The Hobbit as a Living Text: The Battle of 5 Blogs

hobbit battle of 5 armies posters jacksonThis post is part of the Battle of the Five Blogs, or six blogs to be precise. It is a throw-down of various Tolkien bloggers who are thinking about the release of the final installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy,  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Other bloggers in this series are Kat Sas, James Moffett, Sørina Higgins, Crystal Hurd, and Matthew Rettino. Follow the links to check out their reviews, recaps, and rants. We encourage comments and links to your own reviews, recaps, and rants.

The Hobbit as Living Text

There is a curious thing that happens to C.S. Lewis’ writing: He made friends.

I think that most true J.R.R. Tolkien fans are going to hate The Hobbit: The Battle of 5 Armies, the newest and last installment of Peter Jackson’s series. Some of those fans detested the Lord of the Rings trilogy on film, while I loved them. I lack the technical, absolutely precise knowledge of the massive myth project that are the books that make up The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and the dozen or so other books that tell us about the History of Middle Earth. The second language in my home is not Quenya or Entish, and I haven’t tracked the number of new moons that pass in Frodo’s long journey to Mordor.

The Hobbit Dwarfs FilmI loved the LOTR films. And though there are moments that make you wince in The Hobbit trilogy—poor computer imaging, characters bent out of narrative shape, unclear lusts and motivations, uneven storytelling, genre confusion, and a general lack of Hobbitishness—I have quite enjoyed the films, as films. I went last night to The Battle of 5 Armies and had a great night out with friends.

But even I, who am willing to throw myself into the adaptation projected on screen, felt uncomfortable at times with how Jackson seems to bend what is to me a pretty straight story.

And yet…. And yet… I want to suggest that Jackson’s bending of Tolkien, and my discomfort with it, and the 100s of angry reviews online are all part of the tale.

Let me explain why.

Out Of The Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis 50sIn the 1930s, Tolkien and Lewis were good friends and literary allies on campus. Dissatisfied with the adventure stories of contemporary fiction, they dared each other to write a story they’d privately love. Tolkien drew the “Time Travel” straw and never finished the tale. Lewis drew “Space Travel” and very quickly had a Science Fiction novel in print (with Tolkien’s help). Lewis followed this original H.G. Wells-like space journey with his own failed Time Travel novel and the rest of the Ransom Cycle.

Though Tolkien had never completed a Time Travel story, he did publish The Hobbit (with Lewis’ help), and became an international superstar. He quickly began working on “the New Hobbit,” hoping he’d have more hobbits for the public in a year or two. Seventeen years later The Fellowship of the Ring was published. During that time the world of The Hobbit grew into the complex Middle Earth legendarium we all know and love.

that hideous strength cs lewis HeadAnyone who reads the last Ransom book, That Hideous Strength (1945), is surprised by the discovery of Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the Preface of Lewis’ contemporary apocalyptic SciFi novel:

“Those who would like to learn further about Numinor and the True West must (alas!) await the publication of much that still exists only in the MSS. of my friend, Professor J.R.R. Tolkien.”

Lewis and Tolkien both thought that LOTR was on its way to completion at this time. Although it was a still a decade more until publication, Tolkien was reading chapters at meetings of the Inklings, which explains why Lewis spelled Númenor wrong—he had only ever heard it aloud. Over the years, Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe become more and more complex and intricate, and Lewis recognized that it formed a new mythology for England, one set in pre-civilizational ages.

Some Tolkien fans may dislike Lewis’ handling of Núminor in That Hideous Strength. But Lewis’ instinctive use of the “New Hobbit” mythic framework shows us what is true about The Hobbit and all of Tolkien’s subcreated world: it is a living text.

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienEven though it was published almost 80 years ago, The Hobbit is not a sealed text, closed and unified and segmented off from all other literature. It is still alive and moving in key ways.

For example, when Tolkien discovered the depth of the world behind The Hobbit, he edited the actual text of his little fairy tale. What you and I typically read is not what was first published. As far as I can tell, Tolkien never really saw The Hobbit as finished. It is especially so with The Silmarillion. There is not just one Silmarillion, but several editions that were never finished in Tolkien’s mind. The edition edited by Christopher Tolkien (with help from Guy Gavriel Kay) is the one he selected to be most helpful and complete. In fact, Christopher Tolkien’s work on dozens of incomplete manuscripts shows the living and adaptive nature of the text. J.R.R. Tolkien is not the only author of his books.

As Diana Pavlac Glyer tells us, Tolkien relied on feedback and even editing from his friends in the Inklings, including C.S. Lewis. The idea of “authorship” grows wider and wider, doesn’t it? Publishers shaped the text, and Tolkien added drawings and maps to aid the reader. Eventually Tolkien would publish prefaces and appendices to go with LOTR—a book for which there was never a fully definitive text.

The text grows even more as Tolkien gave interviews and answered letters, augmenting our understanding of his mythology. There were audiobook recordings—dramatizations that offered a new interpretation—music written for the poetry, and artistic impressions. Clubs formed, societies of Tolkien fans and experts developed, and newsletters transformed into conferences and blogs.

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies - Evangeline LillyAnd then there is the Middle Earth Effect: a generation of writers who, for better or worse, make their way along the fantasy wood-path that Tolkien struck in the wilderness. C.S. Lewis was among the first to do so, but there is little high fantasy that does not owe its imaginative possibilities to Tolkien. Add role playing games, and screenplays in the dustbin or top drawers of aspiring writers, and off-broadway performances, and ComicCon rap battles, and late night games of Golfimbul at MythCon….

These are all part of the living “text” of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

So, now to Jackson.

It is clear that Jackson has diverged greatly from the little fairy tale called The Hobbit. For one, he has brought in other elements from the History and The Silmarillion, adding new storytelling possibilities that I quite liked. For another, Jackson loops together the LOTR Film Trilogy with The Hobbit Trilogy by bookending the three Hobbit films with references back (ahead) to LOTR film #1. Jackson supressed some aspects—friends of mine have noted how Beorn is minimized in the battle, and the chapters after the Battle of 5 or 6 Armies are left behind—and he draws out new themes.

the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-official-posterNo matter how greatly Jackson has diverged, the reality is that the 6 Middle Earth films by New Line Cinema are part of the story, part of the “text.” The music, the characters, the landscapes, the rabbit trails and frayed threads of Jackson’s films have changed forever the way that I read.

