Back from Narnia

“Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”- CS Lewis, The Four Loves

A place of safety and retreat for me is where I am sitting right now- in the armchair of my library, either reading, or writing, with a big fat mug of coffee or a glass of wine or pint of ale.   My books stand comfortably at their posts on the shelves behind me, and a few of those jolly souls occupy an honored spot of distinction on the end table beside me, a few dog-eared and well worn, others fresh from the field and awaiting perusal.

Many of these books are by or about CS Lewis.  Over the past few years, his books have been the pebble in the pond, sending ripples out to other books, other authors, living and dead, past and present, which now grace my shelves.  Lewis has been that particular member of the communion of saints who has opened door after door after door, engaging me, challenging me, until I learn more about myself as a writer, a teacher, a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ.

And wouldn’t you know it?  I have found others in my own situation.  I registered for the CS Lewis Retreat held in Navasota, TX early, knowing that it would be smack dab in the middle of a busy 1st quarter teaching my rambunctious seniors, but feeling it was high time to engage in person with authors I had only known in black and white thus far, and a hazy coterie of folks who had been touched by Lewis and I knew were out there somewhere and not just on WordPress and Blogger.  Who were the faces behind the fingers tapping at those keyboards?

“So how did you get into Lewis?” Andrew Lazo asked me as I found a seat in the lobby at Camp Allen Retreat Center in Navasota Texas.

I waxed semi-lyrically a rather incoherent reply.

Andrew seemed to get the gist.  And he must have also seen an undercurrent of pleading in my voice and eyes, as in “Did I make the right decision to take a plane and come here?  I’m not here with anybody.  There just seemed to be this necessary pull to…to trust that it wouldn’t be a waste of ti–…”

“Well, it’s great to have you here.  You’re home, my friend.  Welcome home.”

And that was pretty much the whole retreat, folks.  Just one interaction with “home” after another.  Further up and further in.

The primary focus of the retreat centered on Lewis’s The Great Divorce, an allegorical novel about a purgatorial bus ride to the lowlands of Heaven.  Speakers such as Joseph Pearce and Louis Markos expounded on the novel and its understanding of the true nature of sin and its application for us today, especially as (as many were in the audience) writers, teachers, and scholars.  A writer’s track featured Diana Glyer, author of The Company They Keep: Lewis and Tolkien as Writers in Community.  Using Lewis and Tolkien as models, she explained differences and writing styles and importance of recognizing our own styles and playing to their tune instead of the ideal tune we wish to fit ourselves into.  I had the good fortune of arriving early on Thursday and getting to know Diana and her 10 year old daughter Sierra.  Sierra was mid way through a novel with an unmistakable cover which immediately identified the author for me: The Pearls of Lutra, by Brian Jacques, the famous creator of the Redwall series.  So we ended up having a wonderful discussion about hares, squirrels, mice, otters, and the difficulty of mastering mole speech (as in “Burr-oi, soir, oim gurtly afurred of villy-ans.”).  Lancia Smith led a hosted group focusing on CS Lewis and our approach to prayer which was revealing and refreshing.

A highlight for me was Bag End Café, led by Andrew as a sort of open mic night for the retreatants.  Original poetry was read, songs were sung, music was played, and if the cookies and other assorted goodies, as well as the wine and beer, didn’t make you feel like you were sitting in the Green Dragon, I don’t know what else would have.  A few of us continued to burn the midnight oil when others had left, leading to a few more hours of horrible punnery, bad jokes, and multiple toasts to whoever and whatever.

Friends were made quickly and permanently.  A woman named Lani and I shared our stories over coffee.  Lani was friends with Lancia, who introduced me to William, who sat at lunch with Kathleen who pulled me into a fascinating conversation about cathedral architecture with Steve, which resonated with Katie, who introduced me to Thomas, and then there was that great conversation with Crystal, and …you get the picture.  Everywhere and anywhere, conversations abounded and fed our hearts, minds, and spirits.

The Ad Deum Dance Troupe lent movement to many emotions and insights unvoiced in a beautiful performance which made me forget the pain in my knee and just revel in unspoken story.

