Roman Ruins, Troubled Temporality, and HP Lovecraft's Alien Other

El Hudson

2:30 PM - 3:15 PM

As Caesar, the questionable protagonist of the first-century Latin epic the Pharsalia, navigates the ruins of once-mighty Troy, the poet Lucan pauses to note that etiam periere ruinae: “even the ruins have perished.” Would that such were the case in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time, in which an antediluvian city vexes the protagonist to nightmare. Lovecraft is notorious for his ruins: Cyclopean and/or non-Euclidean, they near-invariably contain horrors from the depths of time, lying in wait for some foolish adventurer to unleash them upon the present. Sometimes these places are simply set-dressing, but in a few notable instances Lovecraft utilizes the notion of the ruin itself to evoke horror. In both the novella At the Mountains of Madness and the short story “The Shadow out of Time,” Lovecraft uses the image of the ancient ruin to evoke the terror of deep time: the idea that the scope of history is far larger than we can comprehend, and human civilization is so small within that scope as to be insignificant. Magnifying the de-centering effect of Lovecraft’s timescales, the denizens of these ruins don’t stay in the past: they explode into the present with necromantic vigor, and consequently they affect the collapse of any meaningful construction of time. Horrors from both the far future and the far past intrude upon the fragile present: the distinctions blur together, and rational temporal progression becomes impossible. Scholars of Lovecraft have argued that the purpose of this temporal collapse is to amplify the effects of deep-time horror: not only are we insignificant within history, but history itself is only an illusion. I believe that we can take this line of thinking further by examining several scenes from classical poetry which utilize a remarkably similar technique—specifically, those in Lucan’s Pharsalia, a Roman epic poem which shares much of Lovecraft’s cosmic outlook. Caesar’s tale of Troy in Pharsalia IX, Julia’s necromantic fury and Caesar’s invasion of Rome in Pharsalia III, and Erichtho’s prophecy in Pharsalia VI each use the visual touchstone of the ruined city to trouble the boundaries between the past, present, and future. But where Lovecraft is interested in evoking horror, Lucan is interested in deconstructing specifically Roman histories, which rely on the exclusion of a non-Roman Other to maintain their integrity. By collapsing time, Lucan de-centers Rome from history and then elides it entirely, allowing its replacement by the Other in question. Similarly, Lovecraft’s temporal collapse uses the terror of the (non-human, rather than non-Roman) Other to drive home the impression of ultimate human insignificance. The horror is found not only in the sheer scope of cosmic time, but also in the presence of those who are not us on that timescale. We rely on time to construct history, and on history to construct an identity that differentiates us from the Other: with the dissolution of time our tools to maintain our sense of self dissolve also, and we are left adrift.

Tech Mod: Phillip Fitzsimmons.

Finding and Organizing Tolkien’s Invented Languages

Eileen Marie Moore

2:30 PM - 3:15 PM

The Appendices to The Lord of the Rings run the gamut from royal lineages and back stories of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor and Rohan and of Dúrin’s folk (Appendix A), Hobbit family trees (Appendix C) and a general overview of the races and peoples of Middleearth (Appendix F), to the chronology of the great events of the Second and Third Ages (Appendix B); from the Shire Calendar (Appendix D) and a detailed explication of how to pronounce the Elvish languages as well as their representation by the letters of the Tengwar and runes of the Cirth (Appendix E), to Tolkien’s peculiar ‘conceit’ on the subject of translation, as though he had discovered all this material in the Red Book of Westmarch (Appendix F). While the examination of these Appendices has been the subject of endless scholarly research, it may be argued that the study of Tolkien’s invented languages presents particularly unique challenges. An in-depth study of the glossaries, indices, and imbedded author’s notes throughout the totality of Tolkien’s posthumously published writings on Middle-earth (The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and all twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth) in addition to the Gnomish and Qenya Lexicons (published in Parma Eldalamberon 11 and 12) reveals that the languages are fundamental to the existence of Middle-earth as Tolkien conceived it. Yet this origin story is so very difficult to grasp hold of and utilize, due to the scattered nature of the raw materials and the non-user-friendly manner in which they are presented. I would like to discuss how Tolkien’s invented languages appear in all of these original sources and how I have labored to organize them over the past 19 years to create a reference resource for Tolkien scholars who don’t have the time to wade through all of the paratexts themselves.

Tech Mod: Leslie Donovan.

