All posts by Lars Walker

Guidebook to Purgatory

It was a nice two days, anyway.

But I couldn’t expect my depression to stay away for much more than that.

What I’m experiencing now isn’t a bottomless, cosmic cold sore, like last week’s depression. But it’s a definite downturn. And that (plus the fact that I’m stuck for other material) gives me an excuse to post a little essay about depression I’ve been thinking out. I justify this in two ways. One, I’m going to make a literary comparison. Two, some of you may be writers who don’t know much about deep depression (or is that an oxymoron?) and I hope to clarify exactly what the experience feels like. For the record.

One of the most notable (and surprising) characteristics of a truly ripe depression is the sense of clarity it seems to give.

Deep depression is like Occam’s Razor, a simple, elegant answer to the whole messy problem.

It’s like the “payoff” in a classic mystery. You know the scene where the detective gathers all the suspects and explains everything, extending an accusing finger at the true culprit (who generally pulls out a hidden gun and forces the detective to dispense quick justice)?

When you’re deeply depressed, you look over your whole life—everything you’ve done and experienced, and you say, “Oh, that explains it. It’s all so simple.” It’s like that moment of clarity one imagines one has just before one dies. Which, the depressee feels, is likely to happen any minute.

So it resembles the payoff in a mystery, as stated above, but the mystery isn’t an English Cozy, or even a Thirties Hard-boiled. It’s a Noir, directed by a Frenchman

I suppose it’s a little like the experience of LSD users. I don’t know about this from experience, but I’m told that musicians (for instance) who performed under the influence of the drug thought they were producing brilliant stuff. And were appalled when they heard recordings once they’d “come down.”

When you’re deeply depressed, all your questions are answered—unpleasantly. “Why am I having trouble at work? Why are my relationships going badly? Why is my health failing?” The answer is simple. “It’s all my own fault. I am a miserable, stupid person whom nobody loves. Not only is my life lousy, but it’s going to get worse and worse until I die. Which will be soon.”

I believe in reason. I’m a strong defender of reason (all praise to Francis Schaeffer). But human beings don’t always recognize reason (or unreason) in their own heads.

That, I think, is one of the things we need other people in our lives to help with.

I’ll go out and find some. Just as soon as I’m a little less depressed.

(Please note that the above, written under the influence of a certain level of depression, may all be complete hogwash.)

In which I flatter myself by comparison to a much better writer

C. S. Lewis, in the introduction to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters, tells of one subscriber to the Manchester Guardian, which originally published the series, who canceled his subscription because “much of the advice given in these letters seemed to him not only erroneous but positively diabolical.”

Today I got an e-mail from someone who read my latest American Spectator Online article. In the interest of objectivity, I shall quote a portion of his opening paragraph unedited:

You are the most out-of-touch, backwards-thinking, and plain ignorant author I have read on the subject of Islam. Your blatant, and apparently deliberate, disregard for the abhorrent inequalities and lack of human rights inherent to Islam is despicable.

He goes on to castigate me for my defense of Islamic culture.

Now this certainly doesn’t prove…

a) that I’m as good an author as Lewis, or

b) that my correspondent is as dense as the Guardian subscriber.

It’s possible, for instance, that I’m just a bad parodist, and that thousands of readers came away with the very same impression, but weren’t exercised enough to write to me.

And there’s always the possibility that my reader’s letter was itself parody, and that I didn’t get it.

Of death and life

Via James Lileks’ new Minneapolis blog, Don Herbert, better known to my generation as “Mr. Wizard,” has passed away. I hadn’t realized he was a Minnesota native.

I don’t recall that I watched his show a lot. I have an idea I was never sure when it was on, or the station moved it around, or something. But I remember really liking the show when I did see it.

And that wasn’t because of my deep love for science (I possess no such alien commodity). As I remember it, I mostly liked the idea of a smart grownup with a lot of neat toys who never had anything more important to do than explain stuff to kids. There were precious few adults anything like that in my own world.

So now you’re asking, “Well, now that you’re a grownup yourself, are you like that?”

My answer would be to scream and run away at my personal best speed.

Middle-aged, single men are not advised to have anything to do with children if they can help it, in today’s world. This is no great sacrifice in my case, as I really don’t like children much, and can never think of anything to say to them anyway.

Come to think of it, I don’t think we ever saw Mrs. Wizard.

But I’m confident there was one.

Well, I didn’t see today coming.

And I mean that in a good way.

Last night I had one of my insomnia attacks. I lay awake, obsessing between dozes. That’s usually the prelude to a really Huxleyan, semi-comatose work day.

But somehow, when I got up, I felt that today would be different. Taking silent inventory of my thews, sinews and reflexes, I realized I felt pretty good. Somehow I knew that when I got to work I’d catch up on several projects I’d been dogging, and I wouldn’t slip on my diet, and I’d have a good evening walk.

And behold, it came to pass even as I foresaw. All day I felt as if I was looking at things from above, like a grownup, rather than from below, like a helpless kid.

I can think of two explanations.

One is that I’ve been sleeping too much. Maybe God designed me for five hours a night.

The other is that somebody’s been praying for me.

If it’s the second, and you’re the one, thanks.

Warning: Political opinions expressed

This is going to be a political post. I’ll say that up front, so that those of you not interested in my politics can surf on. And why should you be interested in my politics? I have a little bit of credibility when I post on writing and books. I have none at all when I talk about politics. (“Why then,” asks the perceptive reader, “do you write occasional columns for a political organ like The American Spectator Online?” The answer is that I write for them because they pay me. I’m a capitalist. At least I am now.)

20 years ago tomorrow, President Reagan made his famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” speech. That was 1987 (in case you were having trouble with the math), and it was just about then that I was going through my great political transformation.

I grew up a Democrat. Dad was a Democrat, heir to an old strain of Upper Midwest Scandinavian populism, embodied even today in the name of the Minnesota liberal party—the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party. Those pietistic Scandinavian pioneers I like to write about had been political radicals back in the old country, and they continued pro-worker and anti-corporation in their American politics. Back in those days, nobody saw any disconnect in William Jennings Bryan being a fiery, Bible-thumping evangelical even as he railed against the oppression of the bankers. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, chief force behind Prohibition, was the mother of every liberal world-fixing organization that’s come since, from the ACLU to PETA to NARAL.

But during the Reagan administration I began to re-think all this. All my fellow Democrats despised Reagan. They called him “Ronald Ray-gun,” and described him as a superannuated, has-been actor with polyurethaned hair. But he was growing on me. I don’t think I ever voted for him, but I couldn’t help noticing that he kept saying and doing things I just liked.

And I was more and more uncomfortable in my own party.

The first thing that began to distance me from the Democrats was a thought—a thought that started as a tiny little shoot in my mind (planted, I think, by an article on the new phenomenon of the neo-cons in Time Magazine) and grew tenaciously once it put out roots. This thought went like this—“When you look at another human being and say, ‘That poor fellow is not capable of looking after himself. He must be cared for all his life, or he will die,’ you are not investing that person with dignity. You are treating him as subhuman (indeed the defenders of slavery had made a very similar argument). Some people may indeed be incapable of caring for themselves, but that judgment does not give them dignity. To expect a man to work is to treat him as a man.”

On top of that, my party was changing. I remembered when there were lots of pro-life Democrats, and when support for traditional marriage was not only the majority position, it was the only position. But it was growing more and more clear that there was no place for those opinions in the party anymore.

So one day I looked around me, and I said, “I guess I’m a Republican.”

Did you hear the one about the Norwegian and the Swede?

I had to sidle up to the banana bleachers at the grocery store tonight, because an elderly lady was front and center, working the entire display like a symphony conductor. She was selecting various bunches, pulling one banana off each, and placing them in her cart.

“I like to get a variety of expiration dates on my bananas,” she told me in confidence. “I hate it when they get too ripe.”

That’s what we Boomers have to look forward to, I thought to myself. Timing our bananas, like IEDs in Baghdad. Hello, retirement! On the other hand, by the time I retire they may have genetically altered bananas with little digital clocks on the stems.