They are part of the living text.

And so is this blog, and the other bloggers that make up this magnanimous and self-effacing Battle of 5 (or 6) Blogs. We are shaping the text as we speak.

So, no, I don’t think Peter Jackson created a particularly faithful Hobbit. I wish he called me and floated some of his ideas. But he made good films—films that I will watch over and over again, films that I will show my son as I pass The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on to him.

Because that’s part of the living text too: reading books aloud in a warm chair, sitting on the couch with the screen flickering before us, and lining up at Christmas time this one last time to see how the unending tale that is The Hobbit finally ends.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Blogs

hobbit battle of 5 armies posters jacksonOr thereabouts. A very serious sounding business, isn’t it?

Well, we have fewer enemies and more allies than Peter Jackson’s crowd. We also have fewer extras and less CGI–though some of us may CGI a little for dates on the weekend.

But we are each of us bloggers who think and write about J.R.R. Tolkien and other Hobbitish topics. We are individually excited about the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, and some of us have been blogging and tweeting all things Hobbit for a few days now. Now it’s time to go head to head (to head, to head, etc.).

There are six of us in this Battle of 5 Blogs. Don’t worry: this will be less confusing than about 1/3 of the film. Here are the bloggers (see the bios and twitter handles below):

Sørina Higgins of The Oddest Inkling
Crystal Hurd of CrystalHurd.com
James Moffett of A Tolkienist’s Perspective
Matthew Rettino at The Vinciolo Journal
Kat Sas of Raving Sanity

And, of course, myself of www.aPilgrimInNarnia.com. This battle group represents people from three countries, both men and women, students and teachers, writers and readers, and various age groups. Some will be fans of the film series; some will condemn the fans as heretics and send them to Mordor for milk.

We will each be writing and posting our own blogs and linking to one another. On Friday morning I will do my own blog and a round up. Make sure you follow each of the blogs. I would encourage readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia and each of these blogs to jump in on the comments and dice it up a little (perhaps in a Brandybuck fashion rather than an Orcish fashion–no trolls allowed!). If you have published your own review or preview or artist response to the film, be sure to link it!

Blogger Biographies

Brenton Dickieson (@BrentonDana) is a faith, fantasy, and fiction blogger here at www.aPilgrimInNarnia.com. He teaches religious studies at the University of Prince Edward Island and Maritime Christian College, and is working on a PhD in Theology and Literature at the University of Chester.

Sørina Higgins (@Oddest_Inkling) is an English teacher, writer, editor, and Inklings scholar. The Oddest Inkling is an exploration of the works of poet Charles Williams (1886-1945). See her work as a whole at www.SorinaHiggins.com.

Dr. Crystal Hurd (@DoctorHurd)  is an educator, writer, poet, and researcher from Virginia. She lives with her husband and three dogs in southwest Virginia. She is a staff writer for Legendarium and blogs about life, literature (mainly C.S. Lewis), and leadership at www.crystalhurd.com.

James Moffett (@TolkienistView) is currently reading for an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. He is interested in all aspects of writing and filmmaking. When not working, he’s either attempting to write poetry and opinion pieces, producing experimental short films, or reading. A Tolkienist’s Perspective is meant to be an online haven for other Tolkien enthusiasts.

Matthew Rettino (@MatthewRettino) studies at McGill University in the English MA program, where he researches contemporary Canadian fantasy, and works on short stories and a historical fantasy novel in his spare time. The Vinciolo Journal includes various book reviews, essays, art, and poetry related to his research and creative endeavours.

Katherine Sas (@Katherine_Sas) graduated from Messiah College in 2009 with a B.A. in English Literature. Kat is a student of all things arts and humanities, in particular Tolkien, the Inklings, and the fantastic and imaginative tradition in storytelling. Raving Sanity is the place for ramblings and musings, be they coherent or otherwise, and especially a venue to connect with others who love to talk about these things.

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A Level of Hell that Dante Forgot: A Note from Discworld

Discworld by Terry PratchettTerry Pratchett is about as weird and wonderful an author as I could ever want. A master world-builder, he trades in irony, parody, and satire the way the TV show Glee trades in stereotypes. And yet, despite the constant self-degradation of the humour, there is great intelligence in his Discworld novels.

Unlike much of the satirical world, Pratchett creates endearing characters with real interest for the reader. Sam Vimes, Nanny Ogg, Rincewind, Granny Weatherwax, Twoflower, Sergeant Carrot… he even puts a human face on Death, not an easy thing to do for a black-clad skeleton who exists outside of space and time.

And there is also Pratchett’s ability to draw the canon of great literature into his Discworld novels. Pratchett echoes the Bible, Arabic, Jewish, Greek, Arthurian, Norse, and Egyptian mythology, and all the great English literature. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, H.P. Lovecraft—all the greats find their way into Discworld. And a few of the more obscure, like Pascal, J.B. Morton, Stanley Kubrick, and Laurel & Hardy. He really loves Shakespeare, or at least loves playing with Shakespeare in new contexts.

terry pratchett eric book coverIn Dante’s great trilogy of the afterlife, The Divine Comedy, Dante finds himself touring hell with the poet Virgil. Goethe’s classic closet-play Faust, which has its own echoes of Dante and the book of Job, is the story of a favoured son of God who sells his soul to the devil. Pratchett draws these threads together into the colourful tapestry that is the 1990 novella, Faust Eric. Yes, that’s the title.

In Faust Eric the Dante character visiting hell is Eric, a 13-year-old demonologist. The Virgil guide is the hapless wizard (“wizzard” on his hat) Rincewind, whose chief motto in life is, “I never look back. Looking back is the classic mistake of the professional coward.” Rincewind is summoned by the acne-ridden Eric so that Eric can have riches, women, and control of the whole world. Rincewind, however, is not really dead, and not a demon.

