- Harold Ockenga
My favorite Christmas gift this year may have come from a total stranger. Digital artist Jeremiah Humphries produced the above drawing of Erling Skjalgsson, apparently, on a whim.
I like the use of light to suggest the hearth fire in the hall.
These are the moments that suggest to a writer that he hasn't entirely wasted his time.
For more information on Mr. Humphries' art, check out his blog.
First off, I have to apologize and say that you'll be seeing slow posting from me this week, or none at all. I have a major paper to write for my Library Science class, requiring my undivided attention.
Meanwhile, I direct you to our friend Hunter Baker, who posted a very thoughtful piece today on the minimum wage controversy, and Christian compassion in general.
During a recent visit to twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic. He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets. Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this: ”Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you doesn’t endorse a minimum wage increase.” I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger.
The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage....
What a strange day. I was very low and very high within a few hours, and all through the mediation of the Internet. This whole thing would have been inconceivable just 20 years ago.
First, though, the weekend report. My big project was my annual ceremony of seeking out and repairing cracks in the retaining wall on the west side of my property, so it doesn’t rain chips down onto my neighbor’s driveway, or give way altogether in small landslide. The neighbor and I have discussed replacing the whole thing, but that awaits the Day When My Ship Comes In. A movie deal would do it.
I knew ahead of time that the work would leave me walking like Walter Brennan on the old Real McCoys TV series, which most of you are too young to remember. Which is just the sort of thing Grandpa McCoy would have said himself, except that he would have said it about Vaudeville or nickelodeon shows.
The other big accomplishment of the weekend was submitting my first research paper for my grad school class. Worked hard trying to master the APA style, and had to cut out half my text after I realized I’d forgotten to make it double spaced. I’ve often had people (some of them with doctorates) tell me they can’t imagine writing a novel. I for my part have a hard time imagining writing a doctoral thesis.
So I hobble into work today and check the grad school web access page, and find that my instructor has critiqued my paper, but not given me any grade points. I took that to mean I’d failed the assignment, and so plunged into Stygian depression. I have to maintain a B average to stay in school. All that was over now, I thought. I was done. Bound for unemployment and life on the street.
Then I e-mailed the instructor, asking her to explain. She e-mailed back that she just hadn’t assigned grades yet.
OK. Never mind, then.
And then I get a plug from John Wilson at Christianity Today’s Books & Culture podcast (see below). That’s like a bucket list thing for me. All my life, Christianity Today has been the standard of intellectual respectability in the evangelical world. And I made it! In a way.
My grandmother would have been so proud. Though I’d have to explain to her what the Internet and podcasts are.
Then we could commiserate about our stiff joints.
In his podcast today, John Wilson of Books and Culture talks about how much he enjoyed Lars' latest !!spell-binding!! novel, Hailstone Mountain, and a bit about how he was provoked to read it. The world feels smaller somehow.
If you too are brand new to Lars Walker's novels, learn more by following this wonderful, insightful, and humility-inspiring blog or through the links below:
- Twice the Critical Goodness!
- Phil's Review of Troll Valley
- Eleventh Century Vox
- I Did Not See That Coming
- My Review of Hailstone Mountain
- By the Dawn's Erling Light, Part 1
- By the Dawn's Erling Light, Part 2
- My Review of West Oversea
(via Kevin Holtsberry)
Our friend Gene Edward Veith, of Cranach blog, linked today to Joel Heck's Lewis Site, where the author, who teaches at Concordia University, Austin, Texas has done a lot of work compiling a chronology of C. S. Lewis's life.
He's now produced a perpetual desk calendar with an event for every day of the year. The perfect gift for... well, for me. And for those Lewis fanatics on your list, whose name is surely Legion.
Joe Carter, formerly of The Evangelical Outpost, is wicking out the nostalgia in me by profiling three God-bloggers who started blogging in 2003, a year before I started this lit-blog. Like Joe, I have admired these men for a long time. They helped shaped the blogosphere, or it feels like they did for me.
Of Tim Challies, Jared Wilson, and Justin Taylor, he asks these questions:
- What was your motivation for starting a blog?
- How has blogging changed your life over the past decade?
- What is one lesson you've learned from blogging about writing, communicating, etc.?
- How has blogging itself or the blogosphere changed in these ten years?
Tim says: "I learned that I think best when I write. I don't really know what I believe until I write it down and work it through in my word processor, and in that way writing has been a critical part of my spiritual development. For some reason it took me beginning a blog to figure this out."
Jared says: "Then one of our guys said, "Why don't we stop the clunky email chains and do this on a weblog?" I had no idea what that was, but we all kinda said, 'Okay.'"
Justin: "Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think we are more bored with blogs than we were ten years ago. Our attention spans are even shorter as we want to hear from and interact with more people but with fewer characters — hence the rise of Twitter. What was a short piece ten years ago is now almost considered 'long form.'"
Today I got an e-mail from super-author Andrew Klavan, directing me to this column on his blog, in which he gives me a nice plug.
Novelist Lars Walker — a friend of this blog and an insightful reviewer of some of my own novels — makes a trenchant comment in the Elizabeth Smart post below. I know it’s trenchant because I was about to make basically the same comment but Lars beat me to it! In the comment, he makes a delightfully concise reference to “the Osteenian view that suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure.” This, of course, refers to popular preacher Joel Osteen, who has been promoting his new book at the Blaze and other places. He basically preaches that God wants wonderful things for your life and you only have to open yourself to God’s will in order to receive those blessings.
He was particularly pleased, he said, by my use of the adjective "Osteenian," meaning theological ideas in line with Joel Osteen's preaching. He seems to think I may have coined it, though I find it hard to believe nobody's used it before.
In any case, this counts as a good day.
Popsci.com, the site of Popular Science magazine, is shutting off comments, because "even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story, recent research suggests."
Though most Popsci.com commenters were great, the salt of the earth, spambots and trolls were present as well, and, darn it, this Interweb thing is too unruly to govern with, like, technology.
The Popsci.com editors grieve, "A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again."
A war on expertise is being waged by spambots?
The strongest theme I saw was honor and duty in a person’s life. Duty means doing what needs to be done whether you like it or not. Especially if you like it not. The book revolves around honor. Men go to great lengths to gain or keep honor. Things they will not do for themselves, they do to help others. Men they would otherwise befriend they may not because of differences in spirit or blood. When people do their duty to God, the right things happen. When they forget, they and all those who serve under them suffer.
Our friend Hunter Baker praises Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas books over at Touchstone Magazine:
Years of major market success gain an author freedom to do what he wants. In the last decade, Koontz has invested his considerable artistic capital in becoming a more intentional instructor of the soul. His device for moral and spiritual teaching is a young man named Odd. Odd, like Koontz, is a Catholic. He is bright, handsome, and athletic. His parents are divorced and both highly dysfunctional. Odd's inattentive, playboy father comes from a family with a lot of money. His mother doesn't deserve the name. Given his upbringing, Odd is a miracle. He is God's child more than he is the child of two people who refuse to grow up.
I have a column called "The Book We Still Can't Spare" at The American Spectator today. It's about the Bible and democracy.
Our friend Anthony Sacramone sends a link to a snarky column at Intercollegiate Review: "How to Be a Really Lousy Journalist for Fun and Profit":
Start with the assumption that your own views are moderate. Within your newsroom, they probably are, even if last night at a colleague’s dinner party you argued for single-payer health care and mandatory re-education camps for homeschoolers. Then, instead of describing the views of people outside your newsroom, just label them “right-wing,” “anti-abortion,” or “extremely conservative.” You might be wondering if, finding rational argument too burdensome, you can just resort to calling the people you disagree with bigots and dismiss them. Turns out you can!
If you need to beef up your word count, throw in a few stereotypes and clichés about backwoods believers. Be careful even here, though, as you don’t want to showcase views that might catch on.
Read the whole thing here.
John Sigismund of Hungary with Suleiman the Magnificent in 1556.