In connection with Phil’s post about The Dangerous Book for Boys, here’s a fine article from today’s American Spectator Online, (link defunct) about contemporary childhood in England, by my friend Hal Colebatch. (Of course I realize I’m dropping names. I like dropping names. When I’m retired I’ll have leisure to drop names on a carefully timed schedule, like ripening bananas.)

Something I thought very weird (even eerie) happened on Saturday. As I drove to my favorite local Chinese place for lunch, I was listening (as I generally do) to the Northern Alliance Radio Network guys on our local talk radio station. They were doing live coverage of the dedication of a new World War II memorial at the Minnesota state capitol.

To fill time, they were talking about what else you could see on the grounds. They talked about two large statues in front of the capitol building, statues of prominent (now pretty much forgotten) politicians named Knute Nelson and John A. Johnson. One of the guys was reading information on the two men, probably from some kind of guide book.

So I get to the restaurant, sit down in my booth, and open the book I brought—Fifty Years In America by N. N. Rønning, a book I mentioned a couple days ago.

And what is right there, where I pick up my reading?

Character sketches of Knute Nelson and John A. Johnson.

(In case your wondering, Knute Nelson was, according to Rønning, “the first Norwegian[-American] politician who gained national recognition.” He was a Minnesota congressman, governor and U.S. senator. A Republican, though he broke with his party in not supporting protectionism.

John A. Johnson was a Swede and a Democrat. He hadn’t distinguished himself much before the 1904 Democratic state convention, but in a lackluster field he won the nomination for governor. As the campaign went on he began to find his voice as an orator, and started attracting popular support. His opponents uncovered a skeleton in his closet—his father had been a “drunkard.” After they published the story he responded with the greatest speech of his campaign. His opponents found that they had tarred their own image rather than his. The same year that the Republican Roosevelt won a landslide victory over William Jennings Bryan, Johnson was elected governor of Minnesota by 7,000 votes. He was reelected in 1906 and 1908. He was considered a serious presidential contender when he died unexpectedly in 1910.)

The coincidence of the radio program and my reading material shook me considerably. Although I theoretically believe in coincidences, it seemed too fortuitous to be mere chance.

On the other hand, what could it possibly mean?

I’m open to suggestions.

The agency of innocence

This poster from embodies a vision I’m coming to embrace in my own life. In the spirit of that sentiment, I’ll discuss a question commenters Sherry and Kathleen Marie raised on my last post, which was (in essence), “How does a head case like you get an agent?”

The answer is, “Once, by luck. Probably never again.”

(I’m not going to name my agents, by the way. They’re good guys who agented part time and never made it to the top of the pile. They made some choices that probably weren’t optimal, but then so have I.)

I’ve sometimes referred to “my agent” in blog posts, but that was an abbreviation of convenience. In fact they were a two-man shop. I’ll call them Primus and Secundus. Primus was the senior partner, and I dealt with him mostly when I actually had book contracts. I dealt with Secundus when I was out in the cold, at the beginning and at the end.

I got acquainted with them (by correspondence; I’ve never actually met either man) back when I was writing short fantasy stories. They were editors for a certain prominent fantasy and science fiction magazine, and they immediately impressed me with their taste and good judgment (by buying the first short story I ever sent them).

After a couple fruitful years (in which I never managed to sell a story to anybody else) they announced they were resigning from the magazine and opening an agency. They asked me if I’d care to come on board, and I jumped at it, knowing that getting an agent in the first place is one of the biggest hurdles a prospective author faces.

Then followed about ten years of nothing. I dealt almost exclusively with Secundus during that period, and they sent my first manuscript, and then a second, off to one publisher after another. Each one bounced back, although I got some flattering rejections.

I noticed, as time passed, that the agency was… less than energetic. Very compatible with my own personal style, of course, but not what you really want in an agent. They’d send a book off to somebody, and a year and a half later I’d ask them whether they’d heard anything, and they’d say, “Oh yes, we’ll have to give them a call.” Then another year would pass before the final rejection came.

Finally Jim Baen of Baen Books took the bait, and I started dealing with Primus.

Four books later, Jim Baen invited me never to darken his transom again, and I was back with Secundus.

And the slow, measured rhythm of submissions resumed. And again I’d ask them after a year or two if they’d heard anything, and again I’d get the impression that they’d forgotten about me completely.

Then one day I e-mailed Primus (I forget why it was him and not Secundus), and got no response. When I e-mailed him again, he replied that I should contact Secundus.

And Secundus told me that a) Primus was in bad health, and b) they’d recently noticed that nobody was returning their calls or messages. They deduced from this fact that they were out of business.

But Secundus said that he’d been in contact with a woman from a major agency, and she was interested in hearing from me. So I carefully sent her an e-mail with my personal bibliography, along with sample chapters from an unpublished book as an attachment.

No response.

I’ve done some research on this agency, and I have my doubts. For one thing this agency proudly declares itself a pioneering feminist agency. It was begun for the express purpose of getting more women writers published.

This makes me wonder if, after all these years, Secundus has ever actually read one of my books. Maybe he thinks I’m a woman. It’s a little troubling when your own agent misunderstands you so fundamentally.

So here I am. I’ve asked a couple writer acquaintances for references, but the one contact I’ve gotten went into the hospital about the time I e-mailed him, and so nothing has happened to date.

As you’d expect, knowing me, my hopes aren’t high.

What I need to do is go to one of the agent sites (here and here) I shared a while back, buckle down and start sending out query letters.

Maybe when this bout of light-headedness (and heavy-bottomedness) is past.

Trust me–you don’t want to live in my world

Warning: All I’ve got to post t about is what I did today. Which, as faithful readers know, is a subject both dull and irritating.

I actually accomplished a small achievement. One of the burdens of my job, a job which I generally like very much, is the business of book returns. No matter how canny you try to be when ordering textbooks in fall and winter, you always end up with rows and rows of unsold books, staring back at you with a “You brought us out here for this?” expression on their spines. (Yes, books look at you with their spines. They’re books, for pete’s sake. If they have eyes at all, they have them all over, like the living beasts in Ezekiel.)

I hate doing book returns. It’s one of many activities which normal people accomplish without a second thought, but are like East German tax audits to me. I hate to call strangers on the phone, for one thing. And of all the things I could call them about, asking their permission give back something I asked them for in the first place is one of the worst. One of the numerous absolute rules in my shabby little interior world is that I should never ask for anything that might possibly be refused. Refusal—rejection—is intolerable. Refusal is judgment on my personal worth. There’s no possible reason anyone would ever turn me down on anything, except that they hold me in utter contempt.

Sometime last term, one of our instructors ordered five copies of a particular book, then changed his mind after it had been delivered. So (at great expense in emotional effort) I called the distribution company and faxed them the information the lady said she needed to provide a return document.

But when I’d done that, I got a fax back from her saying she had no record of that book in their stock lists.

This was in April. Since that time I’ve had the books sitting in a box in my office, and I’ve told myself every day, “I’ve got to call her back and find out what the hang-up is.”

Today, I called at last. The lady I’d dealt with was on vacation, but the lady I talked to said I needed to talk to another number (some sort of publisher/distributor division of labor). The lady I talked to at the new place took my information, then e-mailed me a .pdf of the return document I needed. I put the box of books in the mail this afternoon.


My reward? I get to do the same thing with a bunch of other books and publishers.

Headed home, I noticed that all the traffic lights were out in my neighborhood. I wondered if we were having a power outage.

We were. The problem, apparently, was some kind of fire or accident just down the street from me. The street where I’d planned to walk after work, taking advantage of the rare sunny afternoon in a rainy week.

And, of course, when the fire department barricades a street, I don’t go up it even on foot. Somebody might tell me I wasn’t allowed to come that way, and that would be a judgment on my personal worth (see above).

So I mowed my lawn. Which is just as good, and accomplishes something besides.

The moral? The moral? After a day like this you want morals from me? As my enemies have always maintained (when they’re not refusing me things), I’ve got no morals.

