Category Archives: Authors

On C. S. Lewis: Hooper vindicated?

The serious cold has returned to God’s Country. The high today was a notch over 10°F. I’ve seen worse cold. Far worse. But this is definitely, inarguably frigid.

On Saturday it’ll be even colder. And the Viking Age Society is scheduled to help with a city cross-country skiing event that day, manning bonfires and passing out (warm) refreshments.

I’m trying to figure out a way to weasel out of it.



There’s news on the C. S. Lewis front.
I wrote, over on the old blog site, about the late Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog’s accusations, repeated and embellished through several books, that Lewis’ secretary and literary executor, Walter Hooper, had forged documents, notably the unfinished novel The Dark Tower, and fraudulently published them as Lewis’ work.

I never put much stock in those charges, and it appears my instincts were right. The current issue of Christianity Today features an article called “Shedding Light On the Dark Tower” (not online, but here’s a discussion thread from the Into the Wardrobe site); by Harry Lee Poe. Poe describes a 2003 article in the Yale Review by scholar Alastair Fowler, a student of Lewis’. Fowler clearly recalls Lewis showing him some of his unfinished work, and he says he particularly remembers seeing The Dark Tower, with its disturbing scene about the man with the “stinger” in his head.

It would appear that Lindskoog was motivated to make her charges, in part, by the fact that the Dark Tower fragment just isn’t very good. She couldn’t accept that her hero might have produced something so inferior.

If that’s so, it’s evidence that she didn’t understand the creative process very well. Rare is the fiction writer who can produce saleable material on the first draft, and most who can aren’t the best in their genres. I often tell people, “The first thing is just to get your story down on paper. Don’t worry about the fact that it’s dreck. It’s supposed to be dreck. That’s what first drafts are for. Once the dreck is down in black and white, you can put your artistic mind to work, cutting, shaping, polishing and rearranging stuff.”

You can argue that a poor first draft by Lewis should never have been published at all (good luck with that!). But to complain that an early draft is substandard compared with his published work—that’s just starry-eyed.

Bob and Tom today

What shall I say tonight, to follow yesterday’s hubris fest? Something self-deprecatory? That’s always a favorite, and I imagine I’ll get to it before I’m done, but instead, just to make a change, why don’t I deprecate somebody else? Somebody famous, somebody whose majestic literary legacy makes me look not only tiny, but invisible.

I’ll trash Robert Burns.

Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark reminds us that today is Burns’ birthday. Scotsmen and their descendants around the world are toasting him today, no doubt, and good health to them.

But I don’t like Burns.

It’s not his poetry I object to, but his life. When I think of Burns I think of his womanizing, and that offends me. I unloaded on this subject through one of the characters in Blood and Judgment. That whole 19th Century Romantic movement was as famed for its flouting of traditional sexual mores as for its creative accomplishments.

You know what happened to a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock in those days? How many young women debauched by these scoundrels, do you think, ended up thrown out of their homes, walking the streets? I’m not defending that kind of draconian attitude toward “fallen women.” I’m affirming a more draconian attitude toward seducers.

Part of it’s plain jealousy, I have no doubt. I’ve always had a furious, repressed resentment against guys who have an easy way with women. I envy them deeply. I’ll not deny it.

And I know that C. S. Lewis would reprimand me for practicing “the personal heresy,” allowing judgments about a poet’s life to cloud my appreciation of his work, which is a thing whole unto itself.

Guilty on both counts.

But that doesn’t make me like Burns.

I close this section with the only Burns story I know, which isn’t helpful to my purpose in any way, but might soften the effects of my rant.

As the story goes, Burns was walking down the road one morning, when he met a pretty milkmaid.

“Good morning, lassy,” he said to her, tipping his hat.

“Good morning sir.” The girl smiled and continued on her way. Obviously she hadn’t recognized the poet.

“Do you know who I am, lassy?” he asked, turning.

“No sir.”

“I’m Robert Burns.”

“Oh,” said the girl. “I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”

Commenter Michael suggested the other day, in response to my post about my medical test, that I might be “the Tom Bombadil of psychotropic drugs,” utterly unaffected by them.

That’s flattering, but laughable. If there’s a less Bombadillian character in the world than I, I don’t know who it is.

But it reminds me that in my recent re-reading of The Fellowship Of the Ring, I think I finally figured out a way to think about old Tom.

I’ve always had trouble figuring him out. I know that Tolkien didn’t write allegory, and so it’s always false to say of any of his characters, “This character symbolizes X.” His characters are rich and complex. They reflect qualities, and multiple qualities at that. They sometimes act in ways reminiscent of Christ or the Virgin Mary or others, but none of them is anybody but himself, consistently.

Still I find it helpful to see Tom Bombadil as a sort of Adam figure. Not the fallen Adam, but the unfallen, the First Patriarch who named the beasts and tended the Garden. Bombadil reminds me of the Green Lady in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra, though he’s been tested and lacks her vulnerability. Bombadil, it seems to me, represents humanity as it was created to be—at one with nature but not beastly; highly sexual but chaste.

