Category Archives: Blogs

Where dragons walked

Siegfried and the dragon
Siegried slays the dragon, in an illustration by Arthur Rackham. This is one of the set of illustrations for Wagner’s Ring operas that fascinated C.S. Lewis as a boy.

An article at Wonders and Marvels suggests that the legends of medieval dragons in Germany, most particularly that of Siegfried the Dragonslayer, may arise from fossil tracks still visible in that country.

Notably, conspicuous fossil trackways of two types of massive dinosaurs are found in Germany. In 1941, the German paleontologist H. Kirchner speculated that observations of Triassic dinosaur tracks in sandstone near Siegfriedsburg in the Rhine Valley of western Germany might have been the inspiration for the legend about the dragon Fafnir’s footprints.

I share this, of course, purely for your amusement. All sensible people know that dragons survived in Europe well into the early medieval period, when they were slain by Christian saints.

Hat tip: Mirabilis.

Red alert

Red is my favorite color. I’ve often wondered about color preferences. When someone tells me, for instance, that they love green but don’t like red, I am moved to ponder our common humanity. I wonder, for instance, if they see the same colors I see. Maybe what they see as green is the very color that I see as red. Maybe we’re agreed, but can never know it.

I suspect one factor is food. I tend to like red or reddish foods – meat, strawberries, cherries. Because I was born with a surfeit of bitter taste receptors on my tongue, I’m inclined to dislike green vegetables (yes, I do eat them anyway, at least sometimes. Had broccoli just tonight). And I don’t like lime. So when I see green it’s associated with various foods that don’t appeal to me.

Anyway, I just rediscovered the marvelous blog, mirabilis.ca. Because I’ve never quite mastered this business of migrating bookmarks, I generally end up searching for my favorite urls all over again, every time I change browsers or get a new computer. Somehow I’d lost track of mirabilis, though I was tormented by a persistent, poignant memory of some good thing lost. But I’ve found it again now, and with it this link to an article from the Conversation on the history of red dyes.

Most animal reds are hidden within creatures – like blood – and are not on open display. The excavation of Neolithic burial sites has turned up jars filled with dull-coloured dried insects, kermes, which have a brilliant hidden red that was used as textile dye. It was also a Neolithic food colouring and the colour red is still associated with health today.

One surprise for me in Viking reenacting has been that a fairly bright red is one of the colors acceptable under most authenticity standards.

For your Spectation

A new column of mine, Letter to a Young Friend, has been published today at The American Spectator Online.

So here we are, post-election, looking at an outcome neither of us expected. I’m not about to do an end zone dance — this election wasn’t exactly a triumph for conservatism. Frankly, I expect the new president will do a lot more that will please you than you expect at this point.

But now seems to me a good time for a thought experiment.

‘Dresses’ in ‘That Hideous Strength’

That Hideous Strength

The esteemed Dr. Bruce Charlton at Tolkien’s The Notion Club Papers re-posts a review of That Hideous Strength. This post, from the Toast blog, is by a woman named Felix Kent. I found it delightful, for two reasons. First, I’ve come to assume that all modern women will hate THS (which remains one of my favorite novels). Secondly, Ms. Kent gets it precisely right.

“Don’t read That Hideous Strength,” my mother said. My mother is a great C.S. Lewis fan, also a believer, in the religious sense. One of my best sources for what to read. And a woman who grew up in the Fifties and became an academic. Became, like Ransom, the trilogy’s main character, a philologist.

“Why not?” I said.

I don’t think my mother used the word “yucky” in her reply, but that was more or less what she meant. I went ahead and read the book anyway.

Lewis on Politics and Natural Law

C. S. Lewis on Natural Law

Today at Power Line blog, Steven Hayward writes about C.S. Lewis and a new book on Lewis and politics. He mentions having wondered in the past whether Lewis and Leo Strauss, whose thought he considers highly compatible, were aware of each other. Although he still doesn’t know that Lewis had ever heard of Strauss, he now has evidence that Strauss knew (and admired) Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.

He plugs a new book, C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law, by Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson. No reason why we shouldn’t get in on that business too.

Taking liberties with realism

Our friend Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall exegetes the ways the Daredevil series improves its storytelling by getting the real world wrong:

Here’s the interesting thing, though: While all these examples might falter on the ground of plausibility, they do yeoman’s work in developing both characters and plots, in advancing scenarios and revealing personal peculiarities. When Kingpin calls Vanessa on the carpet for concealed carry, viewers learn that she’s not some ingénue, but rather an empowered woman with her own ambitions: “We’ve been sitting here talking for hours, and you’re going to insult me like I have no idea what you really do? … I know you’re a dangerous man. That’s why I brought a gun to a dinner date.”

