The Rings of Power: The Lord of the Rings New Prime Video Series Title Announcement

In the teaseriest of teasers–though one step beyond the single landscape image released last year that sent the digital world of Tolkien lovers scurrying into Reddit arguments or making “everything you need to know about” videos (above)–Amazon Prime has finally released the title of its new series with a one-minute teaser video.

It isn’t much, admittedly–an earnest voice evoking Galadriel of the Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy reading the Ring-verse.

We also have a full title: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power–forged in gold, no less, which would be a significant undertaking with so few goldsmiths available locally during COVID prevention measures.

And we have a date: September 2, 2022.

My heart and mind dance between two modes about this series. I love that there is, possibly, a way to live in Middle-earth in imaginative ways. I like that we may get a Second Age Middle-earth story. However, my “Faint Hope for the Hobbit” led to a declining sense that the bright and fun film before was anything more than a high-tech dream wagon (see here and here). Moreover, my confidence is not high that this studio, in this age, is able to create a rich experience for lovers of the literature. The Dune adaptation gives me hope of the possibility of a brilliant, world-evoking film series that extends, enhances, and fills out my reading experience.

Calligraphy by J.R.R. Tolkien, from Tolkien Gateway

I do like that there is, at least, a connection to the text in this title trailer, the “Ring-verse” from The Fellowship of the Ring:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

I like the text–and would have loved all of it.

Can it possibly be something that might “live on in the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien’s other classics” as show creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay hope (see the press release here)? We’ll have to see. They did, however, put the accent for Númenor in the right place (unlike the biggest LOTR fan ever, C.S. Lewis).

In any case, here is that title trailer–the #1 trending video on Youtube today. Below is the studio’s press release. I hope you enjoy this little bit of something.

Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness.

Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.

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2021: A Year of Reading: The Nerd Bit, with Charts

“… in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad 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.” 
~ C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

2021 was, I must admit, a very difficult year. I just never felt like I could get ahead of my work, with to-do lists and unfulfilled requests and unfinished tasks on every desktop–physical, digital, and mental. When it comes to reading, 2021–like 2019–was a tonic year, where reading was a salve for the soul, an attempt at recovery and quiet while still feeling the drive forward. I spent many summer hours by campfires and in living room chairs with a book in my lap. Unfortunately, I also spent many hours of nighttime mental roaming trying to cure summer insomnia with a story or biography. Though much of my 2021 reading was “work” in one way or other, there was a lot of rest there, a good deal of play, and some degree of distraction.  

I had a few goals for 2021:

  • This year, I had a goal of reading 132 books for the year, an average of 11 books/month–a stretch, but not impossible
  • This year, I was not that attentive to how long they were (I suspect they would average 310-320 pages/book)
  • Among book reading, I aimed for:
    • 2 C.S. Lewis or Lewis studies book/month
    • 1 L.M. Montgomery book/month as part of a chronological reading of Montgomery’s fiction and letters
    • 1 theological or devotional book each month
    • 1 Black writer or author of colour/month
    • 1 Shakespeare play/month
    • Always be reading a pre-20th-century “classic” (beyond Shakespeare)
    • Continue reading through the catalogues of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin
  • In this reading, I aimed for a 1:1 female:male ratio of authors–stretching myself beyond a 1:2 ratio that would much more naturally represent the kind of research and reading I do (a ratio I aimed for and hit in 2018 and 2019, and I came fairly close to 1:1 in 2020)
  • To do that, I was going to read through all of N.K. Jemisin’s books that I could get a hold of (this goal switched in the spring)
  • Read 75 articles, shorts stories, essays, or other short pieces
  • Listen to or watch 10 lectures series or classes

These goals for this year were really about:

  • reading for course prep in the Winter and Fall terms;
  • extending my reading of L.M. Montgomery‘s catalogue and secondary sources for a major research project, for a research grant, for my 2022 conference paper, and for my work as producer and host of the MaudCast;
  • reading a number of classical Western texts that I have never read or only read as a student;
  • increasing the voices of my reading–which is very invested in white male authors that I love (Lewis, Tolkien, Shakespeare, the classics, and authors like Stephen King) to include more women voices and BIPOC authors (BIPOC is what we use in Canada for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour); 
  • enjoying books by reading what I wanted to read.

So, how did I do?

I did well in 2021, reading 138 books (my spreadsheet shows 139) and hitting most of my goals (but not all). 

I can certainly see a pattern emerging, where a natural rhythm for me is not 154 books (as in 2019, my final PhD season), but 117-138 books per year. Indeed, the average is 128.4 books (whether tallied for the whole 7 years or leaving out high and low, 2019 and 2015, which is kind of cool, mathematically speaking). 

Reading-wise, I have come to discover that I am lazier than I would wish. I yearn for that dynamic, all-engrossing ability I had as a young adult to simply immerse myself in a book! Do you remember that time of your life? Part of my goal for 2022 is to look for bedtime readings that enthrall me.

I have discovered that I tend to use the book list and page number count to spur me on. In 2021, I was up a bit in terms of books (138) and sheer page numbers (43,285), though, I saw a tiny drop in the size of books, down to 313 pages/book (from 315 last year). That is still more books than I aimed at, and though I have read fewer short pieces, overall it is still a strong year.

