Category Archives: Authors

Standing In for Thomas Pynchon

Comedian Irwin Corey, who regularly lampooned the educated classes, died this week at age 102. The NY Times tells a story of how he impersonated author Thomas Pynchon to receive the National Book Award for fiction in 1974.

No one in the crowd had any idea what the reclusive Mr. Pynchon looked like, and when Mr. Corey arrived to accept the award for him (the novelist had approved the stunt), many people thought they were getting their first look at Mr. Pynchon.

They soon learned otherwise. Beginning his remarks, as he often did, “However,” Mr. Corey referred to the author as “Richard Python” and said, “Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure.” He continued: “Marx, Groucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium will be the opiate. Ah, that’s not a bad idea.”

The Times reported the next morning that Mr. Corey’s “series of bad jokes and mangled syntax” left “some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed.”

See Corey and hear his acceptance speech from the National Book Awards here.

In memory yet Green

Roger Lancelyn Green
Roger Lancelyn Green

My friend Dale Nelson recently sent me a couple old articles on Tolkien he thought might be of interest. One of them was from Amon Hen, the journal of the Tolkien Society, #44, May 1980. It was a piece by Roger Lancelyn Green, in which he reminisced on his friendship with the professor. Green has sometimes been identified as a member of the Inklings, but he does not claim that honor (or honour). His article includes the following delightful paragraph:

I never saw The Lord of the Rings before it was published, but heard a good deal about it from Lewis, who kept saying that if only Tolkien would finish it, it would be one of the great books of the century – “But Tollers just won’t finish it! Every time he gives himself a month’s holiday to do so, he begins by reading over what he has already written, and sees how he can better that, and spends most of his month on revising!”

Landmarks and visions

Landmark Center
The Landmark Center in St. Paul. Photo 2005 by Mulad.

The old US post office, custom house, and court house in St. Paul, built in 1902 and home to much graft and corruption in its time, is now called Landmark Center. They’re a little more tolerant of architectural treasures in that city than in Minneapolis, so it was saved from the wrecking ball and now exists as a cultural center. Once a month they host events for various ethnic groups. This month (yesterday) it was the Danes, and we Vikings were asked to man a table for the event. Three of us showed up. We had a pretty good time.

Lots of visitors, and lots of questions, many from children, which is always nice. I was able to explain how people got the idea that Viking helmets had horns, and how chain mail was made. Sold a couple books and several bits of leather work.

One of the best parts was that we were right next to the aebelskiver stand. Aebelskivers are Danish pancakes, formed by secret and occult methods into spheres. They’re generally served with powdered sugar and strawberry preserves. Delightful.

I also had the pleasure, over the weekend, of receiving another tip from Dave Lull. He remembered that I’m fond of the late D. Keith Mano, and he alerted me to a reprint of one of Mano’s old columns over at the National Review. They’re going to be publishing a series of them over the next few weeks. This one concerns a series of visions of the Virgin Mary in Bayside, Queens, New York back in 1975. Mano describes his “investigation” in bemused and gentle terms.

The church of St. Robert Bellarmine—now half school, half gym—stands two blocks up. There used to be a statue on the corner: large copy of those Virgins in telephone booths that wait outside Catholic houses. Veronica had her first visions here. But, as crowds grew, an unsympathetic Mother Church had the statue sledgehammered away. So much for mariolatry. You can still see the pedestal stump, cordoned off by wooden snow fencing.

It occurred to me to do a web search on Dave Lull. Turns out he’s not merely a reader of this blog, which would be enough to adorn the fame of any man. He’s a librarian (thus one of nature’s noblemen) and a facilitator of blogs. Blogless himself, he sends tips like this to a number of book bloggers.

I am honored to be among that number.

