Redundant

If you’re one of the multitudes who follow me on Facebook, you may have noticed my post last night in which I asked for prayer, over a personal matter I did not reveal.

This blog post is to explain my situation.

I lost my job yesterday (Monday). I wasn’t told to pack up my stuff and get out; my job ends at the end of the month, and I have the option of working four more months (half time), or two months (full time).

But my present job will no longer exist.

This is due to altered circumstances, circumstances that have changed radically in the roughly five years since I started graduate school. At that time our accrediting agency demanded that a school must have a full-time librarian with a master’s degree.

Since then, the market value of a degreed librarian has fallen pretty steeply. Today the agency only asks that there be a librarian with an MLS somewhere around the place, occasionally. The operation of the library is assumed to be largely automated. Books themselves have become secondary to electronic services, which are the domain of IT people.

Bottom line: A fair amount of money (I won’t say a lot) can be saved by cutting the position of Librarian. I’m not entirely sure how they plan to get the actual physical work done – accessioning and processing, etc. – after I’m gone. But it’s no longer my problem.

I have small hopes of finding another job in the library field. What happened to me is happening everywhere. The few jobs that remain in the field are probably too technical for me.

So if you know of any copywriting jobs, or any openings for Norwegian-to-English translators, or publishers looking for sophisticated Christian fantasy, or anything else I might be adequate at, please let me know.

And pray for me. Thanks.

Cruciform Press Is Publishing Fiction

Cruciform Press, the people behind several excellent books (the one title Cruciform is a good choice), has begun to publish fiction.

One of the first things we did when weighing this fiction venture was to network a little to try to find some potential candidate manuscripts. What we found was certainly encouraging, but we also know that these must be just the tip of a much larger iceberg!

As fans of good fiction on Christian themes, we have to admire this optimism. They are releasing three titles for this effort, all speculative fiction, two new works, and one republication by Charles Dickens that they are calling a forgotten classic. Prices look good. They offer several pages as a free sample, and there’s a 30% discount running.

Truth Is No Stranger to Fiction

 

‘Peter Pan Must Die,’ by John Verdon

Peter Pan Must Die

At times like this he always recalled, uneasily, that everyone on earth at a particular latitude sees the same stars in the sky. But no two cultures see the same constellations. He’d seen evidence of the phenomenon again and again: The patterns we perceive are determined by the stories we want to believe.

Another novel in John Verdon’s interesting – and somewhat disturbing – series of mystery-thrillers starring David Gurney, retired NYPD detective. Now living with his wife on a farm in the Catskills, he keeps getting diverted from the peaceful, pastoral pursuits she prefers to various murder mysteries that people bring to him.

At the beginning of Peter Pan Must Die, Dave gets a request for help from his friend Jack Hardwick. It’s really more than a request, and his relationship with Jack is more complex than ordinary friendship. A constitutional rebel, Jack has helped Dave in previous cases by passing him information civilians shouldn’t get access to. Now Jack is calling his favors in. He’s been fired from the state police and has set up as a private investigator. He’s got a big case on the line, and needs “famous” Dave’s participation to close the deal.

Jack’s client is the wife of Carl Spalter, a hard-driving real estate tycoon who was running for governor. Spalter was shot fatally by a sniper during his mother’s funeral, and the wife was convicted of hiring the assassin. She thinks – and Jack agrees – that the defense was incompetent and the prosecution corrupt. All they need to do is identify the holes in the prosecution case, inform her new attorney, and bank their payment check.

But that’s not enough for Dave. What obsesses him is the solution, what really happened. As he examines the evidence, he discovers that the murder shot could not possibly have been fired from the spot which ample evidence shows the killer must have used. That’s only the first of the conundrums that will fuel his obsession and ultimately put him in conflict with – very possibly – the most dangerous human being he has ever encountered.

Like all the books in the Dave Gurney series, Peter Pan Must Die was fascinating and engrossing. But there’s something more – an unease, the constant dissonance in Dave’s marriage and the underlying knowledge that something is seriously wrong with Dave. He analyses everything except his own heart, and is blind to the subconscious urges that force him to put himself – and often the people he loves – in danger again and again.

Cautions for language, adult themes, and intense situations. Highly recommended if this is your sort of thing. The final twist is pretty good too.