The Fantastic Short Story

Vicki Ronn

2:30 PM - 3:15 PM

This roundtable will include a short presentation on the fantasy short story; its roots in myth, fables and fairy tales; its growth from the twentieth century to the present day; and a personal top ten list. Attendees will share their personal favorite stories and virtual and print sources to find more stories, as well as answer or discuss questions related to the genre. Some questions will include: Favorite mythopoeic short story and why? Who are some great editors or collections? Where did you discover your favorite story? Who are important authors, both past and present? Where do you see the genre going?

Moderator: Vicki Ronn
Tech Mod: Megan Abrahamson.

3:30 PM

Back to Camelot: 21st-century Reinterpretations of the Arthurian Mythos

Jennifer Spirko
Scott Johnson
Bradley McIlwain

3:30 PM - 4:15 PM

With David Lowery's film, The Green Knight, headed for a pandemic-delayed opening this summer, the Arthurian mythos re-enters popular culture yet again. How do this and other recent retellings of the Matter of Britain connect our world with its roots? We'll consider not only the new film, but also such novels as Kingfisher, by Patricia McKillip; Once & Future, by A.R. Capetta; and Cursed, by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, alongside the TV series based on it. What version of Camelot and its attendant tales and heroes do today's Arthurian works present? How are they in dialogue with earlier renditions? What keeps us returning again and again to this most evergreen of myths?

Moderator: Jennifer Spirko
Panelist: Scott Johnson
Panelist: Bradley McIlwain
Tech Mod: Megan Abrahamson.

Mythopoeia in American Gods

Danica Stojanovic

3:30 PM - 4:15 PM

J. R. R. Tolkien coined the term mythopoeia as a philosophical concept referring to the process of artificially creating mythologies and belief systems of imaginary worlds. While building a fantasy world, one ought to consider the possibilities this world offers for religious explorations or examine how the existing pantheons weave their way into fiction and reality. To be more precise, what happens when gods lounge languidly among their supposed believers. This paper aims to examine mythopoetic tendencies, elements and powers in Neil Gaiman’s novels American Gods and Anansi Boys, a fictional duology whose protagonists are in constant cohort with various gods—whether they like it or not. American Gods follows the former convict Shadow, who unwittingly joins forces with the Old Norse high god Odin, who has primed himself to declare, and preferably, win the war against the new American pantheon born out of worship, dependency and addiction to the internet, media, conspiracy theories and corporate environments. Gods are envisioned as entities, which are brought to life through cultural practices, customs and repetitive claims, which makes them exponentially more powerful as their followership grows, but also susceptible to being disempowered and dissipation if they are forgotten. This vulnerability makes them aggressive and willing to bring on the combined force of many apocalypses in order to assert dominance and ensure their continued survival. On the other hand, Anansi Boys, while still embroiled in godly affairs, concerns itself with creating the myth of the self through a reversed hero’s journey. Charlie, an average clerk, wishes only to lead a normal life away from his family. Yet, the news of his father’s death sets a series of inexplicable events into motion, including the return of Charlie’s not entirely real, but certainly evil twin, as well as a number of gods from the Caribbean pantheon. In order to save his reality, Charlie must accept his heritage, becoming a mythopoet of the self, who has the power to narrate his own existence outside of meddlesome gods’ wills. This paper will provide a theoretical overview of how myths are born and reproduced throughout social and cultural DNA before endeavouring to shed light on mythopoeia in American Gods and Anansi Boys, with a view to hinting at the narrative power of myths and their ascent into reality.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

Other Than Him: Superman as the Alien That Made Good

Roy Schwartz

3:30 PM - 4:15 PM

When discussing depictions of the alien in American popular culture—as extraterrestrial, as strange foreigner, and as both, an otherworldly Other—the most famous example is rarely considered; SUPERMAN. Introduced in 1938, this strange visitor from another planet possesses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men but walks among us disguised as a mild-mannered human. He’s the fantastic hiding in plain sight as the most mundane, an Other beloved as familiar, a singular being of another race who’s come to symbolize the best in humanity. And not by accident. Superman was created by two Cleveland teens, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They were Jews in the Midwest during the rise of Nazism abroad and at home, bashful geeks bullied by other boys and rejected by girls, one the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the other an immigrant himself. They were Others in every sense, and into their alien hero they poured all their wishes, to belong and be accepted but also to be exceptional and revered. To be special but also to blend in. To be both Super and man. They gave their assimilation/assertion fantasy a nebbish secret identity based on themselves and empowered him with their Jewish heritage; the origin story of Moses as a baby sent adrift to safety, the physical and moral strength of Samson the mighty lawman, and the mission of the Golem as an inhuman protector of his creators. They made him a refugee fleeing catastrophe on the eve of World War II and sent him to tear Nazi tanks apart nearly two years before the US joined the war. In following decades, Superman’s mostly Jewish writers, artists, and editors continued to borrow Judaic motifs for their stories, further exploring the character’s unique standing as an alien who’s accepted as human, an Other who’s come to embody our idealized selves. In the postwar era he was blamed for causing juvenile delinquency, in the sixties and seventies he underwent frequent Kafkaesque metamorphoses, in the eighties he unsuccessfully attempted to renounce his alien heritage and with it his Otherness, and more recently he’s been featured in various alternate narratives in which he turns evil, like The Dark Side comic books, Injustice video games and Zack Snyder’s Justice League film.