And it turns out Rincewind is pretty bad at granting wishes. So they spend time fleeing snake-god devotees, ancient Mediterranean armies, and the demon horde of hell. He also has a sandwich made by one of the relatively unimportant creators of the universe.

namb-screwtapeIn this great scene from Faust Eric Rincewind and Eric land in hell. I don’t know that Terry Pratchett has ever read The Screwtape Letters or The Great Divorce. As Terry Pratchett turns our expectations of the demonic world upside down—as John Connolly will later do in The Gates of Hell—he is writing in a tradition in which C.S. Lewis is a master. We know well of how the senior demon Screwtape turns our expectations of hell all the way around. Why be a maniacal fiend when cunning, advertising, and soul-crushing bureaucracy will do the trick? Part of the great surprise of The Screwtape Letters is this shocking reversal.

That same unexpectedness occurs in the afterlife dream story The Great Divorce. Hell is real, tangible, powerful. But it is barely so. Its size is incomparably small, its substance that of a ghost’s, and its power residing not in geography but in the human heart. 70 years ago today, Lewis published part of ch. 5 of The Great Divorce in The Guardian. In it we discover that the Grey Town was really hell. What reigns in Lewis’ hell is not pain, torture, and fire. Instead, it is apathy, dreariness, hopelessness, and the sheer bothersome reality of other people.

I would encourage you to read Faust Eric after you’ve read Screwtape and The Great Divorce. You’d be amazed at the echoes. Meanwhile, here is a great little scene with Rincewind guiding the prepubescent demon-binder through a hell that’s recently been taken over by a bureaucrat par excellence.

terry pratchett ericillustrated josh kirbyFaust Eric by Terry Pratchett

“The only thing is, we’re,” [Rincewind said,] “I think it’s quite possible that we’re in Hell.”

“Oh?” [Eric’s said].

Eric’s lack of reaction made Rincewind curious.

“You know,” he added. “The place with all the demons in it?”

“Oh?”

“Not a good place to be, it’s generally felt,” said Rincewind.

Rincewind thought about this. He wasn’t, when you got right down to it, quite sure what it was that demons did to you. But he did know what humans did to you, and after a lifetime in Ankh-Morpork this place could turn out to be an improvement. Warmer, at any rate.

He looked at the door-knocker. It was black and horrible, but that didn’t matter because it was also tied up so that it couldn’t be used. Beside it, with all the signs of being installed recently by someone who didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t want to do it, was a button set into the splintered woodwork. Rincewind gave it an experimental prod.

The sound it produced might once have been a popular tune, possibly even one written by a skilled composer to whom had been vouchsafed, for a brief ecstatic moment, the music of the spheres. Now, however, it just went bing-BONG-ding-DONG.

terry pratchett eric flying sceneAnd it would be a lazy use of language to say that the thing that answered the door was a nightmare. Nightmares are usually rather daft things and it’s very hard to explain to a listener what was so dreadful about your socks coming alive or giant carrots jumping out of hedgerows.

This thing was the kind of terrifying thing that could only be created by someone sitting down and thinking horrible thoughts very clearly. It had more tentacles than legs, but fewer arms than heads.

It also had a badge.

The badge said: “My name is Urglefloggah, Spawn of the Pit and Loathly Guardian of the Dread Portal: How May I Help You?”

It was not very happy about this.

“Yes?” it rasped.

Rincewind was still reading the badge.terry pratchett eric book cover not subtle

“How may you help us?” he said, aghast.

Urglefloggah, who bore a certain resemblance to the late Quezovercoatl [recently deceased Amazonian snake-god], ground some of its teeth.

“`Hi… there`,” it intoned, in the manner of one who has had the script patiently explained to him by someone with a red-hot branding iron. “`My name is Urglefloggah, Spawn of the Pit, and I am your host for today… May I be the first to welcome you to our luxuriously-appointed -`”

“Hang on a moment,” said Rincewind.

“`-chosen for your convenience — `,” Urglefloggah rumbled.

“There’s something not right here,” said Rincewind.

“`- full regard for the wishes of YOU, the consumer -`,” the demon continued stoically.

“Excuse me,” said Rincewind.

“`- as pleasurable as possible`,” said Urglefloggah. It made a noise like a sigh of relief, from somewhere deep in its mandibles. Now it appeared listening for the first time. “Yes? What?” it said.

“Where are we?” said Rincewind.

Various mouths beamed. “Quail, mortals!”

“What? We’re in a bird?”

terry pratchett eric book cover demon“Grovel and cower, mortals!” the demon corrected itself, “for you are condemned to everlast – ” It paused, and gave a little whimper. “There will be a brief period of corrective therapy,” it corrected itself again, spitting out each word, “which we hope to make as instructive and enjoyable as possible, with due regard to all the rights of YOU, the customer.”

It eyed Rincewind with several eyes. “Dreadful, isn’t it?” it said, in a more normal voice. “Don’t blame me. If it was up to me it would be the old burning thingys up the whatsit, toot sweet.”

“This is hell, isn’t it,” said Eric. “I’ve seen pictures.”

“You’re right there,” said the demon mournfully. It sat down, or at least folded itself in some complicated way. “Personal service, that’s what it used to be. People used to feel that we were taking an interest, that they weren’t just numbers but, well, victims. We had a tradition of service. Fat lot he cares. But what am I telling you my troubles for? It’s not as if you haven’t got plenty of your own, what with being dead and being here. You’re not musicians, are you?”

“Actually we’re not even dea – ” Rincewind began. The demon ignored him, but got up and began to plod ponderously down the dank corridor, beckoning them to follow.

“You’d really hate it here if you was musicians. Hate it more, I mean. The walls play music all day long, well, he calls it music, I’ve got nothing against a good tune, mark you, something to scream along with, but this isn’t it, I mean, I heard where we’re supposed to all the best tunes, so why’ve we got all this stuff that sounds like someone turned on the piano and then walked away and left it?”

terry pratchett eric demonic scene“In point of fact -“

“And then there’s the potted plants. Don’t get me wrong, I like to see a bit of green around the place. Only some of the lads says these plants aren’t real but what I say is, they must be, no-one in their right mind would make a plant that looks like dark green leather and smells like a dead sloth. He says it gives the place a friendly and open aspect. Friendly and open aspect! I’ve seen keen gardeners break down and cry. I’m telling you, they said it made everything we did to them afterwards seem like an improvement.”

“Dead is not what we -” said Rincewind, trying to hammer the words into a gap in the things endless monotone, but he was too late.

