We begin this eleventh issue of Mimosa
as we've begun several previous issues, with a trip to northern New York State for a
visit with Dave Kyle. The wilds of northern New York are by no means uncharted
territory for us; we both attended college, met each other, and were married in the
small town of Potsdam, New York before either of us were aware that Dave also lived
there. On our brief but fannish visit back to Potsdam and Dave's house this past July,
he showed us his collection of anachronistic fan artifacts that were the inspiration of
this fan history article.
What's this all about? Who are the Knights and Ladies of St. Fantony? What is the Great Ceremonie? Who was Saint Fantony, anyhow?
The St. Fantony Ceremonie, over the past third of a century, has from time to time been presented at many science fiction conventions. First it was viewed by only a chosen few. Then it moved from regional get-togethers to regional conventions, then to worldcons. The Order of St. Fantony, whose ceremony it so thoroughly remains, had grown out of fandom, represents fandom, and remains, at its very heart, a fannish tradition, still somewhat wrapped in a mist of secrecy.
The practices of the Order of St. Fantony at the beginning were strictly English, then Britain and finally America and Europe were involved. The real-life movement and events are many decades old, starting in 1956, but the fannish fantasy puts its mythological origin way back -- many, many centuries. "Yea, into the antiquities of time." And where else would the Order have evolved into modern times, but in ancient Englande? From where else in the dim and remote past would the legendary Fantony and his spirit have come but from the lands of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire?
The last ceremonial event to have been held -- not, however, a Great Ceremonie -- was at Noreascon Three. That was the 47th World Science Fiction Convention, in Boston in 1989. The Order was given the honor of opening the Hugo Awards Ceremony by leading the parade of nominees and guests into the auditorium.
The Hugo rocket trophies were carried down the aisle and up to the table on the stage by Knights or Ladies, each one followed by the appropriate group of nominees. At the head of the parade, as the dramatic music was played, came two courtiers of St. Fantony, each holding a pole between which was stretched a green banner bearing a silhouette of a white rocket representing the Hugo Award. Then came the Master of Ceremonies for the event, Fred Pohl. The black and red Banner of St. Fantony trimmed in yellow and green was next, followed by Sir Dave the Wardein in his red blazer. The other parading members of The Order who participated were suitably dressed, about half of the Knights and Ladies in costumes and half in dark blazers or black gowns. The end of the file was punctuated by a black banner which bore the mystic proclamation in glittering letters: GHOD BLESH SAINT FANTONY. Before the entrance of the procession, the prologue was read to the audience. Unfortunately, the original recording in the sonorous English tones of Sir Stanley Nuttall (with appropriate fanfare and music) was not put on the sound system. As a result, it seems that most in the audience had no idea as to what was happening -- as to why all those people, some in fancy dress, were shuffling through the audience so solemnly. The Knights and Ladies had a great time, however, and there was much excitement getting ready behind the scenes, especially as some of the prepared paraphernalia was found almost at the last minute to have been left behind.
Not many science fiction fans in the 1990s know about the legend of Fantony, the patron saint of trufen. Not many fans, fen or trufen remain who have seen The Ceremonie. The concept of The Order is chivalric of Medieval character such as the Knights Templar to which it would be an honor to belong. The scene-setting prologue to the Great Ceremonie introduces the uninitiated into the legend:
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In the beginning, before Gernsback, before Kubrick and Clarke, before Lucas and Spielberg, even before Verne and Wells, there was nothing. No science and invention. No ess-tee-eff. Darkness was in the minds of Mankind. No ess-eff. Blackness was in the spirit. No sci-fi. No trekking to the stars.
In the emptiness of the beginning, there were no fans, there was no fandom. Then at last came the Amazing light. The blackness was slowly dissolved. In the old world there came New Worlds and Tales of Wonder and the forgotten history of the one called Fantony came to light again.
A spirit had come from the furthermost depths of time and space. It had reached across the parsecs to This Island Earth. It entered into the mind of a certain visionary who undertook a voyage extraordinaire to the isle of Britain. This mysterious traveler, on his journeys to the west countries, carried within the voluminous pockets of his cloak and in the bottomless pack over his shoulder certain writings from the past, the present, and the future. This inspired roamer was Fantony, and it was he who undertook a revolutionary mission. What he introduced to the world made him a legend. Small groups there were who heard the message of Fantony and called themselves Fantony's or Fan's. Those who were ignorant and refused to believe whispered of the strange books and printed sheets called mags. Those mundane ones sneered at the awesome stories he brought to be told and re-told, and to be read and re-read. Some said he foretold of Arthur and his knights-errant on incredible quests to be. Especially was Merlin mentioned concerning magical visions of the future.