Today, Grim of Grim’s Hall cited Hailstone Mountain again, pointing out that one of the issues I dramatized in the book has shown up in the New York Times.
I’m getting really sick of being a prophet.
“It is my understanding that the prophet Jeremiah frequently expressed a similar sentiment, sir,” said Jeeves.
Over at National Review’s The Corner, Andrew C. McCarthy links to an article about the Islamic institution of the Jizya tax. Jizya is part of the process of submission in a sharia state. The kuffar (infidel) pays the jizya and suffers various social indignities, in order to be permitted to go on living and to practice his religion (this is the much-vaunted freedom of religion of which Islamic apologists boast).
The argument is that the Egyptian government openly considers U.S. foreign aid to be a payment of jizya. In their view, they are in the process of conquering us, and this is the beginning of our submission.
Will this information cause liberals, most of whom are adamant that our government should pay for nothing that can possibly be regarded as religious, to call for an end to our aid to Egypt?
No, no of course not. When they say “religion” they mean “Christianity.”
It's snowing again. Coming down pretty heavy. The weather man says five to eight inches this time.
I was going to call it an insult, but no. The last one was an insult. This is the one there's no alternative to laughing over. Even if it puts down a foot, I declare here and now I won't shovel it. It'll be gone in a couple days anyhow.
I'm beginning to think we need to draw lots to figure out who offended the Almighty.
Only I'm afraid it's me.
Anyway, our friend Grim at Grim's Hall has posted a review of Hailstone Mountain, with a call for discussion on a theological point which I, frankly, had never actually connected to the scene in the book he's talking about. But now that he mentions it, I guess he's right.
I'm happy to report that our free book day (not over yet, you can still get it here until midnight, I think) seems to have been a success. We've given away more than 750 downloads, last time I checked, and one may hope that this might attract a few readers and referrals. Hailstone Mountain reached #2 on a couple of free Christian fantasy books lists today as well.
To put the cherry on the sundae, Loren Eaton posted a review at I Saw Lightning Fall. And we got a link from Vox Day of Vox Popoli.
Now I shall lean back and let all this adulation go to my head.
Thanks to everyone who helped promote it.
In yet another response to my Intercollegiate Review article, Speculative Faith asked me to answer a few questions over at their site. Thanks to those folks.
Visitors to the Evangelical Outpost website experienced, today, the horror of being greeted by my face. David Nilsen, who reviewed Troll Valley yesterday, followed up with an interview, which you can read here.
Part of that is due to Walker’s writing ability. He spends a good chunk of the first third of the book describing life and work on a farm in Minnesota, including extended passages just describing food, without ever losing the reader’s interest. Walker also has the fascinating ability to be witty, even humorous, while dealing with the darker aspects of life and the human condition.
I don't think it would be right to say that my column on Christian Fantasy for The Intercollegiate Review, posted yesterday, has gone viral. But it seems to be approaching the communicable disease level anyway. Editor Anthony Sacramone tells me it's rapidly approaching their record for hits. There've been several links, including...
Our friend Gene Edward Veith over at Cranach calls it "beyond excellent."
David Mills at First Things speaks of "good advice" and "interesting insights."
And, most amazing of all, Jeffrey Overstreet himself devotes quite a long post to it, calling me a "formidable storyteller," which is kind of like having your singing praised by Placido Domingo. Although he's visited our blog in the past and responded to some of my comments on his works, I'm surprised that a guy with so much more important things to think about was even aware of my work. He disagrees with my use of the term "Christian fantasy," a point I appreciate, but I don't think there's much to be done about it.
Anyway, thanks to everyone who's spread the word. I did not expect a response of this kind. Frankly (as I confessed to Anthony) I was a little embarrassed to submit the thing, because it seemed to me a lot of conventional wisdom that had been dispensed just as well by better writers.
But sometimes you're in the right place at the right time, like the merchant in Hailstone Mountain who brought a cat to a country full of mice.
