- Martin Fowler
I didn't mention it directly in the "Writing for others" post below, but I linked to a Patheos.com post on plagiarism and personality-based leadership. In that post, Miles Mullin linked out to this week's context: Janet Mefferd accusing Pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism in his most recent book and later, other publications. He links out to evidence of this charge, which allows you to judge some of the material for yourself.
Now, Mefferd has retracted her accusation and removed her blog with the evidence and the interview in which she made the accusation entirely. You can read her apology here.
Update: In her apology, Mefferd did not "evangelical industrial complex," but her producer, who just resigned over all of this, did. Ex-producer Ingrid Schlueter wrote, among other things: "I hosted a radio show for 23 years and know from experience how Big Publishing protects its celebrities. Anything but fawning adulation for those who come on your show (a gift of free air time for the author/publisher by the way) is not taken well. Like Dr. Carl Trueman so aptly asked yesterday in his column at Reformation 21 [sic], does honest journalism have any role to play in evangelicalism now? (It was rhetorical.) My own take on that question is, no, it does not."
All of this is ugly, but since it's public, I'd like a clearer explanation than what has been given at this point. Some commenters are saying the silence of certain writers and leaders is telling, but I don't think it's telling what they think it's telling. I suggest it's telling that these leaders don't want to assume guilt and start shooting.
Also this from Ray Bradbury: Read the rest of this entry . . .
C. S. Lewis' grave in Holy Trinity churchyard, Headington Quarry, Oxford
Photo credit: jschroe
I’m going to alter my long-established custom of always posting about a days’ commemorations in the evening of that day, which means most of you read it the next day. Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis (also of a couple obscure characters named John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley).
I was, of course, around when it happened, in junior high if you must know. What did I think when I heard Lewis was dead? I’m not sure, because I wasn’t aware of his death date until years later, long after I’d become a Lewis enthusiast. I do remember the day though, because of the Kennedy thing.
But I’ve written about that before. I’d like to just recall what Lewis has meant in my life. It occurred to me today that Lewis was himself my Wardrobe, the portal through which I entered a larger world.
I was educated, like most of my friends, in Lutheran colleges which are now under the umbrella of The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless. But, unlike a large percentage of my friends from those days, I neither apostatized or became a liberal. It was Lewis who made that possible (with the help at a later stage of Francis Schaeffer). The Lutheran schools I’m speaking of had then, and I assume still have, one single purpose in their religious education curricula, and that is to destroy all Christian faith in their students. But Lewis (though no biblical inerrantist) showed me that embracing orthodox Christianity doesn’t mean giving up reason. I clung to reason, and I clung to the faith of my childhood.
You yourself may approve or disapprove of that course on my part, but as for me, it’s one of the things I’m thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches.
People have often suggested a popular Christian fantasy author is the next C.S. Lewis. I don't think that's an appropriate question. Few people strikes us as the same as another person only better, so why should we look for a living author to replace a dead one? That would make the dead one mostly obsolete, wouldn't it?
Steve Harrell doesn't think so. He says we need a new Lewis. "When we try to insert Lewis' cultural observations into our culture today," he writes, "we become like Indiana Jones—still fighting the Nazis through the 1980s. The Modernist war between reason and theology is over.... We live in a postmodern, post-secular age that doesn’t respond well to the intellectual arm-twisting and large-scale historical criticism that Lewis excelled at."
Joel Miller argues Harrell is missing the point. "A vibrant intellectual life includes thoughts that span millennia. They’re not so foreign as some insist, and their differences might just keep us from going off the rails."
Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, notes Lewis's blessing to us is "in what you might call pastoral theology: as an interpreter of people's moral and spiritual crises; as somebody who is a brilliant diagnostician of self-deception; and somebody who, in his own book on bereavement after his wife's death, really pushes the envelope – giving permission, I suppose, to people to articulate their anger and resentment about a God who apparently takes your loved ones away from you."
