Category Archives: Authors

Kirk on Scott (not Star Trek)

Sir Walter Scott.

The public library has always been a boon to the impecunious reader. The utility that permits me to download e-books from my library is a particular blessing (not least in these days when Pestilence stalks the land). My library’s system is a little cumbersome, but less cumbersome than driving to the physical building, so I’ve got no gripe coming.

My main problem with my library’s e-book collection is selection. Mostly I read mysteries for light reading, and when I pull up “mystery” on the library site I always get the very same list of books. I don’t know if they’re arranged by popularity or date of acquisition, or some other criterion. But I have to page through screens and screens of listings before I find one that a) interests me, and b) isn’t being read by somebody else.

Last week I tried a new approach. Instead of looking for mysteries, I thought, why don’t I try one of those “important” books I’ve always heard I should read, but have never gotten around to? I’ll bet nobody’s waiting in line for those.

So, on a whim, I searched for Russell Kirk. Several books were available, and I selected The Conservative Mind.

Brilliant. Masterfully written. Illuminating.

And long. Dear, sweet jasmine tea, it’s a long book. I started it last week, and I’m not half way through yet. I complained a while back about the length of Walter Scott’s The Pirate, but that was an Amazon review compared to this.

The nice part is that my book-buying expenses have plummeted for the duration.

So… of what shall I blog until I finish this thing?

I think I shall discuss the reading as I go.

The first thing that struck me as potential blogging material was Mr. Kirk’s assessment of Sir Walter Scott, mentioned above.

In the Waverly novels, Scott makes the conservatism of Burke a living and a tender thing—in Edie Ochiltree, showing how the benefits and dignity of hierarchical society extend even to the beggar; in Balfour of Burley, illustrating the destructive spirit of reforming fanaticism; in Montrose among the clans, “the unbought grace of life”; in Monkbarns or the Baron of Bradwardine, the hamely goodness of the old-fashioned laird…. Delighting in variety like all the Romantics, repelled by the coarsening pleasure-and-pain principle of conduct, Scott clearly saw in Utilitarianism a system which would efface nationality, individuality, and all the beauty of the past. Utilitarianism was the surly apology for a hideous and rapacious industrialism.

(More after jump)

2 more reviews from Moerbe

Mary J. Moerbe at Meet, Write and Salutary, has completed reviewing my Erling Skjalgsson books to date.

She reviews Hailstone Mountain here:

I also think this book blends together Lars Walker’s two types of writing: his Norse saga and more contemporary stuff more. I’m a big fan of both, but maybe it means this book contains a few extra surprises for those who haven’t read his other writings, set in more contemporary and/or futuristic times.

And she reviews The Elder King:

This book really played with tensions. The poor priest Ailill, whom you come to love as a man of faith and action and unabashedly real humanity, has to face three of the greatest challenges for a celibate Christian: romantic love, relics, and . . . Arianism! With a shockingly early possibility of Arianism in Norway!

Thank you, Mary!

The Lighting of the Beacons

I’m sure you recognize this clip from The Two Towers, in which the beacons are lit in Gondor, to call for help from Rohan.

I believe (I could be wrong) that the inspiration for this plot element in The Lord of the Rings was the following passage from Heimskringla (here in Lee Hollander’s translation) and the Saga of King Haakon the Good:

After this battle King Haakon incorporated into the laws for all the land along the seas, and as far inland as the salmon goes upstream, that all districts were divided into “ship-levies”; and these he parcelled out among the districts…. Along with this it was ordered that whenever there was a general levy, beacons were to be lit on high mountains, so that one could be seen from the other. It is said that news of the levy travelled from the southern-most beacon to the northernmost borough in seven nights.

If anyone knows of an earlier example of such a beacon signalling system, which might have inspired Tolkien, let me know.

Clive Cussler, R.I.P.

Author and adventurer Clive Cussler (1931-2020) has died at age 88. The Guardian published this paragraph about his writing style, starting with the book that launched his career:

Raise the Titanic!, despite bad reviews, spent six months on the bestseller lists. Cussler’s prose was rarely more than serviceable; his plots and characters were redolent of the pulp magazines of his childhood, not least Doc Savage, whose technological heroism was surely an influence on Pitt, as it was on John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee, from whom Cussler also drew. He combined the exciting elements of Bond or Matt Helm spy thrillers with plot twists drawn from Alistair MacLean; his use of factual information was another MacDonald trademark, and was an influence on writers who followed, such as Tom Clancy.

Clancy died in 2013 at age 66.

The bookish site Shelf Awareness notes Cussler didn’t give a rats rear-end about criticism of his style. In 2015, he said, “I never had a highfalutin view of what I write. It’s a job. I entertain my readers. I get up in the morning and I start typing. . . . I want it to be easy to read. I’m not writing exotic literature. I like snappy dialogue and short descriptions and lots of action.”

Here’s an excerpt of Cussler from his 2004 novel, Trojan Odyssey.

An screenshot of text from Trojan Odyssey.

Sir Novelty Fashion Turned Poet Laureate

Colley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor, playwright, and theater manager who made a name for himself initially as a comic actor in his own play, Love’s Last Shift, playing Sir Novelty Fashion.

Hilliaria: Oh! For Heav’n’s sake! no more of this Galantry, Sir Novelty: for I know you say the fame of every Woman you see.

Novelty: Every one that sees you, Madam, must say the fame. Your Beauty, like the Rack, forces every Beholder to confess his Crime–of daring to adore you.

He also reworked Shakespeare’s Richard III and Moliere’s Tartuffe. It was for crimes such as these that he was made Britain’s poet Laureate in 1730, drawing ire from contemporary poet Alexander Pope and his friends. They mocked him aggressively in print, some perhaps in good fun, some perhaps with malice.

Benham’s Book of Quotations gives sixteen pages to Pope’s words and to Cibber’s one column, and lest they die their appointed death too soon, I’ll repeat some Cibber lines here.

“Poverty, the reward of honest fools.”

“The aspiring youth that fired the Ephesian dome
Outlives in fame the pious fool that raised it.”

“Ambition is the only power that combats love.”

“Dumb’s a sly dog.”

Continue reading Sir Novelty Fashion Turned Poet Laureate

Book plug: ‘Post-Christian’

Probably my most eminent friend (though I only know him online) is Gene Edward Veith. Veith is possibly the most prominent Lutheran among today’s well-known evangelicals. He may be best known for his book, Postmodern Times.

Now he has a new book out, called Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Amazon says:

We live in a post-Christian world. Contemporary thought―claiming to be “progressive” and “liberating”―attempts to place human beings in God’s role as creator, lawgiver, and savior. But these post-Christian ways of thinking and living are running into dead ends and fatal contradictions.

This timely book demonstrates how the Christian worldview stands firm in a world dedicated to constructing its own knowledge, morality, and truth. Gene Edward Veith Jr. points out the problems with how today’s culture views humanity, God, and even reality itself. He offers hope-filled, practical ways believers can live out their faith in a secularist society as a way to recover reality, rebuild culture, and revive faith.

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