2021 was a much more focussed and goal-oriented year than 2020–where I realize I was making it up as I went along. I feel like I met most of my individual goals for 2021, with a couple of grand exceptions and one great switch.

Between teaching schedules and research projects, my reading was seasonal in 2020, as it usually is based on these patterns: Winter/Spring teaching session, a May-June research-focused writing period, summer projects and reading, and fall teaching.

Winter and Early Spring

  • Reading and Teaching Reading: Following my Signum University “Vampires and Big Bad Wolves” course in Fall of 2020, in January I turned my reading focus to teaching “The Fantasy and Fiction of C.S. Lewis” at the King’s College (NYC)–along with my local Greek class, my local foundation-year course, and supervising thesis students. From C.S. Lewis’ catalogue, I read through the Ransom Cycle and Screwtape, The Great Divorce, Till We Have Faces, and the Four Loves broadcast.
  • Research and Theological Reading: In early winter, I was doing the final draft of my paper “Befriending the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Lived Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams” (published later in 2021, in November). In January, I read through a number of Montgomery books of the WWI period–for Anne’s House of Dreams is deeply invested in a WWI context–some Montgomery studies, and some theodicies–particularly Mark S.M. Scott’s Pathways in Theodicy and N.T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God.
  • Thinking Theologically and Literarily about Race: This reading worked well with the new edition of Miroslav Volf’s (for me) life-changing Exclusion & Embrace, Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, which I reread in June, and Toni Morrison’s powerful lecture series-née-book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (and also my first review of 2021).
  • SFF Reading: I also began a read-through of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that I finished in the summer–and paired with some Tolkien studies books and essays. Early winter included some leftovers from the previous year–continuing Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and finishing Harry Potter–and enjoying some fantasy and SciFi fun books (which was a big part of my year).
  • The Shakespeare Challenge: Of Shakespeare in this first season of the challenge, I read The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and The Taming of the Shrew.
  • Finding the Classics: Other classics include Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, The Brothers Grimm, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Jane Austen‘s Northanger Abbey, and James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough.
  • Other L.M. Montgomery Reading: I also read some of L.M. Montgomery’s work in the 1920s, with a focus on her poetry and letters–partly because I was being interviewed for a podcast on The Blue Castle

Late Spring and early Summer

Summer

  • The Year of Ursula K. Le Guin: My summer reading continued the Le Guin project, and I finished the Hainish Cycle in September.
  • C.S. Lewis Reading: It was a quiet Lewis summer, but I read the Marvel Comics adaptation of The Screwtape Letters–as well as the Watchmen graphic novel. I also read The Abolition of Man with Michael Ward’s helpful guide, After Humanity
  • The Shakespeare Challenge: For Shakespeare, I read King Lear and Twelfth Night, before losing Shakespeare in fall reading prep.
  • SFF Reading: And I read Frank Herbert’s Dune and most of Dune Messiah this summer–preparing for the film (which I loved). I also finished my 2021 LOTR reading.
  • Finding the Classics: I intensified my classics reading with Gilgamesh, the Iliad, Lysistrata, Plato’s Symposium, Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, Virgil, The Aeneid (including some of Lewis’ translations), Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as well as bits and pieces from the ancient Mediterranean world. Atwood’s adaptation of Homer was not the only one I read, but I read and blogged about Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles (see here and here).

Autumn and Early Winter

  • The Year of Ursula K. Le Guin: In the fall, I began teaching an Ursula K. Le Guin class at Signum, and so completed her Hainish Cycle, read her other science fiction novels (The Lathe of Heaven is brilliant), and then read through the entire Earthsea Cycle (including the short stories) and her YA trilogy, Annal of the Western Shore.
  • The Shakespeare Challenge: Finishing my Shakespearean year a little short, I read Richard II and Henry IV Part 1.
  • Finding the Classics: In terms of classic authors, I read Beowulf, The Inferno and Paradiso, The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and, unfortunately, Machiavelli.
  • L.M. Montgomery Reading: I read Montgomery’s Emily trilogy in September as part of my presentation and discussion in a roundtable on Emily of New Moon (which might be my favourite work of Montgomery’s). This fall, I also read a couple of Montgomery-inspired books, Melanie J. Fishbane’s novel Maud and Julie A. Sellers’ chapbook Kindred Verse (which closed my year on Goodreads). 

  • The Nightmare Alley Series: I finished the year reading William Lyndsay Gresham’s carny horror novel, Nightmare Alley in preparation for the “Nightmare Alley Series”–add read a number of short pieces connected to Gresham’s work.

The missed goals included my Shakespeare reading. I only managed to read 10 Shakespeare plays–plus one biography by Peter Ackroyd, as well as some individual lectures of interest. Really, it was my fall reading that threw me off, which connects to the second missed goal and the “great switch.” I intended to read N.K. Jemisin’s catalogue. However, I joined an Ursula K. Le Guin book club in the spring, and then taught the course in the fall. I ended up reading 22 Le Guin books (mostly novels)–including rereading two of them. My Jemisin reading was set aside–though I did read her 2021 Hugo-nominated The City We Became (and blogged about it here and here), and half the stories in How Long ‘Til Black Future Month. As a result, however, I missed reading one BIPOC author a month (I read 8 books by BIPOC authors, I believe). 