Thus, after a full weekend of almost too many expectations fulfilled, it was time to say goodbye.  Stan Mattson, president of the CS Lewis Foundation (and may I take this opportunity to just rename him King Frank, as humble, forthright, and good-natured as that character was in The Magician’s Nephew?) led us in an old folk song entitled “Will Ye No Come Back Again,” a fitting, quite emotional end to our time together as our voices (including my reedy tenor) intermingled with a sense of true fellowship and completeness.

I left with a heart a thousand times lighter, with grace and a sense of purpose I haven’t known for a long while.  And with, as the theme of the retreat indicated, a sense of eternity, in the here and now.

Devils Among Us

   I’ve long held The Screwtape Letters as my favorite book by C.S. Lewis.  Originally a serial run in The Guardian in the early 1940s, it was published as a novel in 1942.  Lewis writes 31 letters in the guise of Screwtape, a senior demon in the “lower-archy” of Hell to a junior tempter, his nephew Wormwood.  Screwtape instructs his pupil on the cleverest and most effective tools of temptation to lure a “patient” (unnamed) into the house of “Our Father Below,” where the soul of the young man may be devoured.  It is a brilliant bit of satire which is ultimately a twisted, penetrating insight into human nature.

In his inimitable way, Lewis uses Screwtape to clear the chaff off misrepresentations of the Christian faith, both from within the faith and from modern secular notions of religion and spirituality.  There is an edge to Lewis’s writing in this text which he uses to drive his points home rather bluntly which in other books, such as Mere Christianity or Chronicles of Narnia, he tempers with more charity.  Indeed, this seemed to have an effect on him, for he states that The Screwtape Letters were the hardest for him to write:

Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment . . . though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded.

One approaches modern adaptations of great works, especially those near and dear to the heart, with some amount of trepidation, and The Screwtape Letters are no exception.  However, the following mentioned have preserved the tone and intelligence of Lewis’s writing, provide a good homage to Jack’s work, and are a whole lot of fun to enjoy in their own right:

Focus on the Family: The Screwtape Letters Dramatization with Full Cast, starring Andy Serkis as Screwtape.

I’m really having fun with this one at the moment.  The creativity put into this production is staggering.  The Letters are primarily acted out as dialogue between Screwtape and Wormwood, and incorporate recreations of situational examples Lewis put into the text.  Wormwood gets a speaking role here, as do other demons such as Slumtrimpet and Toadpipe.  We hear the patient, here named John Hamilton, engaged in his spiritual struggles, often with Screwtape and Wormwood making commentary, almost like a sporting event.  What the drama adds to The Screwtape Letters is just that: drama.  There is a compressed sense of urgency given to the work as a whole, with the listener eager for the climax- will Wormwood succeed or not?

The highlight of the work is Andy Serkis’s portrayal of Screwtape.  There is a gruff swagger to his voice, a chilling, calculated bravado with bears witness to many successes in his career.  The very way Serkis breathes enhances his character and message.  Like his work in Lord of the Rings as Gollum, hearing Serkis’s vocals is like watching a physical feat mastered by a gymnast.

The Screwtape Letters starring Max Mclean, an FPA Theater Production

I will catch the production coming to Tampa at the end of October.  Max Mclean has won accolades bringing the role of Screwtape onstage in this critically acclaimed show.

 As One Devil to Another by Richard Platt

“This is the book I’d never thought I’d see,” writes Walter Hooper in the preface, “It reads as if C.S. Lewis himself had written it.”

High applause from Lewis’s personal secretary and biographer.  Platt uses the original working title of The Screwtape Letters to construct a more current depiction of demonic temptation.  In this work, the demon Slashreap corresponds with a young tempter named Scardagger, a recent graduate of the Tempter’s Academy.  He is assigned to a young woman in England, who is pursuing graduate study in English literature.  Platt weaves a wonderful narrative around this young woman while at the same time giving Lewisian treatment to issues of our time, both universal and specific: Technology, Sexuality, Love, Ambition, and Faith, among others.  Platt inserts a bit of Lewis hero-worship in his text- the “client” (rather than “patient”) takes a stroll with a significant other down Addison’s Walk, a clear allusion to a path around Magdalen College which C.S. Lewis used to walk with J.R.R. Tolkien, and was the location where Lewis, in conversation with Tolkien, made a major step toward his belief in Christ.