Tech Mod: Tim Lenz.

4:30 PM

Habla Amigo y Entra: Tolkien and the Language of Wonder

Martha Celis-Mendoza
Guillermo Don Juan
Aline Esperanza Maza Vázquez
Jorge de la Vega

4:30 PM - 5:15 PM

This panel will deal with the way in which Tolkien's works act as a threshold to approach the works of other Fantasy authors and literary traditions. It will also consider the reception of these works and how they are perceived differently when read in different languages, as well as the impact of localization.

Moderator: Martha Celis-Mendoza
Panelist: Guillermo Don Juan
Panelist: Aline Esperanza Maza Vázquez
Panelist: Jorge de la Vega
Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

Realizing History: Tolkien and the Desire called Marx

Robert Tally

4:30 PM - 5:15 PM

In this talk, I argue that the “realization” of history is an important aim of Tolkien’s art. Tolkien’s desire to create a new mythology for England, which is well known, is in part a response to the shifting ground upon which he stood, in reaction to what Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifestohad called the “constant revolutionizing” and the “cosmopolitan character” of bourgeois society, industrial civilization, imperialism, and the rise of monopoly capital. Tolkien’s yearning for a mythic past, despite its clear nationalism and chauvinism at first, reflected a deep desire to connect his modern world with an august, barely accessible past through forms of historical narrative. This is not an escape into a mythical, premodern realm as is frequently imagined. Rather, it is an attempt to take the broken and disconnected fragments of culture and put them together into a meaningful history, evoking what Tolkien would call “the seamless web of story.” Fredric Jameson, following Jean-François Lyotard, refers to this as “the desire called Marx,” in effect an urgent need to connect up the various shreds in the fabric of history to form a continuous narrative. Tolkien’s experiments with different genres and styles betray the difficulties he had in organizing this overall narrative project, but his impulse in producing a grand narrative involving myth, fairy story, romance, history, and the modern novelistic form is to give shape to a world that had, in his view, lost its sense. Through his efforts, Tolkien’s great legendarium provides a history for a world that had forgotten how to think historically.

Tech Mod: Cami Agan

Spoilers & Sequels; Bifurcated Fandoms in the Age of Adaptation

Joseph Young
Paul Tankard
Lana Whited

4:30 PM - 5:15 PM

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies launched a new era of adaptations of fantasy. The resulting adaptations—of the works of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, George R.R. Martin, the Marvel superhero tradition and much else besides—now have fan bases often wholly separate 23 from those of their literary source texts. Rather than dwelling on what any given example gets ‘wrong’ or ‘right,’ this panel discussion will consider this bifurcation of the audience of a popular literary genre. If, as Tom Shippey suggests, fantasy deserves to be taken seriously because of its popularity, what are the ramifications of atomising the popular followings of these texts into “book-readers” and “show-watchers”? How has this division altered the experience of being a fan, scholar or teacher of such texts? And do the adaptations offer the same Tolkienian Recovery that make the source texts as resonant as they are?"

Moderator: Joe Young
Panelist: Paul Tankard
Panelist: Lana Whited
Tech Mod: Joan Marie Verba.

Sunday, August 1st
10:00 AM

Cities and Strongholds of Middle-earth, Part 2

Cami Agan
Maria Alberto
Rebecca Davis
Kenton Sena
Kaelyn Harris

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

The Cities and Strongholds of Middle-earth panels bring together eight of the chapters to appear in the upcoming volume of the same name from MythPress. The volume explores the habitations of Middle-earth across the ages, as well as the cultures responsible for those built structures. Presenters will briefly explain their chapters in order to leave plenty of room for discussion.