Besides teaching for reading and research–including reading Lewis (18 books, and 1 read twice) and Montgomery (17 books, and 1 read twice)–my other big reading challenge this year was a late idea. I read through all the Hugo nominees, including Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, The City We Became by N.K. JemisinHarrow The Ninth and its companion Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Network Effect by Martha Wells, The Relentless Moon and 2 other Lady Astronaut books by Mary Robinette Kowal, and Susanna Clarke’s beautiful and evocative Piranesi. This also encouraged me to read, for the first time, Clarke’s Regency-era fantasy, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. While I did not love every feature of these Hugo-nominated books, they are global-class writers–and Piranesi was such an astounding work of fiction that I am reading it for a second time, this time with a rich audio reading by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

In terms of other goals, I read 68 short pieces (rather than the goal of 75), and I fell short on my lecture series! That does not really worry me, frankly. I reach for that resource when I need it.

Throughout the year I had a few projects and some nice unintended consequences:

  • For only the second year, science fiction, speculative fiction, and fantasy are the largest category–and this time by a long shot. I blame Le Guin. 
  • Actually, this was a light year for C.S. Lewis reading in terms of Lewis studies, but fairly similar to the previous year. Intriguingly, I did not reread Narnia in 2021–though I am deep within Edmund’s nighttime forced march right now.  
  • Once again, I increased my reading of Montgomery’s books (supplemented by a number of studies).
  • Though I only did 10 of the 12 Shakespeare plays I intended, this is my biggest year ever for the “classics” category, with 16 non-Shakespeare books (and quite a few short pieces). 
  • Although I did read one theological or devotional book a month, I intended to be a bit more intentional about that than I was (half my theology reads are in other categories).
  • Other than Tolkien, it was a light Inklings year–and even then, I had wanted to do more of the Legendarium. I still have Barfield’s Poetic Diction at my elbow for a re-read. 
  • It clear wasn’t a self-help year! There is one book that fits that category, plus a Shakespeare biography, 2 literary studies, and 2 literary histories (all these being books that don’t fit in other categories). 

 

Here’s a pretty version of the same thing:

My final goal was to achieve a 1:2 ratio of women and men authors. This is tough to do when your primary author is male (C.S. Lewis), his primary partners are male (Tolkien and the Inklings), and my field has been largely male (theology). As I was extending more deeply into Montgomery studies, and reading through the catalogues of Ursula K. Le Guin, N.K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Marilynne Robinson, J.K. Rowling, Flannery O’Connor, and Anne Rice, I was confident I would surpass that ratio this year. Indeed, I set a goal of gender parity. And I met that goal … and then in the last month I tilted much further toward women writers. In 2021, I flipped my female:male ratio, so this year 53% of the books I read had women authors, and 47% had male authors. Including my reading as a whole, it was 52% women to 48% men. 

 

There are limits to how effective tracking of reading by gender (or other categories) can be, but it is a helpful reminder for me. In 2021, I intentionally set a goal and I achieved it.

The Goodreads app is kind of limited, though you can check out my 2021 infographic. They have a thousand possibilities for creating infographics including gender, language, geography, genre, and popularity, yet they choose not to give us that power. So, in my limited way, this year I also tracked books by era. As I have upped my classic reading, you can see that reflected in my analysis. , with some mixed results. Last year, almost 3/4 of my book reading was from titles since WWII–despite studying figures that were active in the “modernist” period. This year, that has dropped to 62%. Intriguingly, my reading falls into 4 fairly neat batches:

  • 28% of my reading is before WWI
  • 17% of books I read were published in the WWI to WWII period (the second 30-years war)
  • 30% of my book reading is of titles published after WWII and before the end of the century
  • And about the same proportion of 21st-century volumes (32%)

Comparing my 2021 and 2020 charts shows a much more even distribution. 

What does 2022 look like? 

Next year, I am setting my reading goal for 132 books, once again. It is a difficult level to reach and feels right to me. I am in the midst of a number of small books right now, so perhaps the average word length will drop from 315 in 2020 and 313 in 2021 down to about 310 pages/book. For my book-reading goals, it is sort of an echo of 2021:

  • 2 C.S. Lewis or Lewis studies book/month (I am teaching two C.S. Lewis courses this winter, including a new Narnia course on leadership, communication, and culture)
  • 1 L.M. Montgomery book/month as part of a quasi-chronological reading of Montgomery’s novels, poetry, nonfiction, short stories, and letters
  • 1 theological or devotional book each month (which can include work in other categories)
  • 1 BIPOC author/month (from any category)
  • 1 Shakespeare play/month, including finishing the History Cycle (2 series of 4 plays); I’m also teaching The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth
  • Always be reading a pre-20th-century “classic” (beyond Shakespeare)–especially in this winter season
  • Read through all of N.K. Jemisin’s books that I can get a hold of
  • I am tempted to keep reading through Octavia Butler’s work, who I missed in 2021
  • Continue reading through J.R.R. Tolkien, including The Fall of Sauron (which I didn’t finish last year) and a couple of other Middle-earth collections
  • Finish the major parts of the Ursula K. Le Guin, including Lavinia and Language of the Night (and I may read some of the realistic fiction, which I don’t know well)
  • I believe that I will reread the Hugo-nominated novels this year … I just don’t know if I can blog about them again
  • I also intend to keep up with the Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Scholarship shortlisted books