Author of The Exorcist, 89, Has Died

William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist in 1971, has passed away at age 89. He wrote the novel in response to news accounts his classmates discussed while attending Georgetown University. A Lutheran family in 1949 said their teenaged son could be possessed. His symptoms were–supernatural: flying objects, moving sheets, and messages in rashes on his skin. Blatty’s story based on this account has been called the scariest story ever, at least its film adaptation has.

Ted Gioia points this out in his review of the book, which he read last year along with many other horror classics:

This is perhaps all the more surprising given the large dose of theology in Blatty’s conception of his story. Much of the tale revolves around a crisis of faith. There’s little actual bloodshed in The Exorcist, and—in place of the typical arsenal of the slasher films that flourished in the aftermath of The Exorcist—the weapons at play here are little more than holy water, a crucifix and some lines in Latin. The horror is mostly existential…but perhaps all the more unnerving for that very reason.

In 2015, Washingtonian ran a biographic article on Blatty. Here’s a great, little story from his post-college years.

To pay the bills, he worked as a flack for the University of Southern California. Meanwhile, he soothed his acting jones by posing as Prince Xeer, the make-believe black-sheep son of King Saud. The nearly yearlong caper was facilitated by former Hoya classmate turned FBI agent Frank Hanrahan, who would explain to Sunset Strip nightclub owners that he’d been “saddled by the State Department with the task of being ‘this pain-in-the-ass Prince’s’ guide and bodyguard while he ‘cooled down’ from some grave but unspoken problem back home,” Blatty writes in his memoir.

The gambit fooled stars like Zsa Zsa Gabor and led to another stereotype-skewering article in the Saturday Evening Post. There was also a ghostwriting gig for “Dear Abby,” Abigail Van Buren, on a book for young adults. In his memoir, he writes that the result, Dear Teen-Ager, earned a Mother of the Year Award from the Los Angeles Times for its “matronly wit and wisdom,” even though it was mostly concocted by a chain-smoking Blatty during a break from USC.

Arguing Over Hamlet

When was Hamlet written, and did it refer directly to any particular historical person, family, or event? One man says it was written in 1603, two years later than popularly believed, “after the death of the Bard’s own father and after James I took the throne,” meaning it points directly to the King of England who succeeded Elizabeth I in March 1603.

But Jonathan Bate says that solves nothing and would have raised the ire of the queen, Anne of Denmark. Was Shakespeare trying to poke her in the eye by suggesting there was something rotten about her home country? (via Prufrock News)

Tolkien Almost Didn’t Write LOTR

It’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s 125th birthday today. As has been the case for years, there’s a toast to honor the professor on the books for 9:00 local time. Wherever you are with whatever you wish to drink, raise a glass to Tolkien at 9:00 tonight with the words, “The Professor.”

Brenton Dickieson offers what he calls “The Shocking Reason Tolkien Finished The Lord of the Rings,” drawn from the author’s letters. Tolkien suffered with illness and a busy schedule for a quite a while and made excuses to his publisher for not making progress on their planned sequel to The Hobbit, but something happened to provoke him to write again.

Dr. Wayne Barber

From now on, the national news and your social media friends will remind you that Gene Wilder died on August 29, 2016, but another man died that day who had far greater influence on my life. He wasn’t visible to national news writers, but his work was arguably more important than 95% of those who will be profiled this week and next. He was Dr. Wayne Barber, pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Wayne emphasized God’s grace for as long as I knew him. I studied the book of Romans with him in a class at Precept Ministries, which took two years and required reading that epistle several times–a great way to study the Bible. I believe he said his favorite song mirrored his favorite topic: Jesus be Jesus in me.

I wish I could say I will never forget one of his messages on Romans 6, but the truth is I can barely remember any of it, but the effect of the whole moved me. It was essentially an extended illustration. He even paused after fifteen minutes to say he was not just winging it to burn time but would come to a point soon. That point, bringing with it all the power of a good story, was that we cannot outrun God’s grace nor can we abuse it. If God intends to save us, we can’t force him to forget us, but if he has saved us, he won’t let us forget him either. If we are truly free of sin’s bonds, he will not allow us to continue to submit to sin’s authority.

