Category Archives: Authors

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.”

Christopher Robin Made Peace with Pooh

Gyles Brandreth wrote about his friendship with Christopher Robin a few decades ago. He says it was boarding school bullying that put Robin off of his childhood fame, at least at the start, but many years later, he made peace with it.

“Of course we must talk about Pooh.” He had a mischievous twinkle. “It’s been something of a love-hate relationship down the years, but it’s all right now.”

“Now we are sixty,” I said.

He laughed. “Yes, believe it or not, I can look at those four books without flinching. I’m quite fond of them really.”

It’s Winnie-the-Pooh’s 90th anniversary today, and for the occasion, four new stories have been written and new illustrations drawn, some of which include a new character in the Hundred Acre Wood. (via Prufrock News)

How Would Edmund Burke Advise You to Vote?

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing

Isn’t this the one thing you know from Edmund Burke, an Irishman and political thinker? You didn’t even know he was Irish. All you knew about Burke was that he said the above quotation. Except he didn’t.

What he said that closely resembles this comes from his 1770 book, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Now this is curious. Burke is arguing in favor of unity, of banding together to oppose “ambitious citizens” who have already united their efforts. We could call them The Establishment or a number of other things. Burke’s point appears to be that virtuous people should not believe their individual virtues, their personal choices, to be effective against those who are working together to oppose us.

Here’s more of what Burke wrote in Present Discontents:  Continue reading How Would Edmund Burke Advise You to Vote?

Who Has Authority to Speak on a Subject?

Min Hyoung Song, an English professor at Boston College, focuses much of his time on Chinese-American literature and has written this review of book that contrasts two China-focused authors, one a Pulitzer and Nobel winner, the other struggling for any attention at all. He asks:

What does it mean to be serious? Or, more specifically, how does a subject get to be something (or someone) worth speaking about? Who gets to speak about this subject and be accepted as someone who knows what he or she is talking about? What forms can this authority take, and in what kinds of contexts? Pearl S. Buck’s wild successes and H. T. Tsiang’s wild failures are the two extremes.

Those are good questions for any subject, and the answer seems to have much to do with personal trust and connection. An author or teacher may have good, or what would be fair to call “the right,” answers on a topic but fail to connect with his readers. Without such a connection, no one will trust him to know what he’s talking about. On the other hand, that person who has gained his readers’ trust can be wrong about many things and still be considered an authority. Personal trust is the key. (via ALDaily)

No One Can Set Up a Theocracy

“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic, and what not,” Lewis wrote. “But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.”

Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center shares some good thoughts from C. S. Lewis about Christians in the political world, but I think I may have strong disagreements.

Certainly, to create a specifically Christian political party could cause problems, because while the Bible has many applications to civil society, it does not give us a platform for twenty-first century governing. Wehner says Lewis “believed that theocracy was the worst form of government and detested the idea of a ‘Christian party,’ which risked blaspheming the name of Christ.”

I can see that danger, but who among us is even capable of establishing a theocracy? If God were to descend on Washington D.C. and declare his regulations from the Lincoln Memorial, if he were to charge his followers with discipling those who refuse to obey him and blessing them with divine gifts for carrying out his will, then we would have a theocracy. What are the Lord’s trade and immigration policies? How does the Lord want us to handle our crime-ridden cities? Let’s ask him directly.

No. We can’t get there from here. We could set up a “Christian” party. I’m pretty sure we have. And we have several Christian candidates for various offices, but none of them can reconstruct our government to submit to the direct decrees of God. What Wehner and Lewis, I suppose, are criticizing is a government ruled by priests who claim to speak for the Almighty–the Holy American Empire, in other words.  Continue reading No One Can Set Up a Theocracy

Not Entirely Unlike a Book

After seeing Norm MacDonald 2/21/09 at the Wilbur Theater

Hans Fiene works through the mechanics of an elementary book review on comic Norm MacDonald’s new book, Based On a True Story: A Memoir, which he says is a bit of a challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, Macdonald’s first foray into the literary realm has many book-like features. It has pages with words on them. It has a dust jacket with the title on the front and endorsements on the back. It generally abides by the rules of English grammar . . .  But in substance Based on a True Story is not a book.

. . .

Despite being labeled “a memoir,” Macdonald has no interest in writing a genuine account of his life’s events or allowing the reader to get near him. Rather, he’s firmly committed to amusing himself by irritating you into fits of guffaws.