I am not certain if I will achieve a 1:1 female:male ratio of authors. Now that I have met and exceeded that goal, I feel comfortable with how I am finding books. I am reaching for comfort books this coming year–especially for nighttime reading, catching up on a couple of graphic novels, and being open to more contemporary Canadian literature. Two of those three categories are more male-dominated. A lot of 2022 will depend on my choice of a major research project to begin July 1st, which will no doubt tilt the year. I also have no idea what I am teaching this coming fall. I will still aim for a rough parity of authors–which is really what happened in 2020 and 2021.

I also have the goal to read 72 articles, shorts stories, essays, or other short pieces (down from 75) and listen to or watch 6 lectures series or classes (down from 10).

Until next year, check out my brand new “discoveries” section in the 2021 infographic write-up. And here is my old-fashioned reading excel sheet list. I wish I was infographically-inclined, but I do like lists! Thanks to all of you novelists, poets, critics, bloggers, historians, reviewers, and editorialists who fill my year with great reading!

January
1 Jan 01 Anne Rice, The Tale of the Body Thief (1992) 
2 Jan 02 Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)
3 Jan 04 Selections from Rachel Dodge, The Anne of Green Gables Devotional (2019)
4 Jan 11 Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two (2020)
5 Jan 12 L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island (1915)
6 Jan 15 L.M. Montgomery, personal notes from “Fiction Writers on Fiction Writing: Advice, Opinions and a Statement of Their Own Working Methodsby More Than One Hundred Authors” (1923)
7 Jan 15 Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611)
8 Jan 18 L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams (1917)
9 Jan 18 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
10 Jan 18 L.M. Montgomery, “Green Gables Letters” to Mr. Weber (1905-09)
11 Jan 21 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (2006)
12 Jan 25 Melanie J. Fishbane, “’My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt’: Writing as Therapy in Rilla of Ingleside andThe Blythes Are Quoted” (2015)
13 Jan 25 Mark S.M. Scott, Pathways in Theodicy: An Introduction to the Problem of Evil (2015)
14 Jan 27 L.M. Montgomery, The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career (1917)
15 Jan 28 Jennifer H. Litster, “The Scotsman, the Scribe, and the Spyglass: Going Back with L.M. Montgomery to Prince Edward Island” (2018)
16 Jan 28 Carole Gerson, “L.M. Montgomery and the Conflictedness of a Woman Writer” (2008)
17 Jan 28 Jennifer H. Litster, selections from The Scottish Context of L.M. Montgomery (2000)
18 Jan 31 Selections from Perry Bacon Jr., Nate Silver, Éric Grenier, Nathaniel Rakich, Geoffrey Skelley, Laura Bronner, Julia Wolfe, Maggie Koerth, Stewart Goetz, Christopher A. Snyder, Maya Angelou, Paul F. Ford, Hildi Froese Tiessen & Paul Gerard Tiessen, Meredith Conroy, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Anna Wiederkehr, Alexander Panetta, Mark S. M. Scott, Maggie Koerth and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux
 
February
19 Feb 01 Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (1596)
20 Feb 01 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)
21 Feb 03 Margaret Steffler, “’Being a Christian’ and a Presbyterian
in Leaskdale” (2015)
22 Feb 03 Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World (1666)
23 Feb 08 Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (2010)
24 Feb 11 The Brothers Grimm, Household Tales (1812)
25 Feb 13 C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves broadcast (1958)
26 Feb 14 Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
27 Feb 19 Tony Dekker, “Planet Narnia: A Book Review” (2010)
28 Feb 19 L.M. Montgomery, Mary Henley Rubio, Elizabeth Waterston, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume III: 1921-1929 (1921-29; 1988; 2014)
29 Feb 23 Shakespeare, Hamlet (1599-1601)
31 Feb 27 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (1944-45)
32 Feb 28 Selections from Perry Bacon, Jr., Geoffrey Skelley, Jenny Litster, Julia Azari, Josh Hermsmeyer, Deirdra Dawson, Jane Chance, Tom Holland, Ralph Wood, Alison Millbank, Stephen Yandell, Christopher Garbowski, Amy Amendt-Raduege, Rita Bode, Dani Inkpen, Jess Zimmerman, Elizabeth Iwunwa, Subby Szterszky, C. Christopher Smith,  
 