Under protest, it goes without saying, because I'm afraid of the power of the Irish Lobby, I offer the following clip of the redoubtable Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem. It's a song I'm particularly fond of -- the kind that might not impress you on first acquaintance, but sticks in your mind after a couple repeats. I particularly like the line, "Castles are sacked in war, chieftains are scattered far -- truth is a fix-ed star...."
Now an Anthony Sacramone update: He sneaked back into his blog last week, tiptoeing with his shoes off, and did a post. Then he did another yesterday. So we've got that. He also links to the web page of the Intercollegiate Review, where he's got a very amusing cover story right now:
Empire builders and revolutionaries, reformers and moral scolds, civil libertarians and uncivil prohibitionists—all believe History is on their side. Beware anyone who imputes to History an inevitable, self-directed, Forward march, as if it were as fixed as a bar code, as predetermined as male-pattern baldness, as sovereign as any voluntaristic deity. Most risible are atheists, old or new, who act as if the expanding energies of a supposedly random and causeless Big Bang could even possess an ultimate purpose....
Today somebody on Facebook referred me to a new blog which will have, I expect, a selective appeal – Sveyn Forkblog. The author, an Englishman named Chris Tuckley, has decided to start a blog to celebrate the millennium of one of England’s most obscure kings – Sveyn (or Svein, or Sven, or Svend – the options are many) Forkbeard, the Viking Dane who conquered England, then promptly died, leaving the whole thing for his son Canute the Great to conquer over again.
This interests me, of course, because it’s in my line and precisely in my period. Svein was an ally of King Olaf Tryggveson of Norway, whom you’ll remember from The Year of the Warrior, but turned against him (actually it was more the other way around; Olaf switched sides on Svein) and led the coalition that defeated and killed Olaf at the Battle of Svold.
If you read West Oversea, you’ll recall how news came of the massacre of the Danes in England by King Aethelred the Unrede. One of the victims was said to be Svein’s own sister, which gave him both a personal reason and a political excuse for returning to England with fire and sword, and subduing the whole place.
He also appears in the classic novel The Long Ships (not the movie), but does not come off very well there.
Joel Friedlander shares some thoughts on the problems and benefits of blogging for fiction authors, particularly unpublished ones.
Photo credit: Musicaline
I’ll fess up. I check our blog statistics now and then. Mostly not just to check the total clicks (though visit totals have been gratifying, thank you) but to back-track visitors and find what posts brought in the most Googlers. And this time of year an odd pattern appears. By far the most common search to wash up on these shores involves the words “Christmas crib.” And the searches, oddly, generally come from places in the Middle East. If I’m reading it right (always a questionable thesis), they generally land on this post, which says nothing at all about Christmas cribs, causing me to figure that the draw must actually be the picture of the crèche I used to illustrate it.
The term “Christmas crib” sounds strange to me. It’s not an English idiom, as far as I know. Nobody in these parts talks about Nativity Scenes that way. We call then Nativity Scenes or manger scenes, or if we’re feeling pedantic (and heaven knows I often do) we say “crèche.” But perhaps Christians in the Middle East do call them Christmas cribs. No reason why they shouldn’t. It’s a perfectly good name.
I might note (to continue in my pedantic voice, now that I’ve got it warmed up) that the Norwegian word for “manger” is in fact “krybbe.” There must be a history there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with manger scenes. But I don’t have any facts on that.
From what I’ve read, the traditional inverted A-frame wooden manger we see in Nativity Scenes is nothing at all like anything used in First Century Israel. Many scholars think Christ was born in one of the caves near Bethlehem, where sheep were stabled in those days. The mangers in those structures were made of stone masonry and were built into a corner of the wall. Which is bad for crèches, as it would badly mess up the composition.
However, another theory, which I’ve grown to favor, says that many Jewish houses of that day had an attached all-purpose room, which could be used for livestock when necessary, or could be cleaned out and turned into a guest room when the in-laws showed up. Such a room would have had a built-in manger as well, and that could explain the reference to the baby in the manger in Luke (where the word “stable” does not actually appear).