But the other side of that message is what Wayne apparently saw in many congregations, the desire to live free of sin in our own power. We recognize that we have been made in the image of a hand, designed to hold, pull, touch, and lift things, but we are only gloves. We can’t grab anything without an outside power within us, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying.

Wayne was easily the kind of pastor you’d want to see in a quarter of all of the churches in the world. He was funny, loving, and wise. May the Lord continue to bless us with men like him.

Glenn Yarbrough

The Hobbit as his table

We’ve had news of the death of several public figures this year: Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, and Elie Weisel to name a few. You may have missed the news of the death of a folk singer back in August. Glenn Yarbrough, whose 77th birthday is coming up January 12, began singing in college after some encouragement from his roommate, Jac Holzman, and  Woody Guthrie, who was a visitor and eighteen years Glenn’s senior.

Glenn sang the lead song in the Rankin and Bass production of The Hobbit. I’d like to say–I think I’d like to say this–that I internalized “The Greatest Adventure” and made it my life song. I don’t think a fair perspective on my life would say I had broken the mould of my life and created someone new. I’m not like Bilbo was before his adventures, but I’m not like he was afterward either. It’s very likely that I have not “stopped thinking and wasting the day.”

The bridge of Glenn’s song has always held me. I’ve even nicknamed myself Raindream because of these words.

A man who’s a dreamer
And never takes leave
Who thinks of a world that is just make-believe
Will never know passion,
Will never know pain,
Who sits by the window will one day see rain.

I have needed this kick in the pants repeatedly, but like the believer who loves to feel conviction while neglecting to repent, I can’t say I’ve acted on it. At least, not often.

I know I’ve heard more of Glenn’s music, but I don’t remember the context. Perhaps my parents had one of his records. Maybe I heard it through Pandora at some point. I hope he died knowing the Lord.

Richard Adams, 1920-2016

I’m currently reading Watership Down, correcting a long-held error in judgment. My list of such errors is too long to ever be recorded, but this one will be corrected soon. Today, we learn of the author’s death, which took place Christmas Eve. Richard Adams was 96 years old. His daughter says he had been sick for a while and died peacefully. The BBC reports:

Describing Christmas Eve a “rather a magical night”, she said: “It’s the night that traditionally the animals and birds can talk.
“It was absolutely typical of Dad that he would choose such a night on which to leave this world.”

“Noel” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

This is the start of Tolkien’s Christmas poem, “Noel,” which was uncovered back in June 2013. The discovery of a copy of it in Our Lady’s School in Abingdon made a stir earlier this year. You can read the whole thing below.

Tolkien’s Lost “Noel”

Daniel Helen of the Tolkien Society explains what was found when.

No One Believes in Self-Fulfillment

Among the things that could be said to be rocking the American church in 2016 are writers and teachers who have claimed a Christian mantle to teach decidedly unchristian things. Jen Pollock Michel writes for Christianity Today about Glennon Doyle Melton’s recent announcement that she was dating another woman.

Melton is as modern as she boasts—even if her effusive references to “love” and “joy” are reassuringly offered to confirm that her choices are in everyone’s best interest. From the public announcements both of her divorce and her new dating relationship, she wants us to understand this: The greatest gift any of us gives to the world is our true self. Let’s not look to anyone else for permission or feel any obligation for explanation. Humans flourish as they obey their desires.

She goes on to contrast this with the marvelous story Augustine tells of his conversion, but I want to jot down a thought on this idea of being our true selves.

“Humans flourish as they obey their desires.” No one really believes this. They only believe it for themselves, that they will flourish if they are allowed to do their own thing. Follow your dream, kid; just don’t let your dream interfere with mine.

Politicians live high on public money by obeying their desires. Thieves follow UPS trucks to pick up their deliveries before the owners do. Rioters destroy their neighbors’ businesses. Poachers kill off animal life. This is the flourishing we can expect when humans obey their desires.

