As usual, the event was jam-packed. Over only two full days, there were forty-five presentations (four of them plenary). Of these, thirty-four dealt with C.S. Lewis, fifteen with J.R.R. Tolkien (including mine), three with Charles Williams, two each with G.K. Chesterton and Dante Alighieri, and one each with George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, J.K. Rowling, and H.G. Wells. Note that the numbers add up to more than forty-five, because many papers dealt with more than one author. Moreover, papers by a couple of talented undergraduate students from Oral Roberts University dealt with three authors each: Abby Griffin looked at Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams; and Jonathan Hall talked about Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.
Schedules as packed as this one, with as many as three sessions running simultaneously, always present some tough choices. I chose eighteen papers catering (mostly) to my own personal interests and tastes. Some highlights (kept to a few, for the sake of brevity, and given in the order I heard them):
(1) Abby Griffin’s look at Adamic figures in the works of the Inklings; during the Q&A, I suggested Abby take a look at “The Tale of Adanel”, from Tolkien’s Athrabeth;
(2) Mike Milburn’s investigation into Tolkien’s idea of Truth (capital T); Mike has an essay in the forthcoming volume of Tolkien Studies;
(3) Joe Christopher’s thoughtful inquiry into the significance of Lewis’s allusions to Dante in his early poem, “The Nameless Isle”;
(4) Emily Redman’s paper on the seven deadly sins in Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader; Emily contrasted Lewis’s representation of these sins with that seen in the 13th and 14th centuries — in Dante and the anonymous morality play, Mankind, respectively;
(5) Jonathan Himes’s close look at the Bodleian manuscript of Lewis’s controversial and unfinished novel, The Dark Tower; it was especially exciting to hear Jonathan discuss unpublished fragments that Lewis struck from the manuscript.
The plenary presentations were (as usual) in a class entirely by themselves. Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia, gave an enthralling two-part talk (some two hours of material altogether). In it, he summarized the findings he has published in his book, and he discussed how the insight came to him. A wonderful speaker, he had us on the edge of our seats — not easy to do first thing in the morning. For those of you who couldn’t see him in person, you must read his book!
Diana Glyer gave a terrific and lively after-banquet keynote speech, in which she discussed the central hypothesis of her own book, The Company They Keep: whether, and to what extent, Lewis and Tolkien (and to a lesser degree, the other Inklings) influenced one another, and moreover, what “influence” itself really means. I say “hypothesis”, but the persuasive power of Diana’s argument is such that it is hardly that any longer. I regard it as established fact. If you haven’t read Diana’s book, put it on your list as well. Go ahead and do it right now. I’ll wait.
Finally, a real gem, the very Arkenstone of the entire weekend’s embarrassment of riches: Diana Glyer and Michael Ward performed a reading of selected letters from the unpublished (as yet) correspondence of Major Warren Lewis and Blanche Biggs, a missionary doctor stationed in Papua New Guinea. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, Warren Lewis? But trust me, their correspondence, of which we heard roughly a quarter of the extant material, was funny, affectionate, clever, and in the end, profoundly moving. It brought tears to my eyes. For anyone thinking of coming to Mythcon in July, we are planning to stage the same performance — take my word for it, you will not want to miss this. (Notice I’ve refrained from my usual habit of peppering a paragraph with exclamation points, just so you’ll take me seriously. Do.)
Oh, and one last thing, at the risk of immodesty (as if the photo above weren’t immodest enough already* :). The CSLIS held a competition this year for the best papers by scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates, and I won first prize in the scholar category — “best in show”, in the words of Diana Glyer. Seventeen papers were submitted for consideration, roughly one in three on the conference schedule, and the winners and runners-up were:
Best Undergraduate Student Paper: “Ringwraiths, Dementors, and the Un-Man: Evil Incarnate in the Worlds of Tolkien, Rowling, and Lewis,” Jonathan Hall, Oral Roberts University
Honorable Mention: “The Yellow-Booted Enigma: Tom Bombadil’s Role in The Lord of the Rings,” B.J. Thome, Oral Roberts University [Great title, eh?]
Best Graduate Student Paper: “The Planetary Architectonics of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy,” Seth Wright, Baylor University [“Look at the big brain on Brett!” ;)]
Honorable Mention: “Blood and Thunder: Penny Dreadfuls and the Novels of G.K. Chesterton,” John C. Moore, Baylor University
Best Scholar Paper: “Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods; J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words,” Jason Fisher, Independent Scholar [My use of alliteration was obviously a cheap trick to curry votes. :)]
Honorable Mention: “A Tryst with the Transcendentals: C.S. Lewis on Goodness, Truth, and Beauty,” Donald T. Williams, Toccoa Falls College
Congratulations to all the other winners! Needless to say, I was thrilled to win, and I am very grateful to the committee (Joe Christopher, Jonathan Himes, and Larry Fink) for taking the time to read and consider so many wonderful submissions. Theirs must have been a very difficult job.
Next year’s CSLIS conference will be held at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma (dates to be determined, but probably a week or two after Easter). I plan to be there, and I hope some of you will too. It was wonderful reconnecting with old friends and making new ones — including people who knew me from this blog, or from Mythprint. What a small world it is, after all. I hope you’ll come out to CSLIS 14 next year, and help make it a little smaller still.
* By the way, I had no idea my hair looked so bad on Saturday! I wish somebody had told me. Ah, well. The silver lining: just when my ego threatens to explode, a couple of unflattering photos appear to let some of the air out.