“The coffee machine, now, the coffee machine’s a good one, I’ll grant you. We only used to drown people in lakes of cat’s pee, we didn’t make them buy it by the cup.”

“We’re not dead!” Eric shouted.

Urglefloggah came to a quivering halt.

“Of course you’re dead,” it said. “Else you wouldn’t be here. They wouldn’t last five minutes.” It opened several of its mouths, showing a choice of fangs. “Hur hur,” it added. “If I was to catch any live people down here -“

Not for nothing had Rincewind survived for years in the paranoid complexities of Unseen University. He felt almost at home. His reflexes operated with incredible precision.

“You mean you weren’t told?” he said.

It was hard to see if Urglefloggah’s expression changed, if only because it was hard to know what part of it was expression, but it definitely projected a familiar air of sudden and resentful uncertainty.

“Told what?” it said.terry pratchett eric book cover 3

Rincewind looked at Eric. “You’d think they’d tell people, wouldn’t you?”

“Tell them wh – argarg,” said Eric, clutching his ankle.

“That’s modern management for you,” said Rincewind, his face radiating angry concern. “They go ahead and make all these changes, all these new arrangements, and do they consult the very people who form the backbone -“

“- exoskeleton -” corrected the demon.

“- or other calcareous or chitinous structure, of the organisation?” Rincewind finished smoothly. He waited for what he knew would have to come.

“Not them,” said Urglefloggah. “Too busy sticking up notices, they are.”

“I think that’s pretty disgusting,” said Rincewind.

“D’you know, said Urglefloggah, “they wouldn’t let me on the Club 18,000 – 30,000 holiday? Said I was too old. Said I would spoil the fun.”

“What’s the netherworld coming to?” said Rincewind sympathetically.

“They never come down here, you know,” said the demon, sagging a bit. “They never tell me anything. Oh yes, very important, only keeping the bloody gate, most important I don’t think!”

“Look,” said Rincewind. “You wouldn’t like me to have a word, would you?”

“Down here all hours, seeing ‘em in -“

“Perhaps if we spoke to someone?” said Rincewind.

The demon sniffed, from several noses at once.

“Would you?” it said.

“Be happy to,” said Rincewind.

terry pratchett eric book cover 2Urglefloggah brightened a little, but not too much, just in case.

“Can’t do any harm, can it?” it said.

Rincewind steeled himself and patted the thing on what he hoped fervently was its back.

“Don’t you worry about it,” he said.

“That’s very kind of you.”

Rincewind looked across the shuddering heap at Eric.

“We’d better go,” he said. “So we’re not late for our appointment.”

He made frantic signals over the demon’s head.

Eric grinned. “Yeah, right, appointment,” he said. They walked up the wide passage. Eric started to giggle hysterically.

“This is where we run, right?” he said.

“This is where we walk,” said Rincewind. “Just walk. The important ting is to act nonchalant. The important thing is to get the timing right.”

He looked at Eric.

Eric looked at him.

Behind them, Urglefloggah made a kind of I’ve-just-worked-it-out noise.

“About now?” said Eric.

“About now I think would do it, yes.”

They ran.

Hell wasn’t what Rincewind had been led to expect, although there were signs of what it might once have been – a few clinkers in a corner, a bad scorch mark on the ceiling. It was hot, though, with the kind of heat that you get by boiling air inside an oven for years – Hell, it has been suggested, is other people.

This has always come as a bit of a surprise to many working demons, who had always thought hell was sticking sharp things into people and pushing them into lakes of blood and so on.

This is because demons, like most people, have failed to distinguish between the body and the soul. The fact was that, as droves of demon kings had noticed, there was a limit to what you could do to a soul with, e.g., red-hot tweezers, because even fairly evil and corrupt souls were bright enough to realise that since they didn’t have the concomitant body and nerve endings attached to them there was no real reason, other than force of habit, why they should suffer excruciating agony. So they didn’t. Demons went on doing it anyway, because numb and mindless stupidity is part of what being a demon is all about, but since no-one was suffering they didn’t enjoy it much either and the whole thing was pointless. Centuries and centuries of pointlessness.

Fausto Eric Mundodisco terry Pratchett PortadaAstfgl, [the current Demon King,] had adopted, without realising what he was doing, a radically new approach.

Demons can move interdimensionally, and so he’d found the basic ingredients for a very worthwhile lake of blood equivalent, as it were, for the soul. Learn from humans, he’d told the demon lords. Learn from humans. It’s amazing what you can learn from humans.

You take, for example, a certain type of hotel. It is probably an English version of an American hotel, but operated with that peculiarly English genius for taking something American and subtracting from it its one worthwhile aspect, so that you end up with slow fast food, West Country and Western music and, well, this hotel.

It’s early closing day. The bar is really just a pastel-pink paneled table with a silly bucket on it, set in one corner, and it won’t be open for hours yet. And then you add rain, and let the one channel available on the TV be, perhaps, Welsh Channel Four, showing its usual mobius Eisteddfod from Pant-y-gyrdl. And there is only one book in this hotel, left behind by a previous victim. It is one of those where the name of the author is on the front in raised gold letters much bigger than the tittle, and it probably has a rose and a bullet on there too.

Half the pages are missing.

And the only cinema in the town is showing something with subtitles and French umbrellas in it.

And then you stop time, but not experience, so that it seems as though the very fluff in the carpet is gradually rising up to fill the brain and your mouth starts to taste like an old denture.

And you make it last for ever and ever. That’s even longer than from now to opening time.

And then you distil it.

Of course the Discworld lacks a number of the items listed above, but boredom is universal and Astfgl had achieved in Hell a particularly high brand of boredom which is like the boredom you get which is a) costing you money, and b) is taking place while you should be having a nice time.

The caverns that opened before Rincewind were full of mist and tasteful room dividers. Now and again screams of ennui rose from between the pot plants, but mainly there was the terrible numbing silence of the human brain being reduced to cream cheese from the inside out.

Eric_Josh_Kirby pratchett book cover“I don’t understand,” said Eric, “Where are the furnaces? Where are the flames? Where,” he added, hopefully, “are the succubi?”

Rincewind peered at the nearest exhibit.