But the wandering Fantony, carrying his librarie of precious fantasies, was set upon by disdainful mundanes before he reached Camelot. In the rural hamlet of Cheltenham they captured him. They jeered the works of Verne and Wells and Poe, and threw him on his pile of books. There they torched the papers and the pulps, and caused his death in flames. In his martyrdom for fans and fandom, he became a patron saint.
Today the town is a famous spa, for from the ground where in his final moment he had thrust his staff a spring gushed forth. The waters of S.F. -- Saint Fantony -- still flows today. And all who can drink its water and taste within it the fire are the trufen. Thus is the legend of the patron saint of science fiction, fantasy, and fandom. And all which took place in those far off days in antiquity are forevermore to be encompassed within the forms and rituals of the Most Noble and Illustrious Order of St. Fantony.
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On the last occasion where a Ceremonie was held, a "short discourse of origin to inform ye" was published for convention-goers:
As mentioned in the 'short discourse', the original goal of The Order was "Good Fellowship." The 'Ceremonie' was, more or less, a sort of prelude to a 'Merrie Party of Trufen'.
The original good fellowship was developed in the post-war fannish activities of many groups, clubs, and societies throughout England and later the rest of the United Kingdom. London, of course, was the biggest center of fanac, but it thrived in Liverpool and the environs of the Midlands. The third most significant area was in the west, in and around Cheltenham.
The founding officers of The Order were Eric Jones and Bob Richardson, Grand Master and Knight Armourer respectively, both from Cheltenham. The next officer was Norman Weedall, Executioner, from Liverpool. It was the invitation from the Cheltenham Science Fiction Circle to the Liverpool Science Fiction Society in 1957 which brought the two clubs together to initiate the first Ceremonie and establish The Order.
After the death of Bob Richardson in 1962, The Order lay dormant for two years. Then, Keith Freeman, an original Cheltenham founding member, queried the existing members about a revival, partially as a memorial to Bob Richardson, and the favourable response resulted in Keith becoming Master of the Archives, the driving force for revitalization. Eddie Jones of Liverpool became the new Knight Armourer. In 1967 came the next terrible blow when the Grand Master, Eric Jones, died. Momentum carried The Order into 1968 with further activities at fan gatherings in Buxton, England (where Phil Rogers was appointed Noble Master to assume the leadership of Grand Master Sir Eric), in Heidelberg, and in Oakland, California, at the Baycon World SF Convention. Earlier that same year, 1968, an American fan, Ron Ellik, initiated at Cheltenham in 1962, was killed in a motor car crash within a few days of his wedding. His betrothed was The Lady Lois Lavender, also of California (initiated in 1966). The death of Eric Jones following Richardson's death took a lot of the heart out of The Order in England. Ellik's death in 1968 was a tragedy that further diminished the zest of the membership in the 'main aim' of The Order.
According to A History and Structure of The Most Noble and Illustrious Order of Saint Fantony by Stanley Nuttall and Keith Freeman, "...the main aim is to have fun." Ceremonies and initiations, though lighthearted, are treated with dignity. However, behind the playfulness lies a number of serious purposes. The Order exists to help one another, if need be, as in any other Order. In fandom, The Order is pledged to offer its services at science fiction conventions -- and is "...willing to bring groups together and new fans into the fold." Membership is based on two factors, social compatibility and demonstrated interest in fannish activities. Beyond the 'fun' itself, The Order attempts to institute or encourage projects in fandom and to make or proclaim awards for "...the recognition of convivial fans who have done good works but are not necessarily eligible for TAFF, DUFF, and the like." The Order wants "...to consider the little-known fan who works hard behind the scenes; may not have his or her name on a fanzine, perhaps merely helps in collating it; may not run the club or convention, merely helps it to be a success." This is precisely the basis for the Big Heart Award, given annually at World Science Fiction Conventions by its originator and trustee, Sir Forrest J Ackerman. (Oh, by the way, let's not forget -- The Order used to love to have a party for itself and its friends. It's been a long time, now, since the trumpets have sounded for a reunion.)
I queried Sir Stan Nuttall of Liverpool when I first started writing this article. Part of what he had to say follows:
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It all started as a spoof thing we did in L'pool when we were still L'pool S.F. Society (LaSFaS) around `56. We did a fake medieval ceremony -- direct from Danny Kaye's 'The Court Jester' -- with lots of "Yea, verily, yea" in it and decided the highest honour we could bestow on anyone was to be an ex-Chairman of LaSFaS without the rigours of being one in the first Chairman of the Cheltenham Group. We had a party up here in the clubrooms and invited people from all over, and the first two to be made ex-Chairmen were Eric Bentcliffe and Eric Jones, the Chairman of the Cheltenham Group. (I'm sure you were one as well, David.) So it was this that sparked off Eric Jones to do something in return, and he and Bob Richardson cooked up 'St. Fantony'.