Did Susan Pevensie Fall Away?

Doug Wilson talks about Susan’s character arc in the Chronicles of Narnia. He walks through almost every scene she is in, noting the details show of her character. So what should we make of Susan becoming no “friend of Narnia”?

Why does the apparent apostasy of Susan seem like a gaping narratival hole that doesn’t fit with any part of the larger story? I want to argue that it does not seem to fit because it really doesn’t fit. My intention is to show that a final apostasy on the part of Susan is really a literary impossibility.

You may be thinking of Wilson’s end game already. We’ve seen it on this blog before. There are four thrones at Cair Paravel. All four will be filled, because (odd how this mists my eyes almost every time) “once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.”

‘The Poor People of Paris’

Spent most of my day on the road today, having to attend a meeting in Fergus Falls, Minn. So I’ll just post another cheerful European pop song similar to the one I posted yesterday — so that the young folks may know the glories of the past.

This one came rather earlier than the other. This version by Les Baxter and his orchestra came out in 1956. The original song, called, “La Goualante du Pauvre Jean de Paris” (The Ballad of Poor Jean of Paris) was first recorded by Edith Piaf. In 1954 it was translated by Jack Lawrence, who misunderstood the name “Jean” as “gens,” which means “people.” Thus the English title became “The Poor People of Paris.” Doesn’t matter much, since all the popular versions in English-speaking countries have been instrumentals.

I like it. Always have.

Enjoy your weekend!

‘Eine Schwarzwaldfahrt”

Due to a lack of anything to write worth reading, I thought I’d look for music to post. My memories flowed back to 1965 (I would have sworn it was earlier) and a certain kind of music that used to exist back in those days. Cheerful instrumental pop, generally emerging from Europe. One of my favorites was “A Walk in the Black Forest,” done by Horst Jankowski.

Wikipedia doesn’t tell much about Jankowski’s life, aside from professional stuff. But he would have grown up during World War II. Perhaps he knew starvation in the aftermath. So he produced happy music. A good response, in my opinion.

Maybe we need to have some bad times in this country, to produce some happy art.

‘Let the Devil Sleep,’ by John Verdon

Let the Devil Sleep

He’d long ago discovered that one way to get to a solution was to step away from the problem and go on to something else. The brain, relieved of the pressure to move in a particular channel, often finds its own way. As one of his born-and-bred Delaware County neighbors had once said, “The beagle can’t catch the rabbit till you let him off the leash.”

I continue to work my way through John Verdon’s very satisfying (to me at least) series of Dave Gurney mysteries. Dave, as you may recall, is a decorated New York police detective, retired. Now he lives on a farm in the Catskill Mountains with his wife Madeleine, in a relationship both loving and full of tension. She loves nature and growing things, and “lives in the moment.” He never feels alive unless he’s solving a complex murder mystery – which is why his retirement has involved one unofficial investigation after another, often stepping on the toes of the real authorities.

In Let the Devil Sleep, Dave is recovering from a fight to the death in the previous book which left him with both emotional and physical trauma. Then he hears from an old acquaintance, a female journalist. She asks him for a favor – to “look over the shoulder” of her college-age daughter, who is working on a journalism project. Would he give her some pointers? He soon understands that the real, underlying request is for him to help the girl investigate the unsolved case of “the Good Shepherd,” a killer who shot six people to death in their cars on lonely roads. They were all driving the same expensive model automobile. The killer released a “manifesto,” a fanatical screed against greed, vowing to wipe out all the greedy people on earth. Dave immediately suspects the manifesto is a smokescreen, which means that the working theory of all the investigators, including the FBI, has been wrongheaded all these years. Continue reading ‘Let the Devil Sleep,’ by John Verdon

Epic theology

Uhlfbert sword

Today is my birthday. I got more than 100 birthday greetings on Facebook, which is gratifying. At the restaurant where I eat most Tuesday evenings, I got a free hot fudge sundae. Now, of course, I’m exhausted by all the excess.

How did I spend my weekend?

Following up my radio triumph on Saturday afternoon, I decided to go to Wisconsin on Sunday – in spite of the ever present threat of Packers fans.

