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(Update: I found the abstracts (PDF). They give a really good overview of the conference.)

I spent the weekend of 4 July (happy birthday, Berthe Erica Crow!) in Bristol, at the fabulous first ever Diana Wynne Jones conference, put together by Charlie Butler ([personal profile] steepholm) and Farah Mendlesohn ([ profile] fjm).

I presented my paper, "Disrupted Expectations: Young/Old Protagonist in Diana Wynne Jones Novels," first, so I didn't yet realize how poor the visibility of the room was, and I didn't stand up to give my paper. Based on what I saw in later papers, I realize this was a mistake. Still, it seemed reasonably well received. Hopefully there will be conference proceedings soon, though if not, I will be putting the paper up myself.

I am writing up some of my notes from the papers for my own future reference, although what I really wish were available were the abstracts, which give you a good idea of the richness of ideas which were discussed. My notes here are very very preliminary and aren't representative of anything in particular -- only for which papers I scribbled things in the margins which I can now understand. Some papers I just wrote notes for that I can't even read, like my notes for Iain Emsley's paper where I wrote something about "planned absence as pedagogy" and "Bannus as parent". Some papers, such as Gili Bar-Hillel's comparison of Howl's Moving Castle to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or Judith Ridge's description of literature in an Australian childhood, or Shana Worthen's entertaining piece about stew, were a great way to spend 30 minutes, but I don't have anything to say about them. Moreover, many of the papers had really interesting ideas which were more or less developed clearly enough in the abstracts (excellent abstract writing!), such as Helgard Fischer's paper, so I didn't make any notes.

Tui Head: 'The Girl in Adventure Fiction'

I admit, what I took away from Tui's paper is not actually the subject of her paper, which is about women's work, and the distinction between paid and unpaid labor. What really struck me was something Tui only barely touched on, which was labor and class in DWJ's work. She focused strongly on House of Many Ways, and something she mentioned in passing really resonated with me, which was how very middle-class the aspirations Charmain's mother has for her . Which got me thinking about The Lives of Christopher Chant and his class-conscious mother, and just in general the extreme class-consciousness of many of the women who appear in DWJ works, and how very related to class either desires to work or not to work. I think about Fannie and Howl's Moving Castle, I think about Janine in Deep Secret. In all of these cases, there is a real concern with appearances and the interaction between appearances, class, and labor.

Although I will happily admit that when Tui pointed out that the role of Charmain and Peter (especially as regards housework and laundry) in House of Many Ways acts as a complete reversal of the roles of Sophie and Howl in Howl's Moving Castle, I was not the only person listening who said "Huh!" It seems so obvious in retrospect, but I never caught it before.

Ika Willis: 'Mum's a silly fusspot: the queering of family in Diana Wynne Jones'

There was some really interesting stuff here. Ika talked about how families of choice are often very queer. She put up an interesting quotation from Sedgwick which I didn't write down but would like to get from her, which made me think about the connection between coming-out narratives and joining the circus narratives.

One thing this paper brought up for me which I found fascinating is the ideas of what makes a family. For example, in Dark Lord, it's not genetics that makes a family. But at the same time it IS genetics that makes a family. The explicit difference between Derk's manufactured sentient animals and his non-human children is whether or not they carry Mara and Derk's DNA. But at the same time, he also thinks of them as animals, to a certain extent. He had originally hoped that Kit and Calette would make a breeding pair, after all. Very very odd. It's definitely what [ profile] diceytillerman and I would call a "naked George moment"; this very strange realization that these two people whom we have the readers are thinking of as siblings are intended by their father as a breeding pair.

Martha Hixon: 'Power Plays: Paradigms of Power in Three Jones Novels'

My notes for this paper were all about how kinda subversive, kinda hegemonic DWJ power structures and that being. Martha talked about how even after bad guys are stripped of their power, power structures always remain. Evil misusers of magic are stripped of their power, but the status quo is maintained, with good power figures instead of evil power figures.

It's also interesting how can DWJ, power structures are democratic and bureaucratic. We are not talking Harry Potter, one boy in all the world. We are talking the democratic, bureaucratic, and often dysfunctional power structures of the world of Dark Lord, Merlin Conspiracy, and Chrestomanci. And these power structures are seen positively, even when they aren't always doing what's best for the hero.

Jameela Lares: 'Discovery As Virtuous Action in the Fantasy of Diana Wynne Jones'

This paper gave me some thoughts I haven't boiled down into anything concrete as yet, I was really intrigued about the difference to me were raised between action which is gripping/thrilling/emotional/overwhelming and action which is delightful.

Deborah Gascoyne: 'Why Don't You Be a Tiger? The Performative, Transformative and Creative Power of the Word in the Universes of Diana Wynne Jones'

I took a ton of notes on this paper, many of which are completely incomprehensible to me right now, like "think Iain's paper, Howl and Venturus." Ultimately, this paper strongly resembled Martha Hickson's, in its focus on the origins of power. Whereas in my long-ago paper on "Diana Wynne Jones and the Transformative Power of Language", I argued that meaningful language gave power to all DWJ characters, Deborah's paper points out that it is more than just language which gives that power. For example, in The Spellcoats, Tanaqui's weaving is superior to the weaving of anybody else because she has woven understanding into her coat; powerful speech without further thought is dangerous. Power comes not only from the right spell, but from strong whale. It's not just speech which gives power, but the comedy thing of intention plus a performative utterance. So what I called Charles's lack of precision (yelling "shoes" in Witch Week) is not the wrong word, but the wrong intent. He didn't think it through clearly enough.

Magic is not authoritarian in this view, because here is need to learn to moderate their own power via thought. Then ultimately, the dissolution of narrative in each of DWJ's work gives the readers the power of creating meaning.

Jenny Pausacker: 'The Storyteller: Counsel in Diana Wynne Jones'

Jenny's paper and the ensuing discussion brought up lots of the very distressing things which happen in many DWJ books which are underplayed, subtle enough you can miss them, primarily the massacre of the mermaids in The Lives of Christopher Chant (and in the ensuing discussion I think we talked about the possible gang rape in Dark Lord of Derkholm. Jenny talked about being somatic instead of didactic, and about the DWJ's construction of atonement and taking responsibility -- which is not about making it all about you, but which is something else. She talked about Christopher becoming Chrestomanci as an atonement.

Kyra Jucovy: 'Little Sister Is Watching You: Archer's Goon and 1984'

Kyra's paper, like Gili's, compared a DWJ book ( Archer's Goon) to a well-known classic (1984). However, she talked about how these books differ in their presentation of family, and the value of family feeling over the state or the individual. In AG, being a good person or a good family member does not prevent you from being a power abuser -- and recognizing people as individuals can in fact make you better at abusing power (cf. Torquil).

Caroline Webb: 'False Pretenses and the Real Show: Identity and Performance in Conrad's Fate'

How frustrating. In the margins my note on Caroline's paper says "see if I can get a copy to read what she says about disguises!" Clearly I wrote this in lieu of actually writing down whatever it was she said that I found so interesting. I did note, however, that in Conrad's Fate, she pointed out how manipulating the stock market nearly caused a complete collapse of the metaphysics governing all of the series worlds, from the inadvertent consequences thereof. Heh.

David Rudd: 'Building Castles in the Air: (De)construction in Howl's Moving Castle'
David compared the film and book of Howl's Moving Castle and explored, among other things, differences in how women were granted agency and power in the two worlds. He presented them that are normative but not disempowering within that framework, although he pointed at the film is much more overwhelmingly masculine, with fewer strong females, and has more of a romantic conclusion. Farah, during the question-and-answer period, disagreed slightly, pointing out that in this world women have power, but men have all the authority, with women taking responsibility for male mistakes. He made me want to go back and watch the movie again (which I've never been fond of, seeing it as neither Miyazaki nor DWJ at their best) to do a closer comparison with the text.

Finally, I can't over emphasize how wonderful the conference was socially and intellectually. The level of the conversation (sitting around talking about books we've all read what other smart people) was fabulous, and meeting people whom I previously only known on the Internet, via the DWJ mailing list, LJ, or both, was just amazing. Not to mention the people I'd never known online before either, who I really did meet for the first time.

I don't want to get into naming names because then I will miss somebody and feel appallingly stupid, but [personal profile] steepholm and [ profile] fjm of course, although for neither of them was my first time meeting them, because they have both been previously lovely hosts to the wandering American in Britain at various times. And Hallie and Katta and *brain explodes from effort of not naming everyone awesome that I met*... Also, thanks to Gili, I now have Archer's Goon in Hebrew.

On a separate note, two of my friends -- one of whom, you might have noticed, just ran an amazing conference on Diana Wynne Jones -- won Mythopoeic Awards! Congratulations, Charlie and Kristin!
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