March
33 Mar 03 Jane Chance, Tolkien, Self and Other: “This Queer Creature”  (2016)
34 Mar 04 Joe Ricke, “The Archangel Fragment: Identifying and  Interpreting C. S. Lewis’s ‘Cryptic Note’” (2020)
35 Mar 09 Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
36 Mar 11 C.S. Lewis, Dymer (1922-6)
37 Mar 11 L.M. Montgomery, Among the Shadows (1992)
38 Mar 15 L.M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle (1926)
39 Mar 18 Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography (2005)
40 Mar 20 L.M. Montgomery, Benjamin Lefebvre (ed.), A World of Songs: Selected Poems, 1894-1921 (2019)
41 Mar 23 C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (1937)
42 Mar 25 Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew (1593)
43 Mar 26 L.M. Montgomery, The Watchman & Other Poems (1916)
44 Mar 26 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
45 Mar 27 Meik Wiking et al., The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well (2016)
46 Mar 31 Selections from C.S. Lewis, Perry Bacon Jr., Mary Beth Cavert, Devin Brown, David Downing, Diana Glyer, George Puttenham, Phyllis Tickle, Zoë McLaren, Bonnie Tulloch, Laura Schmidt, Nate Silver, Robert C. Stroud, Katelyn Knox, Karen Kelsky, Carly Cantor, Neil Lewis Jr., Tim & Ann Evans, Bobby Ross, Jr., Scot McKnight, Geoffrey Skelley,
 
April
47 Apr 01 C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (1942-43)
48 Apr 03 C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, and Other Pieces (1941-59; 1965)
49 Apr 06 Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)
50 Apr 09 C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1943)
51 Apr 11 Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber (2000)
52 Apr 19 Matt Haig, The Midnight Library (2020)
53 Apr 21 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, revised and updated, plus “Gender” chapter from 1st edition (1996; 2019)
54 Apr 23 Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
55 Apr 25 James George Frazer, The Golden Bough (1922)
56 Apr 27 Jim Stockton and Benjamin J.B. Lipscomb, “The Anscombe-Lewis Debate: New Archival Sources Considered” (2021), w. new material from Elizabeth Anscombe and Ludwig Wittgenstein
57 Apr 27 C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1954)
58 Apr 30 Jennifer Cognard-Black, “Lip Service” (2008)
59 Apr 30 Selections from John Stackhouse, Jr., Jennifer Neyhart, Suzanne Bray, Bruce R. Johnson, James P. Helfers, Gale Watkins, Joel Heck, Stephen Beard, Crystal Hurd, Sarah Waters, Nathaniel Rakich, Perry Bacon, Jr., Steve Mollmann, Dale Nelson, Brian Melton, Devin Brown, Sandra Richter, Kris Swank, David Bratman, Melody Green
 
May
60 May 03 Sandra L. Richter, Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says about the Environment and Why It Matters (2020
61 May 06 C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964, 1930s-50s Lectures)
62 May 11 C.S. Lewis, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” (1959)
63 May 13 Ursula K. Le Guin, “Inventing a Universe is a Complicated Business” (2016)
64 May 14 Alan C. Duncan, with Joanna Duncan and Rupert Stutchbury, Gilbert & Jack: What C.S. Lewis Found Reading G.K. Chesterton (2020)
65 May 16 Ursula K. Le Guin, Rocannon’s World (1966)
66 May 18 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (1954)
67 May 19 John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (2005)
68 May 20 C.S. Lewis and E.M.W. Tillyard, The Personal Heresy (1933-39)
69 May 21 Heather Walton, selections from Writing Methods in Theological Reflection (2014)
70 May 22 Stephen King, The Institute (2019)
71 May 24 Heather Walton, “Introduction” to Literature, Theology and Feminism (2014)
72 May 24 Ursula K. Le Guin, Planet of Exile (1966)
73 May 25 L.M. Montgomery and Rea Wilmshurst, Along the Shore: Tales by the Sea (1897-1935; 1989)
74 May 26 C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (1960-61)
75 May 28 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (1960-61)
76 May 28 C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (1939-1963; 1967)
77 May 30 Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996)
78 May 31 Selections by L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Russell Perkin, Northrop Frye, Heather Walton, M.D. Aeschliman, Éric Grenier, Dan Hamilton, Gabriel Connor Salter, Steve Hayes, Priscilla Tolkien, Michael J. Gorman, Sam Joeckel, Dawn Llewellyn, Elaine Graham, Pete Ward, Lauren Umstead, Mineko Honda, James P. Helfers, Jerry Root, Verlyn Flieger, Walter Hooper,  David J. Leigh, Gi!bert Meilaender, Jeff Wright, Dan DeWitt, Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull
 