Moderator: Cami Agan
Panelist: Maria Alberto
Panelist: Rebecca Davis
Panelists: Kenton Sena and Kaelyn Harris
Tech Mod: Holly Felmlee

Eärendil’s Errand and “Errantry”

Janet Brennan Croft
David Bratman
David Emerson
Verlyn Flieger

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

Tolkien’s love of word play legitimizes considering the linguistic closeness of errantry, Eärendil , and errand. This leads to the points this panel will consider: Tolkien has more than once taken themes and motifs first used in a lighter story and woven them, in more serious form, into his broader legendarium; for example, The Hobbit’s Bard presages Aragorn, and its lower-case ring the centrally important Ring of the longer work. Eärendil is supposed to have been the subject of one of the great tales, but we never get it in its full form, or more comparably, in multiple forms over many years in various degrees of fullness, like the story of Beren and Lúthien. Do the points of similarity between “Errantry” and “Eärendil was a mariner” deserve a closer look? In addition to the reused metrical format, parallel incidents, repeated vocabulary and even lines, there is“bewilderment” and wakening from it to remember an errand—an errand never defined for us, as Eärendil’s tale is never fully defined.

Moderator: Janet Brennan Croft
Panelist: David Emerson
Panelist: David Bratman
Panelist: Verlyn Flieger
Tech Mod: Alicia Fox-Lenz.

The Philosophy and Theology of Fairy-Stories: Fantasy, Escape, Recovery, and Consolation

Giovanni Costabile

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

In his seminal 1939 Andrew Lang lecture “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien proposed what we might term his most extensive pronouncement on his own fiction and underlying poetics, as well as an analysis of Fairy-Stories constituting a referential and authoritative statement on the matter. The importance of the subsequently published text, chiefly cited from Christopher Tolkien's posthumous edited version in The Monsters and the Critics, or, more recently, in Douglas A. Anderson's and Verlyn Flieger's critical edition, simply cannot be overstated.

In the light of such awareness, I would like to examine Tolkien's antecedents as far as his chief arguments are concerned, beginning with fellow Pembroke College Professor Robert George Collingwood's philosophy as published in 2004 from the manuscript of his 1936 Folk Lore Society lectures, by the title The Philosophy of Enchantment, which was paraphrased in titling the present account. In fact, Collingwood therein touched on many of the subjects treated in Tolkien's lecture, also agreeing with him in many respects, therefore an evaluation should be given as to how the two thinkers' minds stand in comparison to each other, especially regarding, for example, their common references concerning the study of the origins of Fairy-Stories, their shared critique of the exclusive association of aforesaid tales with children, as well as their concepts of Magic and Enchantment, and their negative views on modern technology. Subsequently, I would like to focus on the key terms of Tolkien's theory of Subcreation by pointing out how all four—Fantasy, Escape, Recovery, and Consolation—powerfully resound with theological significance, and even more strikingly so in the case of the latter couple. Fantasy in its technical theological meaning was compared to God's light bestowing understanding to human minds in Reginald Pecock's 15th century theological treatise titled The Book of Faith. Pecock's The Rule of Christian Religion is also an example of the conception of Christian Salvation as Escape from damnation. In another work, titled Patience, of the anonymous 14th century of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which Tolkien edited, line 394 reads: “Alle cryed for care to þe Kyng of heven, Recoverer of þe Creator þay cryed uch one”. Finally, the Consolator par excellence, according to the New Testament, is the Holy Spirit, whom is sent by God to the Apostles after Christ's ascension to Heaven. It is interesting to point this out, also in the light of another known fact hardly pointed out in this respect, although probably relevant: despite the awareness that Tolkien may have been influenced by 6th century thinker Boethius, especially in his Old English translation, seemingly it has always escaped the critic's eye the fact that his referential work so translated is titled: The Consolation of Philosophy.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

11:00 AM

From Malacandra to Mars: Representations of the Red Planet in C. S. Lewis, Robert Sawyer, and Andy Weir

William Thompson

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

In his introduction to Visions of Mars: Essays on the Red Planet in Fiction and Science, Howard V. Hendrix suggests that the long-standing fascination with the red planet emerges from an unspoken anxiety around the extinction of the species. According to Hendrix, the “fascination with the Neanderthals, like our fascination with greenhouse-blasted Venus or with Martians of the Dying Planet scenario, arises from forebodings that such scenarios present ourselves and our world as viewed—both seen and dreamed—through a funhouse mirror” (Hendrix 10).

