"Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind, still constant in a wondrous excellence."

- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 105
One last "Elmer" post

Sorry I didn't post anything for Thanksgiving (or Lewis's birthday, come to think of it; but I did post Lewis quotes on Facebook all day). Wanted to get the two book reviews up, and... well, I've been melancholy.

It has to do with the death of my friend “Elmer,” I guess, about which I wrote below. Intimations of mortality. Who's that bell tolling for again? I've never had an actual friend die before. I've had lots of classmates die (I have an idea, though I've never done the math, that my high school class has had an unusually high death rate, statistically). But nobody I would include in the small group of “friends” has ever died before. This is yet another validation of my lifelong policy of keeping my circle of friends small, so that funeral attendance will be infrequent and Christmas card lists short.

They held a funeral for Elmer down in Kenyon, on Saturday (correction: Friday). I was concerned that, since Jewish law requires quick burial, and Elmer was part of a Messianic synagogue, somebody had disregarded his own wishes,and completely cut out the congregation to which he belonged. But there were many members of the synagogue there, and his rabbi spoke at length.

And it was fascinating. Elmer's nephew told a number of stories about him, and we all laughed without embarrassment. Because Elmer was never offended, at least by jokes about himself. He had once brought a vegetarian dish to a family meal, and his nephew said it looked like “pig scours” (that's a term farmers know, but probably unfamiliar to you. I think you're happier not knowing, especially if you just ate). Elmer thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Agnes Mallory, by Andrew Klavan

'Look,' she said wearily from the stairs. I was leaning against the stove, studying her stupid sneakers. My arms crossed, my soul leaden with sorrow. 'I just don't want to approach you too fast. I know you don't like journalists. I saw you on TV: slamming the door? That's why I was watching...'

'Oh, admit it: you were being mysterious and romantic.'

'Jesus!' One of her little sneaks gave a little stomp. 'You sound just like my father.'

Fortunately, this arrow went directly through my heart and came out the other side, so there was no need to have it surgically removed, which can be expensive....

Back in 1985, the young author author Andrew Klavan had a novel published in England which didn't find a home in the U.S. This novel is Agnes Mallory, which is now, thankfully, available in a Kindle edition from Mysterious Press.

The narrator of the story is Harry Bernard. Harry lives in a secluded cabin, outside the New York suburb of Westchester. He is a recluse, a broken man, a disbarred lawyer who has left his family behind.

He wants nothing to do with the young woman who follows him home one evening, in the rain. Klavan introduces her in such a way that the reader isn't sure at first whether she's real or a ghost. And that's appropriate, since this is a kind of a ghost story—but the ghosts are the memories we carry with us and the dreams we've buried in the cellar. Read the rest of this entry . . .

C.S. Lewis Day

On this day in 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, making our favorite Oxford don more Irish than English (wait, is Tolkien our favorite or Lewis?). Despite being productive mostly with my cough, I put several C.S. Lewis facts on our BwB Twitter feed in honor of the day.

  1. On this day in 1898, C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland. What follows today will be #CSLewis facts.
  2. A good starting point for Lewis' birthday is following @CSLewisDaily 414,861 followers can't be wrong. (n.s.)
  3. My #CSLewis facts today come from Colin Duriez' biographical book ow.ly/7IDKt
  4. Lewis met Owen Barfield, one of his best friends, first in 1919 at university. Learn more about Barfield ow.ly/7IDue #CSLewis
  5. G. MacDonald's "Phantastes" is a very influential book in Lewis' life. He first found it on March 4 at a train station. #CSLewis facts
  6. One of #CSLewis poems hangs on a wall on Addison's Walk, Oxford. ow.ly/7IKkU
  7. When his father learned #CSLewis had been elected Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, he cried for joy.
  8. Oxford, Magdalen College, The Kilns, and The Eagle and Child #CSLewis facts ow.ly/7IJGi
  9. #CSLewis first met JRR Tolkien during his first year at Magdalen, 1926. They become life-long friends.
  10. Tolkien described the Inklings as "undertermined, unelected circle of friends who gathered around #CSLewis"
  11. #CSLewis Tutor Kirkpatrick said of 17yo Jack, "He has read more classics than any boy I ever had or indeed...I ever heard of."
  12. #CSLewis was an great literary critic. He wrote essays on Bunyan, Austen, Shelley and topics such as myth, story, lingustics, and metaphor.
  13. You've heard of The Eagle and Child, but #CSLewis "local" pub, that closest to his home, The Kilns, is The Six Bells ow.ly/7IWYE
  14. #CSLewis fully believed "Jesus Christ was the Son of God" on Sept 28, 1931, a few months after his brother Warren did the same.
  15. On receiving #CSLewis letter of praise, Charles Williams replies, "My admiration for the staff work of the Omnipotence rises every day."
  16. #CSLewis adopted mom, Mrs. Morris, argued furiously with him over his Christian faith.
  17. What books most shaped #CSLewis vocational attitude? Charles Williams' "Descent into Hell" Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man"

