So the University of Glasgow looks like Hogwarts. I couldn’t think of a better place to host a fantasy conference!
I was in Glasgow for Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations – of GifCon2018 – and I’m still reeling from the depth and breadth of the conversations I had while I was there. You would think that a conference about fantasy would be pretty straightforward, right? You would be wrong!
There were talks about Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, naturally, but there were also talks about spatial humanities and digitisation, about virtual reality and immersion, and about the morality of the apostrophe. There were talks about podcasts that I love, games I’ve wanted to play, and fantasy writers I’ve never heard of. The keynotes were held in the chapel where stained-glass saints watched over us while we debated the place of prophecy in fiction and how to parse the difficult relationship between control and artificial intelligence. It was the kind of conference that you really have to sit down and digest afterwards.
I could talk about all the different researchers and their ideas, but I don’t think I could do them justice. In some cases, given the nature of their research and my own limited scope as a textual critic, I may actually end up doing them a disservice!
I could talk about how utterly enchanting the Glasgow campus was, but I think that’s the sort of thing that is best experienced in person. Especially since no amount of description could make up for the burning in my calves that came after several days of walking up and down hills, or the way that the Glaswegian accents seemed to carry their words off into the distance where Australian ears couldn’t reach them.
I could talk about the excitement I saw on the faces of the postgrads I met. Since Glasgow has an MLitt in Fantasy, many of the delegates were connected to the school in some way. There was a sense of unity and comradery that I don’t think you see a lot in other programs – but there was also a sense of bone-deep wonder in some of their talks. I could tell that they were all deeply passionate about the field. That’s something I love to see.
Instead, I’m going to talk about my big takeaway from the conference. If possible, I try to find one big takeaway in all of the conferences I attend. That way, if nothing else I know that I have learned something and that this experience will help me grow.
The takeaway from GifCon2018 is actually quite simple: I am not alone.
So often, teaching leaves a person with the impression that they’re screaming into the dark (especially when the students they teach are disengaged, hostile, or only there for the credit). But at conferences, you really get to see what is happening in the field and connect with other researchers.
At GifCon, I saw dozens of people who were passionate about their research, excited to try new ideas, and pushing the boundaries of what we consider ‘fantasy’ and ‘humanity’. I saw people using new methods, new stories, new media – chasing idea spark after idea spark with no concrete plan for what the end goal would be, but excited to find out! Looking at things from fresh perspectives is why I got into research in the first place, and it’s such a relief to know that the academic discipline, for all the turmoil it’s experienced and all of the flack that it’s copping, is still creating quality, curious researchers.