June
79 Jun 01 L.M. Montgomery; John Ferns and Kevin McCabe, eds., Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery (1893-1933; 1987)
80 Jun 02 Michael J. Gorman, “Reading Paul Missionally” (2017)
81 Jun 03 Ursula K. Le Guin, City of Illusions (1967)
82 Jun 04 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (1940-1963; 1971)
83 Jun 07 L.M. Montgomery, Rainbow Valley (1919)
84 Jun 07 Don King, “Introduction to The Quest of Bleheris” (Sehnsucht, 2020)
85 Jun 07 Norbert Feinendegen, selections his philosophical work on C.S. Lewis (2021)
86 Jun 08 Katharine Sas and Curtis Weyant, “’Ever-Defeated Never Altogether Subdued’: Fighting the Long Defeat in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Whedon’s Angel” (2020)
87 Jun 08 Shakespeare, As You Like It (1599)
88 Jun 08 Tom Shippey, “Fighting the Long Defeat: Philology in Tolkien’s Life and Fiction” (2002)
89 Jun 08 Robert Morrison, The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern (2019)
90 Jun 08 C.S. Lewis, The Quest of Bleheris, with notes by Don King (1916; 2020)
91 Jun 09 C.S. Lewis, Spirits in Bondage, with an introduction by Gordon Greenhill (1919; 2017)
92 Jun 13 L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside (1921)
93 Jun 14 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
94 Jun 14 Shakespeare, Othello (1603)
95 Jun 16 Edward Said, “Introduction to the Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition of Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach” (1996)
96 Jun 16 Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Stanley Lombardo, introduction by Sheila Murnaghan (8th c. BCE: 2000)
97 Jun 17 Erich Auerbach, “Odysseus’ Scar” ch. 1 of Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1930s-40s)
98 Jun 17 Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad (2005)
99 Jun 23 Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games (2020)
100 Jun 28 Jennifer Cognard-Black, Becoming a Great Essayist (2016)
101 Jun 30 Jerry Root, David Downing, C.S. Lewis, Miho Nonaka, Jeffry C. Davis, Mark Lewis, Splendour in the Dark: C.S. Lewis’s Dymer in His Life and Work (1922-26; 2020)
102 Jun 30 Clyde S. Kilby, “Preface” to The Screwtape Letters (1940-42; 1982)
103 Jun 30 Selections by L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Letitia Henville, Louis Markos, S.L. Jensen, Julianne Johnson, Jacob E. Meyer, Rachel M. Roller, J.D. Wunderly, Maya Maley, Daniel Z. Hsieh, Evangeline M. Prior, Marco Giugni, Mary M. Balkun and Susan C. Imbarrato, Jessica Eise, Pat Thomson, Peter Webster, Janet Salmons, T.S. Eliot, Karise Gililland, Dale Nelson 
July
104 Jul 01 L.M. Montgomery, The Golden Road (1913)
105 Jul 02 Ursula K. Le Guin, “Winter’s King” (1969)
106 Jul 04 C.S. Lewis, Charles Hall (Adapter), Pat Redding (Illustrator), John Kalisz (Illustrator), The Screwtape Letters: Christian Classic Series, Marvel Comics (1941; 1994)
107 Jul 05 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World Is Forest (1972)
108 Jul 08 Crystal Hurd, “An Imaginative Tale from the Father of C.S. Lewis” (2020)
109 Jul 08 Selections from L.M. Montgomery’s journals, poetry, and novels (1898-1923)
110 Jul 12 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1987; 2014; 2020)
111 Jul 12 Madeline Miller, Song of Achilles (2011)
112 Jul 13 Maximilian Hart, “The Other Word: Truth and Lies in Le Guin’s Old Speech” (2021)
113 Jul 15 L.M. Montgomery, Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1904-14; 1920)
114 Jul 19 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974)
115 Jul 20 Shakespeare, King Lear (1605)
116 Jul 24 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1964-75)
117 Jul 26 Anonymous, Gilgamesh: A New English Version (18th c. BCE; 2013) 
118 Jul 26 Anonymous, “The Great Hymn to the Aten” and “Enuma Elish” (c. 1350 BCE and 18th c. BCE) 
119 Jul 26 Maximilian Hart, “Draconic Diction: Truth and Lies in
Le Guin’s Old Speech” (2021)
120 Jul 28 Louise Bernice Halfe, Sky Dancer, Bear Bones and Feathers (1994)
121 Jul 28 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1943)
122 Jul 30 Ursula K. Le Guin, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994)
123 Jul 31 Selections from C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Hélène Cixous, Monika Hilder, Melanie Fishbane, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen King, Daniel P. Jaeckle, Charlotte Spivack, Umberto Eco, Elizabeth Epperly, Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, Harold Bloom, Rebecca Rosenblum, William B. Yeats, Paul Huebener
 
August
124 Aug 01 Anonymous, “C.S. Lewis: Don vs. Devil” (1947)
125 Aug 01 Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE)
126 Aug 02 Ian Brown, “Virtual churches, real prayers: How COVID-19 is changing the holy seasons” (2021)
127 Aug 05 Aristophanes, Lysistrata, translated by Jack Lindsay, Sarah Ruden, Alex Struik, et al. (411 BCE)
128 Aug 06 Plato, Symposium, translated by Tom Griffith, some notes by Jane O’Grady, Tom Griffith (385-370 BCE)
129 Aug 06 Hesiod, selections from Theogony and Work and Days (c. 700 BCE)
130 Aug 06 L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon (1923)
131 Aug 09 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (1601)
132 Aug 10 J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King (1955)
133 Aug 11 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1943)
134 Aug 14 Michael Ward, After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man (2021)
135 Aug 17 Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, translated by Rolfe Humphries (mid-1st c. BCE)
136 Aug 17 Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)
137 Aug 18 Albert J. Lewis, “The Story of a Half Sovereign,” with notes by Crystal Hurd (1890; 2020)
138 Aug 20 Ursula K. Le Guin, Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995)
139 Aug 24 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (2002)
140 Aug 29 Selections from Sørina Higgins’ modernist study (2021)
141 Aug 30 Virgil, The Aeneid (trans. Fagles; 29-19 BCE)
142 Aug 31 Selections from C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Monika Hilder, Elizabeth Epperly, Jennifer H. Litster, Benjamin Lefebvre, Elizabeth Waterston, A. Wylie Mahon, Dale Nelson, G. Connor Salter, Daniel Whyte IV
 