When the Devil Whistles, by Rick Acker

I've been pleased, especially since I got my Kindle, to discover some writers who are lifting the Christian fiction genre to a higher level. When the Devil Whistles qualifies for that kind of praise.

Rick Acker's novel centers on a young woman, Allie Whitman, who leads a sort of secret life, taking temporary jobs at corporations that do business with the government, nosing out fraud, and then filing lawsuits against them through a company of her own called Devil to Pay. She works closely with her lawyer, Connor Norman, who does the litigation while she stays anonymous. Each of them is attracted to the other, but any romance would spoil their profitable business.

Then Allie is caught out by an employer, a deep-sea salvage company. Instead of just firing her, they blackmail her into investigating another company, a business rival. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Stocking Stuffers and More

Gifts recommendations from several guests of National Review (via Terry Teachout)

Zombies and the Abortion Taboo

Kate Arthur describes a fascinating kerfuffle over a personhood issue touched on in an episode on AMC's The Walking Dead. A character decides to abort her weeks old baby, but can't go through with it.

"What’s also troubling," Arthur writes, "is that this discussion coincided with a storyline in which Lori’s hosts—at an idyllic farm seemingly untouched by the zombie apocalypse—are discovered to be keeping a group of “walkers” alive in a nearby barn. When asked why, one of the characters responded, “They’re people.” The show’s heroes, however, accused of “murdering” such people, had a much more limited definition of what life is."

Under the pseudonym of Keith Peterson

Phil has already mentioned this in prospect, but Andrew Klavan's early novels, written under the name Keith Peterson, are now in print again from Mysterious Press.

I especially recommend the John Wells novels, the first of which is The Trapdoor.

I do not recommend The Animal Hour.

J. R. R. Tolkien, human rights activist

Our friend Dale Nelson sends the link to this piece from the Tolkien and Fantasy website:

This letter isn't referenced in any of the usual sources, so it makes for a minor discovery. The letter is signed by Tolkien and nine others, comprising the Honorary President of the Newman Association and nine Honorary Vice Presidents, the latter including Tolkien. The letter registers protest at the arrest of the Cardinal Primate of Hungary by the Hungarian government.

Sometimes even Brandywine Books throws a bone to the Catholics.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Breaking the Contract

Nathaniel Lee has a good, 100-word story on dealing with the devil (or a likeness thereof). Congratulations to him for his new collection of stories called Splinters of Silver and Glass.

"Men must endure their going hence..."

In their way, these last weeks were not unhappy. Joy had left us, and once again—as in the earliest days—we could turn for comfort only to each other. The wheel had come full circle: once again we were together in the little end room at home, shutting out from our talk the ever-present knowledge that the holidays were ending, that a new term fraught with unknown possibilities awaited us both.

(Warren Lewis, on the last days of his brother C. S. Lewis, from his Memoir published in The Letters of C. S. Lewis [1966].)