Speaking truth to D-Day

Today is the anniversary of the Normandy invasion in 1944.

I was all prepared to do a knee-jerk patriotic post, going on and on about the courage of our fighting forces.

But I’ve been reading lefty blogs and watching network television news lately, and the scales have fallen from my eyes (pardon me while I put the scales back in the bathroom, where they belong). I now see what a horrible crime our participation in World War II was. In fact, I’m at a loss to explain how the enlightened voices of our mainstream media can continue to cover up the horrific crimes of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and their henchmen. Where are the Cindy Sheehans, the Rosie O’Donnells, the John Murthas of the (so called) Greatest Generation? When will the truth be told?

Today, while archiving old books in the library, I found a small pamphlet tucked into one of them. It’s a contemptible piece of war propaganda published by the USO. I’ll show you a couple pages here; but it actually folds out to six pages, front and back.

Look at the front page:


The first thing that strikes the enlightened reader is the picture of the soldiers. I suppose the fact that one is a sailor, one a soldier and one a marine is supposed to suggest some sense of diversity. Ha! You call that diversity? They’re all white. They’re all male. None of them is visibly disabled. The fact that they’re hugging might suggest that they’re gay, which would be worth something, I suppose, but they’re probably just drunk, celebrating the massacre of innocent civilians somewhere.

You’d almost think that they thought in those days that an army existed for the purpose of fighting wars, rather than for providing educational opportunities to impoverished young people.


Note also the second quotation under the picture. The word “Jap” is used openly. Do you need further evidence that this was a purely racist war, in which Roosevelt and his striped-pants buddies trumped up the flimsy excuse of a minor misunderstanding at Pearl Harbor, in order to prosecute a genocidal war against Asians, in order to steal their… whatever it was Japan had that they wanted to steal?

Note also that the soldiers are referred to as “men” fully three times, just on this page. No mention at all of the thousands of female soldiers who were fighting and dying all over Europe and the Pacific, whose story has been cruelly suppressed by the male hegemony, even unto this day!

But what really settles the matter is the back page:


Note the names of the two chairmen—Rockefeller and Bush (and yes, Prescott S. Bush was the father of George H. W. Bush, and grandfather of George W. Bush).

What further proof do you need that the whole war was a farce, started by liars purely for oil?

The only thing that’s missing is Halliburton.

But it goes without saying that the lack of any mention of Halliburton is the most definitive proof that the whole thing was their insidious plan.

Vanity, vanity, says the preacher

Phil sent me this link to a story about evidence (through chicken bone analysis, no less) that the Polynesians sailed to South America about a century before Columbus.

This, as Phil mentions in his note, still leaves them about 400 years behind Leif Eriksson.

But it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The Polynesians were truly phenomenal blue water sailors.

What particularly intrigued me was the idea that Thor Heyerdahl might have been right, but backwards. Although he proved with his Kon Tiki voyage that it was possible for South Americans to have populated the South Pacific islands, recent DNA studies have proved that Polynesians are not the descendents of Native Americans.

Apparently the voyage was made at least once, though. Only it was in the opposite direction than Heyerdahl theorized.


Speaking of Norwegians, I’ve been asked to give a short talk at a heritage-themed service at my home church later this month. In looking for information on one of the early pastors, I came on an old book called Fifty Years in America, by N. N. Rønning (long out of print. Don’t even bother looking for it on Amazon).

Rønning came to America from Norway in the 1880s, about the same time my own people arrived. He had a more intellectual bent than most immigrants, though, and eventually attended the University of Minnesota, ending up as a professional writer.

He gives character sketches in the book of some of his teachers at the U. of M., including Cyrus Northrop, the university president:

In an address delivered November 18, 1908, at Whitman College, Washington, [Northrop] said:

“I would not stay one day at a state university if I were hampered in the maintenance of Christianity, and were compelled to recognize agnosticism as being as good as Christianity. I said to the Regents of the University of Minnesota in my inaugural address that I must be free as a believer in Christianity, and daily service in chapel, with singing of hymns, reading of scriptures and prayer to God has gone on all these years, and hundreds of students daily attend these services, their attendance being entirely voluntary….”

