Category Archives: Authors

Did Crime and Punishment Remake the Novel?

Of course, Dostoevsky’s claim to have invented a new literary genre doesn’t solely rest on Crime and Punishment. Although it was published when he was 45, after so many books and setbacks, it marked a breakthrough, not a culmination. Its resemblance to Hamlet resides both in its details (fatherless ex-student, bookish sidekick, philosophy, mumbling, murder) and in its peculiar status, as an extraordinary achievement that also serves as the preparation for a trio of more ambitiously unsettling tragedies.

Various touches point towards Dostoevsky’s later novels: a reflection on the “holy fool” (The Idiot), a dream involving a city-wide disease (The Possessed), a smattering of theodicy (The Brothers Karamazov). It is not an insult to Crime and Punishment but a tribute to its author to say that his most famous book, the face he shows to the world, plays a more servile role within his body of work, something like a hinge, or border – a spin-off that doubles as a gateway drug to more exalted highs.

Leo Robson writes of the importance of Crime and Punishment to its author and the literary world, even those who disliked it. (via Prufrock News)

Lewis’s Enduring Influence on Gaiman

Neil Gaiman was irritated to learn his beloved C.S. Lewis was a Christian who infused his work with Christian truths. He felt betrayed that this favorite author would have an agenda for his stories (as if all authors don’t write from some kind of moral framework), but Lewis’s influence on Gaiman carries on. Russell Moore spells in out in Touchstone.

In the American Gods mythology, the old gods—the supernatural beings associated with rain and fertility and war—are at odds with the new gods—such as media and technology. Many of the motifs of Narnia are there. The “bad guys” muster their troops at the Stone Table in Lewis’s Narnia; they do so at Chattanooga’s Rock City in Gaiman’s America. The Pevensie children find their destiny as kings and queens of Narnia; Gaiman’s human Shadow Moon (yes, that’s his name) finds his destiny as, literally, the son of a god. Aslan offers up his life as an atoning sacrifice in Narnia; Odin does the same for Gaiman, complete with a spear in his side and, of course, a resurrection.

Gaiman would say that he is simply working with the myths as he found them. As he retells the story in his recent collection of Norse myths, Odin does indeed climb the world tree and hang himself in self-sacrifice, “making the world-tree a gallows and himself the gallows god.” For Gaiman, the gospel might well simply be an echo of that archetypal story. One god with the gallows, another with the cross. But, of course, that is precisely what initially repelled Lewis from Christianity, and ultimately drew him to it.


Jane Austen, the Teacher We Need

John Mark N. Reynolds encourages us to learn from Jane Austen, because she is a woman made in the image of God. “Jane Austen is the teacher we need, the thinker we ignore at our peril.”

Women don’t think the same way men do, generally speaking. That’s good and even godly, because the Lord created us in his image, male and female in his image. Our differences matter as mature adults designed to worship the Lord on earth.

If there is a tendency to value enduring relationships over abstract ideas in the ethics valued by most (though not all) women, then Austen is an educator in that voice. She must not be reduced to entertainment, though she is good fun. She is wrestling with status, relationships, and how to morally negotiate status ethically.

Comparing King and Coates

Scott Allen compares what he sees of the diverging worldviews of Martin Luther King and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The former advocated for a biblical application of justice and neighborly love; the latter appears to see only power.

The civil rights movement that King led had a clear agenda: End Jim Crow and bring about a change in America whereby people would be judged not by skin color but by character. It succeeded overwhelmingly, garnering support from people of all ethnicities. It led to the passage of the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to the greatest period of equality and harmony between races that the nation had ever known.

Coates is very muted about the positive changes that King brought about. He prefers to paint race relations in America circa 2018 as little changed from America in 1850 or 1950. He puts forward no real positive agenda for improved race relations. Rich Lowry comments that his writing “feels nihilistic because there is no positive program to leaven the despair.”

