- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
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 . . .
Author Iain M. Banks died Sunday at 59. Neil Gaiman talks about his personal experience with the man, how funny and honest he was. Alan Jacobs talks about the ideas in his novels, leading with the fact that his "Culture" civilization is his secular imagining of heaven. Jacobs asks what Banks is trying to say in the conflict of his novels. Is it that we should expect a little suffering of the innocient for the good of civilization? And if so, just how much suffering would we allow to perfect our own culture?
Bret Lott has a new book on writing and calling being published by Crossway this month. Lott is a strong, literary author, whose novels Jewel, A Song I Knew by Heart, and many others are good examples of excellent Christian writing, like we have been discussing this week. Not that all Christian writing should aspire to his style, of course, but I tend to think that isn't obvious yet.
Here's a brief documentary on how performing Shakespeare's plays using his intended pronunciation works much differently than it does in modern pronunciation. Puns and rhymes appear, and actors say it changes their performances.
Mason Curry talks about the habits of artists in a three week series on the work routines of famous creatives. Frank Lloyd Wright started getting up at 4:00 a.m. and working until 7:00. Curry writes:
Indeed, many artists are early risers because they have little other choice; working early in the morning is a tried and true method of fitting creative work into busy schedules. The 19th-century novelist Frances Trollope is a good example. She did not begin writing until the age of 53, and then only because she desperately needed money to support her six children and ailing husband. In order to squeeze the necessary writing time out of the day while still acting as the primary caregiver to her family, Trollope sat down at her desk each day at 4 a.m. and completed her writing in time to serve breakfast. Her son Anthony Trollope later adopted a similar schedule, getting up at 5:30 a.m. and writing for two hours before going to his job at the post office. (Later in this series, I’ll be looking closely at artists who also held down full-time day jobs.)Curry has just released a book on this topic: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
There's still time to get several Hemingway classics and some selections for Kindle at $1.99.
"For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
Tom Nelson wrote on May 8 about the life and death of Dallas Willard. He quoted him, in reflection on this verse, "The difference is simply a matter of what we are conscious of. In fact, at 'physical' death we become conscious and enjoy a richness of experience we have never known before."
Not that this world isn't real, as some say, but it is like an illusionist, distracting us with the inconsequential so that we miss the most important things. At death, we see through it all.
The editor of Poetry magazine is moving on. Tom Bartlett writes:
He’s not abandoning poetry—he’s not sure he could ever do that... This June he’s leaving his plum poetry gig to become a senior lecturer of religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and the Yale Divinity School, a job that was offered to him a couple of years after he lectured at the institute. “My life has been aiming at this,” he says. “It seems to me incredibly exciting but also a necessary thing for me to put my faith more on the line on a daily basis.”I've been thinking about that myself lately.
W. H. Auden explains:
Every poet, consciously or unconsciously, holds the following absolute presuppositions, as the dogmas of his art:(stolen from Alan Jacobs)
(1) A historical world exists, a world of unique events and unique persons, related by analogy, not identity. The number of events and analogical relations is potentially infinite. The existence of such a world is a good, and every addition to the number of events, persons and relations is an additional good.
(2) The historical world is a fallen world, i.e. though it is good that it exists, the way in which it exists is evil, being full of unfreedom and disorder.
(3) The historical world is a redeemable world. The unfreedom and disorder of the past can be reconciled in the future.
It follows from the first presupposition that the poet’s activity in creating a poem is analogous to God’s activity in creating man after his own image. It is not an imitation, for were it so, the poet would be able to create like God ex nihilo; instead, he requires pre-existing occasions of feeling and a pre-existing language out of which to create. It is analogous in that the poet creates ￼not necessarily according to a law of nature but voluntarily according to provocation.
Lars shared this article on Facebook, and I was moved--moved I tell you--to share it here, because you can't get good writing like this often: "The voice at the other end of the line gave a sigh, like a mighty oak toppling into a great river, or something else that didn’t sound like a sigh if you gave it a moment’s thought. 'Who cares what the stupid critics say?' advised the literary agent. 'They’re just snobs. You have millions of fans.'"
Michael Deacon writes in response to the Dan Brown's upcoming novel, Inferno, which if you are going to buy it, you must use this link. Must! Support starving artists!
The novel is another unique take on art history and world conspiracy. From the book: "Against [the backdrop of Dante's Inferno], Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered."
Dude! That is one unique thriller! I'll go on record now by predicting this will tell of a Manx plot to manipulate world currency. Dante has been rumored to be Manx sympathizer among all the scholars who have studied him. Sorry, I should have given you a spoiler alert.