In another address delivered at the commencement of the University of Wisconsin, June 21, 1893, he said: “I have a very genuine contempt for a class of men who are forever proclaiming the failure of Christianity, or the failure of education, or the failure of the human mind, or the failure of God, because everything is not yet perfect.”

Minnesotans today know Northrop’s name primarily from Northrop Memorial Auditorium, a stadium at the university that’s named in his honor. Here’s its web site. You’ll note that one of the first events listed on the schedule (if you’re reading this in the archive, sometime in the future, never mind—it will have changed by now) is an event called “Glitter and Be Gay.”

You know, some days I feel like the guy in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 (NIV): “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.”

But I suppose that would make me like one of the men Northrop expressed contempt for in 1893.

Update: Phil tells me the original message came from reader Greg Smith, and he forwarded it to me. For the record.

Letting Lewis be interesting in my place

Pretty good weekend. My big project Saturday was to take a plane to the tops of a couple doors. The bedroom doors in my house haven’t closed properly since I’ve been here. I suspect it has to do with their being painted at some time in the past, while most of the woodwork in the place is original finish (and beautiful). I, being me, was willing to live with it, but my renter asked to get it fixed, and I could hardly deny the justice of that request. It was a little more work than I expected, and I never got his door completely right. I’ll have to take it off the hinges to do that. Maybe one day. For now, both doors will close and latch, which is a major improvement.

Sunday was a Viking occasion, at the annual Danish Day at Danebo Hall in Minneapolis. Because of weather we had to set up inside the building, which cramped our style a bit. Our combat was a scheduled portion of the program, so we only got one set of three fights in (it was just Ragnar and me, and I got one kill, which is as good as it gets for me). I sold a total of four books, two of them to members of our own group.

I also finished The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III, another accomplishment not to be sneezed at, even in allergy season. Here’s a few more excerpts, which attentive readers will recognize as a pretty good sign that I’m in a vegetative mental state today:

From a letter to Joan Lancaster, Aug. 11, 1959:

I’m all for the Gauls myself and I hate all conquerors. But I never knew a woman who was not all for Caesar—just as they were in his life-time.

From a letter to Father Richard Ginder, Aug. 18, 1960:

I wonder do we blame T.V. and the Comics too much? Was not a certain sort of boy in a certain sort of home wasting his time just as badly in other ways before they were invented? It annoys me when parents who read nothing but the newspapers themselves—i.e. nothing but lies, libels, poppycock, propaganda, and pornography—complain of their children reading the Comics! Upon my soul I think the children’s diet is healthier than their parents’.

From a letter to Mrs. R. E. Herman, Oct. 10, 1960:

The queer thing is that this horror of the [mentally] deficient is quite modern. Our ancestors don’t seem to have felt it at all. On this, as on many other subjects, we have grown odiously and wickedly ‘refined’.

From a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, July 31, 1962:

Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.

That’s all for tonight. Now scroll down and watch the Sissel clip again.

Sissel song: “Marry Me”

I don’t usually post on weekends, but I just found a YouTube link to share. I’m about a light year behind everybody else on things like this, and I’ve only been exploring YouTube recently. I checked out The Divine Sissel, and found that this number is available.

It’s a country song, which isn’t her usual medium, but I think it’s a lot of fun, and it might help explain my enthusiasm for this really remarkable talent. Also check her rendition of the contemporary gospel number, “My Tribute.”

O frabjous day!

This has been a good day. I’ll say it openly, knowing it’s entirely contrary to my idiom, and throwing myself open completely to all kinds of joshing from commenters.

The air conditioning guy came today to do the warranty work. I had to take the afternoon off work to be here.

The first pleasant surprise was that, instead of just replacing the condenser (as I’m sure the woman on the phone said) he replaced the whole unit.

The second pleasant surprise was that he asked for no more than the regular deductible in payment. The woman on the phone had said there’d be extra charges for parts.

Oh, I expect the other shoe will drop in a couple days, and some kind of horrendous bill will hit me like a cosh to the back of the head, but for today life is good.