“How Being a Librarian Makes Me a Better Writer”

Nautilus Library

Via Dave Lull, an article from Literary Hub. Xhenet Aliu explains how writing makes her a better writer:

A natural-language user might type into a search engine “hospital rubber tube blood infection,” and the information pros who index articles would have had to predict that “rubber tube” might, in this context, equal catheter and return articles like “Infection prevention with natural protein-based coating on the surface of Foley catheters: a randomised controlled clinical trial.” There’s not a whole lot of zing in a title like that, but there is a lesson in how it was retrieved; aren’t writers also responsible for intuiting miscommunicated needs, and articulating that which has been insufficiently expressed? Bad writing ignores natural language in favor to chase the artificial zing, which is what makes purple prose so offensive—instead of using language to facilitate access to meaning, it obscures it with yet more imprecision. Good writing understands and respects natural language, and it considers it in its responses. It’s for the best that writers aren’t paid by the syllable.

Richard Scarry’s ‘What Do People Do All Day’

What Do People Do All Day turns 50 this year. Author Richard Scarry (1919-1994) has sold well over 100 million books by sticking to what The Independent calls “his limitation. Having hit on a formula that worked so well he did little more than tinker with it throughout a long and highly profitable creative career.” When your readers and their parents beat your books up with love, why would you shift gears to draw maps for the army or some such?

Half his books are storybooks,” his son, Richard Scarry, Jr., who writes under the name Huck Scarry, told the NY Times in 1994, “and half are educational books, but the educational books always try to get across whatever educational information they have to tell in an amusing and lighthearted way.”

‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

The Last Closet

…Of my parents, he [my father] was the kinder one. After all, he was only a serial rapist. My mother was an icy, violent monster whose voice twisted up my stomach.

Very rarely, I need to begin a book review with a caution. This is one of those cases. Moira Greyland’s The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon is a shocking and deeply troubling book. It recounts horrors that will haunt you, and many readers will simply not be able to handle it. The occasional profanity is the least offensive element.

But it’s an important book to read, for those who can bear it.

Moira Greyland is the daughter of the late bestselling feminist fantasy/sci fi author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her father was Walter Breen, a world-renowned authority on numismatics (precious coins). Both of them were geniuses, and both had suffered horrific abuse as children. In a just world, both of them would have been institutionalized. They were delusional and barely capable of taking care of themselves, let alone children.

Both were homosexual, but they stretched a point to conceive Moira and a brother. It was all part of a master plan, her father’s Grand Vision – to raise superior (high IQ) children who would be diverted from the “perversion” of heterosexuality at an early age through incest. This would bring them onto the “natural” path of homosexuality, and position them to help to usher in a utopian future world order. Continue reading ‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

At least one new Lewis essay

Over at Christianity Today, Stephanie L. Derrick presents the news that she has found two previously forgotten articles, at least one of which is certainly by C. S. Lewis. Both were printed in The Strand, a preeminent English magazine famous for being the first publisher of most of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. The first article, “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans,” is certainly by Lewis. The second, “Cricketer’s Progress” is signed “Clive Hamilton,” one of Lewis’s known pseudonyms, and has certain Lewisian qualities. However, Lewis’s oft-stated complete apathy toward anything having to do with sports makes me doubt the attribution.

How did these articles remain unknown so long? Derrick explains:

Part of the reason that I found these articles in 2013 is timing. Soon after Lewis died in 1963, his posthumous editor Walter Hooper cataloged all of the Lewis publications he could find (Lewis not keeping a record of his own). The Strand, however, wasn’t indexed until 1983, well after Lewis’s official bibliography was published.

A Christian’s Final Rest

Today rebroadcast of Renewing Your Mind asks, “What is the blessed hope? Today, R.C. Sproul explains what we can expect when we reach our ultimate destination.”

UntitledFrom Ligonier’s Flickr Photostream (2010)

BTW, several short books by Dr. Sproul are still available for free for Kindle and audio. They are his Critical Question series, great tools for sound teaching that won’t overwhelm you. Titles include What is Repentance?, What is the Trinity?, How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience?, and Does Prayer Change Things?

R.C. Sproul Now Sees the Lord Face to Face

R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) passed away this afternoon at age 78. Go buy three or four of his books for yourself and family.

Stephen Nichols summarizes Dr. Sproul’s life in this post at Ligonier Ministries’ site.

R.C. Sproul was a theologian who served the church. He admired the Reformers not only for the content of their message, but for the way they took that message to the people. They were “battlefield theologians,” as he called them. Many first heard of the five solas of the Reformation through R.C. Sproul’s teaching.

