Starting a Discussion Group

Starting a Discussion Group!

by David Lenander

If there isn’t a group in your immediate area, how about starting one? Sending information on how to get a discussion group started is what I’m supposed to be able to do for you-unfortunately, the best I can do is give you suggestions, and moral support. That is, even if you follow the suggested procedures there is no guarantee that it will work.

In about 1970, when I was a sophomore in high school, I and a friend wrote to the Tolkien Society of America and asked to be listed as a “Smial” in the next quarterly newsletter. For one reason or another that never happened. But in 1972, after the TSA had merged with the Mythopoeic Society, and the monthly newsletter was Mythprint, and the “Smials” had been replaced by “Branches” (which later became “Discussion Groups,”) we tried putting up posters advertising a new Branch in Minnesota. No response. (Of course I must admit that we only put up a couple of posters on two private college campuses-but I didn’t really know how to go about advertising in those days). Finally, in 1973 or 1974, another high school student, Todd Zuhlsdorf, telephoned me and other Mythopoeic Society members in the Twin Cities and told me that he was calling an organizational meeting for a new Branch at the downtown Minneapolis Public Library. That was the first meeting of a group that would become the Rivendell Group–still going twenty-plus years later. To that original meeting came mostly people who had previously been unacquainted. But one of our newest Discussion Groups, “Sheep, Indeed,” in Georgia, was formed by a core of three friends who shared some common interests that lead them to the Mythopoeic Society after they were already meeting on a regular basis as a group.

I think that there are several points illustrated by these anecdotes: 1. It may take several tries to get a group started and going. 2. Inviting the existing Mythopoeic Society members in your area can be helpful. 3. What worked for one group may not be workable for a different group. 4. In the end it’s your effort, persistence and creativity that can make the difference. Let me add a final point, based on my experience and that of many others with whom I’ve had a chance to talk since I took over this job for the Mythopoeic Society: 4. It’s worth the effort. Rivendell has been a central thing in my life–never all-consuming, or even one of the most important things (compared to job, family, religious/philosophical beliefs), but consistently important to me.

Here is a list of tips for starting up a group-please let me know if you have any other suggestions. I can also send some other things, sample posters, or a list of past discussion topics, mostly from the Rivendell Group, because that’s what I have most at hand. But the different groups are very different, one from another, and in no way do I mean to hold up Rivendell as an ideal. I once put together a 20 page newsletter made up of reports from the different DGs, which I thought was a fascinating compendium of ideas and samples from around the country, called The Hermits’ Pool, consisting largely of reports from about a dozen of the DGs, past and present. If you’d like a copy, send $2 for the photocopying to me & I’ll cover the postage. Or let me know if you’d like other things, especially more Rivendell stuff, of which I tend to have lots of extras. More recently, I converted some of the Pool things to a web-page, which is the parent page to this one, by the way!

If you get a group together, and I think even three people isn’t too few, though about five reliable members is really much better, let me know & I’ll send you a copy of the charter for your consideration-but you can’t fill out the form until you’ve met for three consecutive meetings.

If there’s any way that I can help, for instance with putting together a poster, or preparing a press release, or whatever (but your skills in these areas may entirely surpass mine!) let me know, and I’ll try to do as you ask. I have access to a list of members from our Membership Directory, Mything Persons, and could assist with contacting those in your state. (But let me know if you actually live close to the border of a neighboring state-I probably have no idea whereabouts your town is in relation to other states. In college I had a roommate who was from New Jersey, but he actually lived in a suburb of Philadelphia). I could ask Ellie Farrell to list you in the next few issues of Mythprint as a potential Discussion Group organizer, if you’d like that, but the web-page Activity Calendar listing is likely to be of more help.

In the meantime, you might want to write & tell me a little bit more about your situation. Are you near a large city or pretty remotely situated? Is there a local Science Fiction “fandom” and/or annual convention or “con”? (Do you know what I mean by those terms?) A public library, bookstore or college where posters might find likeminded readers? Exactly what sort of fellow discussion groupers are you looking for? That is, have you a pretty definite idea of the sort of topics in which you’re interested? I might be able to make more helpful suggestions if I knew more about your circumstances. For instance, we have a group listed in Mythprint called C.S. Lewis & Friends, and I think that they focus almost exclusively on Lewis. If you’re really not too interested in Lewis, and want only to talk about Tolkien and/or some other writers, that group might not work for you. In fact several cities around the country have had several DG’s at the same time for precisely this sort of reason-for example, three different groups have existed in Washington, D.C. One is no longer with us, they had had a specifically Christian orientation all along, and eventually moved from discussion of fantasy fiction to focusing on religious texts. Another group was focused on primarily Tolkien, Lewis and Williams, while the remaining group focuses on Science Fiction and Fantasy generally, and there is now an offshoot group that focuses on horror fiction.