Lars said this earlier this year:

It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else.

Human beings will only flourish when they recognize themselves as servants and stewards on the vast estate of the Governor of the Universe. Our kindness, love, hope, and courage are defined by him, not our own desires, so yes, humanism can do a lot of good when it runs parallel to the goodness Christ has taught us, but that’s the only time.

We weren’t made for self-fulfillment. We were made to be filled by Christ.

Seeing With Rather Than Through the Eye

Flannery O’Connor’s desire to help us see.

Critic and editor Christopher Ricks suggests that this process is actually a good litmus test for determining the literary quality of a sentence, image, or phrase: if the words come to you, unbidden, as you are driving down the road or drinking a glass of water, then the writer has succeeded. Personally, after reading Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” I cannot look at a bare tree on a bright winter day and not admire the play of light through branches: “The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled.” So, too, Saul Bellow’s description of a water glass in his novel Seize the Day is now firmly etched in my mind, and I find it true of even bottled water when the sun hits just right: “And a glass of water is only an ornament; it makes a hoop of brightness on the cloth; it is an angel’s mouth.”

“To believe nothing,” she says, “is to see nothing.” (via Prufrock News)

Lewis on Politics and Natural Law

C. S. Lewis on Natural Law

Today at Power Line blog, Steven Hayward writes about C.S. Lewis and a new book on Lewis and politics. He mentions having wondered in the past whether Lewis and Leo Strauss, whose thought he considers highly compatible, were aware of each other. Although he still doesn’t know that Lewis had ever heard of Strauss, he now has evidence that Strauss knew (and admired) Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.

He plugs a new book, C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law, by Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson. No reason why we shouldn’t get in on that business too.

More on D. Keith Mano

The death of D. Keith Mano continues to sadden me. I think it’s because he was a Christian author (of a sort) who produced truly excellent literature; stuff that ought to be remembered. But I’m not sure it will. To some extent that is his own fault; he was very much the product of a weird time in American history. He may be rediscovered by future generations, or he may be lost track of entirely.

Richard Brookhiser remembers him in National Review:

He had a set of rules for writing, which he never fully explained to me; the point was to avoid similar constructions in adjacent sentences. He did explain his rules for reading: He pulled books blindly from a bag. One source for the bag was the Strand, the great used-book store below Union Square. Keith would visit it with a pair of dice; the first throw picked the aisle, the second the shelf, the third the order in from the end of the book he would buy. You must have got some odd ones, I said. An Indian fiveyear plan from 1959, he answered. You read the whole thing? I asked. There were lots of charts, he said.

Our friend Dave Lull sent me this link to the .pdf of the whole issue. The Brookhiser eulogy is on page 24. I hope this is legal.

The ‘Intellectual Hermit’ Behind The Babylon Bee

World Magazine has a feature story on Adam Ford, creator and general editor of The Babylon Bee as well as the man behind Adam4d.com web comics. He’s a naturally funny guy, but his humor is rooted in serious reflection on biblical faith and their application to contemporary issues. His wife calls him “an intellectual hermit who likes to laugh.”

How else could he run with lines like these:

  • Bored With Porn, Man Turns To ‘Game Of Thrones’
  • Hip Pastor: “I’m the SPARK—Senior Pathfinder of Artistry, Reverie, and Kingdom-extension—of this worship spot. And when you come to this spot—it’s not a “church,” by the way—you will never catch me preaching to you.”
  • The Texas Department of State Health Services has issued an order to Joel Osteen . . . to acquire a butcher’s license in order to continue handling Scripture.

Ford got into making satire sites in part out of his own needs. From World:

Ford says a lot of Christians who suffer from mental health issues are afraid to talk about them. “I didn’t grow up in the church, so I don’t have some of that baggage, and I think one reason God has given me these problems is so I can help comfort other Christians who struggle like I do.”