Honor off

Good news. I’ve got a real renter. The guy who came to look at the place a while back called and said he wants to take it. So if my questionable e-mail renter happens to be legitimate, I’m treating him badly. But I don’t think the odds are very high for that.

I’m blogging about Bernard Cornwell’s Enemy of God again tonight, because the only subject I can think of for a post is a comment I wanted to make about that book in my review, and which I forgot to include.

I don’t mean to beat on Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles again and again, because that suggests I hate the books more than I do. If I really hated them, I’d have stopped reading them. I long ago gave up the compulsive idea that I had to finish every book I started (even—horrors—books I’d paid good money for). Cornwell is one of the solid professionals in the field of historical fiction, and he always gives excellent value for money. He’s too good to give up on, even when he irritates me.

He’s great at the details. He knows how linen was processed in the Dark Ages, and how the process smelled. He knows what plants grew in what region, when they blossomed and what the blossoms looked like (you’ve probably noticed, if you’ve read my novels, that “the flowers were yellow” is about as detailed as I ever get in matters botanical). He knows (or convinces you that he knows) how mounted cavalry fastened their horseshoes in Arthur’s time. Details like that are the result of careful and exhaustive research, and they make all the difference in bringing the past to life for the reader.

But I caught Cornwell in a big error. It’s the kind of error all historical novelists (me probably more than most) make, and make on purpose. But it’s more objectionable in some cases than others.

All historical novelists that I know of alter their characters a bit, giving them attitudes that didn’t actually exist in their periods. The further back in history the story is set, the more attitude adjustment the novelist has to do. Trust me. If you were to spend just a few minutes inside the head of a real warrior of Arthur’s time, the sheer mass of ignorance, superstition, prejudice, hate and tribalism would send you running for an exorcist.

But there are limits, especially in books as well researched as Cornwell’s. There’s a scene in Enemy of God where Arthur and Derfel, the narrator, meet again after a long period of alienation. Arthur apologizes and asks Derfel’s forgiveness. Derfel gives it.

If I’ve learned anything in my historical research, it’s that nothing like that would have happened among Dark Age heathens (which Arthur and Derfel are in the book). Such men lived in an honor-based culture, in which “face” was the only thing that mattered for a man. Such men never, ever apologized, even to their closest friends. The best such men would have been able to do would be to take up as friends again, silently agreeing to say nothing about what had passed between them.

The only thing that made such an act (an apology and forgiveness between warriors) possible (if rare) was the coming of Christianity with its radical new ethic.

This scene is dishonest. Cornwell is trying to picture a “merry olde Britain” going along just fine before the Christians came along to mess things up. And to show us how admirable his heathen heroes are, he depicts them performing an act that they would never have performed, and that they would have despised if done by Christians, the only people who actually might have done such a thing.

Cornwell should know better than that.

Walking Through a Reading on a Cell

The Literary Saloon points to an article asking for the point of literary readings. “Reading is decidedly anti-social behavior. The freedom to read whatever we want to read is a shining legacy of our democracy, but one’s response to a book need not be democratic. One’s response is a totalitarian regime within each individual reader, morphing over time, and fighting for dominion of the imagination,” Mik Awake writes.

But the God I Know

Rusty Kelley is blogging on Jesus, “dear tiny infant baby Jesus, with golden fleece diapers…” No, he’s not being sacreligious. He concludes, “I must admit that I so easily fall into the trap of wanting a God that I can mold and shape according to my desires, and to the desires of those around me, yet when I step back and meditate on the God that I know, I praise Him for being much more than I could ever imagine or desire Him to be.”

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007

Sometimes when you hear someone has boarded his flight to the great beyond, you are surprised it hasn’t happened already. Famous authors get that wrap often, as I understand, often accused of death or something like it before settling into their terminal bed. Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-Five and many other books, had the honor of being just such a famous author. I’m sure many high school and college students thought he had been dead for a while now, along George Orwell (1903-1950), William Golding (1911-1993), Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), and J.D. Salinger (1919-?? He’s not dead yet??)

Now the students’ mistake has been corrected. Vonnegut died of brain injuries last night in New York. I need to read some of his work. He wasn’t all bad, so I hear.

Walker’s Theory

OK, this is getting ridiculous.

I’m supposed to believe in Global Warming, according to the Great and the Wise.

It’s April 10.

We got about three inches of snow last night and today.

The cognitive dissonance has become too great. I need a new paradigm.

And I have one. I’ve done serious thinking today (I work in a library, and the psychic emanations from all the wisdom that surrounds me marinate my highly sensitive soul). I’ve considered the situation, and I know what’s going on.

What are my credentials, you ask? Ha! I know as much about it as Rosie O’Donnell! And I’m almost as fat!

I offer Walker’s Theory of Global Cooling.

When you’re introducing a new paradigm (or theory, or hobbyhorse) of course, there’s one thing you absolutely need in order to enjoy real credibility. I’ve studied the discussion closely, as it has gone on to date, and it’s clear that a theorist really needs one thing to be taken seriously in our day.

