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Journal of Mythic Arts Retrospective II: A Kaffeeklatsch with Terri Windling

by Amal El-Mohtar

Terri Windling in Devon, photograph by Alan Lee

Sitting across from Terri Windling always gives me the impression of sunlight. Partly it's that she has hair like no one I know — a gold straight out of fairy tale, wavy and warm — but mainly it's that she is, herself, inwardly brilliant. The sun's been a rumour all summer, but Terri carries a brightness with her that awes me.

We sit down with a pot of coffee between us, and I ask her to tell me about Endicott's well-documented beginnings, how it evolved from the physical studio on Boston's Endicott Street from 1987-1990 into the Journal of Mythic arts. Did she and Midori Snyder have an initial vision for what they wanted the Journal to be, or did it just kind of happen?

"We were making it up as we were going along — there were no models for what we were doing. Midori and I are good magpies; I knew who was doing what all over the field. We saw Endicott more as a collection, and saw our role as making a central place for Mythic Arts — a word we made up, largely by saying 'this is what all these pieces have in common.'"

I comment that I remember the Endicott Studio online feeling like it gave materiality to the words "visiting a site" — that I always felt, going to the link, that I was, in fact, walking into a beautifully curated building, which looked like nothing else to me on the internet at the time. This makes Terri smile, and say that that had been a big part of the idea.

"We wanted it to be like you were walking into the Endicott Studio," she says. "We set up the site with the deliberate aim of making it a 'virtual studio,' with a 'room' for articles and stories, another one for poetry, another one for art, another one for news and updates, with the idea that people could wander from room to room and find interesting mythic works by writers and artists connected to the Endicott Studio. We added new material to the site (articles, art, stories and poetry) whenever we got it in, all laboriously hand coded by our saintly volunteer tech person. We added new material every month, more or less, but our 'publication schedule' was pretty informal."

But how did the Journal of Mythic Arts come to be attached to or contained within it?

"In 2001, we started to refer to the site as a 'web journal' (remember that this was still a fairly new concept) and to publish the new material in regular issues  (with a Letter for the Editor for each issue). We altered the name of the site to 'The Endicott Studio's Journal of Mythic Arts' — but  we kept the overall design (the various 'rooms') intact. There were periods when we published monthly, and periods when we published bi-monthly, depending on how much help I had — but the issues were fairly small compared to the later quarterly issues. In 2003, we gave the site a complete overhaul and re-design and made it look more like a magazine. This is when we went quarterly and started organizing each issue around a theme. And we shortened the name to The Journal of Mythic Arts (though it was still sponsored and published by the Endicott Studio)."

And how did Midori come to be involved?

"In 2004, Midori came on board formally as co-editor (though she'd been involved in various ways from the beginning), and that's when JoMA was at its best, I think. I adored working with Midori, and couldn't have had a better partner. Oh, and it was her idea to start the Endicott/JoMA blog, in 2006."

At this point I start nattering on about how sad I — and everyone I knew who frequented the Endicott Studio — had been when it closed, how much it meant to me and Jess, but how heartening that it was ending in order to allow Terri and Midori to pursue their own wonderful work, and how incredibly touched Jessica Wick and I were, especially, to see Goblin Fruit named in the final blogpost as one of the places continuing to purvey art of a mythic flavour. To this, Terri smiles, and says that sad and necessary as ending the Journal of Mythic Arts was, "Mythic art was no longer something we were trying to convince people existed."

It may be reductive to think of that as JoMA's most important achievement, but for a myth-hungry girl discovering it in her late teens and seeing in it a tiny oasis of people who understood that hunger, it is nothing short of tremendous to see the breadth and depth of its influence ten years on.

I ask Terri if, in closing, there is any one particular article or gallery from JoMA that stays in her mind as a favourite, or one that she returns to frequently for reasons of her own. She said that she would have to think about that and get back to me; what follows is her e-mailed reply:

It turns out to be really hard to pick out my favorite JoMA publications — first of all, because I love them all (otherwise we wouldn't have published them!), and second, because it's kind of like asking a parent to name her favorite child. You love them all for different reasons...and don't want to slight one in favor of another....

What I can give you, however, are favorite issues of the Journal:

My personal favorite is the "Healing and Transformation" issue (Winter 2006), which touched on themes that are close to the bone for me. I also love our multi-cultural "Fairies" issue (Summer 2006), which was lots of fun. Hmmm, 2006 seems to have been a good year...

And while I won't call them favorites, here are some articles I often find myself recommending if you're looking for sample articles to point readers to:

The Armless Maiden and the Hero's Journey: a beautiful examination of this brutal folktale, by Midori. It was originally published as an Afterward to her story, "The Armless Maiden," in the anthology of the same name — and she then expanded it into a longer, deeper, richer essay for JoMA.

In Praise of the Cook by Midori, about food magic and lore, which makes you drool with hunger just to read it.

The Lore of Simple Things: Milk, Honey, and Bread by Ari Berk, illustrated with doll art by Wendy Froud (photographed by Toby Froud, in the Froud's kitchen and other settings around the house)

Shimchong, The Blindman's Daughter: an article about a classic Korean fairy tale, by Heinz Insu Fenkl.  Heinz wrote many great articles for us, but I particularly love the ones that draw upon his childhood experiences in Korea.

Tibetan A Ice Lha mo by Jeanette Snyder , in which one of the world's most prominent scholars of Tibetan opera (who is also Midori's mother) writes about her experiences as a Fulbright scholar among traditional Tibetan performers in the Himalayas in the 1960s.

The Sacred and Profane of Spanish Carnaval by Alan Weisman, with photographs by the great Spanish art photographer Cristina García Rodero (which we were only able to wangle reprint rights to because the author is a friend of mine)

Into the Fog: Icelandic Land and Lore by Janni Lee Simner

Spells of Enchantment: The Fairy Tale Cycle, a poignantly autobiographical piece by Helen Pilinovsky.

Fairy Tale Theatre: The Art of Transformation by Howard Gayton, a diary-style piece documenting the creation of a fairy tale play in Portugal.

As I look over the index pages listing all the articles, poems, stories, art & theatre pieces, etc., what I'm reminded of is how Midori and I were constantly begging everyone we knew to please give us things for JoMA (articles, stories, poems, art). We had no budget to speak of, but we had a lot of talented, generous friends.

What was important to us was bringing works by people in different fields together — fantasy writers and mainstream writers, illustrators and gallery artists, etc. — in order to create a dialogue between mythic artists working in different disciplines and genres.

Amal El-Mohtar is an Ottawa-born child of the Mediterranean, currently pursuing a PhD in English literature at the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter, sharpening her quills for the hunt. Her short story, "The Green Book," was recently nominated for a Nebula Award. She is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of 28 different kinds of honey, and the winner of the 2009 Rhysling Award and the 2011 Rhysling Award (both times for Best Short Poem). Her work has appeared in many print and online venues, including The Thackeray T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. She also co-edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry, with Jessica P. Wick, and keeps a blog somewhat tidy at Voices on the Midnight Air.