A disconsolate demon, whose badge proclaimed it to be Azaremoth, the Stench of Dog Breath, and moreover hoped the reader would have a nice day, was sitting on the edge of a shallow pit wherein lay a rock on which a man was chained and spreadeagled.

A very tired-looking bird was perched beside him. Rincewind thought that Eric’s [pet bird] had it bad, but this bird had definitely been through the mangle of Life. It looked as though it had been plucked first and then had its feathers stuck back on.

Curiosity overcame Rincewind’s usual cowardice.

“What’s going on?” he said. “What’s happening to him?”

The demon stopped kicking his heels on the edge of the pit. It didn’t occur to it to question Rincewind’s presence. It assumed that he wouldn’t be here unless he had a right to be. The alternative was unbelievable.

“I don’t know what he done,” it said, “but when I first come here his punishment was to be chained to that rock and every day an eagle would come down and peck his liver out. Bit of an old favourite, that one”

“It doesn’t look as though it’s attacking him now,” said Rincewind.

“Nah. That’s all changed. Now it flies down every day and tells him about its hernia operation. Now it’s effective, I’ll grant you,” said the demon sadly, “but it’s not what I’d call torture.”

Rincewind turned away, but not before catching a glimpse of the look of terminal agony on the victim’s face. It was terrible.

There was worse, however. In the next pit several chained and groaning people were being shown a series of paintings. A demon in front of them was reading from a script.

“- this is when we were in the Fifth Circle, only you can’t see where we stayed, it was just off to the left there, and this is that funny couple we met, you’d never believe it, they lived on the Icy Plains of Doom just next door to -“

Eric looked at Rincewind.

“It’s showing them pictures of itself on holiday?” he said.

They both shrugged and walked away, shaking their heads.

Then there was a small hill. At the bottom of the hill there was a round rock. Beside the rock sat a manacled man, his despairing head buried in his hands. A squat green demon stood beside him, almost buckling under the weight of an enormous book.

“I’ve heard of this one,” said Eric. “Man who went and defied the gods or something. Got to keep pushing that rock up the hill even though it rolls back all the time -“

The demon looked up.

“But first,” it trilled, “he must listen to the Unhealthy and Unsafety Regulations governing the lifting and moving of Large Objects.”

Volume 93 of the Commentaries, in fact. The Regulations themselves comprised a further 1,440 volumes. Part 1, that is.

terry pratchett discworldRincewind had always liked boredom, treasuring it if only because of its rarity value. It had always seemed to him that the only times in his life when he wasn’t being chased, imprisoned or hit were when he was being dropped from things, and while falling a long way always had a certain sameness about it, it did not really count as “boring”. The only time he could look back on with a certain amount of fondness was his brief spell as assistant Librarian at Unseen University, when there wasn’t much to do except read books, make sure the Librarian’s banana supply wasn’t interrupted and, rarely, help him with a particularly recalcitrant grimoire.

Now he realised what made boredom so attractive. It was the knowledge that worse things, dangerously exciting things, were going on just around the corner and that you were well out of them. For boredom to be enjoyable there had to be something to compare it with.

Whereas this was just boredom on top of more boredom, winding in on itself until it became a great crushing sledgehammer which paralysed all thought and experience and pounded eternity into something like flannel.

“This is dreadful,” he said.

The chained man raised a haggard face. “You’re telling me?” he said. “I used to like pushing the ball up the hill. You could stop for a chat, you could see what was going on, you could try various holds and everything. I was a bit of a tourist attraction, people used to point me out. I wouldn’t say it was fun, but it gave you a purpose in the afterlife.”

“And I used to help him,” said the demon, its voice raw with sullen indignation. “Give you a bit of a hand, sometimes, didn’t I? Pass on a bit of gossip and that. Sort of encourage him when it rolled back and that. I’d say things like `whoops, there goes the bleeder again,’ and he’d say `Bugger it`. We had some times, dint we? Great times.” It blew its nose.

Rincewind coughed.

“Sgetting too much,” said the demon. “We used to be happy in the old days. It wasn’t as if it used to hurt anyone much and, well, we was all in it together.”

“That’s it,” said the chained man. “You knew if you kept your nose clean you’d stand a chance of getting out one day. You know, once a week now I have to stop this for craft lessons?”

“That must be nice,” said Rincewind uncertainly.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “Basketwork?” he said.

“I been here eighteen millennia, demon and imp,” grumbled the demon. “I learned my trade, I did. Eighteen thousand bloody years behind the pitchfork, and now this. Reading a -“

A sonic boom echoed the length of Hell.

“Oi oi,” said the demon. “He’s back. He sounds angry, too. We’d better get our heads down.” And indeed, all over the circles of Hades, demons and damned were groaning in unison and getting back to their private hells.

terry pratchett discworld video gameThe chained man broke into a sweat.

“Look, Vizzimuth,” he said, “couldn’t we just sort of miss out one or two of paragraphs -“

“It’s my job,” said the demon wretchedly. “You know He checks up, it’s more than my job’s worth -” He broke off, gave Rincewind a sad grimace, and patted the sobbing figure with a gentle talon.

“Tell you what,” he said kindly, “I’ll skip some of the subclauses.”

Rincewind took Eric by an unresisting shoulder.

“We’d better get along,” he said quietly.

“This is really horrible,” said Eric, as they walked away. “It gives evil a bad name.”

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I’m a Blog-hobbit!

“Maybe there are more blog-hobbits around there parts! If we find enough, we could make a pie!” Tom said….

Well, that’s not exactly what Bilbo Baggins said when asked by the trolls what he was. But I thought, given the buzz surrounding the last Hobbit film, it might be a good time to highlight some of the Hobbit posts from the last three years.

Film Reviews

When the teaser trailer of the third film, The Battle of Five Armies, was released, I wrote “Faint Hope for The Hobbit.” Although it is clear in the trailers that this is a war and intrigue film, I still have some hope I will enjoy it next week. The huge comment section shows not everyone agrees.

My review of An Unexpected Journey captures the tug back and forth I feel about the films. I called it, “Not All Adventures Begin Well,” and it is a much more positive review than many of the hardcore Tolkien fans or academics. And it gives this cool dwarf picture:

What Have We Done?” These words are breathed in the dying moments of the second installation of The Hobbit adaptation, The Desolation of Smaug. In this review I think about what it means to do film adaptations. While I do not hate this Hobbit trilogy, I think that Peter Jackson just got lost a bit.

