All posts by Lars Walker

…and live in that America

On June 30, 1891, my great-great-grandfather, Ole Olsen Kvalevaag, of Avaldsnes parish, Karmøy Island, Norway, wrote the following in a letter to his son, my great-grandfather, who’d emigrated to America and changed his name to John Walker (my translation):

I myself have been sick awhile, but now, thank God, I am better again; and it’s a good thing, because I haven’t had much of anyone to help me with the farm work this year…. I myself have plowed every furrow this year….

Ja, it is certainly hard to think that we, who have brought up so many as we have, are now alone in our old age. Ja, it is sorrowful to think of, that we should have two sons in America, and [they] go and work for day wages, with nothing of their own to hold on to, and will not be at home in their own home and country. Ja, it is amazing how a person can be, ja, I often wonder about it when I think of you, that you could forsake your dear home, and live in that America….

You, Jan, are scared to come home, you say, because you have to go to Madla [for military service], you say; ja, setting aside the fact that you have to, for you aren’t too good for that place, nor is anyone else; for as surely as you are, and want to be, a Christian, there is something the Lord has commanded, that we should submit to God and king. I ask you not to refuse this, for think how the Lord can lay upon you something that might be worse for you if you avoid this; for I can tell you that there are many who have been punished by God for it.

I don’t have John’s replies, but what I see in this letter (as well as the others in the collection) is the Declaration of Independence writ small (to an extent), in one family’s history. My great-grandfather resisted a lot of pressure and well-meaning warnings (not to mention guilt) in order to strike out on a new path in a new country. He left familiar things, and things that felt right, to try it the American way.

He ended up rich by the standards of his time and place, incidentally. The later letters make it clear that his father had borrowed money from him.

I’m grateful to be an American, grateful both to God and to my risk-taking ancestors.

Happy Fourth of July.

Who’s in control here?

Ever wonder what comedy was like before Christianity? Anthony Esolen has an intriguing meditation over at Mere Comments today.

Phil wonders, in a post below, why we read literature. I suspect it’s partly for the same reason a few of us miserable wretches produce literature. And that’s the main reason anyone does anything—a need to feel in control, or to feel vicariously that there is control and order somewhere.

The older I get (and I’m getting pretty old) the more I agree with the psychological theory that most of us do the things we do (wise or stupid or crazy) out of a desire to feel in control of some part of our worlds.

There are many ways to divide mankind into Two Kinds of People, but it seems to me one of those standard divisions is between the Men of Action and Creative Men (I know I’m supposed to say Persons nowadays, but being a brutal sexist is one of the ways I try to exercise control on my own part). Generally—there are exceptions, of course—people who do big things and impose their wills on others don’t produce art. And people who produce art aren’t movers and shakers in the world.

When I was a child, I learned early on that I didn’t have much power in my environment. I couldn’t make decisions and I was pretty much at everybody else’s mercy.

So I started playing with puppets. I loved puppets. They were like little people who’d do whatever I wanted them to do. Later I turned to drawing. Drawing was better than puppets, because the cast of characters I could play with was unlimited. Finally I started writing, and that was even better, because my drawing skills only went so far, while writing gave me a greater sense of mastery.

A greater sense of mastery. An arena where I could call the shots. Turn any old pile of ideas and conflicts into a coherent, rational whole.

Sounds kind of pathetic when I put it that way, but it seems to me all human endeavors are like that in one way or another. The politician tries to create or change the political order to make it conform to his own vision of A Really Good Society. The scientist tries to discover the hidden laws of the universe, and to manipulate them to achieve ends he approves of. The carpenter imposes a new level of order on lumber.

Lewis and Tolkien called this “subcreation.” Rather than seeing it as a pitiful attempt to impose order where there is none (as the postmodern critic might charge), they saw human creativity as one of God’s gifts, bestowed by Him along with His Image at Creation.

How you see it all depends on the biases you bring to your observations. And if you want to minimize it by explaining it away with psychological jargon, well, that’s another way of imposing order on the world, isn’t it?

Ignore this post

The post that follows is, as far as I can figure out, entirely pointless.

It has nothing to do with books, and it involves no stories of any detectable drama. I inform you only because I promised to, yesterday (Walker: a synonym for useless, unwanted integrity).

I live on a hillside, and a number of my neighbors have retaining walls running along their neighbors’ driveways, as I do. The difference between my retaining wall and any of my neighbors’ is that mine is much larger, and potentially more expensive to repair.