Author David Mamet intends to self-publish his next work this year. He will be using a new service offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, which will be using Argo Navis Author Services.
“Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon,” he told the N.Y. Times, “and because publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”
With this service, Mamet has more options. The Times reports that self-published books were about a quarter percent of the bestselling books on Amazon in 2012. With the ICM Partners deal, Mamet's book may published in ebook and print-on-demand paperback for 30% of sales.
Glenn Stanton talks about the truth behind two quotes, one attributed to C.S. Lewis (which was the pseudonym for Mark Twain), the other attributed to G.K. Chesterton (who has been rumored to be the brains behind Shakespeare).
Thanks to Richard Pearson for pointing out a Times Literary Supplement article on Dickens meeting Dostoevsky. We talked about it a good while back. It appears this story of a meeting of great authors has been repeated by reputable news outlets a few times, while the scholars who should know all there is to know about it say it never happened.
Eric Naiman writes, "The newspaper’s collective unconscious was unable to give the story up. It demands retelling, and by now Dickens and Dostoevsky can be found meeting all over the web. Their conversation appeals to our fancy while, as Gates realized, comforting us with a reaffirmation of what we already know."
Tomalin regarded publication of the article in the Dickensian as an authentication of the encounter; moreover, the meeting had subsequently been mentioned in monographs by two leading Dickens scholars, Malcolm Andrews and Michael Slater. “We were all caught out”, Tomalin wrote. “The hoax was a clever one precisely because it convinced so many Dickens scholars.”Apparently, Michael Slater's biography brought this encounter to the attention of book reviewers, which raised it's profile among scholars of Dostoevsky. Then, the koshka was out of the sumka.
This is odd, backwards logic. The hoax wasn’t clever because it convinced so many Dickens scholars; rather, it was clever for the same reason it convinced them: because it was modest.
But there's more. If you read Naiman's lengthy investigation, you will discover that the name of the writer who foisted this mythical story on us is but one pseudonym of many for an independent scholar who could never get hired to a British university. The story of how Naiman tracked him down is incredible and vulgar, but if you want a literary mystery, read this one.
I think I mentioned that I did a podcast interview for Baen Books a couple weeks back, about the "Vikings" TV series. I wasn't aware it had been posted -- last week, I think. Anyway, if you go here, you can scroll down and listen to the one second from the top.
Edith Schaeffer, widow of the apologist Francis Schaeffer, passed away on March 30 at the age of 98. WORLD Magazine reports:
Among Edith Schaeffer’s greatest contributions to the world: her humanity, artistic nature, humility, and hospitality. Sometimes Sunday lunch boasted as many as 36 guests, but she always made more food than she expected to need. She made rolls by hand, forming them individually, sometimes into the shapes of snails, topping them with different kinds of seeds, and turning the leftover dough into cinnamon rolls. She would sometimes stop in the process of roll making to take a phone call, then pray for the caller. “You keep making the rolls,” she’d say to her assistant Mary Jane Grooms. “I’ll pray.”
I was in the same room with her once, a few years back, at L'Abri in Rochester, Minnesota. I didn't introduce myself because, although it would have meant a lot to me, she looked very frail and I didn't feel it was worth tiring her.
Absent from the body, present with the Lord.
Radix Magazine, "Where Christian Faith Meets Contemporary Culture," did an interview a while back with the director of Monsters, Inc., Pete Docter. Pete has since directed Pixar's Up and written Wall-E and Monsters University. (via Jeffrey Overstreet)
Here's part of it:
Radix: How would you say that being a Christian affects how you do your work?
Docter: Years ago when I first spoke at church, I was kind of nervous about talking about Christianity and my work. It didn’t really connect. But more and more it seems to be connecting for me. I ask for God’s help, and it’s definitely affected what I’m doing. It’s helped me to calm down and focus. There were times when I got too stressed out with what I was doing, and now I just step back and say, “God, help me through this.” It really helps you keep a perspective on things, not only in work, but in relationships.
At first you hire people based purely on their talent, but what it ends up is that people who really go far are good people. They’re good people to work with, and I think God really helps in those relationships.
Radix: I know you do a lot of praying, and that’s a big part of the artistic part of what you guys do.
Docter: Yes. You could probably work on a live-action movie that takes maybe six months hating everybody else and you’d still have a film. But these animation projects take three or four years, and it’s really difficult to do without having a good relationship with the people you’re working with.