Not surprisingly, the first knights were our lot, as we were invited down to Cheltenham (early in `57, I think) for the first ceremony. We think they also did one at the Eastercon in `57 which went down well, and then again at the Worldcon in London in `57. Most of the Americans, we think, were done in Heidelberg in `70 and some later in Salzburg. Norman [Shorrock] found the Eastercon `71 programme booklet for Worcester, and there is a mention by Keith [Freeman] about St. Fantony (there was also a ceremony then) wherein he states that the purpose was to recognise fans who had done good works and were convivial, but wouldn't necessarily be eligible for TAFF (the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund). Also he says, new fans were encouraged to look for the S/F badges, as they were worn to help make introductions...
Blazon was the official organ [a sporadic fanzine]. I don't know how many were produced. Norman says the first issue was high quality, but the next wasn't... There were various criticisms that it was all too serious. Well, of course, the ceremony was played with a straight face -- it has to be -- but otherwise no one took it seriously. Also, some thought it was forming an elite grouping within fandom. Others thought it should have a much broader base, which would have lost its purpose... The main officers in the early days were Eric Jones (Grand Master) and Bob Richardson (Armourer). With Bob dying in the early `60s and Eric circa `66, a lot of heart went out of it. There were the special get togethers at the George Hotel, Kettering, for members and spouses/girl friends. There were two or three around `67-`70... It tended to die out in the early `70s -- a revival later never got off the ground.
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The Cheltenham Founders: Eric Jones; Bob Richardson; John Challenge; Les Childs; Audrey Eversfield; Keith Freeman; Frank Herbert; John Humphries; Wally Johnson; Margaret Jones; Peter Mabey
The Liverpool Group Inauguration (1957): Ron Bennett; Eric Bentcliffe; Bill Harrison; Terry Jeeves; Eddie Jones; Archie Mercer; Dave Newman; Stan Nuttall; John Owen; John Roles; Ina Shorrock; Norman Shorrock; Norman Weedall
First London Worldcon (1957): Frank Dietz; Rory Faulkner; Bob Madle; Ellis Mills; Boyd Raeburn; Bob Silverberg; Ken Slater; Dale R. Smith; Walt Willis
London Circle Pilgrimage to Cheltenham (1959): Bobbie Gray; Sandy Hall; Ted Tubb
Special Initiation in Los Angeles (1960): Rick Sneary
Special Initiation in Liverpool (1961): Dave Kyle
Special Initiation in Cheltenham (1962): Ron Ellik
Second London Worldcon (1965): Ken Bulmer; Ted Carnell; Ken Cheslin; Dick Eney; Ethel Lindsay; Harry Nadler; Phil Rogers; Tom Schlück; Tony Walsh
Special Initiation in Liverpool (1966): Joe Navin
Yarmouth Convention (1966): Brian Aldiss; Dave Barber; Harry Harrison; Mike Rosenblum
Special Initiation in South Gate (1966): Lois Lavender
Vienna Convention (1966): Walter Ernsting
Tricon Worldcon (1966): Bjo Trimble
Special Initiation in Los Angeles (1966): Fritz Leiber
Bristol Convention (1967): Jill Adams; Charles Partington; Wendy Freeman
Special Initiation in Liverpool (1967): John Ramsey Campbell
Berlin European Convention (1967): Waldemar Kumming
Special Ceremony at Buxton Eastercon (1968): Sir Phil Rogers invested as Noble Master, and duly initiated were Ken McIntyre; Beryl Mercer; Doreen Parker
After the 1968 Worldcon (Baycon) and the special event held there, activities of The Order diminished and few ceremonies were held thereafter. During this period, those who entered The Order were: Forrest J Ackerman, Mario Bosnyak, Bob Pavlat, Fred Prophet, Harry Stubbs, and John Trimble.
Those members of Saint Fantony who participated in the Hugo Awards Ceremony at the Noreascon Three in 1989 were:
Knights: Forry Ackerman, Bill Burns, Frank Dietz, Dick Eney, Dave Kyle, Bob Madle, Fred Prophet, and Harry Stubbs.
Ladies: Mary Burns, Ann Dietz, Ruth Kyle, Billie Madle, Peggy Rae Pavlat, and Bjo Trimble.
Courtiers: Arthur Kyle and Kerry Kyle, son and daughter of a Knight; and Eric Pavlat, son of a departed Knight; plus Ian Macauley, Camille Cazedessus, and Suford Lewis.
Title illustration and "Procession" illustration by Joe Mayhew
"Knight of St. Fantony" illustration by Eddie Jones and Dave Kyle