(By the way, I’m glad they skipped him in the Peter Jackson movie. He’s absolutely unfilmable, and the scenes in his house could only have been done as a sort of musical comedy number. I just can’t see it working).

I could well be wrong in my conclusions. Feel free to tell me why.

British Racism and Stupidity

Ugly news out of Britain today. Author Kiran Desai, winner of the Man Booker Prize winner for The Inheritance of Loss, says she has been insulted for being Indian by Britons.

“I certainly have been walking the streets of London and elsewhere in England and people have said, ‘Go back to where you come from’ or, you know, ,You damned Paki,'” she said recently.

This comes to light because actress Shilpa Shetty was in a reality show where she took some harsh words from other participants.

I suppose some news commentators/reporters will be asking whether all Britons are bigots, but that’s a bit ridiculous. Do they ask whether everyone is a murderer after a rash a homicide reports?

From our stupid news desk comes a report on comedic duo Baigent and Leigh who have returned to court to appeal the ruling against last year’s plagiarism suit. They are the authors of that wonderful fantasy, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and wanted to sue Dan Brown for stealing their imaginative ideas. The suit was thrown out, hence the appeal.

“A Random House spokesman said: ‘We regret … that more time and money is being spent trying to establish a case that was so comprehensively defeated in the High Court,'” according to Reuters.

What Hath Joanne Rowling Wrought?

Middlebury College students are playing quidditch with a few adaptations for non-magical folk.

Harry Potter fan fiction, La Septima M or The Seventh M, has been published by young author Francisca Solar of Chili. She says, “All the things I know about literature, about writing, I learned in the fan fiction world. I owe it everything.”

The Christopher Little Literary Agency, who represents J.K. Rowling, has announced a £1,500 prize and possible representation “to students on the creative writing course at City University in London. The agency said it wanted originality, talent and ‘not a Harry Potter clone,'” reports BBC News.

T.S. Eliot’s Passions

I heartily agree with the ideas in this post on T.S. Eliot, creativity, and art. The Lord God is the author and sustainer of life. When he created all things, declaring them good, he made them such that they work best by directly or indirectly honoring him. If the animists could truly listen to the spirits of everything around them, they would hear a profound chorus singing glory to God in the highest and calling for redemption from the curse mankind inflicted on them.

I suggest the reason certain philosophies glory in ugly art, destructive behavior, and personal freedom from the normal consequences of our actions is those philosophies are anti-life by virtue of being anti-God.

Hans Christian Andersen: Unsuitable for children?

I was chatting with a friend online last night, and the subject of favorite fairy tales came up. For some reason I forgot to mention “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen. Somebody (I forget who) wrote a book a long time ago, saying that our favorite fairy tales reveal a lot about our basic desires and strategies for life. Girls who like “Little Red Riding Hood,” for instance, seem to always own a red coat, and have a tendency to get into relationships with big bad wolves.

“The Ugly Duckling” is actually a pretty uncharacteristic story for Andersen. It has a happy ending, and he didn’t write those often. Sorry to drop a spoiler on you here, but if you only know “The Little Mermaid” from the Disney movie, the original version doesn’t end the same way at all. Not at all

An excerpt (not the conclusion of the story):

The little mermaid could not help thinking of her first rising out of the sea… and she joined in the dance, poised herself in the air as a swallow when he pursues his prey, and all present cheered her with wonder. She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart. She knew this was the last evening she should ever see the prince, for whom she had forsaken her kindred and her home; she had given up her beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it. This was the last evening that she would breathe the same air with him, or gaze on the starry sky and the deep sea; an eternal night, without a thought or dream, awaited her; she had no soul and now she could never win one….

Andersen was a writer of tragedy. He wrote tragedies for children, which seems perverse to us. But Andersen was a lonely, shy man who had little experience of happy endings. He’d grown up in poverty and been rejected by every woman he ever fell in love with (he was not, despite what the activists will try to tell you, a homosexual). He was only comfortable with children; remained a child himself in many ways. But the message he had for children was not the one we like to give them—“Hold on, keep hopeful, and everything will turn out all right.” His message, forged out of his own experience in a world where lots and lots of children never grew up, was, “You may fail. You may die. But death doesn’t have to be the end, and the way you die can make your life beautiful.”

I wrote about something like this the other day, in regard to the story about the widow in the smoky house. Our ancestors lived in a harder world than ours, and they had wisdom we can’t begin to comprehend, wisdom that allowed them to endure suffering we can’t imagine and retain their sanity. Afraid to look closely at such holy things, we, the descendents, malign them and label them “morbid.”

Interview with Andrée Seu

In case you didn’t see the comment left on an earlier thread, Mindy Withrow has posted an interview with essayist Andrée Seu.

Have you always wanted to write, or was it an unexpected development in your life?

It was never my goal to be a writer. My debut in the writing world was a providential fluke (to coin a phrase God may only be half pleased with): One day I wrote a little essay for my own amusement and sent it to my brother. He sent it to WORLD and the Lord had mercy on this soon-to-be widow and gave me favor in the eyes of the editor. Easiest job I ever got.

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Vince Guaraldi

“In 1963, Lee Mendelson was a young San Francisco filmmaker working on a documentary about Schulz, whose “Peanuts” cartoon strip was fast becoming a national craze. He needed music for a two-minute animated segment of his film. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, he heard a catchy jazz tune on the radio called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind,’ which was written and performed by Guaraldi, who also lived in the Bay Area.”

This Washington Post feature on a great jazz pianist and composer notes that “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” was “one of the last instrumental jazz tunes to be a crossover hit — and earned Guaraldi a Grammy Award in 1963 for best original jazz composition.” This piece lead to Guaraldi composing the music to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” among other classics.

(via Cranach)

By the way, how many things on God’s green earth are better than good piano jazz? Probably just a dozen or so, wouldn’t you think?

N.T. Wright Profiled in Atlanta

Michelle of Life Under the Sun points out a feature article on theologian N.T. Wright in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here’s a bit from the article:

While Christian conservatives in the United States are often defined by two issues —- abortion and homosexuality —- Wright demonstrates that they can broaden their agenda to include social justice issues.

His theology is difficult to define at first glance.

He’s argued forcefully for the role of women as leaders in the church but believes homosexuality is a sin.

He believes in the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus but not the infallibility of the Bible.

He describes the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States as “unmitigated evil” but opposes the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Wright says his beliefs may seem odd and contradictory in the United States but not his country. He says plenty of conservative Christians in his homeland, for example, are as passionate about relieving Third World debt as they are about defending traditional Christian doctrine.

P.D. James’ Opening Sentences

Speaking of P.D. James, I love some of her opening sentences.



The Children of Men
: “Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty five years, two months and twelve days.”

Death In Holy Orders: “It was Father Martin’s idea that I should write an account of how I found the body.”

A Certain Justice: “Murderers do not usually give their victims notice. This is one death which, however terrible that last second of appalled realization, comes mercifully unburdened with anticipatory terror.”

Original Sin: “For a temporary shorthand typist to be present at the discovery of a corpse on the first day of a new assignment, if not unique, is sufficently rare to prevent its being regarded as an occupational hazard.”

Relgious People Out Give Secular Folks

Today, I heard an interview with professor Arthur Brooks, who wrote Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. He makes remarkable claims which contrast the books by atheists which we’ve discussed briefly in earlier posts. The book cover summarizes one of Brooks’ points: “Strong families, church attendance, earned income (as opposed to state-subsidized income), and the belief that individuals, not government, offer the best solution to social ills-all of these factors determine how likely one is to give.” That points a political spin on it, but in the interview today, Brooks said religious people in general are more charitable than irreligious people–er, I mean, secular people. He didn’t distinguish between religions, at least in the interview, so I understand him to say that faithful commitment to broadly religious ideas indicate a charitable spirit. Brooks went so far as to say that if you take out local religious people, the local PTA will fall.

Author on Author Commentary

BitterSweetLife is asking for quotes from authors about other authors. He leads in this quote from Flannery O’Connor:

This book of C.S. Lewis on prayer is a good one but I don’t like to pray any better for reading it. I also just read one of his called Miracles, which is very fine. Deceptively simple. You really need to read every sentence twice. Go among the biblical scholars, says he, as a sheep among wolves. – “Habit of Being”

The only one I can contribute is one I added to the quotes at the top of BwB this weekend. P.G. Wodehouse in the later part of his life said, “I don’t want to be like Bernard Shaw. He turned out some awfully bad stuff in his nineties. He said he knew the stuff was bad but he couldn’t stop writing.”

Sherry has several quotes though.

The feast of St. Jack

I’m not glad President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Far from it. But I am glad that, if he had to be assassinated, Providence scheduled the event for November 22, 1963, because that’s the day C. S. Lewis died. (Aldous Huxley too, but who cares about him?) I hadn’t read Lewis yet at the time (I was thirteen years old), but it comforts me somewhat to know I mourned deeply that day.

I remember it well. I was in an art class in school when the radio broadcast came over the intercom system with the news from Dallas. It was my brother Baal’s birthday, which was rather tough for him. Moloch and I gave him a great gift—a plastic car designed to fly to pieces spectacularly when you crashed it into a wall. But the news dampened even his eight-year-old spirits.

I credit Lewis with being God’s instrument to preserve my faith through all the challenges it met in college and since. He was the first writer to tell me that faith involved reason as well as feeling. It seemed too good to be true at first. I thought surely I’d learn somewhere that this was heresy. But it wasn’t. So I planted my banner on the orthodox side of the battle-lines for life.

Here’s a quote from Lewis’ letter to his friend Owen Barfield, April 4, 1949:

Talking of beasts and birds, have you ever noticed this contrast: that when you read a scientific account of any animal’s life you get an impression of laborious, incessant, almost rational economic activity (as if all animals were Germans) but when you study any animal you know – what at once strikes you is their cheerful fatuity, the pointlessness of nearly all they do. Say what you like, Barfield, the world is sillier and better fun than they make out.

Have a great Thanksgiving, friends.