So I was distressed when a toolbox-sized chunk cracked itself out of the concrete this spring. I told my brothers, Moloch and Baal, and they offered to come up (and down, respectively) and see if we could repair it ourselves.

Since that time I’ve also noticed a tendency for rainwater to run into my basement, along the side that has not, for some reason, been equipped with rain gutters. Someone (and you know who you are) told me that putting up gutters, especially on a straight shot along one side of a house, is an easy afternoon job for a couple guys. So I asked M. and B. if they’d care to help me with that too.

They agreed. I bought supplies, borrowed a ladder at work to supplement the extension ladder I already own, and they came yesterday for the big work day.

Here’s where the story gets (even more) dull: Everything went great. We used patching cement to repair the wall, and the final result appears acceptable (at least as a temporary repair). We overcame some problems with awkward angles (since my ladders weren’t the ideal sizes or shapes), and the gutters went up handsomely. I don’t think professionals could have done that any better.

We did it all in a day. I provided the meals and basically hewed wood and drew water, leaving M. and B. to do the manly work.

They went home this morning, to resume their various duties.

And that’s it. It was a good day.

Busy day

No time to post much tonight. Brothers Moloch and Baal are both here, giving me heroic help on a couple of maintenance projects. I’ll post at greater length tomorrow, barring surprises. Short version: our projects seem to be successful, nobody got hurt, and we’re all still speaking to each other.

RIP: James Patrick Baen

The man who gave me my chance as a published author, Jim Baen, passed away yesterday. Author David Drake provides an eloquent eulogy here.

In the ups and downs of our working relationship, I never lost my deep respect for the man they used to call the “GE” (officially General Editor, though many fans preferred God-Emperor, begging your pardon).

You’ll read now and then about the great old days of publishing, when Mighty Editors roamed the earth (or at least the hallways) wielding their red pencils and showing callow authors who showed some promise how to tell a real story.

Those days are mostly gone now. Today the industry is run by bean counters who sell books by the yard. Editors flit from house to house, perpetually frustrated that they can’t get approval for books and authors they believe in.

Jim Baen was a throwback to the glory days. He ran his own shop, and he ran it his own way. He published the kind of books he wanted to read himself, and he showed the world that you could make a nice living doing just that.

He was fiercely, even frighteningly, honest. When he said he’d do a thing, he did it.

He believed in freedom of speech and, unlike many in the publishing business, he practiced it. He published me (a Christian) and Eric Flint (a Communist). He himself was an agnostic.

I doubt I’ll ever see another editor/publisher like him.

We can never know for certain the fate of any soul. I pray Jim will have found grace at the end.

Victor Immature

(OK, let’s try this a second time. As you can tell, being the conservative I am, I’m incapable of dealing with change. So this new utility throws me into a tizzy, impelling me to throw my apron over my head at the first setback, jump up on a stool and cry, “Kill it! Kill it now!”)

Anyway, I was closing up the bookstore yesterday and my gaze fell on a book of Bible stories for children. One of the prominent figures on the cover was a bare-chested muscleman whom I assumed was supposed to be Samson. And that got me thinking about that character.

You’ve almost got to put Samson on the cover of a kids’ Bible book, because he’s one of the few Bible characters who really gets their attention. No matter how good a Sunday School teacher you may be, you know you’re never going to raise the same interest in the story of Nehemiah and his walls as you’ll get with the story of Samson. Samson’s story is simple. Samson himself was simple. He liked to party and he liked to fight, and when somebody crossed him, he killed them. Spiritualize the story all you like, but basically that’s what it is.

His story is a dysfunctional saga in the Bible’s most dysfunctional book—Judges, where “there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

Ever see the Cecil B. DeMille movie, “Samson and Delilah,” with Victor Mature and Hedy Lamar? It’s one of those sand-and-sandal extravaganzas that hasn’t held up well with the years, imho. It opens with a common movie device for those days—an open book, and a narrator reading what’s written on the page, in case anyone in the audience is illiterate, or Lithuanian, or something. This opening explains that Samson was a heroic freedom fighter, struggling to free his people from the yoke of the oppressive Philistines.

Which is hooey.

Pick up your Bible and go to the Book of Judges, chapters 13-16. Read the story and find me any passage where it speaks of Samson fighting for freedom, or even speaking up for freedom. He doesn’t do it. He doesn’t even speak up for God (though he speaks to Him at the end). He seems perfectly happy to hang out with the Philistines and party with them, until they cross him.

