Category Archives: Authors

Sub-creators

A snippet from Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter.

This is from his account of the long night’s conversation among Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Hugo Dyson at Oxford in 1931, which bore fruit a few days later in Lewis’s conversion. It’s tremendously important.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil….

Lewis listened as Dyson affirmed in his own way what Tolkien had said. You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.

‘Tolkien: a Biography,’ by Humphrey Carpenter

During the war he had said to Christopher: ‘We are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring’ and now he wrote: ‘The War is not over (and the one that is, or part of it, has largely been lost). But it is of course wrong to fall into such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and The War always goes on, and it is no good growing faint.’

The trailers for the new Tolkien movie looked kind of good, so I figured I might go to see it. It seemed to me it would be a good idea to read a Tolkien biography before I did that. And although I’m now hearing that the movie leaves out Tolkien’s Catholic faith – which means I probably won’t see it after all – I’m glad I bought Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien: A Biography.

The book is easy to read and not too long. It follows “Toller’s” life from his birth in South Africa to his death in England, and the author is clearly a sympathetic fan – though he is often amused by Tolkien’s eccentricities. Which were many.

This is, I believe, the classic Tolkien biography, and it’s fairly old now. I expect there are new things to be learned from more recent ones. I noted, for instance, that Carpenter speaks of “Jack” Lewis’s transfer to Cambridge University only in passing, as a step backwards in the two men’s friendship. While that’s true enough, it should have been noted that it was through the good offices of Tolkien himself that Jack got the job.

But, reading as a fan, I found Tolkien: A Biography fascinating. I recommend it highly.

Warren Wiersbe, pastor, author, Bridge Builder

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, 89, author of over 150 books that opened the Bible to readers around the world, died yesterday. His grandson, Dan Jacobsen, writes about him with his persistent voice in his ear: “As I write, I can’t help but imagine him hovering in the background and trying to find a way to edit what I’m writing so that it reflects a crisp tone with active voice and genius alliteration. (Grandpa mutters the phrase, ‘write for the ear, not for the eye!’ but what does that even mean?!) “

Wiersbe described himself as a bridge builder. “When he said it, he meant that he had a knack for filling leadership roles as the interim between giants. The hallmark picture of this has always been his tenure as senior pastor at the historic Moody Church in Chicago.” Wiersbe served at Moody Church between George Sweeting and Erwin Lutzer. Jacobsen remembers he frequently said, “You know the best thing I ever did for that place was leave so that Lutzer could pastor there.”

Of course, Jacobsen doesn’t stop with the professional aspects of his grandfather’s life. Get a run down of those details here.

Grandpa taught me what it is to pray. I think it was only two or three years ago this month that I spent a weekend with him. At many junctures along our days he would stop me and say, “let’s have a word of prayer together,” and he would acknowledge the Lord. I got the sense from him that he knew Jesus better than I even thought possible, and his life was lived in daily, sometimes hourly admission of his need for Christ in prayer.

Don’t Rely on Movies for History

The star of the upcoming biopic on Tolkien, Nicholas Hoult, said he loves what he has learned about the great author’s rich knowledge of history and language. His character demonstrates an early love of language in the film by talking to the woman who would become his wife about a word he felt should mean far more than it does. Entertainment Weekly states, “The give-and-take of their blossoming romance is founded on language, and in such ways, Tolkien makes a case for why the mind of The Lord of the Rings author was as fascinating as his fantasy epics.”

I gather that scene or anything like it actually never happened, which is one reason the Tolkien estate said they would not support or endorse the movie and did not authorize or participate in its production.

Tolkien historian John Garth said theirs is a good plan, because biographical movies like this usually make up things. He told The Guardian, “As a biographer, I expect I’ll be busy correcting new misconceptions arising from the movie. I hope that anyone who enjoys the film and is interested in Tolkien’s formative years will pick up a reliable biography.”

“Christianity Comes to the Vikings”

Below, my lecture at Union University, Jackson, TN — in case you’ve been longing to spend an hour with me. It opens with a short introduction by none other than Dr. Hunter Baker.