You need a conspiracy theory.

So I’ll start with the C.T.

Every conspiracy theory needs a Hidden Hand, a secret cabal manipulating events for its own benefit. I have selected one.

The Jews are already taken. All the crackpots are ranting about the hidden hand of the Jews. I’ve got to be more creative than that.

I’ll go to the Number Two most popular Hidden Hand, the one they use in Hollywood all the time.

Neo-Nazis.

Yes, Global Cooling is the work of an international cabal of neo-Nazis.

If you’re old, like me, you remember the 1970’s, and how all the scientists back then were warning us about the new Ice Age that was right around the corner. Any day glaciers would advance to cover most of Canada, and snow would fall in Mexico.

Why did the alarmists change their boogeyman?

I believe it happened because scientists realized, to their horror and surprise, that global cooling was actually happening. What they’d intended as a fictional lever with which to pry research money out of the government turned out to be an actual danger.

Enter the neo-Nazis.

The neo-Nazis are still angry about how World War II ended. Ever since 1945, the Nazis and their heirs have been furious at Europe and America. “We offered you greatness, and you refused it!” they mutter. “If you want to decline, we’ll help you decline.”

Global Cooling is their method. Through massive bribery of the world’s scientists (with money provided by their anti-Semitic allies, the Arab oil states) they suborned the scientific community into promoting the entirely imaginary theory of Global Warming.

Meanwhile, the weather gets colder and colder, so we have snowstorms in April. The demand for oil increases, enriching the Arab allies, making more money available for bribes.

Soon it will be too late. Soon most of Europe and the United States will experience arctic conditions. Equatorial areas (where the Arabs live) will become temperate. Everyone will want to move there. There will be massive social upheaval, wars caused by food and fuel shortages, and the neo-Nazis and their allies will have the market cornered on those resources.

It’s almost too late, friends! You must demonstrate! You must riot in the streets! You must call scoffers bad names and throw ice cubes at them! Only through unrestrained international chaos and upheaval will we be able to make our voices heard!

(By the way, that part is up to you. I came up with the theory. My work is done.)

The Best Music at a Busy Time

So, there was this violinist, a violin player, in the metro lobby this morning. He was good. Played classical stuff. I didn’t have anything on me, so I didn’t chip in. I was in a hurry too.

Read what happens when a great violinist, Joshua Bell, starts playing for the crowds in Washington D.C. The music director of the National Symphony Orchestra thought a crowd would form to listen, “75 to 100 . . . if he’s really good.” (via World)

Weather and art

Guess what we’re supposed to get tonight in Minnesota? It’s white and it’s cold, and it rhymes with that word Don Imus is in trouble for saying.

As my late father used to say, “Why in blazes would anybody live in this country?”

In order to balance my negative review of Bernard Cornwell’s Enemy of God yesterday, I’d like to share a passage from the next book, Excalibur, which pleased me.

Guinevere is talking to a bard (poet) who disparages the old-fashioned style of loud, bellicose songs. He says the younger bards are concentrating more on style and harmony nowadays.

‘Any man can make a noise, Lady,’ Pyrlig defended his craft….

‘And soon the only people who can understand the intricacies of the harmony,’ Guinevere argued, ‘are other skilled craftsmen, and so you become ever more clever in an effort to impress your fellow poets, but you forget that no one outside the craft has the first notion of what you’re doing. Bard chants to bard while the rest of us wonder what all the noise is about. Your task, Pyrlig, is to keep the people’s stories alive, and to do that you cannot be rarefied.’

‘You would not have us be vulgar, Lady!’ Pyrlig said and, in his protest, struck the horsehair strings of his harp.

‘I would have you be vulgar with the vulgar, and clever with the clever,’ Guinevere said, ‘and both, mark you, at the same time, but if you can only be clever then you deny the people their stories, and if you can only be vulgar then no lord or lady will toss you gold.’

Does the Poe Figure Come with a Knife?

Stefanie of So Many Books has photos of her latest purchases, including a Jane Austen action figure. This is crazy. Action figures? I wonder how many there are or if an author can commission his own figure. I can think of possibilities:

  • Hawthorne would come dressed in black with a scarlet “A.”
  • Meville would have a spyglass and seaman attire.
  • Samuel Johnson would come with Boswell.
  • G.K. Chesterton would be heavier, though not larger, than any other figure and never remain where you leave him overnight.
  • Lewis might come with a wardrobe.
  • Tolkien would have an ornamental waistcoat, a pipe, and short sword.
  • Walt Whitman would be the most interactive of the figures with his growing hair.

No one would buy them, of course.

They Called Him Rabbi

Nextbook.org is hosting a festival of ideas on the greatest man in world history, Jesus Christ. “What’s He Doing Here? Jesus in Jewish Culture” is the theme for this New York festival of writers, critics, and scholars to be held at the end of April at The Center for Jewish History.