The Philistines (do you say “Fill-i-steen” or “Fill-i-stine?” I used to say “steen,” but I’ve gotten all hoity-toity in recent years and have been trying to learn to say “stine”), if I remember my history properly, were related to the Cretans, who were related to the Minoans, who were related to the Greeks. In other words they were Europeans who’d invaded the Middle East and snatched some prime real estate. Kind of like Vikings (I have a suspicion that Samson went after Philistine women because, like many guys before and since, he had a thing for blondes). The Philistines controlled iron technology in the region, which gave them a huge economic and strategic advantage. They had all the money and all the neat toys, and Samson appears to have enjoyed their culture quite a lot.

It wasn’t until the Philistines broke up his engagement and murdered his fiancée and her father that he started killing them. It had nothing to do with freedom, or with the Hebrew religion. It was pure personal vengeance. God made use of Samson, certainly, but Samson’s devotion isn’t evident in the story.

So the spiritual meaning, such as it is, seems to me to be that guys who waste their gifts and talents, break God’s law (Samson violates his Nazirite vows numerous times) and live by their lusts come to bad ends. There’s some grace at the point of death, which is a comfort, but all in all it’s a tragic story.

(Needless to say, the above commentary was written by a life-long wimp.)

My fame grows

I just sent an e-mail to the guy who runs my website, telling him to note that I’ll be at the Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, July 27-29. I gave him a link to their web page. I then scrolled down the page and found picture of myself playing Viking last year, handsome in a red shirt. You can see it here.

Coming: A good day to die

My local conservative talk radio station just changed their promo spot for the Michael Savage Show. Best I can figure out, the excerpt they’re using is one where Savage himself isn’t speaking, but a substitute host is.

That strikes me as brilliant marketing. What better come-on could there be for the Savage show than the promise that maybe Savage won’t be on tonight?

Sunday was a pretty good day. I went out to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis to be part of the Viking Age Club & Society’s encampment for the annual Swedish Day celebration.

The weather started out rainy, but about the time we began setting up it cleared beautifully, and the temperatures were mild by summer standards. I sold a few books, and there were pretty blonde girls to look at. Can’t do much better than that.

I think it’s good for me to do the Viking thing. It gets me out into the fresh air for one thing, something I probably wouldn’t do at all if left to my own devices. It forces me to relate to my fellow humans, something I tend to neglect likewise. And it forces me to lift heavy objects (one of the tough parts of being a Viking is that everything’s made out of steel or wood, and the better your kit the heavier the load you have to carry around). By the way, I successfully pitched the new awning shade I made, following these directions. It’s not historically authentic, but I’ve accumulated too many sunburns portraying subarctic Europeans.

But the big news is that soon I’ll be fighting with a sword.

Eric and Ragnar did all the fighting this time, but we had some further practice, and I got more comfortable with the moves. I was waiting for them to tell me that I was ready to join in, but while we were striking camp I found out they’d been waiting for me to declare myself ready. Apparently my apprenticeship is over, and I’m ready to fight (translation: be killed) at our next event.

Can’t wait.

lw: Some things are as lovely as a tree

I actually had another spot of good luck yesterday, which I neglected to mention.

As Lord and Master here at Blithering Heights, I’ve been concerned, since the snow melted, about my tree cover. Specifically the single large tree in my front yard (I think it’s probably an ash, but I’m not much good with trees. My only other tree is a big fir [or something] in back). The front yard tree drops a lot of small, dry branches, and it didn’t leaf out very well this spring. On top of that, it has a sort of soggy spot on the trunk, where it appears a branch was lopped off long ago.

So I called an arborist last week. His wife answered the phone, took my number, and said he’d get back to me. A diagnostic visit would cost $65. He never called me back.

Yesterday I called another arborist. He listened to my story and told me he could come out and do some tests ($50), but his recommendation was that I should call my City Forester, who’d look at it for free. The downside of that approach would be that if the Forester condemned the tree, there’d be no appeal. But he didn’t think I had a terminal problem, judging from what I’d told him. He also suggested pounding in some tree food spikes, available at any hardware store.

So I picked up some spikes tonight, and I’ll be installing them later this evening. If that doesn’t help, I’ll call the Forester.

I selected this arborist because, although his ad didn’t feature any telltale fish symbols or anything, his choice of business name suggested he was a Christian. He certainly does business as we like to think Christians do (and are too often disappointed).

Maybe civilization isn’t coming to an end right away after all.

Lars Walker