Every year at this time I note the anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis in 1963. There's been a lot of speculation in recent years as to exactly when it was that Western Civilization began to collapse. Some choose the year 1968, the year the Counterculture came into its own in America, but others fix the date in 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated. I tend to go with 1963, but because that was the year we lost Lewis, not Kennedy.

One way or the other, it's been downhill ever since.

From the University of Notre Dame, this article on recent scientific findings that indicate there's a genuine physiological reason why we so often forget what we've come for, when we go from one room to another.
New research from psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky suggests that passing through doorways is the cause of these memory lapses.

“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” Radvansky explains.

“Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

I expect passing through Wardrobes has a similar effect.

A Hymn for Thanksgiving

Stephen Paulus' "Pilgrims' Hymn" from his 1997 opera, The Three Hermits.

Reviewing the Review of Your Novel

This piece by Andrew Shaffer may be all we ever need to believe authors should not read reviews of their books. It's a piece about a review which author Lethem writes on a review of his novel. "Reviewing Lethem Reviewing Wood Reviewing Lethem"

"When authors confront critics," Shaffer assures us, "sparks are guaranteed to fly. On this front, Lethem does not disappoint. While he admits that he’s “not actually trying to read James Wood’s mind, or to change it now,” he spares no expense when it comes to that time-honored literary tradition: Name-calling." (via Ed Rants)

The Unquiet Bones, by Mel Starr

If you're mourning the end of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels, you could do a lot worse than giving a try to Mel Starr's series of medieval mysteries featuring Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. Especially if you're a Christian.

The Unquiet Bones begins with the discovery (in a castle waste pit) of a human skeleton. Hugh de Singleton is called by the Baron, Lord Gilbert, to examine the bones and determine if they belong to one of two castle visitors who disappeared a few months before, a nobleman and his squire. Hugh soon realizes that these bones belong to a young woman. And nobody in the neighborhood is missing a young woman.

Hugh, narrating his own story, explains that he is the younger, landless son of a minor nobleman, and studied to be a surgeon at Oxford and Paris (his Oxford mentor, John Wyclif, appears in a couple scenes). His fortunes in his profession were unremarkable until he sewed up a wound for Lord Gilbert, who was impressed enough to invite him to move to his own castle to serve his household and tenants. Hugh is all the more eager to do this as he has fallen in love with Lord Gilbert's sister, Lady Joan, though he has no illusions about the possibility of marriage to someone so far above his station.

As the inquiry widens, Lord Gilbert appoints Hugh his bailiff, with authority to investigate crimes. Hugh systematically canvasses near and distant villages. He identifies one man as the murderer and then, troubled by doubts, uncovers evidence to clear him, which sends him back to square one. But he perseveres, and the mystery is revealed in the end. At times of doubt and puzzlement he resorts to prayer, which does not fail him.

There's little suspense in this book, and the violence generally happens offstage. This will be a plus for those who read mysteries for the puzzles more than the action. The material is handled in a way that's suitable for any reader old enough to follow the story.

I enjoyed the 14th Century setting, and the fruits of Mr. Starr's research (he is a professional historian). I would have liked a little more dramatic tension, and the prose sometimes slipped into neologisms which spoiled the spell somewhat (he refers to a comfortable bed as “a special experience for me” at one point).

But all things taken together I enjoyed the book greatly, and plan to read more of the Hugh de Singleton mysteries.

Interview with a Plagiarist

Author Jeremy Duns has a lengthy analysis of the plagiarism in Assassin of Secrets and posts an interview with the author in the comments section. The disgraced author, Quentin Rowan, begins with his initial motivation:

When I was 19 a poem I wrote in high school was chosen for The Best American Poetry 1996. Up until that time I was an indifferent writer, a dabbler really, at the best of times. I was in college and like everyone trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. (Mostly I just wanted to play Rock music.) I took this anthology business as a sign that I was meant to be a famous writer. However, unlike any normal person who works at something a long time and eventually gets good, I decided I had to be good then and there. Because I was already supposed to be the Best.

It's the Story Craft, Stupid

Robert Bruce offer some good advice on writing, illustrating it with reference to Sherlock Holmes singular focus on crime solving. "Choose. Focus. Become an idiot."