Pete goes on to describe how spelling out the moral of a story, if you have one in mind, undermines your message. "To me art is about expressing something that can’t be said in literal terms. You can say it in words, but it’s always just beyond the reach of actual words."
Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again.
[M]ainstream [fiction] hasn’t been paying attention to all the changes in our culture during the last fifty years. The major ideas of our time—developments in medicine, the importance of space exploration to advance our species—have been neglected. The critics are generally wrong, or they’re fifteen, twenty years late. It’s a great shame. They miss out on a lot. Why the fiction of ideas should be so neglected is beyond me. I can’t explain it, except in terms of intellectual snobbery.
Take Fahrenheit 451. You’re dealing with book burning, a very serious subject. You’ve got to be careful you don’t start lecturing people. So you put your story a few years into the future and you invent a fireman who has been burning books instead of putting out fires—which is a grand idea in itself—and you start him on the adventure of discovering that maybe books shouldn’t be burned.
The Book Haven writes: "The elder Irish poet said, 'He devoted years to collaborating with me on a book I needed to write but one that, without Dennis as interviewer, might never have got written.' He called O’Driscoll 'my hero.'"
Poet Dennis O'Driscoll, 58, died suddenly last Christmas Eve. Seamus Heaney praises him as his hero.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
I’m generally a few months behind in my reading of the Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, so I only got to the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue yesterday. The front page story is “The Riddle of Gollum: A Speculative Meditation on Tolkien’s Sources,” by Woodrow and Susan Wendling. As the authors examined the origins of both the character and his name, they mentioned a poem Tolkien wrote around 1928. It’s called “Glip,” and comes from a collection called Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay. Here’s Glip’s description:
Glip is his name, as blind as a moleGlip is a scavenger. He lives near a mermaid who lures sailors onto the rocks with her songs, and scavenges their bones for his meals.
In his two round eyes
While daylight lasts; but when night falls
With a pale gleam they shine
Like green jelly, and out he crawls
All long and wet with slime….
The name “Glip” intrigued me. Tolkien, of course, was a master linguist concentrating on northern European languages. I know that there’s a Norwegian word, “glipp,” which means to blink. However, there’s also a verb phrase, “å gå glipp av,” which means to lose or mislay something. I’m not qualified to say, but that form may be related to the Old Norse word “glepja,” which means to confuse or beguile. (I don’t read Old Norse, but I have access to an online dictionary here. And now so do you. Thanks to Kelsey Patton for the link.)
If Glip was an early version of Gollum, could the original name have suggested to Tolkien the idea of a creature who mislays something important to him? The conjecture’s a little weak, as Tolkien rejected the name Glip and moved on to Gollum. But I thought I’d mention the possible connection. The tangle of associations in an author’s mind can be extremely complex.
“I’ve always thought that beautiful art was a great apologetic resource,” Myers says. Beauty is the chief attribute of God, said Jonathan (not Bob) Edwards. “Beauty points to a Creator.” Yet the church, Myers says, “capitulates more and more to the culture of entertainment.”This recalls the MHA Journal (#114) interview with Gerald McDermott who said Jonathan Edwards has been marginalized by Modernists (if I remember correctly) who successfully made the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Edwards' signature work. By doing so, they hid their students from the beauty and glory of God which Edwards often discussed.
“It’s a way of keeping market share. But they’re digging their own grave. There’s a short-term benefit, but in the long term the kinds of cultural resources they need to be faithful to the Gospel won’t be there.”
"I turned to Aunt Agatha, whose demeanour was now rather like that of one who, picking daisies on the railway, has just caught the down express on the small of the back." (The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)
"Like so many substantial Americans, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag." (Summer Moonshine, 1938)
Two quotes I got while playing with the Random Wodehouse Quote at The Drones' Club. Great fun.
I ran across it just now while reading about what little we know of P.G. Wodehouse's meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald in New York in the 1920s. Both were successful authors and shared a literary agent. Both lived in Great Neck on Long Island. Wodehouse saw "Scott" on the bus once and wrote a letter about it, but then the curtain falls. (via Books, Inq.)
Today is the birthday of Prof. J. R. R. Tolkien, who needs no introduction here. As usual, Tolkien fans around the world are participating in a birthday toast, at 9:00 p.m. local time, wherever they happen to be. The formula is to raise your beverage of choice and say, “THE PROFESSOR!”
Tolkien did a bit of translation in his time, being one of the world’s great language scholars. I suppose it’s a stretch to try to use that as a bridge to the subject of my own ongoing translation work. I’m around ¾ of the way through the first draft now, which is a little ahead of my estimates, I think.