The relationship between Slashreap and Scardagger provides the grist for the book’s climax, which is both amusing and twisted.

I have neglected to mention two fantastic audiobooks on The Screwtape Letters.  The most famous, and rare, is the John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) reading from 1999.    The other is by Joss Ackland,   who portrayed C.S. Lewis in the BBC version of Into the Shadowlands.  Both are highly recommended, but Ackland’s will be easier to find (and pay for!).

We’ll go back to the original source in the next post and take a letter or two for reflection and insight.  Until then, remember Lewis’s caveat on demons:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.  The sort of script which is used in this book can be very easily obtained by anyone who has once learned the knack; but ill-disposed or excitable people who might make a bad use of it shall learn it from me.”

Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis Book Review by Transpositions

Over at Transpositions guest authors are offering their  Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis Book Review: Introduction.  Of particular interest to me is an analysis of Lewis as literary critic, as his scholarship colored his philosophy of education.  Lewis offers a countercultural, metaphysical understanding of literature which goes against modern interpretations of the function of literature.  The more I read into this, the more I recognize the stark contrast of his understanding to contemporary scholars.  In my role as a teacher of British Literature, I find Lewis is, quite frankly, both an illumination and a a relief, though I must put in more study in order to articulate this countercultural relevance.  To wit: I am required to lay down a curriculum of literature which endeavours to create an appreciation of literature of the past and form a culturally literate student body.  When my seniors graduate, they then enter an undergraduate realm where this cultural literacy is undermined and slowly torn down.  Critical thinking and appreciation gives way to political manipulation and a theoretical watering down of literature to the point where the question is less “What is literature?’  to “What?” The underpinnings of a purposeless posit of literature gives way to a purposeless study of literature.

This is an uncharitable, broad brush stroke on a perceived divide between secondary and undergraduate education, but I really think Lewis’ ideas hold some key to this.  More later, but in the meantime, enjoy the erudite minds of Transpositions.

CS Lewis and The Doctor

 

Lewis once wrote in a letter to his father in 1926 “Will you think me affected if I number a small illness among the minor pleasures of life?  Work is impossible and one can read all day for mere pleasure with a clear conscience.”

If the forest of the Wandering Tree has been quiet for the past near-month, it is simply due to creatures, myself included, needing to crouch in small lairs to ride out an infestation of feverish maladies which have crept in through the underbrush.  Unlike Lewis’s small illness of minor pleasure and conscience free reading, I’ve had to endure some downright hellish fevers and a persistant sinus infection, and a mood and outlook which would make a postmodern nihilist blush.   That I’ve continued to teach throughout may be marked by some as courage and fortitude, but the reality is that semester exams are upon us and I need to close out grades post haste.  Our current three day weekend has been a welcome respite, and provides a moment of reflection.  And, as my sickness abates, it has turned into that small illness of minor pleasure of which Lewis speaks.

I’ve found little to no peace in my state of mind over the past week, vacillating between frustration and anger at not being able to focus.  Yes, I know: when one is sick, one needs to chill.  But I so often give a perfunctory wave to this caveat , and a round of self bullying ensues, leaving me going on the round and round like St. Paul in Romans: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  Whereas Paul sees the reasonable out through Christ, I tend to stay on that merry-go-round until all my convictions are sufficiently blurred.

Therefore, I was happy to come across a literary prescription by Lewis in a letter he wrote to Arthur Greeves:

To his friend Arthur Greeves Lewis wrote about Samuel Johnson: “Isn’t it a magnificient style- the very essence of manliness and condensation.  I find Johnson very bracing when I am in my slack, self-pitying mood.”

Ah, Dr. Samuel Johnson.  A lion of literature from 18th Century England.   Hmmm.  So I pulled out my old battered Norton Anthology of English Literature, turned to page 2,674, and immersed myself in Johnson’s reflections on Spring, a distant future to most in the States, but a lingering image to a Floridian.  Johnson acknowledges the existence of those such as myself.

