A History of Knossos (D.C. discussion group)

A History of Knossos
The Washington, D.C. area Discussion Group of The Mythopoeic Society

Knossos group

Knossos group

Photos by ?Mimi Stevens? ?Wendell Wagner?, used by permission. (Second photo at end of article)

Front: (l-r) Irv Koch, Miranda, Mary and Brick Barrientos

Back: Elaine Petermann, Mimi Stevens, Mike Marinelli, Mike Penick

by Wendell Wagner, Jr. WendellWag@aol.com

reproduced by permission of the author

The first group in the Washington, D.C. area connected with the Mythopoeic Society seems to be the Association of Pfifltriggi. It was started by Judith Brown, who had heard of the Society while living in California. It apparently consisted mostly of people from a local Presbyterian church who were interested in discussing Christian literature. The group began meeting in the mid-’70’s and continued to exist at least until the mid-’80’s. Although many of their meetings were announced in Mythprint, they never considered themselves to be more than loosely tied to the Mythopoeic Society. Judith moved back to California in the late ’70’s or early ’80’s. I don’t know whether this group still exists.

Charlie Butler, who had been a member of Galadremmin Ennorath, the Ann Arbor, Michigan branch of the Society, attended a few meetings of the Association of Pfifltriggi. He didn’t like what they were doing and decided to start his own branch. He called this new group Rhosgobel, since in Tolkien’s works there is a Rhosgobel on the southern edge of Mirkwood, just as Washington was the southernmost part of the one-time SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) group called Mirkwood. The members he recruited for his group included Mary Morman, who had been a Society member in California (and had run a Mythcon there), and Lee Burwasser. One of our current members, Ellen Vartanoff, went to several of their meetings during this time.

Soon after joining the group, Mary decided to change its name to Knossos for some obscure reason about the discovery of a public dance ground in the ruins of the ancient civilization of Knossos on the island of Crete. Somehow this was supposed to be connected with Society’s motto, “Joy in the Great Dance”. Mary also became the group’s secretary around this time. The position of secretary (which we sometimes call the Minotaur) has always been the only office in our group. A member tends to hold the job for about two years. The new secretary is chosen by the consensus of the group about a volunteer who hasn’t yet held the position. The secretary’s main duty is to send out a mailing to all the members about the location, date, and topic for upcoming meetings.

I came to my first meeting of Knossos in January of 1982. I had already been a member of the Mythopoeic Society for almost ten years at that point. I had first heard of the Society in a class in the spring of 1971 at Bowling Green State University (in Ohio) called “Fantasy as Creative Mythology”. Among the other students in that class were later Society members Paul Ritz and John Leland. The instructor, Brian Bond, mentioned the Mythopoeic Society to the class. A branch of the Society (which chose the name “The Midgewater Marshes”) was formed in Bowling Green. Because I transferred that fall to New College in Sarasota, Florida, I never joined that group. Indeed, I didn’t becaome a Society member for almost a year after the class. There were no Society branches in Sarasota or in Austin or Columbus, where I went to grad school, but I continued to be a Society member throughout this period. I went to one meeting of the Midgewater Marshes in the summer of 1972 and to two meetings of Galadremmin Ennorath in the summer of 1973 while I was taking some courses at the University of Michigan. I also attended the 1977 Mythcon in San Diego.

I became Knossos’s secretary in mid-1983. In 1982 and 1983 the group only met rather sporadically. Indeed, it appears that it had just been limping along until that point. Only since February of 1984 has the group been able to keep to a consistent monthly schedule. Because that also happens to be the first meeting attended by Bill and Paul Hussar (who are brothers), we think of the time before then as prehistoric (or pre-Hussaric) Knossos. Charlie, Lee, and Mary had all drifted out of Knossos by 1985. Although half a dozen other people had regularly attended meetings during this period, they all left the group within a couple of years. By the summer of 1985, the only remaining regular members were Margaret Carter, Bill, Paul, and me.

Neither Bill and Paul nor I can recall for sure we met. I first met Gene Pappas (who later joined Knossos) at the Bilbo and Frodo’s Birthday Party held at the New Carrollton (Maryland) library in September of 1982. I also talked with him the next month at the Live Ring Game at Greenbelt (Maryland) Park, an event run by Anne Etkin, who was also one of the organizers of the Birthday Party. Gene had known the Hussars for several years at that point, having gone to grad school with Paul, so it’s possible that he introduced me to them at one of the local science fiction conventions in 1983. Margaret Carter, who is married to a Navy officer, had recently moved to the Washington area accompanying her husband. She had been a Society member for several years at that point.