September
143 Sep 01 Ovid, Metamorphoses, with an introduction and translation by David Raeburn (8 CE)
144 Sep 01 Lord Dunsany, ” A Dreamer’s Tale: Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean” (1910)
145 Sep 01 Ursula K. Le Guin, “A Citizen of Mondath” (1973)
146 Sep 01 Ursula K. Le Guin, “World-Making” (1981)
147 Sep 01 Ursula K. Le Guin, “Imaginary Countries” (1976)
148 Sep 07 Anne Rice, Memnoch the Devil (1995)
149 Sep 08 Ray Bradbury, “The Naming of Names, or Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed” (1949)
150 Sep 08 Cordwainer Smith,  “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” (1961)
151 Sep 09 Anonymous, Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney (8th-11th c. CE) 
152 Sep 09 Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (3rd ed., 1982; 2007)
153 Sep 13 Ursula K. Le Guin, “Semley’s Necklace” (1964) 
154 Sep 13 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Telling (2000)
155 Sep 19 L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon (1923)
156 Sep 21 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World Is Forest (1972)
157 Sep 22 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
158 Sep 23 L.M. Montgomery, Emily Climbs (1925)
159 Sep 25 L.M. Montgomery, Emily’s Quest (1927)
160 Sep 27 Ursula K. Le Guin, “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” (1971)
161 Sep 28 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
162 Sep 29 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974)
163 Sep 30 Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah (1969)
164 Sep 30 Selections from C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Ursula K. Le Guin, Steve Hayes, Daniel Whyte IV, Jason Smith, Meredith B. McGuire, Anne S. Brown and David D. Hall, Mary McCartin Wearn, Mary Rubio, Catherine Reid, Elizabeth Epperly, Benjamin Lefebvre, Irene Gammel, David D. Hall, Jennifer H. Litster, Andrea McKenzie, Vernon Ramesar, Sam Reimer & Rick Hiemstra, Jane Urquhart, Stephen Winter, Carl McColman, Tom Hillman, David Russell Mosley, Ted Lewis, Samuel Gerald Collins, Andrew Marvell, Charlie W. Starr, Steve Hayes, Yvonne Aburrow, William O’Flaherty, Tyler Huckabee
 
October
165 Oct 01 Various, Medieval Reading Pack (Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Chaucer, Langland, “Dream of the Rood”, Anselm, etc., 11th-14th c.)
166 Oct 05 Dante, Hell, trans. Robert Pinsky, foreword by John Freccero, notes by Nicole Pinsky (1308-1320; 1996)
167 Oct 06 Philip K. Dick, “Exhibit Piece” (1954)
168 Oct 06 C.S. Lewis, “Dante’s Similes” (1940)
169 Oct 06 C.S. Lewis, “Imagery in the Last Eleven Cantos of Dante’s Comedy” (1948)
170 Oct 06 Dante, The Divine Comedy 3: Paradise, translation, notes, and introduction by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds (1220; 1962)
171 Oct 11 Martha Wells, Network Effect (2020)
172 Oct 12 Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
173 Oct 13 Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Word of Unbinding” (1964) 
174 Oct 13 Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Rule of Names” (1964)
175 Oct 16 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, trans. Burton Raffel; intro. John Miles Foley (1387-1400; 2008)
176 Oct 18 Mary Robinette Kowal, The Calculating Stars (2018)
177 Oct 19 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
178 Oct 26 Mary Robinette Kowal, The Fated Sky (2018)
179 Oct 27 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore (1972)
180 Oct 29 Jonathon Lookadoo, “A Preview of the Inklings? A Note on the Early Correspondence of C.S. Lewis and Arthur Greeves” (2018)
181 Oct 29 Janet Brennan Croft, “The Purest Response of Fantastika to the World Storm,” Introduction to Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War (2015)
182 Oct 31 Selections from C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Joy Davidman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Walter Hooper, Mark S.M. Scott, Jennifer Rogers, Oronzo Cilli, Benjamin Lefebvre, Jane Goodall, Daniel Whyte IV, Katelyn Knox, Jonathan Poletti, Victoria S. Allen, MariJean Wegert, Michael Travers, Jane Hipolito, Colin Manlove, David C. Downing, John Haigh, Joel Heck, James W. Menzies, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Daniel Sutton, Rachel McLay & Howard Ramos, Mary Rubio, William B. Bynum, Elizabeth Millie Joy, Julie M. Dugger, Andrew Cuneo, Don W. King, Stephen Logan, Andrew Krostrom, Brian Melton, Courtney Ellis
 
