Mythcon 51: A virtual Halfling” Mythcon

51st annual Mythcon

Session 5

31 July 2021 21:30 utc — view in local time


    № 1: Etiam periere ruinae: Roman ruins, troubled temporality, and H.P. Lovecraft’s alien other

    El Hudson, Wellesley College

    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 (nonhuman, 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.

    № 2: Finding and organizing Tolkien’s invented languages

    Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State University

    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 Middle-earth (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.

    № 3: The fantastic short story: A roundtable

    Vicki Ronn, Associate Professor of English, Friends University

    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?

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    date recorded 📅2022-01-22
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