And they all think just the same

This morning, while driving to work, Malvina Reynold's song "Little Boxes" popped into my mind.

And I pondered it it. All that snide condescension toward people who live unexciting lives, and are able to own houses, however small.

Malvina Reynolds, of course, was a socialist, so she dreamed of something better for the masses. And it occurred to me to wonder, "What kind of life would she wish for ordinary people?"

I have to assume the glorious Soviet Union must have been her model. Delightful accommodations like those pictured above, where the happy workers shared a fulfilling communal existence.

And so I wrote my own version of the song, which you may read below the fold: Read the rest of this entry . . .

Dark Quarry, by David H. Fears

[Cover art omitted, because it might embarrass some of our readers.]

I liked the way her hips swayed hard. She was a chiropractor's dream.

I'm rooting for David H. Fears. He's attempting to revive the classic hard-boiled mystery in his Mike Angel novels. On the basis of Dark Quarry, the first in the series, I'd say his reach still exceeds his grasp a bit, but he's close enough to persuade me to come back and see how he progresses.

Dark Quarry is set around the year 1960. It starts, in a sense, where The Maltese Falcon ended, if you imagine that Sam Spade had agreed to “play the sap” for Brigid O'Shaughnessy. New York private eye (he later relocates to Chicago) Mike Angel finds Kimbra Ambler, a woman he's been shadowing for a client, standing over the body of her abusive husband, whom she's just shot. Instead of turning her in, he lets his heart guide him and assists her in getting rid of the body.

Later she comes back to try to kill him, but he disarms her, then just sends her on her way, still starry-eyed about her.

Because that's the kind of mug Mike is. Read the rest of this entry . . .

A Question of Blood, by Ian Rankin

My new custom of searching out free and cheap books for my Kindle (for instance here) has introduced me to several authors I hadn't read before, and reacquainted me with some I'd lost track of. One of the latter authors is Ian Rankin, Great Britain's foremost writer of police novels. A Question of Blood was a welcome reunion, and well worth the read.

As the story begins, the police are investigating the death of a petty criminal in a house fire. This criminal had recently been harassing Inspector Siobhan Clarke, friend and colleague of the continuing hero, Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus. So eyebrows are raised when Rebus comes in to work with burned hands.

Considering Rebus's already equivocal standing with his superiors, it strains credibility somewhat for the reader to believe he's allowed to continue on duty, examining the murder of two students at a private school (and the wounding of another) by a former SAS commando.

It's even harder to believe when we are informed that one of the victims was the son of Rebus's cousin.

But the fulcrum of the Rebus series is his talent for working his way around his superiors and getting away with it, based on results. His inquiries bring him into contact with “emo” teenagers, street gangs, drug smugglers, military intelligence agents, and a politician campaigning for stricter gun control laws (it greatly increases my esteem for Rankin that this politician is portrayed as pretty slimy).

John Rebus is a fascinating character, hiding deep psychological scars under a brilliant mind, a hair trigger temper, and rash decisions. His relationship with Inspector Clarke is also interesting, as they both care for each other, but care for their jobs more.

Recommended for adults.

Hold That Thought

And now for something completely different: The Keep Calm Gallery, where one may buy all manner of things to calm oneself among other things.

Keep Calm Tea Towel from The Keep Calm Gallery

R.I.P. "Elmer"

I sat down to watch the local news on TV last night, and learned that one of my oldest friends is dead.

I've written about him here before, calling him “Elmer.” Since I don't know how his family would react to my reminiscences (though I have no reason to think they'd be offended), I'll continue to use that name.

Elmer and I met in elementary school, back in Kenyon. As our class's social hierarchy evolved, the two of us found ourselves thrown together more and more, not because of similar interests or personalities, but as partial outsiders, boys who didn't play well with others. A sturdy, black-haired kid, Elmer was not in the least diffident, and if he possessed any sense of shame I never saw a sign of it. He loved to say and do provocative things, just to get a reaction.Read the rest of this entry . . .