“It must be laid down as a position which will seldom deceive, that when a man cannot bear his own company there is something wrong.  He must fly from himself, either because he feels a tediousness in life from the equipoise of an empty mind, which, having no tendency to one motion more than another but as it impelled by some external power, must always have recourse to foreign objects; or he must be afraid of the intrusion of some unpleasing ideas, and perhaps, is struggling to escape from the remembrance of a loss, the fear of a calamity, or some other thought of greater horror.”

He then suggests that  very few men know how to take a walk, and that to reflect on nature affords an intellectual respite from self bullying, that “he that enlarges his curiousity after the works of nature, demonstrably multiplies the inlets to happiness.”

A walk is a bit out of the question now, with a jolly good Florida downpour beating against the window panes, but surely I must pause to remember how long it has actually been since I’ve taken a walk, and how the rhythm and pace of my feet hitting the sidewalk often bodes well for my well-being.

And, in the meantime, a recognition of gratitude, once again, to Lewis, who has a tendency, if not himself to bundle up our personal issues into a coherent ball, then to point us in a coherent direction to those who can.

Winter Break Reading Festival

…which takes place every day I am on break, from approximately 9 am to Noon, in my lumpy red Gryffindor armchair, with a big fat mug of tea or coffee.

I’ve recently dived into Brian Jacques’ The Bellmaker, the 6th?  7th? book of the Redwall series.  This book is more of a continuation of Mariel of Redwall, featuring the familiar characters of Joseph the Bellmaker, Tarquin L. Woodsorrel (one of my favorites) and Dandin the Mouse.  Some fascinating new characters are introduced, such as the sea-faring sea otter Finbarr Galedeep and the self-awarded Field Marshal Meldrum the Magnificient.  As always, Brian Jacques has a flair for language and an infectious desire for no holds barred adventure.

Browsing the stacks at my bookstore, I came across Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owens.  This is the first of the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, where three intrepid Oxford scholars named John, Jack, and Charles embark on a journey across the high seas with a map of all the fabled lands of yore, such as Atlantis and Avalon.  Hmmm…scholars from Oxford?  John, Jack, and Charles?  Could it be….?  Turns out, yes it can!  John, as in John Ronald Ruehl Tolkien; Jack as in CS “Jack” Lewis; and Charles as in Charles Williams.  The Inklings on an adventure?  What could be better?  Well, perhaps the pacing of the book is off a bit- could use more descriptive passages to immerse the reader in the story, instead of jumping from plot point to plot point, but it is a rollicking adventure nonetheless, and since it features my favorite authors, worth the read.

Also new to my bookshelves is Foundling, part one of D.M. Cornish’s Foundling’s Tale Monster Blood Tattoo series.  He is compared to Tolkien, which are some pretty big boots to fill.  Reviews also note that he took 13 years to write the book, which is on par with Tolkein’s laborious writing of LOTR.  The cover has a wonderfully bleak Dickensian look about it, and while I regard it as trite, I am nevertheless a sucker for interesting covers.

Two more sidenotes: picked up Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Why?  For some reason, I had an urge to revisit Jim Henson’s Storyteller series, which is now streaming on Netflix.  Many of the tales are based on actual old folktales from Europe and the Far East, so I am going to one of the major sources of collection for these stories.  Could this be the recovering English major rearing his head?  Possibly, but for right now beyond the surface of articulation.

Lastly, for some reason this blog is getting more hits than usual, which, if my calculations are correct, should push it over the 10,000 mark by New Year’s.  Woo-hoo!  An unexpected Christmas present!  I’ll be there when the wheel turns…I guess blogs are much like cars in that respect.

