Kalamazoo 2017: Report

The Tales after Tolkien Society continued its work at the 2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. One formal and one semi-formal event were on offer: a panel of papers and an off-program Annual General Meeting. Records of both appear below.

The Panel

The Society sponsored Session 190 at the Congress, Growing Up Medieval: The Middle Ages in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The session featured three papers: William Racicot’s “The Dream Frame of Baum’s Wizard of Oz,” Rachel Cooper’s “Women Piercing through the Medieval Fantasy Genre: A Look at Tamora Pierce’s Influence on Women in Medieval Fantasy,” and Carrie Pagels’s “Heralds of the Queen: Upholding and Subverting the Medieval Ideal through Girl Power, Sexuality, and le Merveilleux in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Series.” Geoffrey B. Elliott presided over the session.

Racicot holds a PhD from Duquesne and specializes in dream visions; he is also at work on a book for McFarland that assesses Victorian and Edwardian fiction as succeeding medieval dream visions. His paper reads Baum’s Wizard of Oz in that light, presenting it as a recapitulation of the traditional dream-vision narrative arc and connecting it in detail to Chaucer and the Pearl-poet. Racicot also highlights the allegorical nature of Oz and its inhabitants, ultimately offering a satisfying argument about the early work.

Cooper is a student at the University of Saskatchewan, focusing in medieval literature. A young scholar, she examines Pierce’s influence on readers and writers of medievalist fantasy. Her project surveyed a number of readers, noting a gender-biased response; no self-identified men answered her emails, something she posits may be due to the presence of other models for masculine readers to follow–and a relative dearth of such models for feminine readers. The project is promising, and future treatments are hoped for.

Pagels has been a member of the Society and works in French at Saint Mary’s College. After offering abundant context for a less-familiar cycle of works, her paper interrogates Lackey’s appropriation of the medieval and the merveilleux in her Valdemar novels, noting that the author works against popular but not scholarly conceptions of the Middle Ages in the corpus. A number of common archetypes find themselves subverted in the texts, and many in attendance found themselves desiring to read Lackey’s work.

Discussion following the papers was lively and engaging, marking another successful performance by the Society at the Congress.

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Per §5.1 of the Society Constitution, an Annual General Meeting of the Tales after Tolkien Society was held during the 2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies; in the event, it occurred in the same room as had hosted the Tales after Tolkien panel, beginning at approximately 1130 on 12 May 2017. Geoffrey B. Elliott, Vice-President (USA), presided; Stephanie Amsel, Secretary, recorded minutes. Present (by signature) were Rachel Cooper, Sarah Jenkins, Julia Nephew, Carrie Pagels, Bill Racicot, and Stavros Stavroulias.

Initial agenda items were proposals for session topics for the 2018 Congress, the possibility of a new Society volume (and its topic, if desired), and collaboration with other organizations such as the Lone Medievalist.

It was determined that the Society will propose two sessions for the 2018 Congress. One, Reclaiming the Dead and the Undead, will focus on appropriations of medieval concepts of un/death in contemporary media, attending to how the medieval corporeal/spiritual divide is reinscribed and transgressed thereby. The second, Medievalism in Metal, will examine medievalism in contemporary music, both in songs and in groups’ iconography.

It was also determined that the Society will pursue another volume, since the first two (The Middle Ages in Popular Culture: Medievalism and Genre and Fantasy and Science Fiction Medievalisms: From Isaac Asimov to A Game of Thrones, both edited by Helen Young, and both Cambria P, 2015) were well received and informed the Society being a finalist for the 2016 World Fantasy Awards. After discussion, it was determined that the volume will be an edited collection focusing on religion in medievalist fiction.

Calls for papers are forthcoming.

Collaboration with other groups was noted as desirable, the principle generally agreed upon. Coordination will be determined on an individual basis, but it is encouraged as a matter of policy by the Society.

Agenda items concluded, the floor was opened to the discussion of other business. Upcoming elections were treated; four of the five offices in the Society (President, Vice President [At-large], Vice President [USA], and Secretary) will be open. Proposed was an amendment to the Society constitution to stagger officers’ positions to promote overlap and continuity. A draft amendment will be sent out to Society members for a brief commentary period, after which a meeting on ratification (required by §7 of the Society Constitution) will be conducted–likely online, as permitted by §5 of the Society Constitution).

Also noted was the possibility that the next AGM be held in similar circumstances to that conduced in 2017. Ease of access was cited as a cause.

The AGM adjourned at approximately 1230 on 12 May 2017.

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This information also appears on the Society blog, www.talesaftertolkien.blogspot.com.

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