Not Iocane Power

Jane Austen died in 1817 at age 41, but how is a bit of a mystery. Now, Author Lindsay Ashford is arguing she may have died of arsenic poisoning.

George Smiley Is the Anti-Bond

James Parker writes about author John le Carré’s spy, George Smiley, and the coming film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy He says:

Smiley drops no one-liners, romances no tarot-card readers, roars no speedboats through the Bayou. Bond has his ultraviolence and his irresistibility, his famous “comma of black hair”; Smiley has his glasses, his habit of cleaning them with the fat end of his tie, and not much else. There is a cultivated blandness to him, a deliberate vagueness of outline that at times recalls G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown—the little priest’s alertness to sin replaced, in Smiley’s case, by an extraordinary memory and a profound knowledge of “tradecraft.”
(via Mark Bertrand)

Iago: "I Should Have Been a Clown"

Jeremy Webb wrote his play for high schoolers, but it's gained legs for a broader audience. “I think that it’s great for adults because it breaks all the rules,” said Webb. The one-act comedy has Shakespeare's characters accusing their playwright of various injustices. (via ProfShakespeare)

What Does God Want For You?

Joel Miller writes about the natural flow of suffering in our lives.

Visit rural Uganda and tell me with straight face that God wants us to experience a life of ease and wealth, that he’s concerned about what kind of car we drive. It’s offensive to contemplate. More offensive to contemplate: say it in the face of the martyrs’ families in Nigeria who don’t even pray that their persecutors would stop, only that they would be able stand when their time comes. We’re not even worthy to suffer for Christ like that.
Joel is the author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere.

Film report: "The Viking" (1928)

This isn't exactly a review, because I try to limit reviews, as such, to things our readers can actually buy or rent. The only place I know of where you can access the 1928 movie, The Viking, is on the web site where the friend who lent me the DVD he'd burned found it—and I won't link to that site because it's, frankly, mostly porn.

The Viking isn't porn, though. What it is, is an interesting artifact of movie history—if I understand it right (the explanations on web sites are a little confusing), the first full technicolor movie with a sound track. Mind you, it's not a dialogue sound track. Just music—the old black dialogue cards tell you what people are saying. Although MGM distributed it, it was actually made by the Technicolor Company, in order to demonstrate their new process (did you know there was technicolor before there were talkies? I didn't). The color process hasn't been perfected yet—the yellows and greens aren't right—but it must have been pretty impressive at the time.

The story is about Leif Eriksson (spelled Ericsson here), very loosely based on the Icelandic Vinland sagas. Leif (played by Donald Crisp, who would eventually become one of Hollywood's most successful and long-lived character actors) seems to be the lead character, although (somewhat awkwardly for the plot) he doesn't get the girl. Read the rest of this entry . . .

On Handwriting, Words, and Landscaping

Former President George W. Bush was presented with the Book of Revelation hand-copied by prisoners in a Chinese labor camp. Twenty men wrote out the entire Bible while in prison and smuggled it out the day before their meeting was exposed to officials.

A friend copied an admonition from Trollope
on how boring preachers can be, while still tolerated, and what caution young preachers should take from it.

No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling audiences to sit silent, and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms, (sic) and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips. . . . Yes, my too self-confident juvenile friend, I do believe in those mysteries, which are so common in your mouth; I do believe in the unadulterated word which you hold there in your hand; but you must pardon me if, in some things, I doubt your interpretation.
Anne M. Doe Overstreet writes beautifully about working, "ankle-deep in glory and dust," as a landscaper.
I can do this, I thought, recalling long summers weeding the massive vegetable gardens my parents had. It’ll provide solitude, exercise, and mental space to work on poetry. Mostly true, resoundingly true, and not so much true.