Definitely planning a post for Christmas Day, but if you are signing off before then, God rest ye merry gentlemen (and women!)  A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Medicine for the Recovering English Major: Brian Jacques and Redwall

Have you ever been enamored of a book because of who wrote it?  The story may be good, excellent, even, but the sheer force of the personality behind it lends the book an extra “star” or two or whatever is your cosmological equivalent of a good rating.  Such is the case for me when it comes to Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, which recounts the epic struggles of good and evil between rats, mice, stouts, weasels, cats, badgers, moles, hares, and other woodland creatures in the land of Mossflower and beyond.  Think Lord of the Rings meets Wind in the Willows.   Now, in my self-imposed literary “reeducation” process (in which I forego the literature that makes me look and sound smart and instead find enjoyment, once again, in a darn good yarn), I stumbled upon Redwall.  My curiosity was immediately perked by the picture of the author on the back cover.  This is Brian Jacques:

I know, right?  He looks like the grizzled old captain of a whaling ship,  not a children’s author.  Downright scary.  So I did a bit of googling, and found some audio/video of him speaking at a Borders and as a keynote speaker in Liverpool, his hometown, and seriously, if my first choice of which author to have a pint of beer with is C.S. Lewis, a close second is Brian Jacques.  A truly infectious personality, he tells bad, corny jokes and laughs at them himself if no one else will (“What creature goes ‘zubb, zubb, zubb’?  A bee flying backwards.”);  and he’s self-deprecating (“I originally thought all authors had first names of “Sir”- Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- I didn’t realize I could be one.”).  He’ll retell the same stories about himself over and over like he’s saying it for the first time.  There’s an old-fashioned sense of uncontrolled vitality about him- keen, refreshing, like a good, sharp, chilly Northeasterly wind.

He’s decidedly old-school as well.  A definite “medieval dinosaur,” as CS Lewis once put it.  “My chief delight and satisfaction,” Jacques once wrote, “Is annually to desert the world of modern technology.”  Delivering milk to a school for the blind, he was eventually invited to read to the students, and noted that publishers used to send books for the kids, and, as he tells it, “I didn’t like those books.  Technology, teenage angst.  Ugh.  They were all about the now.  What happened to the books that I used to read?  What happened to the magic?”

It comes out in his books.  Amid the clutter thrown at us in our daily lives, when modern technology seems to yell in a digitized voice that disrupts all quiet conversations over a pint of stout, a Jacques book invites a warm fireside to illuminate its pages, rather than the glow of a computer screen.  It sounds quaint (and incredibly ironic, as I write this on my laptop), but Jacques writes the kind of books we need for an “out,” from our daily hustle and bustle.  Not, let me be clear, as an “escape,” but rather, like all good literature of its sort, as a “recap,” or reminder of what being human is truly all about: fidelity to friends and family, sharing of food, discovery of purpose, and acknowledgment of the worth and value of those who may be different from you.  And hey, as the prospect of becoming a dad 🙂 begins more and more to fill my everyday reality, it’s good to know books like this are still being written.    “Questing, feasting, singing, and battling to defend good against evil,” as Jacques puts it.  What a marvel concept for a post-modern age.  All this from a man, who states, quite simply, that an author is “a person who can paint pictures with words.”

Wright Thinking for Pentecost

Currently reading N.T. Wright’s After You Believe, which is the perfect book for Pentecost.  I’m about 70 pages in, so I can’t give a complete review of the book.  However, I have  reached what I think is the crux of his argument, which he plans to develop over the course of the book, the “heart of the book,” as he calls it, which gives a “fresh reading of the moral thrust of the New Testament:”

1. The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests.

2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.

3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope, and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world.

(Sidenote: I think it is kind of fun that I’m listening to “Alive Again” by Trey Anastasio– a very Pentecostal song as well- wonder if we could get this one played in service tomorrow?  And then “Run Like an Antelope”?  Hmmm…maybe not).

Wright’s book, and others which have come out I recent years, give me hope that those who follow Christ, by taking a long look in the mirror, are beginning to react to what they have seen in positive and refreshing ways, recognizing the inherent beauty of who we are in Christ, but still recognizing the need for a good splash of water on the face to start a new day.  To start the new “kingdom work” here on the earth of which God has blessed and declared “good.”

I consider myself a part of this as well, not least by the need to take that look in the mirror.

Sometimes what I see isn’t that great.

But then, through grace, the realization of renewal.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. “ (Ezekiel 36:26)

And is not Pentecost the perfect time to do this?  This yearly renewal of the goal and purpose of the Church- of its very identity- comes down in a fire not meant to burn but cleanse, to clear away any “dead brush” in our lives and ready a new forest.