Book Reviews

There was no greater friend of The Hobbit in the early days than C.S. Lewis. In “The Unpayable Debt of Writing Friends,” I talk about how, if it wasn’t for Lewis, Tolkien may never have finished The Hobbit, and the entire Lord of the Rings legendarium would be in an Oxford archive somewhere. Lewis not only encouraged the book to completion, but reviewed The Hobbit a few times. Here is his review in The Times Literary Supplement.

Lewis is not the only significant reviewer of The Hobbit. When he was 8, my son Nicolas published his review, just as the first film was coming to the end of its run. When I was posting Nicolas’ review, I came across another young fellow–the son of Stanley Unwin, the first publisher to receive the remarkable manuscript of The Hobbit. Unsure how children would respond, he paid his son, Rayner, to write a response to the book. You can read about it here: “The Youngest Reviewers Get it Right, or The Hobbit in the Hands of Young Men.”

I realize as I do this survey that I haven’t written a review. That’s okay: C.S. Lewis and my son are better sources anyway.

The Read-Aloud Hobbit

One of my first digital exchanges was participating in The Hobbit Read Along–you can still see the great collection of posts online. As I was doing this shared project, I was reading The Hobbit to my 7 3/4-year-old son. It was a great experience, but I made the mistake of doing accents to distinguish characters early on in the book. That’s fine when you’ve got oafish trolls or prim little hobbits. But a baker’s dozen of dwarfs stretched my abilities! You can read about my reading aloud adventures here.

In reading aloud I was really struck by the theme of providence in The Hobbit. I’m sure others have talked about it, but “Accidental Riddles in the Invisible Dark (Chapter 5)” is a great example of that hand of guidance behind the scenes. I’ve written other Tolkien Ideas reflections, like “Let Folly Be Our Cloak: Power in the Lord of the Rings” or “Affirming Creation in LOTR,” but this idea of providence is the most powerful to me.

Hobbit and Art

I am fascinated by Tolkien’s own artwork. In some of the Tolkien letters we find out how his humble drawings came to be published with the children’s tale. I decided, though, that I wanted to explore it a little more, and so I wrote, “Drawing the Hobbit.”

There have been many other illustrators since–including Peter Jackson. One of my favourites was captered in this reblog, “Russian Medievalist Tolkien“–a gorgeous collection of Sergey Yuhimov’s interpretation of The Hobbit.

With the great new editions of unpublished Tolkien by his son, we also get to see some of Tolkien’s original art. I continue to be fascinated by this dragon drawing. What an evocation of the Würme in medieval literature!

Hobbitish Ideas

Tolkien’s work is rich with reflection on the world. I would encourage you to read Jubilare’s reblog of the Khazâd series. It’s just the first of a great series, but shows you a bit of the depth of Tolkien’s world behind the world. Just the other day I took that legendarium a little further. In reading up on the Wizards of Middle Earth–the Brown, the White, the Grey, and the two Blues–it struck me how relevant Radagast the Brown is to us today. Do you agree or disagree? I’d love your comments.

And Just For Fun….

Because I can, and because some things are entirely meaningless, I will leave you with a quiz: What Character in the Hobbit Are You? You will not be surprised that I am Thorin Oakenshield!

Enjoy!

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Is it Time for Radagast the Brown? (and a note on Middle Earth Wizards)

If you are anything like me, a lover of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth who has only slowly explored all the secrets behind The Lord of the Rings, you may have been surprised by Radagast the Brown. I knew he existed, but he explodes onto the screen in The Unexpected Journey–the first Hobbit film by Peter Jackson. Re-watching the first film with my son as we prepared to see the finale of the Trilogy, and I had to ask myself: Is it time, or time again, for Radagast the Brown?

Needless to say, Radagast is a little … distracted. One of Tolkien’s hand-scratched notes, which Christopher Tolkien includes in Unfinished Tales, says of Radagast, that:

“in becoming enamoured of the wild creatures of Middle-earth Radagast neglected the purpose for which he was sent.”

Tolkien’s legendarium is hard on Radagast. Though lovingly named, “tender of beasts,” and though he set about good work in principle, he becomes lost in his task of protector of the forest. While the film tries to redeem Radagast a bit, perhaps to add a little Hobbitish homeliness, Unfinished Tales says he “forsook Elves and Men” (see below).

Yet he still played his role in the Great War of the Ring. He set Gandalf on a path that would lead to his capture, but he also alerted the Eagles, who would be able to aid Gandalf. Radagast is one of those glorious Tolkien inventions that is neither perfectly good nor perfectly evil. Do we have space for this sort of character in our lives?

In our world today, there is always space for Gandalf. In the passage below from Unfinished Tales where we hear about the 5 Wizards, the Istari, Gandalf is called the late-comer. While the Blue Wizards disappeared on an errand, Saruman the White was lost to power, and Radagast the Brown disappeared into his world, Gandalf the Grey alone remained faithful. This faithfulness is not the only trait necessary for our age:

“Warm and eager was his spirit; … his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within.”

Brilliant. Gandalf is a decisive figure who understands good and evil, and lives in joy and friendship despite that shoulder-bending knowledge. We need Gandalf the Grey today.

But do we also need Radagast the Brown today?

I think we do, and I think this is one place that Peter Jackson did well in The Hobbit film.

We live in a time of environmental extremes. On one side, there is an aspect of the environmental movement that treats humans like invasive creatures–as if we were foreign to the rest of creation. On the other side there is a movement invested in resisting human concern for creation care. Either because it doesn’t understand how intimately we are knit into our environment, or because they are invested in conspiracy theory frameworks, this movement rejects Radagastism in all its forms.

But there is darkness creeping into the Woods of our World.

We are at a time when we are understanding more and more how synchronistically the Creator has made this world. All things are connected, and we have some reason to think that humans have failed in some ways in their task as the shepherds of all living things (if we read the Genesis tale aright). Of the three things that broke in humanity’s great fall from Eden–the God-human relationship, the human-human relationship, and the human-creation relationship–it is the latter one that we as a generation know better than any before.