I was a little disappointed that my PowerPoint slides are out of shot; on the other hand, I didn’t always synch them well (my remote clicker didn’t always get through for some reason).

Probably best for me not to comment on the short portion I’ve personally viewed. I’m generally incapable of objective self-assessment. So judge for yourself.

And then make it viral.

My Tennessee Waltz

Photo credit: Ray Van Neste

My first order of business is to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Hunter Baker, Dr. Ray Van Neste, and all the wonderful people at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, for making me so extremely welcome for the last couple days. It was a tremendous experience for me. I hope it was enjoyable for innocent bystanders as well.

I flew in to Memphis, courtesy of the school, on Monday. Dr. Hunter Baker met me, in two senses. He’s one of those people I’ve known online for years, but we’d never actually been in the same physical space before. He took me out for pizza (very good), and then back to the school for a short tour. That’s when I also got to meet Dr. Ray Van Neste, another online friend and the co-conspirator in my invitation.

They’re both deans. When you’re a dean, you can get away with spending institutional funds on marginal literary figures.

Tuesday was the most intense day I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s hard to describe. Hunter told me I wasn’t like he expected, based on my self-descriptions on this blog. And he was right. I was in a different reality on Tuesday. I was “on,” as in performing. Like when I used to act.

In retrospect, I’m not at all sure why I decided it would be a good idea to wear my frock coat, vest, and tie when I visited classes on Tuesday. Especially when I pulled out my monocle for reading, it must have made me look distinctly bizarre. But it somehow made sense to me in my altered state of consciousness. I sat in on Hunter’s Modern Political Thought class that morning, discussing medieval political thought. Seemed to go OK. In the afternoon I joined a writing class, and that was quite a bit of fun – or at least the alien intelligence possessing my consciousness thought so.

All day I was in performance mode, and people enabled me by asking me questions on subjects about which I had something to say. These elements combined to make me appear to be an extrovert. The real me just hung on for the ride.

Lunch that day was one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had, at a local place, and for dinner we joined another dean (whose name I’ve forgotten, I fear) for a memorable meal at the nicest place in town. My alien possessor handled this well, I believe.

Then in the evening, I did my big presentation on “When Christianity Came To the Vikings.” I am pretty much unable to tell you how it went, because my grandiose half thinks it was awesome, and my neurotic half thinks I messed it up completely. The truth, no doubt, falls somewhere in between, but where on a scale from one to ten, I can’t tell you. They inform me the video will be posted, and I’ll share it with you. But I will never have the nerve to watch it.

I do know I knocked my water bottle off the podium. Could have used that water.

There were a number of questions afterward (always a good sign), and one fan who wasn’t a student or faculty member drove a distance to be there (nice to meet you, Steve).

Then I returned to my guest room and crashed, feeling as if I’d gone nine rounds with a prizefighter.

And Wednesday I flew home. It was a perfect spring day in Tennessee, and in Minneapolis we were having a snowstorm.

And that’s my latest adventure.

It’s good to be a celebrity.

Restricted by Film, Bergman Turned to Novels

If you like long novels about families slouching toward their doom, marriage as a “life catastrophe,” and reconciliations that come fifty-years late if at all, then you may already know that writer and director Ingmar Bergman turned to novels at one point in his life to overcome the “perfectionist restriction” he felt in his film work.

He wrote the three autobiographical novels [following his autobiography] in a remarkable creative rush between the ages of seventy-three and seventy-eight. The Best Intentions, a dramatization of his parents’ improbable courtship and troubled marriage that’s punctuated by conversations (real or imagined) with Erik and Karin (referred to in the novel by the pseudonyms “Anna” and “Henrik”) in their old age, came out in 1991; Sunday’s Children, which focuses on a precarious moment in the young Ingmar’s relationship with his forbidding father, in 1993; and Private Confessions, a series of six brief stories, each featuring his mother at a crucial moment in her emotional and spiritual life, in 1996.*

Personal appearance advisory

I will be speaking at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 9, on the subject: “When Christianity Came to the Vikings.” More information here.