In related a post, Jeremy Lott notes the angst many have had over Susan's absence from The Last Battle. Many readers think Lewis condemns her life choices by appearing to keep her out of Narnia when everything comes falling down, but Lott quotes from Lewis' letters to show that the author simply believed Susan's story was longer and more adult than the one he wanted to tell. "Why not try it yourself?" Lewis asked a reader, to which Lott replies, "Who has tried to tell Susan's story?" He hopes someone will attempt to pick up the life of Susan Pevensie and finish at least part of her story.
Image: C.S. Lewis by ~free-slave on deviantART
Remembering being asked to make a new translation of Beowulf, Seamus Heaney said, "While I had no great expertise in Old English, I had a strong desire to get back to the first stratum of the language and to 'assay the hoard.'" He had gained a feel for the sound of Anglo-Saxon and wanted his translation to sound as authentic as he could make it. He remembered a way of speaking from his relatives. "I called them 'big-voiced' because when the men of the family spoke, the words they uttered came across with a weighty distinctness, phonetic units as separate and defined as delph platters displayed on a dresser shelf. A simple sentence such as 'We cut the corn to-day' took on immense dignity when one of the Scullions spoke it."
So he brought out this sound in England's oldest epic poem. Now, researchers are saying their accepted opinion on the poem's first word may have been skewed. The word translated as "hark", "lo", "behold", and similar words (“Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!”) probably isn't so boldly declarative. And Heaney may have thought so as well, long before the researchers caught up to him.
Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.
The term "The Imp of the Perverse" is a reference to story by Poe.
Author Neil Gaiman notes that the prison system is big business. How can they predict jail cell growth? "[U]sing a pretty simple algorithm," Gaiman said, "based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read." Not that all illiterate people are criminals or all literate people are not, but the relationship between being unable to read and crime is strong. Sixty percent of America's prison inmates are illiterate; 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education.
Gaiman said he went to China for the first sci-fi convention ever approved by the Communist establishment. He asked an official why this was finally approved. The official replied that the Chinese had no imagination for invention, so they asked the likes of Google, Apple, and others who were inventing new technology. These people were readers of science fiction and fantasy.
"Fiction can show you a different world," he said. "It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in."
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.
Over at ChristianityToday.com, Gina Dalfonzo addresses a problem with Alistair McGrath’s new biography, C. S. Lewis: A Life. In contrast to Lewis’ own account in A Grief Observed, other biographies, and the movie Shadowlands, McGrath inclines more to the view of most of Lewis’ friends, who found the unvarnished divorcee from New York abrasive, unladylike, and possibly devious.
McGrath objects to what he sees as our culture's "romanticised reading" of Lewis's marriage, spurred by the 1993 movie Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. McGrath seems intent on debunking that image—even though, according to those who knew them closely, the marriage was romantic before Hollywood ever got hold of it. McGrath finds the circumstances of Lewis's marriage not quite to his taste, but it's not Lewis himself that he blames for them….
Whatever the reason, McGrath's attitude toward her is very negative indeed. He admits that she brought Lewis great happiness, but anyone who had known nothing of her before reading his portrayal would have trouble understanding why. McGrath paints her as an unlikable, determined seducer and money-grubber.
Some time back (I don’t have the magazine handy) the Journal of the C. S. Lewis Society reported a lecture on Joy Davidman, which the speaker began with a sentence on the lines of, “Tonight Joy Davidman will be portrayed, not by Debra Winger, but by Bea Arthur.” I'm assuming she drew material from the McGrath book (which I understand to be generally excellent. Haven’t read it).
I suspect we’re dealing with culture shock here – the effect of a New York Jew on a group of semi-cloistered English scholars raised in the Edwardian Age. It’s too bad they generally found no way to bridge that gap. But I have no doubt, personally, that Joy and Jack loved each other sincerely and worked at their marriage as a true Christian union.
Tip: Frank Wilson at booksinq.
Bill O'Reilly's new book, Killing Jesus, is surging in sales now. He talked to 60 Minutes last Sunday, saying he felt God inspired him to write a book describing Jesus as “a regular guy, very afraid, scared to die.”
“Jesus of Nazareth was the most famous human being who ever lived on this planet and he had no infrastructure and it’s never been done,” O’Reilly said. “He had no government, no PR guy, no money, no structure. He had nothing, yet he became the most famous human being ever.”
Fox Business has a brief interview with O'Reilly, in which he explains that he trusted other sources of history and his own reasoning more than the gospels on every detail of Jesus' life. For example, he believes it was impossible for Mary and Joseph to flee Herod all the way into Egypt, which is what Matthew's gospel says. I suppose he found no other sources saying it happened, so that was enough to rule it out. And though he has no evidence of Jesus' resurrection, he takes it on faith as a good Catholic.
Apparently, the Bible's historicity is no obstacle or support to his faith, and I wonder if most contemporary church-goers believe as he does. How many of us hold the line because we have been told which line to hold, not because we believe it actually happened? If we do, we fail to understand how much God has given us in His Word which can be verified, details intended to show us that the stories aren't mere imaginary morality tales. They are accurate depictions of what happened.
So did Jesus rise from the dead? Paul tells us if He did not, our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). I guess that makes Paul is pretty poor Catholic.
Pastor and author Douglas Wilson recommends P.G. Wodehouse for two reasons:
"Wodehouse was merciless to pretentiousness, and aspiring writers are the most pretentious fellows on the planet. So there’s that spiritual benefit."
The second reason? "Simply put, Wodehouse is a black belt metaphor ninja. Evelyn Waugh, himself a great writer, once said that Wodehouse was capable of two or three striking metaphors per page.
- He looked like a sheep with a secret sorrow.
- One young man was a great dancer, one who never let his left hip know what his right hip was doing.
- She had just enough brains to make a jaybird fly crooked.
- Her face was shining like the seat of a bus driver’s trousers.
- He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom."
The Billfold has a brief piece on Flannery O'Connor's insistence on being paid well.
“I do believe that she was quite savvy about the business side of being a writer, and she understood the difference between art and commerce,” says Craig Amason, the executive director of The Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation.
The Image Top 50 Contemporary Writers of Faith, expanded from the original 25, is a great reading list for living (or recently deceased) authors who deal with faith in their works. These are reader-recommended authors of "contemporary literature that grapple with the age-old religious questions of our Western tradition."
Barry Waugh describes what the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin thought about God and the historic religion of her region and how she came to believe "the common man must no longer accept the monarchical rule of God; there is neither a king in New England nor one in heaven."
Our interview with author J. Mark Bertrand for The Gospel Coalition has hit the screen. Here's the start:
In Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World, J. Mark Bertrand asks, "How can imagination transform culture?" By giving it new eyes, he says. "As a reader," Bertrand explains, "one of the most striking glimpses I have ever had of the divine came at the climax of The Man Who Was Thursday, a novel that starts as a thriller about anarchists and ends in a very different place indeed. If there's a lesson to be learned from this, it's that the truth can be proclaimed and it can be defended, but it can also be imagined."
Read the rest here.
In The Rabbit Room, Jeffrey Overstreet talks about quitting his dream jobs in order to make time to telling good stories. "It was surprising and disillusioning to discover that, even if you publish a four-book epic fantasy series and earn a spotlight on Barnes and Noble’s 'Notable Fiction' displays, you’re not going to find the bills much easier to pay," he says.
"It’s time to clean the slate and start over. I need to “go back to Square One” and rediscover the ability to dream."
In his Nobel Prize lecture, poet Seamus Heaney said, "The form of the poem, in other words, is crucial to poetry's power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry's credit: the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being."
Heaney, 74, died this morning just prior to a medical procedure.
Ireland Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people.”
This article quotes a 1995 Irish Times piece on Heaney's publishing success: “Book sales may not mean much in the areas of fiction or biography, but for a poet to sell in the thousands is remarkable proof to his ability to speak in his poems to what are inadequately called ‘ordinary people.’"
You can hear the poet reading or reciting some of his poems here.