The Choice to Be Narnian

We have a choice on how we live each day, and our choices include our influences as well.  For some, this is an intense and challenging struggle.  Caught in addiction, violence, or other outside force, the choice to succumb or give up is palpable.  But ultimately there is a choice to be made.

But choice and the reshaping of reality are two different things.  A single choice, let’s say a choice of faith, can lead to a lifetime struggle to mold that reality.  From the Christian perspective, this entails allowing God, through Christ, to recreate your life anew.  And the process may take a very long time, a lifetime, and be very painful.  As CS Lewis stated in Mere Christianity, if we were houses, then we are not going to get simple repairs to the drains or leaks in the roof: the whole house might be knocked down, a la Extreme Makeover, and rebuilt.  Our Dragon skin could be torn off us quickly, or it may take a long voyage out at sea.

Here, I think, is where fiction comes in, as our choices of story affect our choices of reality.  What story would you want to be a part of if given the choice?  One can presume my answer by the title of this post.  I was led to consider this when I stumbled across a wonderful blog.

This was a wonderful meditation by Emily Riley, on her blog named (what else?) Live Like a Narnian.  She bases her reflection on this excerpt from The Silver Chair, Puddleglum’s famous speech to Queen Jadis:

. . .Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies playing a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.
~Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

This insistence by Puddleglum is the very essence of choice I am arguing.  To me, distinctly Narnian, and by default, distinctly Christian.

Now what?

A true choice must not be considered a passing phase or fad- merely part of a growth period involving recognition of various perceptions.  Rather, it is one to be made, and then…

lived.

In every aspect of life, it must be lived.  In humor, in darkness, in despair, in joy, in doubt, in certainty, on the peaks of mountains, in the valleys down below.

Consider the list below created, in part, by Stanley Anderson, from the old MereLewis site, and reposted by John, aka Dr. Zeus, on the Into the Wardrobe forums.  Have a laugh or two, then consider: the person who gives a nod or a “yes,” to most if not all of these may be certifiable, but oh, what a quirky, joy-filled life has been made by this choice!

You Might Be a Narnian If…

1. Your car has a bumpersticker that says “I brake for Marshwiggles.”
2. Your fishing license has a stamp for Pavenders.
3. You have wading pools in your back yard that you periodically jump in to.
4. You taste water samples from lily ponds to see if they’re sweet.
5. Christmas seems to take FOREVER to get here.
6. You examine every lamp-post you see for signs of root damage.
7. When you hear the word fau(w)n, you think not of Bambi, but of parcels and umbrellas.
8. You have a keen respect for mice.
9. You secretly breathe on statues in parks and whisper, “In the name of Aslan…”
10. You always reach inside wardrobes and touch the back…just in case.
11. When referring to your boss, you say “May He Live Forever.”
12. You are always polite to animals.
13. You talk to animals.
14. Animals talk to you and you understand them!
15. You are a bit suspicious of middle-aged men wearing yellow and green rings.
16. Your preferred holiday destination is Archenland.
17. You know that the collective term for owls is “parliament.”
18. You float, rather than fall, off cliffs.
19. You sometimes wonder if humans are a myth.
20. You have a tendency to suck your paws at inopportune times.
21. You have ever been beaten silly by a mouse.
22. You have ever set off fireworks underground for fun.
23. Your interest in astronomy was sparked by studying the Ship, the Hammer, and the Leopard.
24. You’ve ever had history lessons about the Jackdaw and the First Joke.
25. Bullies at school threaten that they know the Deplorable Word.
26. The ultimate insult you give to people is calling them “a second Rabadash.”
27. You’ve ever sat around with several owls trying to impersonate Trumpkin.
28. You’ve ever mistaken a magician for an animal, vegetable, or mineral.
29. You are determined to live like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia.
30. You always inquire at restaurants if it was a talking beast when you order venison.
31. You always clean your sword after battle.
32. The first time you ever heard the name Aslan, a curious feeling awoke inside you.
33. You know what a serious thing, a very serious thing indeed, it is to ask a centuar to stay for the weekend.
34. You like your sausages fat and piping hot and just the tiniest bit burnt.
35. You have conversations with your horse.
36. You have a strange approach/avoidance reaction to Lions.
37. You believe the stars in the heavens are people you have personally met.
38. You know that fireberries are a food.
39. You believe that a Lion can change a dragon into a boy by “peeling” him.
40. You enjoy having tea parties with fauns and beavers.
41. You know dwarves exist, but you are never sure which side they’re on.
42. Your closet contains fur coats and pine boughs.
43. You carry an umbrella in the snow.
44. You look to see if a lone bird is carrying a red berry in its mouth.
45. You have a picture of a lion on prominent display in your home or office.
46. You hear the words “further up and further in” in the sound of every waterfall.