Radagast shows us the value of living synchronous lifestyles, of creating life-melodies in the world that harmonize with that world. He shows us of animal care, because creatures have value. He is also a listener to the world around him, looking for clues of health and illness in the vast garden that he was sent to tend.

I think we can learn from Radagast the Brown.

True, I would avoid bird turd in my hair. And we cannot forget our greater tasks (whatever they may be). We must not neglect the reason we, like the Istari, were sent into the world. The reason the Wizards were sent is not much different than our own. And for those of us whose task is creation care (like Radagast), we must not forget the world around, the battles outside our little woods.

Unfinished Tales IV.2: The Istari

Now the White Messenger in later days became known Elves as Curunír, the Man of Craft, in the tongue of Northern Men Saruman; but that was after he returned from his many journeys and came into the realm of Gondor and there abode. Of the Blue little was known in the West, and they had no names save Ithryn Luin “the Blue Wizards;” for they passed into the East with Curunír, but they never returned, and whether they remained in the East, pursuing there the purposes for which they were sent; or perished; or as some hold were ensnared by Sauron and became his servants, is not now known. 3 But none of these chances were impossible to be; for, strange indeed though this may seem, the Istari, being clad in bodies of Middle-earth, might even as Men and Elves fall away from their purposes. and do evil, forgetting the good in the search for power to effect it.

A separate passage written in the margin no doubt belongs here:

For it is said indeed that being embodied the Istari had needs to learn much anew by slow experience, and though they knew whence they came the memory of the Blessed Realm was to them a vision from afar off, for which (so long as they remained true to their mission) they yearned exceedingly. Thus by enduring of free will the pangs of exile and the deceits of Sauron they might redress the evils of that time.

Indeed, of all the Istari, one only remained faithful, and he was the last-comer. For Radagast, the fourth, became enamoured of the many beasts and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook Elves and Men, and spent his days among the wild creatures. Thus he got his name (which is in the tongue of Numenor of old, and signifies, it is said, “tender of beasts”).

And Curunír ‘Lân, Saruman the White, fell from his high errand, and becoming proud and impatient and enamoured of power sought to have his own will by force, and to oust Sauron; but he was ensnared by that dark spirit, mightier than he.

But the last-comer was named among the Elves Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, for he dwelt in no place, and gathered to himself neither wealth nor followers, but ever went to and fro in the Westlands from Gondor to Angmar, and from Lindon to Lórien, befriending all folk in times of need. Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within.

 

3. In a letter written in 1958 my father said that he knew nothing clearly about “the other two,” since they were not concerned in the history oh the North-west of Middle-earth. “I think,” he wrote, “they went as emissaries to distant regions, East and South, far out of Numenorean range: missionaries to enemy-occupied lands, as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.”

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“I’d Rather be Damned than Go along With You!” The Big Man in The Great Divorce

the great divorce usReaders here will know that I’ve blogged about bullying before. C.S. Lewis himself struggled with the culture of bullying at the schools he went to. In this intriguing chapter of The Great Divorce, published 70 years ago today, Lewis explores the idea of entitlement from the perspective of a bully.

The character here, “The Big Man,” has already asserted his own rights, and smacked another character for speaking out of line. He is clearly a bully, as we see even more when we dive into the conversation he has with this assigned “Bright Person”–the resident of High Heaven assigned to help The Big Man learn to walk in that land. This Bright or Solid Person is named Len, a murderer of a man named Jack on earth, and now the guide to heaven.

Two things are impenetrably hard in this chapter: the grass, and The Big Man’s heart. The Big Man views the world around him in hard categories. People are unchangeable, sins are un-redeemable, and life is sliced into easy segments of “me” and “you.” Often we speak about heaven with the question of whether the violent will be allowed in. That’s an answered question for us already. The first invitee to heaven was a man whose life spurned into violence and ended in violence: the insurrectionist who died on a cross next to Jesus. The violent are certainly invited to heaven. 

based on Great Divorce LewisThe real question is whether they will want to stay.

Some might wonder if The Big Man’s perspective is like Milton’s Satan: “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” But I think it is more This isn’t about power; bullying is not always about power. The Big Man is so entrenched in himself that heaven has no relief for him. The freedom of the high country, the possibility of forgiveness for his earthly brutality, the release from his obsessive commitment to human accounting–none of these things are attractive to The Big Man.

For him, the self-abandonment of heaven is damnation itself.

The narrator listens in to the conversation as he is struggling, like all the other Ghosts, to walk on the impossibly hard grass. Feel free to listen in yourself.

cs lewis the great divorce awesome coverChapter 4
A grove of huge cedars to my right seemed attractive and I entered it. Walking proved difficult. The grass, hard as diamonds to my unsubstantial feet, made me feel as if I were walking on wrinkled rock, and I suffered pains like those of the mermaid in Hans Andersen. A bird ran across in front of me and I envied it. It belonged to that country and was as real as the grass. It could bend the stalks and spatter itself with the dew.

Almost at once I was followed by what I have called the Big Man–to speak more accurately, the Big Ghost. He in his turn was followed by one of the bright people. “Don’t you know me?” he shouted to the Ghost: and I found it impossible not to turn and attend.

The face of the solid spirit … made me want to dance, it was so jocund, so established in its youthfulness.

“Well, I’m damned,” said the Ghost. “I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s a fair knock-out. It isn’t right, Len, you know. What about poor Jack, eh? You look pretty pleased with yourself, but what I say is, What about poor Jack?”

“He is here,” said the other. “You will meet him soon, if you stay.”

“But you murdered him.”

“Of course I did. It is all right now.”

“All right, is it? All right for you, you mean. But what about the poor chap himself,
laying cold and dead?”

“But he isn’t. I have told you, you will meet him soon. He sent you his love.”

“What I’d like to understand,” said the Ghost, “is what you’re here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I’ve been walking the streets down there and living in a place like apigstye all these years.”

“That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is all over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it.”

“No need to bother about it? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

the great divorce cs lewis signature“No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what it did for me. And that was how everything began.”

“Personally,” said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, “personally, I’d have thought vou and I ought to be the other way round. That’s my personal opinion.”

“Very likely we soon shall be.” said the other. “If you’ll stop thinking about it.”