The ongoing fascination with mars has resulted in texts that treat the red planet in strikingly different ways. In C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, Elwin Ransom is forcibly reminded of his reading of Wellsian science fiction after overhearing his captors, Devine and Weston, speak of sorns. Ransom is overcome by a vision of the alien: “No insect-like, vermiculate or crustacean Abominable, no twitching feelers, rasping wings, slimy coils, curling tentacles, no monstrous union of superhuman intelligence and insatiable cruelty seemed to him anything but likely on an alien world” (Lewis 49). His subsequent experience of the utopian world of Malacandra is offset by Weston’s imperial, colonialist vision, in which Weston foresees Malacandra as a stepping-stone for the future of humanity. Weston’s colonialist vision is darkly realized in Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues, a book that follows in the tradition of texts anticipating the colonization of the red planet, such as Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. Red Planet Bluesis a futuristic, cautionary tale of the exploitation of the red planet, in which the alien is recast in terms of the insipid, commercial concerns of New Klondike, a frontier town characterized by its prospectors, prostitutes, seedy bars, and corrupt police. Conversely, Andy Weir’s The Martian recasts Mars in terms of scientific exploration. Weir grounds the story of Mark Watney’s survival in scientific terms—extracting oxygen from hydrazine, growing potatoes, and planning his three-thousand-kilometre trip to Schiaparelli. At the same time, The Martian is a re-imagining of the Robinson Crusoe story, an eighteenth -century text rife with imperialist overtones. Each of these texts demonstrates a similar fascination with the alienness of the red planet and the question of human habitation. Weston’s vision of human progress is spiritually bankrupt, which is in turn realized in Sawyer’s New Klondike. The Martian is driven by scientific curiosity, but Weir returns again and again to the utter desolation of the Martian landscape. I want to argue that these texts continue to re-imagine and re-assess the future of humanity in relation to the red planet, and that more than ever, narratives of Mars serve as a mirror for the anxieties around human progress, from the spiritual to the scientific to the ecological.

Tech Mod: Holly Felmlee.

Lil Nas X’s Montero: A Visual Mythology.

Alicia Fox-Lenz

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

Come join us for a discussion about the music video that broke the internet in 2021. We will host a watch along followed by a deep discussion about the philosophical and mythological visual elements at play in this video, and how they relate to the queer experience in America.

Moderator: Alicia Fox-Lenz
Panelist: Jessica Dickinson Goodman
Tech Mod: Tim Lenz.

Transmedia Mythopoeia: Towards an Interactive Mythology?

Brian Thomson

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

You enter a bookstore and go to the fantasy section. You pick a book. You open it. As you flip through the pages, you suppose, unsurprisingly, that this book contains a fair amount of lore and a map. Why would it not? This is standard practice in fantasy: How else would you immerse your reader in a novel without building a “believable” world? Nonetheless, mythopoeia is not limited to the book form. Films, television series, and videogames also form part of mythopoeia. Storytelling need not be limited to one medium either, or even one at a time, especially when the boundaries are blurred. Transmedia storytelling, for example, is a narrative technique whereby a story is told through different media platforms, usually digital, but sometimes include reality itself. Commentators have noted that the Adventure and Romance Agency, an odd business specializing in creating adventures for their clients in G.K. Chesterton’s Club of Queer Trades, foreshadowed the creation of the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) based upon this concept. Today, this fiction has become a reality. With the advent of the internet, extended reality technology, and artificial intelligence—which have shown storytelling potential—reality has opened itself to be gamified, as well as narrativized, in completely new ways. What will this mean for the mythopoeic works of the future?

Moderator: Brian Thomson
Tech Mod: Leslie Donovan.

12:00 PM

Fairy Tale Retellings for the Modern World.

Sarena Ulibarri
Reese Hogan
Charlotte Honigman
Wendy Nikel
Lissa Sloan

12:00 PM - 12:45 PM

Fairy tales have timeless appeal for both audiences and creators, especially when they’re updated in a way that speaks to modern sensibilities or are mashed up with another genre to create something familiar yet fresh. Several authors will discuss what’s behind the impulse to retell fairy tales, as well as the challenges of transferring a traditional tale into a non-traditional setting, such as a steampunk world or a different historical setting.

Moderator: Sarena Ulibarri
Panelist: Reese Hogan
Panelist: Charlotte Honigman
Panelist: Wendy Nikel
Panelist: Lissa Sloan
Tech Mod: Joan Marie Verba.

“Long Anguish and Self-Murdering Thought”: Gollum and the Figure of Jealousy in The Faerie Queene

Anne Acker

12:00 PM - 12:45 PM

This paper argues that Gollum’s story has parallels to the story of Malbecco in The Faerie Queene, and that Gollum should be read as an exploration of jealousy and its relationship to power, represented by the Ring that Gollum covets. In Spenser’s allegory, Malbecco is cuckolded and robbed and retreats to a cave in the mountains where he is transformed into the inhuman shape of Jealousy. While The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory and should not be read as one, Smeagol’s transformation into Gollum has striking similarities to this and other strange metamorphoses of characters who represent jealousy or suspicion. Recognizing this can help us identify traits in Gollum that allow him to be inwardly consumed by lust for the Ring. It is also possible to identify in hobbits character traits, such as generosity, fidelity, and friendship, that counter jealousy and allow them to resist the Ring’s power.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

