Glen Howard GoodKnight II dies at 69; Tolkien enthusiast founded the Mythopoeic Society
For a man preoccupied with all things Tolkien, his name appeared invented: Glen Howard GoodKnight II. But it was authentic, down to the unexpected capital “K” that stands sentry like a castle in Middle-earth.
In 1967, he was a history major at Cal State L.A. when he organized a lighthearted picnic in Highland Park as a tribute to Bilbo and Frodo, two central characters in J.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
The event led GoodKnight to found the Mythopoeic Society, which is devoted to the serious study of Tolkien and other fantasy and mythological literature. As chapters sprang up throughout the United States and Canada, he also started an annual conference in 1970 known as Mythcon that was held for the 41st time this year.
GoodKnight, who was a retired elementary school teacher, died of natural causes Nov. 3 at his Monterey Park home after several years of poor health, his family said. He was 69.
A Los Angeles native, he grew up an enthusiastic patron of the public library, and as a teenager discovered the Inklings, a literary circle affiliated with the University of Oxford that included Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.
GoodKnight’s interest in that trio of writers — coupled with a growing public fascination with Tolkien after an unauthorized version of “The Hobbit” was published in the United States in the mid-1960s — moved him to form the Mythopoeic Society, he wrote on his website. (Mythopoeic, pronounced myth-oh-PEE-ick, means “pertaining to myths.”)
To the governing board of the society, GoodKnight was nothing less than “a visionary” who “valued and encouraged Inklings scholarship before the field of Inklings studies existed,” according to a statement from the group.
He founded Mythlore, the society’s scholarly journal that started out as a fan magazine in 1969, and served as its editor for most of the next 30 years. He also instituted a monthly news bulletin called Mythprint.
“By reading and being absorbed in fantasy, we’re not deserting the real world,” GoodKnight told The Times in 1992. “We’re trying to make it better by opening up newer and higher vistas.”
He was born Oct. 1, 1941, the eldest of three children of Glen GoodKnight, who made his living doing odd jobs, and his wife, the former Mary Bray. His last name was an anglicized version of the German “Gutknecht,” according to his family.
In high school, he found reading Tolkien “a total shock and revelation.”
“Tolkien simply writes a very good story — the huge background and settings of his books really overtook me,” GoodKnight said in 1992 in The Times.
Searching for other such books, he discovered “The Chronicles of Narnia” by Lewis. Days after graduating from Verdugo Hills High School in 1959, GoodKnight wrote to Lewis and received a handwritten letter in response that was one of his most valued possessions, he said on his website dedicated to Narnia books.
Before graduating from Cal State L.A. in the late 1960s, GoodKnight won a student library competition for his collection of fantasy books, which was greatly enriched during a trip to the United Kingdom in 1975, two years after Tolkien died.
Upon meeting Tolkien’s daughter, Priscilla, he learned that she was raising money for charity by selling many first-edition translations of her father’s books in various languages.
“I returned the next day with two large empty suitcases, and after much good talk, left later with all I could take away,” GoodKnight later wrote.
As of 1992, he owned about 700 Tolkien volumes published in 29 languages and said that he was only missing the versions in Armenian, Moldavian and Faeroese, a language spoken on islands near Iceland.
At Mythopoeic Society celebrations, GoodKnight would sometimes show up dressed in the flowing robes of Elrond, a favorite Tolkien character who resides in a magical refuge in Middle-earth.
GoodKnight helped plan a weeklong celebration of Tolkien’s 100th birthday in Oxford in 1992 and remained an active member of the society until 1998.
After a brief first marriage ended in divorce, he married his second wife, Bonnie, in 1971 at the second Mythcon. They named their daughter Arwen, a Tolkien character who was Elrond’s daughter, and divorced in 1979.
During the nearly 40 years he taught public school in Los Angeles, GoodKnight made a point of reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Hobbit” to his fourth- and fifth-grade classes.
In addition to his daughter, GoodKnight is survived by Ken Lauw, his partner of 23 years; and a sister, Marilyn.