“Look at me, now,” said the Ghost, slapping its chest (but the slap made no noise). “I gone straight all my life. I don’t say I was a religious man and I don’t say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that’s the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn’t mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That’s the sort I was and I don’t care who knows it.”

“It would be much better not to go on about that now.”

“Who’s going on? I’m not arguing. I’m just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I’m asking for nothing but my rights. You may think you can put me down because you’re dressed up like that [in a fancy robe] (which you weren’t when you worked under me) and I’m only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?”

“Oh no. It’s not so bad as that. I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

“That’s just what I say. I haven’t got my rights. I always done my best and I never done nothing wrong. And what I don’t see is why I should be put below a bloody murderer like you.”

“Who knows whether you will be? Only be happy and come with me.”

“What do you keep on arguing for? I’m only telling you the sort of chap I am. I only want my rights. I’m not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity.”

“Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.”

“That may be very well for you, I daresay. If they choose to let in a bloody murderer all because he makes a poor mouth at the last moment, that’s their lookout. But I don’t see myself going in the same boat with you, see? Why should I? I don’t want charity. I’m a decent man and if I had my rights I’d have been here long ago and you can tell them I said so.”

great divorceThe other shook his head. “You can never do it like that,” he said. “Your feet will never grow hard enough to walk on our grass that way. You’d be tired out before we got to the mountains. And it isn’t exactly true, you know.” Mirth danced in his eyes as he said it.

“What isn’t true?” asked the Ghost sulkily.

“You weren’t a decent man and you didn’t do your best. We none of us were and we none of us did. Lord bless you, it doesn’t matter. There is no need to go into it all now.”

“You!” gasped the Ghost. “You have the face to tell me I wasn’t a decent chap?”

“Of course. Must I go into all that? I will tell you one thing to begin with. Murdering old Jack wasn’t the worst thing I did. That was the work of a moment and I was half mad when I did it. But I murdered you in my heart, deliberately, for years. I used to lie awake at nights thinking what I’d do to you if ever I got the chance. That is why I have been sent to you now: to ask your forgiveness and to be your servant as long as you need one, and longer if it pleases you. I was the worst. But all the men who worked under you felt the same. You made it hard for us, you know. And you made it hard for your wife too and for
your children.”

“You mind your own business, young man,” said the Ghost. “None of your lip, see? Because I’m not taking any impudence from you about my private affairs.”

“There are no private affairs,” said the other.

“And I’ll tell you another thing,” said the Ghost. “You can clear off, see? You’re not wanted. I may be only a poor man but I’m not making pals with a murderer, let alone taking lessons from him. Made it hard for you and your like, did I? If I had you back there I’d show you what work is.”

“Come and show me now,” said the other with laughter in his voice. “It will be joy going to the mountains, but there will be plenty of work.”

“You don’t suppose I’d go with you?”

“Don’t refuse. You will never get there alone. And I am the one who was sent to you.”

“So that’s the trick, is it?” shouted the Ghost, outwardly bitter, and yet I thought there was a kind of triumph in its voice. It had been entreated: it could make a refusal: and this seemed to it a kind of advantage. “I thought there’d be some damned nonsense. It’s all a clique, all a bloody clique. Tell them ‘m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to gosnivelling along on charity tied onto your apron-strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home.”

It was almost happy now that it could, in a sense, threaten. “That’s what I’ll do,” it repeated, “I’ll go home, I didn’t come here to be treated like a dog. I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do. Damn and blast the whole pack of you . . .”

In the end, still grumbling, but whimpering also a little as it picked its way over the sharp grasses, it made off.

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The Novelist as Listener, by Eugene Peterson

Over the past few years I have had the luxury of being a TA and Instructor in Regent College’s phenomenal distance education program. Long past the days of correspondence tapes in the mail, distance ed is now highly relational and about community engagement where digital forms bridge the geographical divide.

One of Regent’s emeritus professors is Eugene Peterson. Perhaps more famous for his translation of the Bible into the poetic, narrative style of The Message, I first came to Peterson in his intriguing and incisive reflection on Jonah, called Under the Unpredictable Plant. A life-changing book for me.

I began as a TA for Eugene Peterson’s distance ed courses a decade ago, and am now the Instructor for two of them: “Soulcraft” and “Jesus and Prayer.” My students in “Jesus and Prayer” are just finishing up their last week of lectures, so I am re-listening to Peterson’s recordings. During the question time, someone asked how fiction fits into the spiritual life. Though I have heard it before a few times, I was stopped in my tracks by Eugene Peterson’s off-the-cuff response. If more Christian writers understood this principle, we would have a culture of Christian art that is both deeper and more relevant. If artists listened to Eugene Peterson, the conversations about the lack of Christian novelists would disappear.

Eugene Peterson at Regent College:

Story is our most natural form of language. We do tell stories. The way we use language that reflects plot, name, identity, relationship—it’s the most relational use of language, so that everything in life gets into the story, or can get in. It’s a non-specialized form of speech. So when I’m talking about story I’m talking about a way both of listening and speaking which is relational and comprehensive.

Theologically, we use the trinity to discuss that, to kind of nail those things down. But story is the form.

So when I’m talking about story, I’m not just talking about making up stories or telling stories. I’m talking about listening for story. Basically, we are listening for the relationships, the things that are unsaid that are part of the story, the silences. We live in a society that is just relentlessly—relentlessly!—taking the story out, removing the story and leaving us with facts. With information. With slogans, with causes, programs. And this relational intimacy that language draws us into is then gone, and we are left with stuff to do, with stuff to think, but no story. So you have to understand that I’m using this word “story” in this way, I’m using it to pay attention to what’s going on. It’s always relational. There’s always a lot of hiddenness in a story, so you gotta use your imagination to get behind some of these things.…

What about novelists? Who do we listen to? Who do we read?

The novelist is the person who is listening for a story, not content to just tell us information but draws us into the relational life. A good novelist deepens our participation in reality, heightens our awareness for these unspoken, often relational, silences and hiddennesses that make up the texture of our lives.

I would urge you, if you are not a novel reader, start being one, so that you are trained in this imaginative way of dealing with language…. But make sure they are good. A bad novelist destroys relationship. You just end up with these little wooden stereotyped figures. There’s a lot of that writing going on today.

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