The Speculative Worldbuilding of ADÁL’s Blueprints for a Nation

Matthew David Goodwin

12:00 PM - 12:45 PM

ADÁL’s Blueprints for a Nation is an art installation that displays artifacts from the conceptual nation of El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico. This imaginal nation expresses the unique social and linguistic experience of Puerto Ricans living off the island, and its principle tool is speculative worldbuilding. This essay examines two of the speculative roots of Blueprints for a Nation. First, the essay explores “El Mapagraph,” the fictional map of the nation that is in the shape of a domino and that alludes to the common practice of mapping utopias and fantasy worlds. The work also makes clear by its location as “west of Eden” that it is not only working against perfect utopianism, but also the perception of the U.S. that Puerto Rico is primarily significant as a natural resource, a paradise vacation spot, for citizens on the mainland. Second, this essay examines the photos series Out of Focus Nuyoricans that is part of the installation and that has its roots in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. This series demonstrates how this conceptual nation becomes more than a thought experiment. ADÁL specifically developed the photo series along with his Puerto Rican passport project which was implemented though live-performances. The passport has also at times functioned as an actual passport throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. The essay ends with an articulation of the ways that speculative worldbuilding can be combined with political and aesthetic purposes to create a unique real-fantasy world.

Tech Mod: Phillip Fitzsimmons.

1:00 PM

Q&A with Unofficial Mythsoc Historian Lee Speth

Alicia Fox-Lenz
Lee Speth

1:00 PM - 1:45 PM

An attendee of Mythcon 3 and a Steward since 1979, Lee Speth has been called the Mythopoeic Society's unofficial historian. Usually "trapped" behind the Mythopoeic Society Merchandise Table at Mythcons, this year he is free to contribute to programming and regale us with stories from bygone times. Come ask Lee about the history of the Mythopoeic Society, Golfimbul, and general shenanigans.

Moderator: Alicia Fox-Lenz
Tech Mod: Megan Abrahamson.

The Personhood of Nature in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium

Sophia Parrila

1:00 PM - 1:45 PM

This paper argues that J. R. R. Tolkien’s portrayal of plants, animals, and geographical features as morally complex persons is central to the ecocentric model of environmental stewardship developed within Tolkien’s Legendarium. Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings endow non-human beings such as animals, plants, and even rivers with personhood by emphasizing their individuality, their capacity for interpersonal relationships, and their agency to make moral choices. I build on work done by critics such as Susan Jeffers (Arda Inhabited), and Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans (Ents, Elves, and Eriador) to find a practicable and inspirational environmental ethic in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. The most common philosophical framework for analyzing Tolkien’s environmentalism is a Catholic model of stewardship. But a traditional stewardship ethic, in which environmental responsibility belongs to human beings acting as God’s stewards, risks falling into anthropocentrism or a sense of entitlement over a nature that is understood as resources existing for human extraction. By analyzing three of Tolkien’s works—The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and the unfinished story “Aldarion and Erendis”—this paper argues that Tolkien was aware of the limits of human environmental stewardship. Tolkien’s Catholic Christian background and his deep love for natural features interact to create an ecological ethic indebted to the stewardship model, but in which humanity does not have a monopoly on stewardship, and in which the value of non-human Creation comes directly from its personhood.

Tech Mod: Cait Rottler.

2:00 PM

Faerie Reality in The Spiral Dance by Rodrigo Garcia y Robertson

Robert Tredray

2:00 PM - 2:45 PM

Garcia y Robertson's The Spiral Dance begins as a historical novel set in the time of the rebellion led by the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Westmoreland against Elizabeth I in 1569, told from the point of view of Anne, Countess of Northumberland. It is also an epic or heroic fantasy; besides Lady Anne, two of its main characters are a werewolf named Jock and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Their adventures carry them not only to the highlands of Scotland but to the realm of Faerie. The author's theme is that one must lose all one has before one can be truly transformed—or, to put it another way, before one can discover one's true self. It may be read as an extended meditation on the nature of reality and illusion, and the discovery of true identity. Thus it is a classic Quest tale. Like Bilbo Baggins, Anne goes “there and back again,” and returns changed. So have heroes from Gilgamesh to Odysseus to Sir Gawain to Luke Skywalker. But the author's original contribution to this genre is his conception of Faerie. We are accustomed to think of the ordinary world as real, and of Faerie as the land of illusion. But in Garcia y Robertson's fictional universe, the ordinary world is a place of illusion, where things are seldom what they seem, and Faerie is the realm of reality, where illusion is impossible, and all things are seen for what they really are. In this paper I shall explore how the author uses this conceit to pursue his theme, with references to J. R. R. Tolkien and Sir Thomas of Ercildoun. I hope to show how this master storyteller gives his readers a rollicking tale of warfare and witchcraft, which is also an extended spiritual meditation on identity, illusion, and reality.