Eleventh hour, eleventh day, eleventh month

On April 15, 1918, Jack was ordered to advance his troops behind a barrage of British shells fired by big guns far behind the lines.... Jack ordered his men over the top of the trench parapet and led them straight towards the enemy as the barrage of high explosives riddled with shrapnel landed ahead of them, blasting the German trenches and soldiers. Then, suddenly, as they advanced with bayonets at the ready, the barrage stopped advancing and began to come back toward them. Soon Jack and his men were being bombarded by their own artillery from far behind them, and to his helpless fury Jack watched his men being blown to pieces in the constant roar of their own artillery support. Suddenly Jack saw a blinding light, everything went completely silent, and then the ground came up slowly and hit him in the face. Jack had been hit by both the concussion and shrapnel from a British shell. His trusted sergeant had been between Jack and the shell when it exploded and was blown to bits. Apart from his own efforts to escape, Jack remembered nothing more of the battle.

(Douglas Gresham's account of his stepfather C. S. Lewis's wounding in World War I, from his book, Jack's Life.)

Today is Veteran's Day, the commemoration that used to be called Armistice Day, back when everyone fondly hoped that the last war had been fought. A hearty thank you to all military veterans who read this post. I'm flying a flag for you.

Someone asked on Facebook today, “What one historical event would you change, if you could go back in history?” My answer was, “I'd stop the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.” Read the rest of this entry . . .

Setting Fantasy in America

Author N.D. Wilson says he used to think you had to be in England to have a magical adventure like finding a forest inside a wardrobe. He is writing his Ashtown Burials series to invite readers into a fantasy that "connects global mythology to everyday Americana, with its roadside diners, truck stops and waffle irons." He was interviewed by NPR's Guy Raz, which aired several hours ago.

The Good Book Club, by Rick Dewhurst

When Rick Dewhurst’s new P.I. Jane Sunday is first hired, she is asked to acquire evidence on her senior pastor, who is alleged to be adulterous. For the good of his daughters and the congregation, the pastor must be found out. Within days, the junior pastor of the same Vancouver church is found naked and dead in his swimming pool. As the ugly church politics unravel, Jane uncovers some very twisted people in a large network of corruption.

Dewhurst’s third novel isn’t a comedy like the other two. Jane’s sarcasm spices up almost conversation she has, but the story is serious, straight-forward detective fiction mixed with 1/3 cup of chick lit romance. It all weaves together pretty well. The villains have too much vinegar, particularly the boss of the pack. He comes across as Jabba the Hut.

But I’m not sure this novel is essentially about the murder mystery or the development of the 40-year-old female detective. It’s title, The Good Book Club, draws attention to the dozen or so pages that describe a women’s book discussion group. They chatter about The Great Gatsby, The Shack, and The Grapes of Wrath while the mystery unfolds, each from distinct perspectives which may be meant to represent the schemes in the visible church. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Short story review: "For Conspicuous Valor," by Darwin Garrison

Disclaimer: Darwin Garrison, the author of For Conspicuous Valor, is a friend and a reader of this blog.

A novelty in publishing which has come in with the e-book, almost unremarked, is the e-story. Where we used to go to the pulp (and slick) magazines for our short science fiction, today we can often find such stories at low prices for downloading to our Kindles or Nooks. The downside is that, in the absence of traditional editorial apparatus, we're often not sure whether we'll be getting good work or vanity-published dreck.

For Conspicuous Valor is good work.

The main character is Megan Williams, a 17-year-old girl growing up on a farm on a distant earth colony planet. The daughter of a war hero killed in combat, she dreams of being a Ranger herself, fighting the “Pexies,” or “Post-Expansionists,” a ruthless enemy that seems to be analogous to the Communists of our time.

As the story begins, she is babysitting her younger sister and baby brother when a genetically-engineered “direfox” sneaks into the yard and drags her brother off. Megan pursues them at a run, followed by her one-legged uncle Nate, who has been looking after the family. The peril is overcome, but Megan doesn't cover herself with honor.

Her decision, later that evening, to go out and hunt the direfox down on her own leads to a frightening discovery and a night of personal testing.

My only problem with the story rises from my personal objection to the idea of women in combat. Other than that, the story is well-told and engaging, the characters realistic and multi-layered. I enjoyed it, and recommend it for all readers.

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