Craigslist Ad: "Poet available to begin work immediately. Capable in rhyme and meter, fluent in traditional and contemporary forms. Quotidian observations available at standard rate of $15/hour; occasional verse at slightly higher rate of $17/hour. Incomprehensible garbage $25/hour. Angst extra."
It's funny, but he isn't joking. He is writing poems on request, even to insult the requester, ala Lane Severson. Observe:
"Now a mere pawn in the house of bishops
He can manage neither a coherent theology
Nor back-to-back-to-back pushups,
Having spent the past eight years
Generating five poorly behaved children
With one wife who, worn out, loathes him
And can’t stop staring at his poorly combed hair."
That's only a bit of it, but the point is Lane paid for that abuse.
Photo credit: Library of Congress.
Dale Nelson sends this link from Sacnoth's Scriptorium, discussing J. R. R. Tolkien's familiarity with, and appreciation of, Minnesota-born author Sinclair Lewis. "...Tolkien immediately segues into saying that he is now inclined to think that the word hobbit owes something to Lewis's BABBITT."
Minnesota -- an inexhaustible font of inspiration.
Betsy Childs says Mark Bertrand (who does not go by Russell, if you happened to pick up that nasty rumor) doesn't write Christian Fiction. "Bertrand’s allegiance is to his genre, characters, and plot, not to a fictional conversion narrative or religious epiphany. He’s just writing good crime fiction."
That very author is taking issue with another author, Mark Twain, who charges Sir Walter Scott with laying the groundwork for the American Civil War. "... when Twain decided to take up the mantle of Cervantes and skewer medieval chivalry, it was a Connecticut Yankee and not a Southern Gentleman he had to send back in time. The Southerner, presumably, would have been right at home and all too pleased to leave things as he found them."
That seems simplistic to me, but books do condition minds. Perhaps Twain's argument is a good one to some extent. Many other ideas bore their fruit in this time as well. Scott didn't dehumanize people, did he? That idea came from outside Ivanhoe.
E.B. White explains to his publisher why he wrote his book, Charlotte's Web. In short, he likes animals. It's amazing that he did something like what he describes in the book with a spider's egg sac. He discovered it, watched it, and when he had to return to New York, he cut it all down and took it with him in a candy box. The baby spiders emerged and spread out on his NY apartment dresser!
"When you’re more invested in the business of books than you are in loving them, well, the person you cheat is yourself," says J. Mark Bertrand ("a major crime-fiction talent!") in response to discussion on the size of his readership. He notes that too often commenters throw out names of authors they think should be selling more books, and then ask where all the good books are, blaming publishing houses along the way.
You can get all of Bertrand's Books here for your friends, family, and enemies. Audiobooks are also available.
Chekov writes to his brother, a drunk in 1886: "Smash your vodka bottle, lie down on the couch and pick up a book. You might even give Turgenev a try. You've never read him. You must swallow your pride. You're no longer a child. You'll be thirty soon. It's high time!"
Odd is self-consciously one of Burke's good men: determined to do something rather than nothing in the face of evil. In Odd Hours, he contemplates Burke's dictum and adds that it is essential "that good men and women not be propagandized into believing that real evil is a myth" and that all malevolent behavior is simply the result of poor socialization or bad economic theory. But this awareness of responsibility comes with a price. Again from Odd Hours: "to do what you feel sure is right and in the aid of justice, you sometimes have to do things that, when recalled on lonely nights, make you wonder if in fact you are the good man that you like to believe you are."
Our friend Hunter Baker writes about Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas in the current issue of Touchstone.
Jack Handey is the gifted comic writer behind SNL's "Deep Thoughts," which ran in the 90s. He appears to be the closest embodiment of the comic ideal most comedians have ever known. NY Times Writer Don Kois quotes Maria Semple, another comic writer, on what's so great about Handey.
“There is purity to his comedy,” Semple told Kois. “His references are all grandmas and Martians and cowboys. It’s so completely free from topical references and pop culture that I feel like everyone who’s gonna make a Honey Boo Boo joke should do some penance and read Jack Handey.”
