Saturday, August 3, 2013

Elaine Cunningham - The Phantom Bard

I am a huge Elaine Cunningham fan.

Don't try to talk to me about anything she's written in the last 10 years, because I haven't read it.  BUT her books in The Harper Series, her short stories in the forgotten realms, I LOVED all of those immensely.  When Wizards of the Coast decided to start screwing around with new editions of Dungeons & Dragons, with 3rd, 3.5, and 4th edition I stopped being an active D&D fan and switched over full time to horror gaming.

Anyhow, I loved Elaine Cunningham's work.  Her stories about bards and bard craft spoke to me on a deep and personal level.  Her work was the inspiration for some of my scenarios, such as Herald of the Yellow King (from Ripples from Carcosa) and A Mortal Harvest. I became a bard in a medieval reenactment group, rising to head of the bardic order as a story teller. It wasn't hard to do, because almost nobody gave a damn about bardcraft. Elaine wrote about that phenomenon too.

I learned that like me Elaine Cunningham was a medieval reenactor, and in her group also a bard. I dreamed of hearing her perform and of telling her my stories around a bardic circle, in full costume.

Then, in 2002, it nearly happened!

Elaine Cunningham was appearing at a convention, Shorecon, 1 state over, about a 2 hour drive from me!  I emailed her and she replied!  She then set up a bardic circle at the convention, where she'd perform and invite others to do the same.  It was a dream come true!

I packed by costumes.  I practiced my best stories.  I got my copies of her books to autograph!  I drove out to the con with my wife and a couple of friends.  This was going to be the best con of my life.  We got to the con, checked in and I asked someone where the Elaine Cunningham's Bardic Circle was going to be held....

...and that's when they told me she canceled her appearance. 

Heartbroken doesn't cover how I felt.  I wanted to check out of the hotel, turn around and go home. However, the two friends with my wife and I had just started dating a few weeks ago, and this would be their first weekend "away", so I couldn't do that to them.  We stayed.  I played some games.  Toured the dealers room.  Went in the pool... but my heart just wasn't in it.   I couldn't get past the bitter disappointment, and since you're reading about it now I suppose I STILL haven't.

Fast Forward Ten Years...

I am a published author, a well known Call of Cthulhu nerd, I am running my own small RPG company. I am appearing at ConnectiCon, running games and panels as guest of the convention. I enjoy ConnectiCon a lot. So I get there, look at the schedule and notice something in the program...

Elaine Cunningham is also a guest!  OMFG... RUFKM?

So, of course, I want to meet her. Sure, I am not going to perform stories with her but I wanted to tell her what her work meant to me.  To shake her hand and say thank you, as one artist to another. Her work STILL spoke to me.  Part of the reason I was a bard and an author was because of her.

The next morning I got to one of the panels she was appearing on, Writing for Beginners, and I waited.  The room was PACKED, ConnectiCon has great panels. People took the stage, they started introducing themselves, my heart was full of nervous anticipation and hope. The moderator made an announcement...

Elaine Cunningham had, once again, canceled her appearance.  

..... R U F K M?

It was almost comical.  I was angry, but more amused than anything.

I started to wonder if she EVER appeared anywhere, or did she just say she was going to and canceled at the last minute.

I wondered was she even real?

So I called my friend Walter, who back in 2002 was the new boyfriend of my good friend Gibel, the couple we went to Shorecon with. Ten years later the pair are married, with a child and had a baby on the way (she's been born now, congratulations). I explained the story and we laughed.  I said, "I didn't even know she was going to be at ConnectiCon."  He replied, "Well, apparently she knew YOU were going to be there, which is why she canceled."

So, to this day, I have yet to meet Elaine Cunningham.  I doubt I ever will.  I am unsure if it's even physically possible TO meet her. One day, maybe, if the stars are right. One day, when the veils between the worlds thin and the Sidhe cross over into the World of Iron, just maybe, we'll run into one another.

Until then, she remains, a phantom.

1 comment: