Category Archives: Authors

Tolkien’s Long Procrastination in the Same Direction

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote essays and myths for years before the publication of The Hobbit in 1937. Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics is also published this year. The Lord of the Rings is published in three volumes during 1954-55. And through all of this time, the author may have been thinking he should possibly find time to write something deep on Chaucer.

His research student V.A. Kolve said, “He confessed to me once that some were disappointed by how little he had done in the academic way, but that he had chosen instead to explore his own vision of things.”

Tolkien himself said, “I have always been incapable of doing the job at hand.”

John M. Bowers has written a book on the long academic project Tolkien intended to return to. He reports,

[Tolkien] confided to his publisher in 1937 that Oxford would merely add The Hobbit to his “long list of never-never procrastinations” (Letters, 18). Fiction-writing simply did not count in terms of academic production, especially after Tolkien had idled away his two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship. “The authorities of the university,” he would lament when The Lord of the Rings was in press, “might well consider it an aberration of an elderly professor of philology to write and publish fairy stories and romances” (Letters, 219). He explained to his American publisher this widespread view of his failings: “Most of my philological colleagues are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes to my face) at the fall of a philological into ‘Trivial literature’; and anyway the cry is: ‘now we know how you have been wasting your time for 20 years’” (Letters, 238).

Remembering Roger Scruton

Many people under the influence of science, and particularly neuro-nonsense, will say the sacred is an old concept, it’s just a hangover, but you can easily see that’s not so, because everyone has a sense of desecration: there are things everybody values which, when they are spoiled, are not just moved or destroyed, they are desecrated. Something that is vital not just to you but the world. People have this sense when they see their towns pulled apart and concrete blocks put in the middle of them. You only have to look at Aberdeen to see what happens to a beautiful place when the desecrators get their hands on it.

Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World

Conservative author Roger Scruton died last week. He is being remembered by many as a generous, thoughtful man who said stuff.

Politician Daniel Hannan said, “Roger Scruton changed the course of my life. He addressed my school’s philosophy society when I was 16, speaking so compellingly about Wittgenstein and language that, when he finished, no one wanted to ask the first question. So, more to fill an awkward silence than anything else, I stuck my hand up and asked him what he saw as the role of a conservative thinker. ‘The role of a conservative thinker,’ he replied, in his charmingly diffident manner, ‘is to reassure the people that their prejudices are true.’

“That beautiful aperçu never left me.”

A Threat to Justice Everywhere

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Justin Taylor offers context and organization to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote in the margins of the newspaper that published the open letter calling for “’an appeal for law and order and common sense,’ in dealing with racial problems in Alabama.”

Anti-intellectual thoughts

How shall I put this delicately?

I’m going to start by talking about a very private bodily function… in the vaguest possible terms. Because I’m a sensitive soul. Then I’ll go on to make a vapid point.

I clicked on an article that showed up on the Book Full of Faces a little while back.

It was about the aforementioned Private Bodily Function. This is a function performed frequently by every person, saint or sinner, male, female, or delusional. The headline informed me that I was finishing up this function “THE WRONG WAY!”

Out of curiosity, I read the article. When I was finished, I thought, “It appears that the author of this article has never actually performed this bodily function.”

Which I find somewhat unlikely.

Then I noticed who published it. When I saw that the article was aimed at college students, all became clear. An academic wrote it. And academics, as you’ve probably noticed, literally don’t know… many things.

It takes an academic to analyze a commonplace physical act and declare that all mankind has been doing it wrong from time immemorial. The whole scam of modern higher education is based on taking what is known and understood, deconstructing it, and rendering it mysterious and in need of expert intervention.

There was a time in history when the purpose of education was to learn the higher mysteries, the beauty and wisdom concealed behind the commonplace.

That changed (I think) some time around the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment decided there were no higher mysteries, and turned its energies to deconstruction and demythologizing. Instead of learning what we’d never known, the modern student is meant to unlearn what everybody already knows.

I was reminded of the first line of Alan Bloom’s book, Love and Friendship (quoting from memory because I can’t locate my copy at the moment). Describing Rousseau, he writes, “A Swiss told the French they were bad lovers, and the French believed him.”

That was just the beginning.

Why Endorse White-Cain’s Book?

When noted speaker Paula White-Cain, “the spiritual advisor to President Donald Trump,” released a book several days ago, there were a number of endorsements from Baptist ministers and ministry leaders who, many of us thought, should have held their tongues. This is not a teacher promoted in orthodox churches. She is a heretic on the level of Benny Hinn; in fact, she allegedly had a relationship with him at one point. She’s also a pastor of her church, and female pastors are a point of heated argument among Southern Baptists this year. Why then would someone like the pastor of First Baptist in Dallas endorse her book as a refreshing story of God’s redemptive power (taken from his words printed in the book)?

Professors Leah Payne and Aaron Griffith say evangelical leaders have sided with their theological opponents for years. Many times these partnerships make sense; we join together as diverse citizen groups in support of a moral or community good. No one would balk at Christians and heretics building a playground together, but when Christian pastors endorse the books and teaching of a heretic, that’s when we have problems.

Payne and Griffith describe the lure of celebrity among most evangelicals and their tendency to use self-help arguments similar to those they condemn from White-Cain. They are “not that different from the soft prosperity exhortations of other evangelicals, including many in the SBC, who claim that following biblical principles improves marriages, lowers anxiety, and creates extraordinary lives of success and significance” (drawing again on words from the pastor of First Baptist Dallas).

That’s a broad explanation that doesn’t quite work for some of the endorsers of this book, so to fill it out a bit more we could say that a book endorsement is not an evaluation of its content. It’s more of a business move or pandering.

Maybe they’ve learned this lesson from White-Cain’s book: “Find your passion in life and figure out a way to make money.”

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

“As Individuals, We Can Never Be Happy”

To label [novelist Marilynne] Robinson a postmodern conservative or a conservative postmodernist seems to invite boundary policing and accusations of claiming the novelist for a political agenda she does not share. Perhaps a turn away from the language of modern politics can allow us to state what Robinson and [Peter Augustine] Lawler hold in common. Their respective postmodernisms represent, above all, returns to humanism. Specifically, the recognition of the human as a created being is found both in Robinson’s “radical anthropocentricity” and in Lawler’s “whole human being.” The intellectual terrain they share might be called a postmodern humanism (or a humanist postmodernism), joined in the understanding, in Lawler’s words, that “to the extent we understand ourselves as individuals we can never be happy.”

J. L. Wall writes about the big ideas behind Robinson’s stories and essays and how she and Lawler both believe we have lost the language to communicate our deepest longings. We can still ask the right questions, but our attempts at answers fall short.

Also on this subject: “So why are humans in the secular age so unhappy? Calasso says it is because they find something ominous in the insubstantiality they feel both within themselves and in the world around them.” From a review of The Unnamable Present by Roberto Calasso.

Everyone Loves Food

“While I was writing The Lost Family, I cooked a lot—to meditate on the day’s writing as well as to kitchen-test all the recipes I then featured on the book’s menu. Some of my favorite lines for the book would bubble up that way, as if from a Magic 8-Ball, and one of them was ‘vegetables have no language.’ I revised this slightly for the novel, but it means that food is universal. The produce and spices will vary from country to country and cuisine to cuisine, but if you love food, you have a vast family out there. We can all communicate about how our beloved dishes are different—and how they are the same.” – Jenna Blum, The Lost Family

Crystal King, whose book about Vatican chef Bartolomeo Scappi, The Chef’s Secret, came out this year, quotes eleven authors on including food in their writing.

“Writing, in a way, is an extension of my cooking, and vice versa. Cooking taught me how to create, that I needed to create.” – Phillip Kazan

Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

Milton Wrote in Margins of Shakespeare Folio

After Shakespeare’s death his works were collected into a folio and printed. Two hundred thirty-three editions out of the seven hundred fifty originally printed still exist, and some of them have notes and marking from early readers. Now a Cambridge fellow believes he has compiled enough evidence to identify one annotator’s handwriting as belonging to the great John Milton.

Cambridge University fellow Jason Scott-Warren made the discovery in response to research conducted by Pennsylvania State University English professor Claire Bourne. Naturally he hesitated to suggest this, because it’s too easy to see what you want to see.

But he soon found that other scholars were agreeing with him. “Not only does this hand look like Milton’s, but it behaves like Milton’s writing elsewhere does, doing exactly the things Milton does when he annotates books, and using exactly the same marks,” said Dr Will Poole at New College Oxford. “Shakespeare is our most famous writer, and the poet John Milton was his most famous younger contemporary. It was, until a few days ago, simply too much to hope that Milton’s own copy of Shakespeare might have survived — and yet the evidence here so far is persuasive. This may be one of the most important literary discoveries of modern times.”

‘Debunking Howard Zinn’

This isn’t a review, just a signal-boosting mention of a new book by a woman I used to know online. We haven’t been in contact for a while, but Mary Grabar has obviously been fighting the good fight. She just released Debunking Howard Zinn, a book on Howard Zinn’s influential A People’s History of the United States. From the blurb:

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has sold more than 2.5 million copies. It is pushed by Hollywood celebrities, defended by university professors who know better, and assigned in high school and college classrooms to teach students that American history is nothing more than a litany of oppression, slavery, and exploitation. 

Zinn’s history is popular, but it is also massively wrong.

Scholar Mary Grabar exposes just how wrong in her stunning new book Debunking Howard Zinn, which demolishes Zinn’s Marxist talking points that now dominate American education. 

Alcorn Giving Away His Royalties

Years ago, author Randy Alcorn was a pastor, participating with his church in some resistance work at the local abortion clinic. For that work the courts penalized him and other members of the team thousands of dollars to be paid to the clinics. They would not pay. More court hearings came with more penalties, eventually landing the group in a jury trial before an angry judge.

“On February 11, 1991, nine of the twelve jurors agreed to award the abortion clinic $8.2 million dollars, averaging about $250,000 per defendant. It was the largest judgment ever against a group of peaceful protestors. “

But Alcorn has not paid the clinics anything; instead, he has given away over $8.2 million in book royalties to various charities. He wrote about all of this on his blog last month.

A Writer’s Anniversary Thoughts

This summer, one of our favorite authors, Jared C. Wilson, has three ten-year anniversaries, and he reflects on those years at his blog. “It was an odd feeling at the time when Your Jesus is Too Safe became my first published book. I’d been trying ten years at that point trying to get published as a novelist.”

That novel, Otherworld, has seen the light of day, and he has two others in the works, but only one with a contract (let’s step it up, publishers). “By God’s grace, I have been privileged to write nearly 20 books and study resources in the last 10 years.” His next published work looks exciting: The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth, coming January 2020.

The True Crime book Harper Lee never finished

Author Casey Cep writes about a true crime story Harper Lee could not complete. “Harper Lee always said that she was ‘intrigued with crime.’ She grew up surrounded by stacks of the magazine True Detective Mysteries, cut her teeth on Sherlock Holmes, watched trials from the balcony of the local courthouse as a kid, and studied criminal law at the University of Alabama.”

The story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a man accused but not convicted of murdering and collecting death benefits from five family members, was as compelling as any story Lee had grown up with. But she could not pull it together. Perhaps the characters were too much larger than life.

Part of why true crime stories are so appealing is that they force us to confront the limits of what can be known, and eliding those limits, whether by fabricating motives or means or inventing someone’s inner life, doesn’t just cross the boundary between fiction and nonfiction; it transgresses something deeper.

Promises Not Made

I’ve seen many critical comments about “purity culture” this year from strangers on the Internet. I didn’t know exactly what they were referring to, but that’s normal when you come into the middle of someone’s conversation, which is what social media allows you to do all day, every day. And you can’t bring a pot of coffee with you. Last week such conversations couldn’t be avoided as everyone on my side of the Internet cafe took up talking about the announced divorce and apostasy of the author of a 1990s bestselling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

The criticism has been as open-ended as the label. I think much of what I saw was from people who were pushing back appropriately on a shame-based rationale they were taught, but many critics seemed to be attacking biblical sexual ethics as a whole. The latter is ridiculous, but I’d like to write about the former for a minute.

Continue reading Promises Not Made