She said Handey writes real jokes, not just junk that "smells like a joke, but there’s no actual joke there."
Handey had a license plate made for his famous SNL skit series: DEEPTHT. He would have it on his car today had his brother-in-law not asked him while he was mounting it, "Why does your license plate say ‘Deep Throat’?" Now it reads DPTHOTS. (via S.D. Smith)
The Cuckoo's Calling, which Publishers Weekly described as "[combining] a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime...A stellar debut," has the name Robert Galbraith on the cover, but is actually the work of veteran author J.K. Rowling. She published it with Mulholland Books under that pseudonym with the supposition that readers believe it was a pseudonym "for a retired British military investigator." Now that it is being reprinted, the publisher has let the cat out of the bag.
Rowling says she enjoyed writing as Robert Galbraith and receiving criticism untainted by her past success. Of course, the book has sold out with this news. Perhaps some critics will tell us they suspected something like this all along.
Author Jeanette Winterson, who loves cover versions of established stories, is writing a prose version of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale as part of Random House's effort to rewrite all of the bard's plays for his 400th anniversary.
"The Shakespeare purists," she says, "miss the point about his exuberant ragbag of borrowings thrown into the alchemical furnace of his mind and lifted out transformed. He sums up the creative process, which is not concerned with originality of source but originality of re-making."
I understand retelling stories, but while West Side Story may be based on Romeo and Juliet, it isn't the same story. Play it cool, boy. And we all know you can retell essential stories again and again. People like cliches, but they will love one story over another because of the details around the essentials. When contemporary writers retell Shakespearean tales, it's usually like telling a good joke wrong.
Minnesota author Vince Flynn, famous for his Mitch Rapp novels, died today of prostate cancer in a St. Paul hospital. He passed away surrounded by relatives and friends who prayed the Rosary.
Flynn was supporting himself by bartending when he self-published his first novel, "Term Limits," in 1997 after getting more than 60 rejection letters. After it became a local best-seller, Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint, signed him to a two-book deal — and "Term Limits" became a New York Times best-seller in paperback.
The St. Paul-based author also sold millions of books in the international market and averaged about a book a year, most of them focused on Rapp, a CIA counterterrorism operative. His 14th novel, "The Last Man," was published last year.
R. I. P.
The controversy over Andrew Klavan’s praise for Game of Thrones rumbles on, and I follow it with the fascination of a reality show fan, except for wishing both sides well.
A few days back I linked to Klavan’s column at PJ Media, “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art.” In the course of an argument – with which I generally agree – that Christians need to produce art that seriously addresses the real world, rather than some PG world we’d like to believe in, he mentions his own fondness for the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” seeing it, apparently, as the sort of thing we ought to be trying to produce ourselves (though I’m sure he wouldn’t insist on including all the skin). In my own response, I expressed my own deep disillusionment with “Game” author George R. R. Martin’s books, a disillusionment which has prevented me from watching a single episode.
On Monday Dave Swindle, another PJ Media writer, responded to Klavan’s article in a similar vein:
You’ve known me since not long after I started editing full time. I was 25 and was only a defense hawk and fiscal conservative but still “socially liberal.” Since then, for a variety of reasons (particularly my return to belief in God), I’ve come further in my ideological shift. I’m genuinely embarrassed by some of the socially conservative positions I find myself now arguing. Never in a million years did I foresee myself as the type that would ever side with those cautioning against pornography’s downsides and the “shocking” content in art. You’ve talked in the past about how you disagree with our mutual friend Ben Shapiro about his Orthodox Judaism-inspired approach to culture and sex. I used to also — and I still disagree with Ben from time to time on issues and tactics (particularly on gay marriage. This is a theological difference deriving from an interpretation of scripture. He and I will just have to keep arguing about it). But on the fundamental issue, the social conservatism he explicates from his traditional reading of the Torah is correct: sex is sacred. It’s impossible to have “casual sex” with someone — every sexual act is transformative. I came to this understanding differently than him, though, through first-hand experience and painful mistakes.Read the rest of this entry . . .