Thanks to Ray Van Neste, Dean of the School of Theology and Missions, and Hunter Baker, Dean of Arts and Sciences, for putting whatever pressure was necessary on the right people to allow this event to happen.

Between Camps in Defense of the Truth

Last week Dr. Anthony Bradley revisited topics he wrote in the introductory chapter of his collaborative book, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. It’s the kind of statement some battle-hardened writers and speakers may dismiss as part of the normal push and shove of public theology, but minority writers and speakers in our country appear to have one extra front to defend–expectations on their ethnicity. When a smart, young, black man embraces the Westminster Confession, why would he have to justify himself to his peers for choosing a “white” church and defend himself from his would-be allies against charges of tokenism?

I know this is a hot-button topic I’m unqualified to blog about, but I’m pressing on to recommend Aliens in the Promised Land as a good start at catching our blind spots. Believers and church people alike easily read their cultural assumptions and convictions into the Bible, turning them around to others as proper applications of God’s Word. We talk about this whenever we bring up selections from a list of most misunderstood or misapplied verses. How many sermons barely apply the text in favor of the speaker’s personal convictions?

Life assumptions come from our family history, life experiences, and place in society, and in that last area minorities say they have suffered. One professor in the book wrote about his ancestors living in the Texas area long before the state was formed. He said they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. They have been US citizens for five generations, but because of his Latino heritage this American has had people tell him to go back to Mexico and the people who didn’t say that ask him why he wasn’t Catholic. If you look a certain way you must be a certain person.

That may be the world’s response , but let’s leave it with them and conduct ourselves in light of Christ’s great work, “having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two [Jew and gentile], thus making peace and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:15-16 NKJV).

Continue reading Between Camps in Defense of the Truth

Best Tolkien Movie Yet

Jeffrey Overstreet calls Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary on the war that shaped J.R.R. Tolkien the best offering of all of Jackson’s Tolkien-inspired movies.

Honoring these intimate archival recordings, Jackson reveals harrowing accounts of the misleading propaganda that summoned so many young men, the dehumanizing pressures of the war, the particular chaos and slaughter of the Somme, the burdens that the survivors would have to carry, and the betrayals, abandonment, and loneliness that awaited those few who returned. And as we listen, he fills the screen with highlights (that word sounds trite and inappropriate here) from more than 600 hours of material from the Imperial War Museum and BBC archives. Much of it is sharpened and focused, but then, as in Wings of Desire and The Wizard of Oz, its black-and-white footage suddenly blooms into color and detail that takes your breath away.

Tolkien fans: Peter Jackson saved the best for last

Early Review of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”

On this day in 1895, the great American orator and statesman Frederick Douglass passed away. To mark the day, Bookmarks has reproduced a review of Douglass’s 1845 autobiography that ran in The New York Tribune on June 10, 1845.

We wish that every one may read his book and see what a mind might have been stifled in bondage,—what a man may be subjected to the insults of spendthrift dandies, or the blows of mercenary brutes, in whom there is no whiteness except of the skin, no humanity except in the outward form, and of whom the Avenger will not fail yet to demand—’Where is thy brother?’

Narrative was well-received, selling close to 30,000 copies by 1860.

It’s not you, Jane. It’s me.

I can only attribute it to mental failure resulting from my advanced age. I thought I was doing a pretty good job keeping the brain nimble by doing challenging mental work.

But if that’s true, how do I explain being unable to read Jane Austen’s Emma?

I’ve read Austen in the past. I recall enjoying Pride and Prejudice quite a lot. I made it through Sense and Sensibility, which I’m told is not the author’s best. Everyone speaks well of Emma.

But I couldn’t bear it. It bored me sick. I didn’t find much to like in any of the characters, except perhaps Mr. Knightly – and he isn’t around that much in the first fifth of the book, which is as far as I got. I especially disliked Mr. Woodhouse. Since I subscribe to the Law of Perverse Criticism (a theory of my own invention, which says that anything that really irritates you is probably something you do yourself), that indicates I’m probably a lot like that fussy old man.

I hereby turn in my Literary Snob card. I hang my head in shame.

Now I’m reading a book about the Lewis Chess Men. That one’s keeping my lowbrow interest.