Tech Mod: Holly Felmlee.

How Mythopoeic Stories Carve Space For Change

Rivera Sun

2:00 PM - 2:45 PM

Mythopoeic writings have the capacity to carve out space for new visions, radical thought, and social change. Join Rivera Sun for a roundtable discussion on how this has impacted us as readers (or writers) in our own lives. We'll also explore how far these writings can push the envelope before society starts pushing back. Where are the boundaries that can't be crossed, and how can mythopoeic stories help shift those boundaries on behalf of social change? What role does perceived market demand or pushback play in how publishers either constrain or support stories that help us imagine a new world into existence?

Moderator: Rivera Sun
Tech Mod: Leslie Donovan.

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.

John Rosegrant

2:00 PM - 2:45 PM

In this presentation I explore why Tolkien singled out for particular appreciation the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Juniper Tree, which Tatar (Annotated Grimm 209) has called “the most shocking of all fairy tales.” In On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien described its effect on him as follows: “The beauty and horror of The Juniper Tree…with its exquisite and tragic beginning, the abominable cannibal stew, the gruesome bones, the gay and vengeful bird-spirit coming out of a mist that rose from the tree, has remained with me since childhood; and yet always the chief flavor of that tale lingering in the memory was not beauty or horror, but distance and a great abyss of time... Without the stew and the bones … that vision would largely have been lost …Such stories… open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself, maybe” (OFS 56). Tolkien is saying that his main response to The Juniper Tree was an experience of enchantment rather than horror, but that horror was a necessary element in producing this enchantment. By thinking about why Tolkien focused on the cannibalism (My Father He Ate Me) rather than the murder (My Mother She Killed Me) in this fairy tale, and investigating anthropological and psychological understandings of cannibalism, I will develop the idea that Tolkien’s appreciation of this fairy tale stemmed from his experience of enchantment tangling at its edges with horror and the uncanny. In his response to The Juniper Tree, like in much of his legendarium, Tolkien situated himself at a complex, ambiguous balance point between communion and alienation, between joy and loss.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

3:00 PM

Race, Racisms, and Tolkien

Megan Abrahamson
Robin Reid
Craig Franson
Will Sherwood
Helen Young

3:00 PM - 3:45 PM

The small but growing body of work on race in Tolkien studies includes medievalist, modernist, and postmodernist approaches analyzing Tolkien's or Jackson's texts and, increasingly games and transformative works. The release of the films accelerated debate over the question of racism, especially in relation to the origin and nature of the Orcs. The context for this scholarship includes the growing attention to medieval constructions of race in response to the idealization of an imagined White Middle Ages among neo-fascist and white supremacist groups. Dimitra Fimi has shown in Tolkien, Race and Cultural History that Tolkien's construction of the races of Middle-earth was not limited to his medievalist knowledge but responded to the contemporary scientific and popular knowledge about race and racism of his lifetime. Helen Young, in Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness, traces how Tolkien and Robert E. Howard's fiction established racialized tropes in genre fantasy, tracing not only literature but fan cultures and the effects of digital communications. This roundtable examines the current state of the scholarship, the gaps that exist, and the exclusions that have hampered consideration of constructions of race in Tolkien's work (including reliance upon authorial intentionality, disciplinary and methodological differences, and the lack of attention paid to Whiteness as a raced category). Robin Anne Reid will discuss her plans for an anthology on race, racisms, and Tolkien and her recent work with "The Free Orcs AU" (a transformative work). Craig Franson will discuss the history of Tolkien's reception and appropriation by white supremacists. Will Sherwood will discuss the impact of the Tolkien Society's recent seminar on the theme of Tolkien and Diversity. Megan Abrahamson will showcase some Silmarillion fanart and explore the Tumblr subcultures that, by diversifying portrayals of characters who have not (yet) been codified in film, plumb new depths of fantasy worldbuilding where the socially constructed concept of race is truly different from our own. Helen Young will discuss why understanding whiteness as a raced category is important for reading Tolkien and why critical readings are inherently hopeful, and open up who can love Tolkien.

Moderators: Megan Abrahamson, Robin Anne Reid
Panelist: Craig Franson
Panelist: Will Sherwood
Panelist: Helen Young
Tech Mod: Tim Lenz.

Spray-painting the Sistine Chapel: Aesthetic Problems in Leaf by Niggle

John Holmes

3:00 PM - 3:45 PM

No work of the allegoriphobic Tolkien is more manifestly allegorical than his short story “Leaf By Niggle.” Because of the story’s unmistakably allegorical nature, when the reader encounters the four-word sentence that opens the second paragraph—“Niggle was a painter”—the initial response might justly be to read “painter” in a more generic sense to mean “artist in general.” Indeed, the best criticism of this story tends to read Niggle’s problem as an analogue of Tolkien’s problem as sub-creator of Middle-earth, primarily in writing. But because Tolkien’s rendering of Middle-earth sometimes took form in pencil sketches and watercolors as well, Niggle’s painterly dilemmas sometimes illuminate particular compositional challenges, dilemmas of form and texture that Tolkien had himself encountered and solved in his drawings and paintings. This paper will enumerate the problems specifically identified in the story. These problems include:

1. Detail vs. Design. Niggle is described as “the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees.” Yet he wants to paint whole forests, yet with each leaf in that forest as perfect and as individual as the single leaves he paints so well. A look at some of Tolkien’s most successful landscapes will explore how he resolves the tension between the part and the whole, a quality medieval theorists of beauty (particularly Aquinas and Bonaventure) call integritas.

2. “Spray” Painting. Niggle’s most nagging problem is the “treatment” of a “spray” he imagines in his painting. In medieval manuscript illumination—the one artform on which Tolkien could reasonably claim authority—the primary meaning of “spray” is “images of foliage emanating from large capital letters.” By 1300 “the spray” became the cliché perch for “briddes” in lyric poetry (Barbour, Bruce 16.64; Chaucer Topas59). Compositionally, Niggle imagines the spray as a foregrounding to create depth with the nearest design element, a distant mountain to the left. Illustrations of Tolkien using this technique will be shown.

3. Legibility. The permeability of the boundaries between painting and storytelling is betrayed when Atkins—Niggle’s schoolmaster—said of the only scrap surviving from Niggle’s painting was “damaged but still legible.” In what sense is a painting “legible”? Is that the right word? Well, it is revealing.

4. Visual Imagination and Eternity. The essentially incompatibility of overall design with the ambition of spending Niggle-like attention to every leaf in a forest of millions (no exaggeration: a mature oak has 200,000 leaves, so it only takes five trees to make a million leaves). Impossible for a single artist even in the CGI era (sit through the credits of a CGI film if you think computers totally eliminate Niggle’s problem), in a single lifetime. But given eternity—well, that explains the ending of Tolkien’s story.

As much as possible, I hope to illustrate each of these four issues with art by Tolkien in my presentation.

Tech Mod: Cami Agan.

Sterner Stuff: Sansa Stark and the System of Gothic Fantasy

Joseph Young

3:00 PM - 3:45 PM

George R.R. Martin’s characterisation of Sansa Stark is among the contentious aspects of the reception of A Song of Ice and Fire. The violence, indignities and threats heaped upon Sansa have been described as gratuitous, cited as evidence of an unusually cold-hearted writer, and marshalled as evidence by those querying the story’s feminist credibility. Sansa’s passive acceptance of such mistreatment could mark her as a character denuded of agency, which would seem either tasteless or a serious misstep by an author of stated feminist sympathies.

In an alternate reading, however, Sansa’s travails and her capacity to absorb them mark her as a heroine recognisable in William Patrick Day’s system of Gothic fantasy. Despite (indeed, because of) her determination to become a chivalric damsel, Sansa is carefully established as possessing recognisably modern characteristics. She is then thrust unknowingly into a medievalist world that carries numerous resonances of the Gothic tradition, particularly in its capacity as a vehicle of systemic barbarism, violence and abuse. In accordance with Day’s system, Sansa’s capacity to absorb passively this abuse serves a dual purpose. It enters the barbarism of Westeros into the narrative record, damning her persecutors as atavistic monsters, while her ability to cope with such atavism demonstrates the capacity of modern sensibilities to overcome the perceived iniquities of the past. This point becomes particularly clear when Sansa is compared to her brother Robb, who in his relentless but fruitless attempt to overcome the world around him clearly instantiates Day’s construction of the archetypical Gothic male hero. The Gothic world is set up to defeat modern action, but cannot outlast determined passivity; in the context of Day’s model, Sansa is a far more effective opponent of Westeros’s carefully stage-managed iniquities than any of her relations.

Tech Mod: Jessica Dickinson Goodman.