Some of the lectures and discussions are described as “Was [Marc] Chagall a Jew for Jesus? Yes and no” and “Why have the Jews never accepted a messiah? Why is the history of messianism in Judaism a history of false messianism? Some unorthodox views of the Jewish idea of redemption.”

Karen Kingsbury’s Stories Sell

Karen Kingsbury tops the list of the twenty bestselling novels in the most recent figures from The Association of Christian Retail. Her book, Forever, also tops the list of 50 bestsellers of all books sold in the Christian stores. Lori Wick manages to squeeze between Kingsbury’s books for second place on the fiction list with White Chocolate Moments.

No, I don’t think these books having vikings in them, but feel free to find out for yourself.

Can’t Support It

It’s probably in bad taste to criticize these things, but I’ll venture forward nonetheless. I learned today the Christian ghetto has what I assume to be a “safe” source for online video, GodTube. If you can’t get enough of alternatives to popular ideas or songs, look no further than this little site. (via World) *Those Mac vs. PC parodies depress me.*

The Bible on DVD–don’t want to read to your family yourself? Have this DVD read the Bible to the whole family with just a bit of ambient nature sounds and some dialog voices. Take a look at the demonstration stream. It’s so . . . multimedia. Whatever happened to reading aloud for yourself?

Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell

Enemy of God is the book I feared I’d encounter when I originally hesitated to read Bernard Cornwell’s “Warlord Chronicles” series about King Arthur. As I mentioned in my review of the previous book, The Winter King, there is evidence in the (scanty) historical record that the original Arthur made enemies in the British church. I feared that Christianity would be made to look bad.

And that’s what happened in this volume.

Oh, Cornwell covers himself. He has a couple positively presented Christian characters, notably the warrior Galahad, but that reads to me like the standard “Some of my best friends are Jewish” denial of anti-Semitism. In this book, the Christians are the bad guys. Even worse guys than the Saxon conquerors Arthur is fighting. Arthur is tolerant of religion but doesn’t believe in much of anything himself, except his honor, and Cornwell seems to see this as the best way to live.

Arthur (not a king but a warlord, and protector of the not-yet-grown king, Mordred) made himself the most powerful man in Britain at the end of The Winter King. He wants to solidify the peace through a marriage between Princess Ceinwyn, Princess of the kingdom of Powys, and Lancelot, whom he has made king of another British kingdom. But the narrator, Derfel, spoils this plan by running off with the princess. Later Derfel gets involved in helping the druid Merlin search for the cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn, obviously meant as the inspiration for the quest of the Holy Grail. The story of Tristan and Iseult is also incorporated (in the most horrifying version you’ll ever read).

But the real struggle in this story is with Christianity. The Christians of Britain, whipped up by the oily Bishop Sansum and his missionaries, are working themselves into a passion to convert all Britain by force before the magical year of 500 A.D., when they expect Christ to return. They are being cynically manipulated by King Lancelot, whom they adopt as their leader despite the fact that his faith is questionable. This mob enthusiasm threatens Arthur’s peace and the very existence of what remains of unconquered Britain.

Except for the exceptions referred to above, all the Christians in the book are either stupid or evil, and virtually all the priests are assumed to be either sexual predators or pederasts. Derfel and Arthur look at the Christians as an alien group that has settled in Britain, grown in numbers insidiously, and now threatens to impose its laws on everyone. Perhaps Cornwell has the Muslim presence in today’s Britain in the back of his mind.

It bothered me, but I finished it. I’ve started the third book now, and that one is less offensive.

For the rest, good story, interesting characters, exciting action. A Cornwell novel.

Go Fish Meme II

OK, I’ll bite.

Yes, I certainly have Andrew Klavan books. In fact I think I have everything in his oeuvre, (including the Keith Peterson books) except for Hunting Down Amanda, which I’ve got to find one of these days.

Roy, do you have any books by Walter Wangerin?

Go Fish Meme

Here’s a new meme. The path, should you choose to follow it, goes like this.

1. Answer the question given when you were tagged.

2. Tag someone else with a new question.

The questions allowed for this meme are of the Go Fish variety. For example: “Hey, Phil, got any books by Rudyard Kipling?” “Yes, I do. I have a couple cheap paperbacks of The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous, and a 1940 edition of his collected verses published by Sun Dial Press.”

Having answered a question, I will ask a question, and I’ll start with what I hope to be an easy-sort-of-easy one.

Hey, Lars, got any books by Andrew Klavan?

R.I.P. Johnny Hart

Johnny Hart, one of the great cartoonists of our time–creator of “The Wizard of Id” and “B.C.” as well as an in-your-face Christian witness–died today at his home at Endicott, NY. He was 76 years old.

I think he was probably pleased to go home on Easter Day.

“Hey! Heaven got cartoonists!”

Book Reviews, Creative Culture