Although the next couple of years were very frustrating for Bill, Paul, and me, there were several events which occurred during this time which allowed us to meet other Mythopoeic Society members living in the northeastern U.S. One was a party held at the 1983 Worldcon in Baltimore. We also did two regional Mythcons at Darkover Grand Council, an annual science fiction conventions then held in Wilmington, Delaware, in November of 1983 and 1984. We had a picnic in Greenbelt Park in 1984 or 1985 which several members of RĂ³menna, the New York City area branch of the society attended. Margaretm Carter moved away in the summer of 1985 when her husband’s tour in the Washington area ended.

We were thus down to three members at this point. Bill took over as secretary. In the next few years many of our longtime members joined the group. Mary Whitlock (now Mary Barrientos), Tony Oliveri, John Epperson, Ellen Caswell, Ellen Vartanoff, and Brent Warner were all members of a science fiction club that I belonged to. In fact, I had first met Brent back in 1970 at a National Science Foundation summer program for high school students at Ohio State University. Cary Hoagland had lived in the Washington area for some time, but she only learned of the Mythopoeic Society by seeing a flyer for the 1985 Mythcon in Wheaton, Illinois at a local science fiction convention. She first heard of Knossos in a phone conversation with the Mythcon organizers. I met her at that Mythcon, and she became a Knossos member the next year. Gene Pappas also began coming to meetings around this time. Tony Oliveri took over the job of secretary in mid-1987.

Many of Knossos’s traditions were established about this time. After trying other days and times, we settled on having our meetings at 8:00 PM on the third Friday of the month. The host of the meeting usually provides most of the snacks, although the other members also bring food on occasion. We also have a tradition of someone making a joke about Shirley MacLaine at every meeting, although we have slacked off on this in recent years.

In August of 1987 my agency sent me to England for a three-year tour. The group continued to grow during the time I was away. Mel Dickover had been a charter member of the Prancing Pony, the Society’s branch in Dayton, Ohio, in the mid-’70’s. He moved to Washington a couple of years later, but he didn’t learn about Knossos until the late ’80’s. Mimi Stevens, who knew John Epperson from a choral group that they both belonged to, joined at this time. Ed and Peggy Smith-Rowland knew Paul Hussar because Peggy and Paul took piano lessons together. When Bill and Paul moved out of the house in University Park (Maryland) that they rented, Ed and Peggy moved in. We dubbed this house “the Center of the Knossos Universe”, since more of our meetings were held there than in any other place. Mike Marinelli, who knew Bill Hussar from a church group, joined Knossos during this time. Marcel O’Reilly, who worked with Mary, began coming to Knossos meetings. She was in the group for several years before drifting away. Mary became the group’s secretary in mid-1989. Her boyfriend (later fiance and now husband) Brick Barrientos became a Knossos member at this point.

We had been choosing the books for upcoming meetings by consensus, but with the increasing membership we decided to let each person choose a book in rotation. Usually a member would host the meeting for their pick. Elaine Petermann, who belonged to a choral group with Mimi, joined Knossos, as did Irv Koch, a local fan who had been looking for a club to join. Tony Oliveri left the group around this time. Margaret Carter returned to the Washington area for two more of her husband’s tours, one in the late ’80’s and another in the mid-’90’s, but she only attended a few Knossos meetings. A sister group to Knossos, the Children of the Night, was formed in the late ’80’s to concentrate on horror fiction. Most of its members were also in Knossos. It met irregularly for the next several years.

For a while in the mid-’80’s, Steve and Veida Wissler and Conrad and Mary Stolzenbach, who lived in Leesburg and Vienna (Virginia), respectively, ran their own discussion group based in the farther-out Virginia suburbs. To distinguish ourselves from this group (which was called Spare Oom), we changed our listing in Mythprint to show us as covering just D.C. and the Maryland suburbs, rather than all of the Washington area, even though we had members in Alexandria, Virginia. After Spare Oom folded when both the Wisslers and the Stolzenbachs moved away, we changed our listing back to covering Washington and its suburbs. In fact, by 1995, when John Epperson moved to Martinsburg, West Virginia, on the farthest edge of the Washington suburbs, we were spread out over the District and three states.

I returned from my tour in England in 1990 to a group that had doubled or tripled in average attendance. It continued to grow dring the early ’90’s. Martin Wooster, Paul Parsons, and Connie Warner (Brent Warner’s sister), who belonged to the same science fiction group that several others in Knossos did, began coming to Knossos occasionally. Pat Brown, who had known Ellen Vartanoff since high school and, it turned out, had met Gene Pappas at a National Science Foundation high school summer program at the University of Connecticut in 1970, was an occasional member in the early ’90’s, but eventually drifted out of the group. David Caulton, who had just moved to the Washington area, became a Knossos member around this time. He had been in the group for less than two years when he was killed in an auto accident in October of 1993. Bill Hussar’s girlfriend (later fiancee and now wife) Maryanne Thompson (now Maryanne Hussar) began attending meetings around this time.

All this growth meant that we had our largest meeting in the summer of 1993 when there were 26 people, if we count two children. Not content with bringing in new people, we also began breeding a new generation of Knossos members (or “Knoslings”, as we sometimes call them). The Smith-Rowlands had a daughter Melissa in 1990 and another daughter Audrey in 1996, although by that time they had left the group. Gene Pappas and his wife Deb (who attended a few meetings in the early ’90’s) had a son Daniel in 1991 and another son Brian in 1996. John Epperson (who became the new secretary of the group at the beginning of 1991) acquired two stepsons when he got married in 1994. In 1996, the Hussars had a daughter Christina and the Barrientoses had a daughter Miranda.

Two new traditions were in place by this time. Since 1990, instead of discussing a book in December, we have been going to a restaurant for a meal on a Sunday afternoon. Several times I have brought Christmas crackers for everyone to enjoy. We were also reading the Hugo-nominated short stories for one of the meetings in the summer. We began doing this in 1989 and continued this practice for six years before deciding to drop it.

On the airplane returning from the 1991 Mythcon in San Diego, I realized that we had enough people to run a convention, so I organized a committee consisting mostly of Knossos members to bid for the 1994 Mythcon. Our bid was accepted, so we ran Mythcon XXV on August 5th through 9th of 1994 at American University in Washington. It had an attendance of 252, which made it the third or fourth largest Mythcon so far. At the beginning of 1994, Ellen Caswell became the new secretary. By the end of the year, she had at least temporarily left the group, so Mimi Stevens took over the job at the beginning of 1995.

In 1992 and 1993 we considered splitting the group in half. Since no one was able to come up with a reasonable basis on which to divide the group, this idea eventually died. For a while in the mid-’80’s the average attendance at our meetings dropped somewhat. This was partly because some people were unhappy with how large the group had gotten, partly from exhaustion from running Mythcon, and partly because with two pregnancies four of our members were unable to attend meetings. By August of 1996, when we had 17 people (including three children) at one of our meetings, we had bounced back from this drop-off. We’ve also picked up a few new new members recently. Phyllis Gonigam, Mimi Stevens’s sister, moved to the Washington area at the end of 1994, becoming a member at that time. Mike Penick, who knew Bill Hussar and Mike Marinelli from their church group, also joined Knossos. Jack Brooks, who knew Cary Hoagland from work, attended the 1994 Mythcon. He came to some of our meetings at the end of 1996.

We lost one member when Irv Koch moved to Tennessee in the fall of 1996. In the mid-’90’s we began occasionally declaring a book to be a group choice. Such meetings are held at the home of a random volunteer. Our book choices have also become increasingly eclectic. We often do books that are neither science fiction nor fantasy. These tend to be older, “classic” works.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion of a book we’ve had was a meeting in the late ’80’s when the topic was The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. Another meeting that was memorable in a different way was one in 1991 when we talked about The Silver Tower by Dale Brown. No one like the book, but we had a lot of fun tearing it apart, and we had our most distant visitor – Ken Burtness from Sammath Naur, the Society branch in Hawaii, who was in Washington on a business trip. The next year he was in town again at a time when no meeting was scheduled, so we met him at a restaurant for a meal one evening.

Another unusual meeting was in 1995 when we went to a performance of Hamlet where Paul Hussar had a part. On several other occasions groups of Knossos members went to plays together, although not as part of a month’s meeting. This has included other performances by Paul, a play about Sherlock Holmes, and productions of Shadowlands. At one meeting in 1986 we spent all of one Saturday discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories. We viewed two Sherlock Holmes movies, looked at my collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and listened to a reading by Paul of his paper on the stories. In 1996 we spent all Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening talking about C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. We discussed the book And God Came In by Lyle Dorsett, watched both movie versions of Shadowlands, and listened to me read a paper I had written on C. S. Lewis. On several other occasions we have read a book and, after discussing the book, watched the movie of the book at the meeting.

Knossos group

Knossos group

Front: Wendell Wagner, Paul Hussar, Phyllis Gonigam

Back: seated–John Epperson, Bill Hussar, Cary Hoagland; standing–Mel Dickover

Not pictured but active members: Maryanne Hussar, Gene Pappas, Ellen Vartanoff, Brent Warner, and Martin Morse Wooster