The New Year’s holiday gave me the unspeakable gift of two full, unscheduled days to devote to the project. I did 5,000 words each day, and was a little alarmed to realize something I’d never known before. Translating can be addictive. A Facebook friend who’s also a translator told me I wasn’t out of line to compare it to obsessive computer gaming, since he’s done both.
Translating involves its own special challenges and headaches, but it has the advantage of entirely lacking one great roadblock of ordinary writing – you never have to figure out what’s coming next. Figuring out what comes next has always been the hardest part of writing for me.
Of course it helps to be working on a project you find fascinating in its own right.
Christianity Today has announced their book awards for 2013, and their fiction pick is Douglas Wilson's satiric novel, Evangellyfish.
Wilson says he wants to "intelligent readers" to find his book “funny, dark, and redemptive.”
Joel Miller has a short interview with Wilson on his Patheos blog, in which he asks: "I wonder about the characters’ moral literacy. The cast is primarily Christian but many behave entirely other. How do we land in a world wherein self-gratification seems the highest virtue? And is that our real state of affairs?"
Wilson replies, "Let me start with the last question. No, it is not our real state of affairs across the board, but it is our real state of affairs in certain quadrants of the church. A few years ago, I got a rejection letter for this manuscript because the set-up for the plot was so 'out there.' After having received that rejection letter, the Ted Haggard scandal broke, which put my puny efforts into the shade. That made me happy."
"My dear L.," Tolkien writes in a draft letter from 1943. "I have been reading your booklet Christian Behavior. I have never felt happy about your view of Christian 'policy' with regard to divorce." Tolkien did not send this letter to his friend, C.S. Lewis, but it was found and published after his death.
[Y]ou observe that you are really committed (with the Christian Church as a whole) to the view that Christian marriage—monogamous, permanent, rigidly "faithful"—is in fact the truth about sexual behavior for all humanity: this is the only road of total health (including sex in its proper place) for all men and women. That it is dissonant with men's present sex-psychology does not disprove this, as you see: "I think it is the instinct that has gone wrong," you say. Indeed if this were not so, it would be an intolerable injustice to impose permanent monogamy even on Christians.Jake Meador discusses this disagreement more in his article for Christianity Today.
Toleration of divorce—if a Christian does tolerate it—is toleration of a human abuse, which it requires special local and temporary circumstances to justify (as does the toleration of usury)—if indeed either divorce or genuine usury should be tolerated at all, as a matter of expedient policy.
"[W.H.] Auden became a close friend of Tolkien’s and an ardent champion of his work, defending him in public and in print against a host of early skeptics; he was one of the first serious writers (along with C. S. Lewis) to ask whether Tolkien’s narratives of heroic quests and imaginary worlds could be considered something more than simply escapist reading," writes Erin Overbey at The New Yorker
Auden praises Tolkien for succeeding where Milton failed, that is in showing an absolutely powerful God who has allowed us to reject him.
Joel Miller writes about the essence of Ayn Rand's anti-Christian philosphy:
Rand’s disdain for altruism is at root a protest against the cross. Christ’s crucifixion was immoral for Rand not because people took Jesus’ life, but because he volunteered it. And worse, because he sacrificed his perfect life for our imperfect lives. As she told Playboy:Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice.
I know what you're thinking, but this is post is not a rant about the changes that (one assumes) are being made in the new The Hobbit movie. Frankly, I'm looking forward to the movie. I looked at the web site today, and checked out the photo gallery, and there was one where the dwarfs were wearing hoods. Frankly, that was my main problem with the previews I saw. Tolkien was always consistent in putting dwarfs in hoods. Gimli's lack of a hood in the trilogy troubled me. But this time they've got hoods, at least part of the time. So good.
No, I want to share with you this YouTube video, which was sent to me by Dale Nelson. It's part of a lecture by Prof. John D. Rateliff, telling what he learned about Tolkien's writing process through examining his original Hobbit manuscripts at Marquette University, where they are stored. I enjoyed it.
All Christians agree, of course, that God reveals himself through the world around us. In that broad sense, all Christians have a sacramental vision.Treven Wax interviews Jonathan Rogers on The Legacy of Flannery O’Connor.
But O’Connor, as a Catholic, was much more comfortable with mystery than most Protestants tend to be. She wrote:
“The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.”
Would you like to hear J. R. R. Tolkien singing one of the songs from The Hobbit?
Of course you would. If you wouldn't, don't tell me about it, because I'm not sure we want people like you around here.
(Thanks to Dale Nelson)