The town of Glenwood City, about an hour and a half northeast of here, hosts a small Renaissance Festival, “Ren in the Glen,” a little ahead of the Official, Authorized Minnesota Renaissance Festival starting later this month. Glenwood City’s is a smaller operation which (according to the old hands) resembles what our festival used to be like at the beginning, before it became Disneyland North.

A Facebook friend who’s a member of Folkvangr, a Viking reenactment group, invited me to visit their encampment there. And, contrary to my basic nature – perhaps suffering the lingering disorienting effects of four days in Iowa – I decided that wasn’t a bad way to spend the final day of my vacation.

It was a nice time, and the Folkvangr folks seemed to suffer from the delusion that I possessed a measure of prestige. One subject we discussed is a common one among reenactors – “What are the best and worst Viking movies?” This gave me the opportunity to trot out my old lecture on the differences between two Beowulf movies that came out around the same time, an Icelandic one starring Gerard Butler (which I loathed), and the animated one written by Neil Gaiman and starring Roy Winstone. I’ve written about it on this blog before. My view is that the problem with the Gaiman script is that it tries to transform a Germanic saga into a Greek tragedy. Greek tragic heroes die because of their tragic flaws, as Beowulf does in this film. But Germanic heroes don’t have tragic flaws. They’re always exemplary. They die just because they’re doomed. The point of a saga is not a moral one, but an existential one – we’re all doomed to die; our only control is over the courage with which we face it.

It occurred to me, thinking about it later, that there are theological implications. For a long time Christians have enjoyed Greek tragedies, understanding the idea of the tragic hero as a kind of metaphor for original sin. We die because we deserve to die; we chose badly. Whatever our other virtues, we’ve earned death.

But it seems to me a similar argument can be made for the saga. The saga hero is simply doomed from birth; a kind of original sin. The Norns spin out the thread of his life and cut it off arbitrarily. The hero’s virtues are also not enough to save him – not because of his choices, but because he has inherited the general doom of mankind.

In other words, the Greek tragedy is sort of Arminian. The saga is arguably Calvinist.

Now where else can you go to get that kind of insight?

Pod people

If you’re geographically underprivileged in such a way that you can’t listen directly to the Northern Alliance Radio Network on WWTC the Patriot (AM 1280) each weekend, you probably missed my appearance on the show with host Mitch Berg (of Shot in the Dark blog) this past Saturday.

You can listen to it on a podcast here. I’m in the first half-hour of the hour marked “7/28/18 Lars Walker.”

I was, of course, plugging Viking Legacy. I think it’s a pretty good exercise except for the very end, where I kind of went deer in the headlights. Still, all in all a good show and thanks to Mitch.

Does Everyone Have a Book in Them?

Has anyone told you that with a life like yours, a mind like yours, or a story like that you should write a book? They’re probably wrong.

You can tell a story to anyone who’s willing to listen. But writing a book that people will pay money for or take a trip to the library to read, requires an awareness few storytellers have. It is not performance, not a one-person show. It’s a relationship with the reader, who’s often got one foot out the door.

Speaking from a traditional publishing angle, literary agent Kate McKean explains what it takes it get published and how it’s different from telling  a good series of stories. (Via Prufrock News)

Reading report: ‘En Herse, Tre Konger,’ by Edvard Eikill

En herse tre konger

What was I reading while I spent the week in Decorah, Iowa doing back-to-the soil, Mother Jones craft stuff? No doubt you’ve been wondering. Obviously it would have to be something pretentious, to show off my erudition to other participants, to compensate for my abysmal artisanal skills. And so it was.

I was reading a Norwegian novel sent to me by the author: En Herse, Tre Konger, (One Hersir, Three Kings) by Edvard Eikill. Mr. Eikill is a retired dentist who has turned his energies to fiction and translation. He’s the translator of the massive, elegant Norwegian translation of the Icelandic Flatøybok that I’ve written about here before. We’re friends on Facebook, and he asked me if I’d read his novel about Erling Skjalgsson. I didn’t know anyone else had ever written fiction about Erling, so I was interested to read the book, which he kindly sent me.

Edvard Eikill is a rather different kind of novelist than I am (though he is a Christian). He spends less time with details and setting scenes. His book surveys Erling’s life more or less at the 30,000 foot level, moving fast through Erling’s life, hitting the highlights. Oddly (to me), far more time is spent on Olav Trygvasson’s five-year reign than Olav Haraldsson’s reign of about twelve years.