The problem with this theory is that it renders the traditional mean old innkeeper unnecessary. Which is OK with me, frankly, because he also appears nowhere in the text. And I've always identified with him.
Loren Eaton refers to the beautiful aurora in northern-most and southern-most skies, which is one of the cool aspects of the new Angry Birds Seasons update, but I don't plan to talk about that here. I wanted to announce my participation in Loren's shared storytelling event, Advent Ghost 2012. We will be posting our 100-word stories on our respective blogs on Saturday, December 22, and Loren will link to all of them on his blog. I'll be sure to link to this indexing post too. Now, you have something to look forward to. There's no need to thank me.
You can read past stories for this event and other flash fiction I've posted in our Creative Writing category.
Photo credit: Inverclyde Views
It appears that the first victim of Hurricane Sandy is a sailor from the replica sailing ship Bounty, built in 1960 for the 1962 movie, “Mutiny On the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard. The ship herself, God rest her, went to the bottom off the North Carolina coast. Twelve sailors were rescued by Coast Guard helicopters, and one further missing sailor was found floating in a life jacket, and has been rushed to a hospital.
This is only the beginning of sorrows, as Revelation says, but it’s a particularly bitter one for me. I love those old sailing ships. Viking ships are in a class by themselves, of course, but all the tall ladies move me to the depths of my Scandinavian soul.
At first I assumed this was the ship built for the 1984 Mel Gibson/Anthony Hopkins film, “The Bounty,” my personal favorite of the Bounty movies. But this goes back to the 1962 film. However, it was also used for another movie I love, the Charlton Heston/Christian Bale “Treasure Island” (1990), by far the best dramatization of the story I’ve ever seen. I see by its Wikipedia entry that it was finally released on DVD last year. I’ve got to get a copy.
Anthony Esolen, over at Front Porch, has posted a profound meditation on freedom and despotism, drawing on an obscure book (which I haven’t read, I confess) by the great Sigrid Undset.
Today the American Spectator published my article on Andrew Klavan's Weiss-Bishop mystery trilogy.
Klavan himself noted it on Facebook. He said, "Well, I like it when someone is both smart AND flattering.... When you sit down to write three books around the theme of love, you think to yourself, 'Not that anyone will ever get that.' It's gratifying to be read so intelligently - and by someone who likes the books to boot!"
You may mark this down in the court records as a good day.
I may have told you once before that I have been writing devotional emails for a small group of CBMC leaders for a few years now. (CBMC stands for Christian Business Men's Connection.) This year, we opened a new, private discussion and resource community for CBMC members, and I'm posting my past and current devotional writing on a public blog there. I doubt I'm breaking any ground--I mean, I'm not Jared Wilson. But I hope to point readers to Christ and away from our natural tendency to moralism.
A few of my recent post are
I forgot to mention that I have a new article up at The American Spectator Online today. Political Non-Science.
I suppose I could go so far as to refer to actor/pundit Ben Stein as my colleague, since we both write for The American Spectator Online. It's a little like a stock boy at Staples calling Mitt Romney his colleague, but I might get away with it. But no, I won't do that.
Anyway, Stein, who makes no claims to Christian faith, writes today that he's been having apocalyptic thoughts.
At breakfast, my wife suddenly said, "And then I beheld a red horse ridden by a man with a great sword...."
"What is that?" I asked her.
"It's Revelation," she said.
"I know, but where does that come from?"
"I just feel as if something big is about to happen," she said. "Something feels like we're about to live in a totally changed world. It feels like end times. Why are we apologizing to the Muslims? They're killing and expelling their Christians and we don't say a word. End times."
I nodded. There is that feeling in the air.
Assuming we're not taken up this weekend, have a good one.
Herman Melville didn't do Norse mythology, orthodox Christianity, or short books. But other than that, he could have written The Ward of Heaven and the Wyrm in the Sea. The deep currents of the language, swelling and moving in great cataracts of imagery, clearly hark back to Melville, even as the surface churns with the kenning and alliteration of old Germanic poetry.
Thanks to Loren Eaton of I Saw Lightning Fall for letting me know about this.