More snippets from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III:

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen, July 7, 1955:

Don’t let anyone bully you into avoiding sentences with a preposition at the end! It’s an arbitrary rule that most great writers took no notice of. The Authorized Version and E. Burke thought a preposition a very good word to end with. So there!

From a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, Sept. 8, 1956:

…(that journalists can be saved is a doctrine, if not contrary to, yet certainly above, reason!).

From a letter to Martin Kilmer, Jan. 22, 1957

The (Narnia) books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end—in her own way.

From a letter to Clyde S. Kilby, Feb. 10, 1957:

The children (in Till We Have Faces) made mud pies not for symbolic purposes but because children do.

From a letter to Francis Warner, July 15, 1959:

So many people, when they begin ‘research’, lose all desire, and presently all power, of writing clear, sharp, and unambiguous English. Hold onto your finite transitive verb, your concrete nouns, and the muscles of language (but, through, for, because etc.).

A good weekend to all of you.

Lewis-ly translated

It isn’t every day I get a cartoon dedicated to me. Thanks, Phil.

Now try and get your comment utility fixed.

Haven’t live-blogged The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III, for a few days. I’m still at it. I’ve gotten through Lewis’ death, thinking dark thoughts of mortality, and now I’m in the resurrection land of the Supplement section, where Hooper prints some letters he left out of the earlier volumes, then decided he wanted to include after all. After this comes the “Great War” supplement, in which all Lewis’ letters to Owen Barfield, arguing about Theosophy, are gathered in one place.

Anyway, here are a few excerpts that interested and/or amused me:

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen, Oct. 3, 1953:

It is hard, when difficulties arise to know whether one is meant to overcome them or whether they are signs that one is on the wrong track.

From a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, Jan. 30, 1954:

The trouble with Thackeray, is that… all his ‘good’ people are not only simple, but simpletons. That is a subtle poison wh. comes in with the Renaissance: the Machiavellian (intelligent) villain presently producing the idiot hero. The Middle Ages didn’t make Herod clever and knew the devil was an ass. There is really an un-faith about Thackeray’s ethics…. No conception that the purification of the will… leads to the enlightenment of the intelligence.

From a letter to Katharine Farrer, Feb. 3, 1954:

The bearings of this are wide, as you’ll see if you reflect on the difference between drawing a nude and verbally describing it, or the impossibility of mentioning Cheko-Slovakia (is that how you spell it) at the apex of a lyric however deeply one may feel about that country.

From a letter to Chad Walsh, Dec. 3, 1955:

I’ve often thought that if I wrote a play I’d do it in verse but type it as prose. In the present state of the human ear no publisher, manager, actor, or audience wd. recognize it, not even if it was in heroic couplets or the metre of Hiawatha.

One thing that constantly exercises my limited powers of charity throughout these books is the fact that Lewis consistently spells “all right,” “alright.” I personally consider “alright” an atrocity against the English language. However, as one quickly learns in reading the letters, Lewis wasn’t a very good speller.

In relation to that, it’s often been said that Lewis had a photographic memory. Someone who knew him wrote somewhere (I can’t find it; I can never find the Lewis reference I want. No photographic memory here) that if you named a page number from any book Lewis had ever read, he could recite the contents of that page verbatim for you. This would seem to be an exaggeration. He uses many quotations in the letters, and the notes show that they’re only approximately correct, like his spelling. His memory was obviously phenomenal, but it wasn’t exact.

Follow my advice and you’ll go to the Dogs

I’m still beat tonight. Had another good night’s sleep, and my eye-bags have receded somewhat, like one of Sen. Gore’s icebergs, but I’m still shot from the weekend. I mowed the lawn after work, and now I’m about ready to collapse in a wrinkled, damp pile in a corner, like a college guy’s tee-shirt.

So I’ll redirect you to this post, composed by someone who calls himself “The Big Stink” (I assume it’s a he; rare is the woman who’d voluntarily assume a name like that) at an excellent Twin Cities blog called Freedom Dogs. I wish someone had told me these things at graduation. I wish I had the courage to put some of them into practice even today.