R.C. often recalled his first encounter with the God of the Bible. As a new Christian and a freshman in college, he devoured the Bible. One thing stood out from his reading: God is a God who plays for keeps. The Psalms, the story of Uzzah, Genesis 15:17, Mary’s MagnificatLuke 16:16–17, and, of course, Isaiah 6—the drama of these texts captivated R.C. from the moment he first read them.

May the Lord bless us with 1,000 just like Dr. Sproul in our generation and the next, men and women who will lift up the cross by the power of His Spirit for the perseverance of His kingdom.

New release: ‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

The Last Closet

Moira Greyland is the daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley, the late best-selling feminist sci-fi and fantasy author. A while back I passed along some published revelations about the abusive sexual practices Bradley and her husband indulged in, particularly in regard to their daughter. Just today, Castalia House has released Moira’s book, The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon, in a Kindle edition. [Reviewed here]

Here’s the blurb:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

Moira Greyland is a born-again Christian today. I bought her book within minutes of its announcement. This, in my opinion, could be just the book we need at this time in history. If not, it’s a good thing to set the record straight on any day.

The Author May Be Dead But He Continues to Publish

Here’s a list of new books from dead authors, including an Umberto Eco essay collection taken from L’Espresso magazine, Chronicles of a Liquid Society. Eco “sees with fresh eyes the upheaval in ideological values, the crises in politics, and the unbridled individualism that have become the backdrop of our lives—a ‘liquid’ society in which it’s not easy to find a polestar, though stars and starlets abound.”

Also, Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James. These are not unpublished stories, but stories written as far back as 1973 that have never been collected.

Peter De Vries

Peter De Vries

The other day I recalled – for no reason I can state – a movie I saw in my college days. It was Pete ‘n Tillie, starring Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett. Some friends and I saw it cheap at a second run theater somewhere in Minneapolis. I didn’t like it much.

And yet, having thought of it, I looked it up on Wikipedia. I discovered, to my surprise, that it was based on a novel called Witch’s Milk, by Peter De Vries.

And that reminded me of Peter De Vries. He was a prominent novelist back in those days. A Dutch Calvinist from Chicago, he had served in the OSS in World War II (very hush-hush), and eventually went to the work for the New Yorker, at the invitation of James Thurber.

His Wikipedia article quotes James Bratt, who called him “a secular Jeremiah, a renegade CRC missionary to the smart set.” However, this interesting article from Image Journal describes him as essentially an atheist.

De Vries dwelled in familiar settings because he wanted to dismantle the belief systems that struck him as too smug or self-sufficient. Religion was his enduring target, but he also mocked modern medicine, psychoanalysis, feminism, academia, and the advertising industry.

I’m not really qualified to pass judgment on him. I only read one of his novels, The Glory of the Hummingbird, which left a lasting impression on me, but did not inspire me to read more of his books. He was one of those authors I didn’t feel qualified to grapple with.

The Wikipedia article says all his books were out of print at the time of his death in 1993. I am happy to report that some are now available in Kindle form (like the works of that other brilliant but neglected author, Lars Walker). The Blood of the Lamb is the most famous.

Dennett’s Dizzying Intellect

While he may not repeat a word the meaning of which he is uncertain, Daniel Dennett does exhibit a dizzying intellect. David Bentley Hart reviews his latest book.

The simple truth of the matter is that Dennett is a fanatic: He believes so fiercely in the unique authority and absolutely comprehensive competency of the third-person scientific perspective that he is willing to deny not only the analytic authority, but also the actual existence, of the first-person vantage. At the very least, though, he is an intellectually consistent fanatic, inasmuch as he correctly grasps (as many other physical reductionists do not) that consciousness really is irreconcilable with a coherent metaphysical naturalism. Since, however, the position he champions is inherently ridiculous, the only way that he can argue on its behalf is by relentlessly, and in as many ways as possible, changing the subject whenever the obvious objections are raised.

For what it is worth, Dennett often exhibits considerable ingenuity in his evasions — so much ingenuity, in fact, that he sometimes seems to have succeeded in baffling even himself.