Read it all here.

Taking counsel of my fears

The following may be the result of depression, and therefore irrational. I’ll check back when I’m feeling more cheerful, to see how it holds up. But I’ve come to a kind of peace with the 2016 election cycle. It’s the kind of peace described by Tacitus, who said of the Romans in Britain, “they make a desert, and call it peace.”

I’ve decided that (barring changes in the strategic situation which are entirely possible) I’m going to vote for Trump this year. Not out of principle, not out of patriotism, but out of despair.

Signs of the Times

I read three articles online this morning, which all together helped me to clear my mind. They were these: Continue reading Taking counsel of my fears

No Bull

It may come as a surprise to many, but most Norwegians were never particularly proud of their Norse ancestry. The little knowledge they had of the Viking Age and our common ethnic and cultural heritage was usually horribly outdated. Until recently, in popular culture the Vikings were almost always portrayed as dumb, brutal rapists and villains. Also, Norse mythology was a subject of parody and not to be taken as anything more than naive stories told by our stupid ancestors. Those of us who thought differently, those of us who had already connected with our Norse ancestry, were ridiculed.

Aside from its praise for the awful History Channel “Vikings” TV series, I was pleased but not especially surprised by this article “How the Americans Taught Us Norwegians to Love Our Viking Heritage.”
One thing I learned in my translation work for Prof. Torgrim Titlestad (they tell me our book’s coming out this spring at last. We’ll see. Watch for it in any case; it’ll be called The Viking Heritage), is that for several decades now the Norwegian school system has taught almost nothing about the Viking Age. The main reason was a higher critical view of the Icelandic sagas, our main source of information about Norwegian politics in that time. The same kind of destructive skepticism that scholars have applied to the Bible, they also applied to the sagas. Since the sagas were written a century or more after the events described (much longer than is the case for the gospels), they argued that no information of value could be derived from them.

Scholarly views are changing, though. Sociological studies have shown that substantial useful information can be preserved by oral (non-literate or semi-literate) cultures for much longer than is the case in cultures which rely on books for their records.

Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen, the writer, is a novelist, screenwriter and blogger living in Norway. A brief perusal of his site indicates that he’s not crazy, which is generally a good thing.

Jesus, Were You Anxious?

I’m encouraged to see two of my Advent-themed posts go up recently on For The Church.

  1. The first asks whether Jesus was chomping at the bit to start his earthly ministry. “I don’t think the Lord has the same concept of time I do. Just look at the incarnation. Christ Jesus did not appear to us like Melchizedek in Genesis, an established priest and king of the city of peace. He didn’t walk out of the desert and begin casting out demons like a fabled dragon slayer. He came to us as an infant. He spent years growing into adulthood, asking questions of his parents, learning his father’s trade skills, and studying at the synagogue.”
  2. The second reflects on a great hymn of the season. “Save us, Lord, and all the nations. By your authority, we live. The doors you open, no one can shut, and the doors you shut, no one can open. Lead us through that door to heaven and bring with us the rebels, strangers, hypocrites, and refugees who have exchanged their lives for yours. Lock up the door to misery, for your name’s sake, so that we may rejoice.”

National Paragraph Writing Month

The Millions is launching a new initiative in coordination with National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo).

We are launching #NaGrafWriMo in recognition of all the writers with jobs and family obligations, and those who just spend an ungodly amount of time on the Internet, who find it hard to read a whole book in a month, much less write one. But we are also embarking on this new program because we have found that, for most writers, it can take more talent, determination, and hard work to write one good paragraph than an entire lousy book.

Here, here to more good paragraphs and fewer lousy books.

Writers on the Internet

Sean Minogue writes about writers using social media for better or for worse.

Unreachability and self-seriousness used to define many of our best-known authors, but the public appetite for writerly swagger in both old and new media is at an all-time low. Jonathan Franzen, for example, continues to spark minor firestorms with his pooh-poohing of Twitter: “I see people who ought to be spending time developing their craft […] making nothing and feeling absolutely coerced into this constant self-promotion,” he said on BBC Radio 4’s Today program. Franzen is behind the curve, but not because he doesn’t like Twitter. It’s his fundamental misunderstanding of social media that makes his opinions so quaint.

In the end, social media are just other platforms for authors to speak or ignore as they wish.

Dusty cobwebbed old underwood typewriter