Discussion Group Calendars and Newsletters

Here’s a column from Hermits’ Pool #2, some years back. used by permission

Discussion Group Calendars & Newsletters

by David Lenander

Newsletters and calendars are often produced by discussion and other groups. What role do these play in furthering the aims of the groups? Obviously, a monthly calendar helps to remind members of the monthly meetings, and can also list other events and activities of interest. Some newsletters, like Avalon’s Andvari,* may list book news of interest. Knossos’ newsletter* listed forthcoming meetings, and included a report on a previous discussion, as well as a sort of editorial/general essay by the editor. Rómenna’s monthly discussion reports were for some years the envy of the discussing world-I included an sample excerpt in Pool #1. *[In this Pool I’ve reproduced some portion of the asterisked newsletters. In the case of Rómenna’s, just the front of a sample issue­the back features a public transit schedule, and a discussion report appeared on a separate page.] The Twin Cities C.S. Lewis Society monthly meeting notice includes a brief note about the previous and current topic, a list of future monthly topics, and on the reverse, a map showing how to reach the suburban locations of their meetings.

Mailed Dragon (a sample issue appeared in Pool #1) is a newsletter listing meetings of a number of groups in southern California, and Norland Chronicles briefly served this function in Northern California, for four DGs of the Mythopoeic Society. Mythprint itself was originally a similar publication, but its national circulation to great numbers of “ungrouped” members resulted in broadening its focus. Gradually it came to include a series of cover illustrations and essays on particular topics, which some groups discussed, while many individual members wrote contributions to the lively letter column agreeing with or disputing these essays, or the reports of group discussions, or previous letters. During this change the Mythopoeic Society turned from a confederation of discussion groups, loosely united by a monthly newsletter, to a much less connected organization, consisting of subscribers to a quarterly journal of “Tolkien, Lewis and Williams and general fantasy studies.”

The conversion of the Northern California Norland Chronicles to a new, national Mythprint in 1980 restored some of the Mythopoeic Society’s focus on DGs, without really replacing the newsletters like Mailed Dragon or Rivendell’s Last Homely Hearth, which had grown up in the interim. Actually, with local groups in other parts of the country unable to really rely on timely mail delivery for meeting notices from California, and generally including lots of non-Mythopoeic Society members in the local discussions, Mythprint never really had served this function. I know that Rivendell (at least) had had to produce its own occasional calendar since its first year, although we often relied on phone calls for monthly meeting reminders.

The cooperative listing of meetings in Mailed Dragon of different groups in the same large metro area, listing groups in and outside of the Mythopoeic Society is also paralleled in a recent trend in the Rivendell Calendar and in some of the other Twin Cities groups: Rivendell often lists meetings of the local spin-offs, the TC C.S. Lewis Society, and the Second Foundation SF DG, as well as the local Horror/Lovecraft/Howard/Ashton-Smith convention and bi-weekly discussions, and most of all, the activites of local SF fandom, Minn-Stf, especially its annual convention, Minicon. In the past we have also cooperatively listed activities by the Friends of Darkover Council of St. Valentine-of-the-Snows and the local Oz Club, both now dormant. Recently, Rivendell and Second Foundation meetings have also been listed in the Minn-Stf monthly newsletter, Einblatt.

I’d be curious to know about similar cooperation with other groups in other areas. One topic that may be usefully discussed in this context is finances. I have over the years received contributions towards calendars and newsletters, but probably never approaching the sum total cost of the issues I’ve mailed out. Postage is a serious consideration, especially if the calendar is to appear on a monthly basis. It’s a lot cheaper to produce & mail fifty quarterly eight-page newsletters (four double-sided sheets) containing a 3 month calendar and also discussion reports or news than to produce a monthly single-sided sheet like Andvari, for instance. If you can piggy back on the calendar of a local SF group like Minn-Stf, you may be able to cut costs even further. Einblatt is available free to those asking to be on its mailing list, and is financed by the annual Minn-Stf convention, which usually earns enough profits that Minn-Stf is looking for ways to spend its retained earnings before the IRS questions its educational, non-profit tax status.

Certainly our discussions of fantasy novels and such contribute to Minn-Stf’s educational purpose. And we have recently cooperated in other ways as well, co-sponsoring the fall educational SF lecture series for the past couple of years, for instance. We have also held our March or April discussion at Minicon for about ten years, which has been good for finding some new members. More importantly, it’s also been good for some interesting discussions, bringing in some cross-fertilization of some people and their points of view that we see once each year and giving us the opportunity to talk directly with some authors, like Jane Yolen, last year, or P.C. Hodgell or Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight.

Like the MythSoc refocusing on Mythlore, some other local newsletters have become the raison d’être of their organizations. Or at least this seems to be in the case of Ravenhill (formerly associated with active meetings of the New England Tolkien Society, now mostly dormant while its newsletter/journals Ravenhill, Raving Hildifons and M–Balinu continue their existence under Gary Hunnewell and others). This may also be true of the American Hobbit Association’s Rivendell Review (which also continues to publish although its DG’s, or Branches, except for Rómenna (which is also a MythSoc DG), are less active than formerly, or so I gather).

I suppose, then, that the success of journal like Mythlore or Ravenhill may signal some failure of the local discussion groups, or cosmic transcendence of the local, while the success of Avalon’s Andvari in a much more abbreviated form, with basically local-only appeal may be encapsulated in that limited appeal and focus. Perhaps this is why the University of Wisconsin Tolkien Society continues to produce its occasional flier/calendar (cleverly using a dragon-border to give it easily recognized identity and eye-appeal when posted-you’ll notice the similarity of this issue to the one included in Pool #1), and Rivendell produces several calendars each year, while the more Ravenhill-like Orcrist and Last Homely Hearth have been dormant for some years, eleven and three, respectively. Knossos has abandoned its short-lived newsletter (see the swansong editorial included here, which responds to Pool #1), perhaps for similar reasons, local activity doesn’t require this kind of documentation on a regular basis, in fact the newsletter may sap energy from where it is better spent.

But suddenly, new stars in our horizon: the Special Interest Groups of the Mythopoeic Society. Well, the old Inklings II Writers’ Workshop has been going for years in Mythril and Mythellaney, but now, its creative impulses are realized more fully than ever in Mythic Circle, which manages to be truly a writers’ workshop in printed form. And suddenly, the Mythlore or Ravenhill-like Parma Eldalamberon is supplemented by a regular and exciting new newsletter, as the Mythopoeic Linguistic Fellowship is reincarnate in the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship’s Vinyar Tengwar. Can this last? I don’t know, but at least within the MythSoc, the old MLF was never so well served. Congratulations to Jorge, Chris, Bill, PNH and the others of the ELF. And to Lynn, Christine, the Andersons and the Callahans, and others of Mythic Circle. Clearly, these groups can only be served by some sort of newsletter, and the letter columns prove that they are.