But it had to be useful to me to read a book about Erling by someone who lives in Erling’s area (though I did catch what I believe to be one historical error – Mr. Eikill thinks they harvested grain with scythes in Jaeder in the Viking Age, but my research indicates they only ever used sickles). There were historical details and relationships that had sailed over my head. I’ll probably clarify some things in my Work In Progress based on this book.

Also, Erling’s priest was an interesting contrast. Here, Erling’s priest is an Englishman named Alvgeir (which seems to be the name written on Erling’s memorial cross). Eikill imagines him as a slave, taken by Erling on a raid, and freed by him after his conversion by Olav Trygvasson.

Thanks to Mr. Eikill for sending En Herse, Tre Konger to me. It was enjoyable and illuminating.

Why Did Emperor Hadrian Build His Wall?

For reasons that may seem clear only to some, the Roman Emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus decided his empire could not subdue or survive in peace with the Scots, so he ordered a wall from Searius and Robuckus and had it assembled over an 84-mile stretch of gorgeous mountain property over thousands of acres of prime real estate.

Nigel Spivey reviews a book on Hadrian’s Wall, describing and explaining what can be known. And part of what is not known is the reason for the wall.

Hadrian proceeded to style himself Restitutor Orbis Terrarum, “restorer” of the lands of the world. But what “restoration” he brought to Britannia remains unclear. He made a single visit to the province in the year 122, following a tour of the Rhineland, where he had ordered the installation of a palisaded frontier-line. We presume that it was during his British visit that Hadrian developed the frontier concept further, and gave instructions for the wall and the Vallum. Arguably, then, Britannia was not restored but fractured. For that is what walls do: break, mark, and divide the earth’s surface. Britannia on the emperor’s coinage may seem the faithful subject. Once broken by a wall, however, she becomes a phantom figure—and perhaps has stayed so ever since.

(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

Craft aftermath

In museum
Owen Christianson describes original melkerings to class members.

Home is the sailor, as the poem goes, and the hunter home from the hill. I got back to Blithering Heights after 8:00 p.m. last night, having driven over three hours, and just didn’t feel up to blogging. So here, now, is my report on my course at the Vesterheim Folk School in Decorah, Iowa.

Decorah is a nice little town, located in a picturesque, hilly area of northeastern Iowa. The Vesterheim Norwegian immigration museum is one of the town’s economic and cultural mainstays, and the town was setting up for the annual Nordic Fest, which began today (I never planned to attend, being pretty sure I’d be played out after the class. I was more right than I knew.)

I’m very glad I took the four-day class. It was even more demanding than I expected – planing wood, especially, uses a lot of upper body strength (at least the way I do it. They tell me practiced woodworkers have economical methods that are far less taxing). Our class was called “Stave Vessels From the Past to the Present.” The teacher was Owen Christianson, who is a cryogenic engineer by day, but does historical wordworking in his spare time. He’s been studying the Viking Age recently, which made his instruction invaluable to me.

Our project was to produce a relatively simple stave vessel – what’s known as a melkering (milk ring). They were used to separate cream in old times, back to Viking times.

Owen provided us with short staves (12 each), pre-cut to save time. So the angles of the edges were no problem. He used bass wood (to make it easy), though the originals were usually pine. Our tasks were: Continue reading Craft aftermath

Further dispatch from Decorah

I didn’t expect to get an upper body workout when I signed up for this class in making a stave vessel. Turns out planing wood for several hours takes a lot out of you.

This morning went pretty well. I moved on to the part of the process I’d dreaded most – pegging the individual staves to one another. Turned out it was easier than I thought, and I kind of got into it. Even had moments of a heady sense of accomplishment. But once that was done, the next step was taking the vessel (think of a small wooden tub) apart and planing down the outsides of the staves, which we’d previously shaped on the inside. I was still working on that when the class day ended.

Tomorrow is the final day, and I’m about three steps behind all the others. The last step is decorating the completed vessel, which is not mandatory. I have a suspicion I won’t get to that one. I have a further suspicion the instructor will have to help me finish the thing.

Maybe I’ll get a participation trophy – senior division.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture