Hippoi Athanatoi

WorldCon: Day 2 - Part 2

After the panel and the chat with George, we ran into most everyone outside of the Armadillo. They were preparing to take off for the Lannister vs. Starks (amended to Everyone else) football game, but Linda and I begged off for a panel, being killjoys. ;) We got in somewhat late to the 2:00 PM “What’s New from Voyager” panel, featuring Jane Johnson (publishing director) and Emma Coode (editor), where it was clear the impending release of A Feast for Crows led off the program. We came too late to catch all of it, but towards the end Jane said something interesting regarding the plot of the books (which we’ll leave for the So Spake Martin collection). She did discuss a number of other works, a number which were very interesting to the both of us. They included the sequel to Sarah Micklem‘s Firethorn (which we haven’t actually read as of yet, but we do plan to), the final Lynn Flewelling novel in the Tamir Triad, the latest Deverry book by Katherine Kerr, and Naomi Novik‘s Temeraire (described as a sort of Patrick O’Brien meets Jane Austen, with dragons); Ms. Novik was there and seemed a little shell-shocked about it, especially when the audience went up to try and get an excerpt booklet of her novel and have her sign them. We tried to get up there, but too slow, alas.

We asked whether the U.K. hardcovers would be republished at some point with the new cover, which turned out to be the topic we missed because we were late. Oops. But she was happy to say again that they weren’t—simply too expensive for them—and that they sincerely apologized. We believe ‘em. On that topic, a lot was said regarding the British book trade and how shabbily it treated genre literature. The new covers were, for example, an attempt to get booksellers to stock more of the books. Another issue that was brought up was that some multi-novel series don’t say that clearly on the front or back cover, and that’s because the booksellers feel that if someone sees “Book 2” without seeing its predecessor, they won’t buy it. Jane also mentioned how she wrote to a number of papers and their book reviewers following Tolkien’s victory in the ” Book of the Millenium” poll, suggesting that it was perhaps time that they started giving fantasy more attention, but she’s gotten not a single response. It sounds, on the whole, to be a pretty unpleasant situation for publishers like Voyager, and I hope they persevere.

Following this, we had about 30 minutes to kill, and what we did with them has escaped me. Our next panel was part of the academic track, “Questioning Camelot” with Edward James (moderator), Dr. Faye Ringel, and Dr. Kari Maund. Dr. Maund started first with her paper, “The Myths of Avalon: Celtic realities and Arthurian fantasy.” It was devoted to looking at the roots sources of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s depiction of 6th-century Britain in The Mists of Avalon and debunking many of the details therein which have become practically gospel among neo-pagans (Dr. Maund claimed that the one book which was almost always found on a pagan’s bookshelf was TMoA). It was quite illuminating, particularly as I have long held a similar stance regarding the novel. Its historicity is beguiling, but simply wrong, and Bradley betrays a strong anti-Christian agenda (IMHO, in any case). Also, like Dr. Maund, claims that I say such things, “Because you’re a Christian” aren’t true—I’m agnostic, and I dislike significant aspects of the book because it sets up Christianity as a straw man for no particularly good reason… from my own perspective. For others, however, I’m sure it served its purpose well. Certainly, a lot of craft went into the novel, and there are details I enjoy, but on the whole I’d say I consider it a pernicious influence for those who swallow it all wholesale.

Dr. Maund did mitigate it somewhat by pointing out that Bradley’s sources at the time were quite poor. Even today, she says, the number of Celtic historians and scholars is vanishingly small. She mentioned some quite interesting things along the way, as well—for example, possible signs of accepted homosexual relations among the Rhine Celts around 1st century (B.C., but perhaps A.D), although she also noted that this possible evidence was certainly not a norm. Other details she discussed were the common notion that Celtic women had many more rights—owning property, heading a family, etc.—than they actually did. A woman could inherit property only if she was the only heir to a family. All her life, she was essentially property—first her father’s, then her husband’s, and then her sons’. The common fantasy trope of Celtic women as birds, travelling freely, is a falsehood—if a woman left her tribal lands alone, she was no one’s property and would most likely be raped and/or murdered. I was surprised at this, having bought into the notion that Celtic women were so much freer than, say, Anglo-Saxon women of a similar time, but it simply isn’t the case. All in all, an excellent and illuminating paper. I’ll have to dig into some newer works on Celtic society, I’ve a feeling.

Dr. Ringel’s was an amusing paper on the use of Arthuriana in late 19th century America, titled “When Knighthood was in Flour”. A lot of this I did not know before. For example, the Ku Klux Klan’s founders attempted to hearken back to the days of their alleged forebears, the proud clans of medieval Scotland. I’m afraid this paper, while interesting, wasn’t really in an area of interest of mine, so I didn’t take notes. The most memorable moment was when she described the “Queens of Avalon” a girl’s league associated with the boys’ “Knights of King Arthur”, in which the girls were encouraged to take names such as Lady Victoria of England and the like. We didn’t stay for the Q&A afterwards, even though it would have been interesting to hear a bit more on both essays (especially Dr. Maund’s), as we had a pair of panels to attend at 5:00 PM in the Argyle suites.

Linda and I split up, as she wanted to see a panel on translation while I was interested in “Realistic Swordfighting”, with Mark Hilyard. This was the first program item we went to where the room was too small for all of those interested in the program. I wasn’t able to find a seat, nor were many of the Bros., a number of which had turned up for the program (mormont, Lady mormont, Maltaran, bastard of godsgrace, and Sophelia [with notepad in hand] were a few I remember). I didn’t take notes, but some pictures can be found in the gallery. Mark was charming and informative, and illustrated his commentary both with an overhead display (mostly projecting images from late medieval or Renaissance manuals) and with the help of an assistant (usually executing their reconstruction of what those fighting manuals seemed to show). He worked some good jokes in, for example poking fun at Hollywood’s depiction of big, brawny men as the ideal swordsman with a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the schlocky Red Sonja, or going through a bit of roleplay as he and the audience went back and forth with dialogue from the big duel between the masked man and Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. All in all, it was an excellent demonstration, revealing a bit about how practical European martial arts were compared to the more esoteric forms found in the East; while mysticism did play its part in certain schools of defense, for the most part it was really just focused on winning a fight.

Linda’s report on the translation panel will follow, and then it’s on to the first of two presentations on the A Song of Ice and Fire miniatures coming from Testors and a wrap up with Friday night partying.

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