Brain Spill- Look at the Pretty Colors!

I have some time over Spring Break to engage in some arguments, discussion, musings, ideas, and readings of which I have put on the back burner for most of the school year.  Here are the snippets, and some links to articles and blogs which have caught my eye.  They all seem to go together somehow…the “somehow” of which i am still figuring out:

C.S. Lewis’ ideas on education: “not cutting down jungles, but irrigating deserts.”

The role of technology in education, especially literature studies.

-fantastic discussion of which can be found in Diana Senechal’s article “The Most Daring Education Reform of All”

and Sven Birket’s “Reading in a Digital Age.”

Technology and Theology.  What better introduction can I offer than Callid Keefe-Perry’s presentation at Theology After Google?   Callid’s presentation- and some comments- can be found over at The Image of Fish.

In the midst of all this, I am trying (not much succeeding, but) to wind down my analytical mind and just enjoy a damn good story.  Contemporary literary fiction makes me want to hang myself, so here’s some cool books currently by my leather chair: FableHaven, by Brandon Mull, Sea of Monsters (part of the Percy and the Olympians books) by Rick Riordan, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Personally, my favorite cover is Fablehaven’s:

Interesting thought to note: ever since I put down the articles and starting incorporating some fantasy literature into my diet, my dreams became more vivid.  Hmmm…

Final thought: To properly experience the majesty of God, one must be able to feel and touch a clod of dirt in one’s hands with the same wonder in which one looks up into the vast reaches of interstellar space.

What If Books Contained a Story?

Anne Jackson recently posed a question asking “What’s missing from today’s books?” I’m a bit disappointed that, on the surface anyway, her query was geared toward an analysis of “the market,” but I see where she is going with this. As an English teacher, the question jumped off the screen and sat on my lap, begging to be answered, but drooping lids prevailed and I retired early to bed (without setting the alarm- let me tell you, it was an exciting morning!).

Here’s C.S. Lewis on the subject of great literature:

Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, or comic… My own eyes are not enough for me. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do.

This is a quote I share with my students at the beginning of the year. The desire and ability to “become a thousand men and yet remain myself,” is the essence of an intelligent and broad perspective reaching out to understand the world around him/her.

But is this the literature of which Anne speaks? My assumption (and this is only an assumption) is that she is speaking about books akin to her own, such as Mad Church Disease. I’m not sure. However, I did find an article I thought quite illuminating on what the current market demands. In a nutshell: kids’ books. Susan Carpenter of the LA Times writes in the article “Young Adult Lit Comes of Age” that

It used to be that the only adults who read young adult literature were those who had a vested interest — teachers or librarians or parents who either needed or wanted to keep an eye on developing readers’ tastes.

But increasingly, adults are reading YA books with no ulterior motives. Attracted by well-written, fast-paced and engaging stories that span the gamut of genres and subjects, such readers have mainstreamed a niche long derided as just for kids.

Recently, I whipped through CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, both in print and in a wonderful radio drama version, and currently I am dipping a tentative foot into Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, about a boy who finds out he is half Greek…god.

I am starting to label myself a Recovering English Major. I went through my modernist and post-modern lit as an undergraduate, read and over analyzed “deep” literary fiction, and ultimately came up with the novel idea of actually reading a STORY. It took some heavy lessons learned and essays culled by CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, GK Chesterton, and George MacDonald, among others, to realize that “sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said.”

Is it what the market wants? Apparently. Is it what the market needs? Definitely.

Now you’ll have to excuse me…I already know the dragon exists, but I must continue my quest to defeat it.