November
183 Nov 01 Ursula K. Le Guin, Tehanu (1990)
184 Nov 02 Ursula K. Le Guin, “Children, Women, Men, and Dragons” (1992)
185 Nov 03 John M. Bowers, Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer (2019)
186 Nov 04 Mary Robinette Kowal, The Relentless Moon (2020)
187 Nov 07 Ursula K. Le Guin, Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore 1, 2004) 
188 Nov 09 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind (2001)
189 Nov 10 Ursula K. Le Guin, “Firelight” (2018)
190 Nov 10 Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Daughter of Odren” (2014)
191 Nov 10 Ursula K. Le Guin, Tales from Earthsea (2001)
192 Nov 12 Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices (Annals of the Western Shore 2, 2006) 
193 Nov 17 Ursula K. Le Guin, Powers (Annals of the Western Shore 3, 2007) 
194 Nov 18 Mark Williams Roche, Selections from Why Choose the Liberal Arts? (2010)
195 Nov 21 Melanie J. Fishbane, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery (2017)
196 Nov 22 The Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (trans. Simon Armitage; late 15th c.; 2007)
197 Nov 23 Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973)
198 Nov 24 Kris Swank, “Ursula K. Le Guin: World-builder” (with a lecture by Robert Steed, Signum University, 2021)
199 Nov 24 Rebecca Roanhorse, Black Sun (2020)
200 Nov 30 Selections from C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Ursula K. Le Guin, Chaucer, Jonathan McGee, Christopher Benson, Juan Siliezar, Fairouz Gaballa, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Mary Rubio, Elizabeth Bishop
 
December
201 Dec 01 N.K. Jemisin, The City We Became (2020)
202 Dec 04 Tamsyn Muir, Gideon The Ninth (2019)
203 Dec 11 Tamsyn Muir, Harrow The Ninth (2020)
204 Dec 14 Susanna Clarke, Piranesi (2020)
205 Dec 14 Shakespeare, Richard II (1595)
206 Dec 16 Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. W.K. Marriott (1532)
207 Dec 26 Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1 (1596-97)
208 Dec 28 Julie A. Sellers, Kindred Verse: Poems Inspired by Anne of Green Gables (2021)
209 Dec 31 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1940-42)
210 Dec 31 William Lyndsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley (1946)
211 Dec 31 Selections from C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Deutsch, Robert Browning, James Smoker, Andrea MacKenzie, Benjamin Lefebvre, Malcolm Guite, G. Connor Salter, John Stanifer, Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, David Llewellyn Dodds, Joy Davidman, Abigail Santamaria, Don W. King, Alan M. Wald, William Lindsay Gresham, Liz Rosenberg

 

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“Stuff We Liked in 2021” by the Rabbit Room (Friday Feature)

I have mentioned before that I am a fan of the good folks at The Rabbit Room, including songwriter and storytelling brothers Andrew and Pete Peterson. Last fall they Hutchmoot: Homebound online, a digital conference of thoughtful speakers, sesssions, and resources for and by Christian artists and writers. Last years Hutchmoot included talks and performances by Diana Glyer, Malcolm Guite, and a number of other folks I love or admire, like The Gray Havens, JJ Heller, Jerry Root, and Sho Baraka. Two years ago, the Hutchmoot keynote speaker was Steve Taylor, and it was kind of brilliant.

Conceived “as an experiment in creative community” inspired by Andrew Peterson’s first visit to the Kilns, C.S. Lewis’ home in Oxford, the Rabbit Room emerged to encourage Christian artistry. The Rabbit Room was the name of the back room of the Eagle and the Child, the pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and the other Oxford Inklings shared their work, challenging and encouraging one another. Inspired by the possibilities for a contemporary movement, Peterson’s Rabbit Room developed with this mission in mind:

“The Rabbit Room cultivates and curates stories, music, and art to nourish Christ-centered communities for the life of the world.”

Besides Hutchmoot and other events, the Rabbit Room website is filled with resources, including articles and essays, reviews, talks, and the Rabbit Room podcast network. There is also an entire members section and a store that includes their own press. John Stanifer noted in his piece for the Nightmare Alley Series that after C.S. Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman, died from cancer, her previous husband, Bill Gresham, took a trip to England to visit with his sons and to meet Lewis. While at the Kilns, Gresham asked permission to make an audio recording of Lewis. Lewis read aloud from Chapter 3 of Perelandra, Chapter 13 of That Hideous Strength, and the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. The Rabbit Room recently made that recording available to the public, and the proceeds are being donated to the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton.

I have not yet gotten to a live in-person Rabbit Room event, but I have had the pleasure of being referenced by Andrew Peterson in his Hutchmoot talk, “The Delightful Shiver“–and the second part with Lanier Invester is lovely too.

https://omny.fm/shows/the-hutchmoot-podcast/the-delightful-shiver-part-1-of-2/embed?style=cover

In a radically understated blog post title, “Stuff We Liked in 2021,” the Rabbit Room team share their book, film, TV, and music discoveries of the last year. I just thought it was a great, long, chatty piece with all kinds of potentially great things to discovery–from The Princess Bride by William Goldman to My Octopus Teacher to Madeleine L’Engle inspired polyphonic choral music. There are nods here to Frank Herbert, Dorothy L. Sayers, Austin M. Farrer, Loren Wilkinson, The War On Drugs, Brandi Carlile, Robert Farrar Capon, Steve Guthrie, Hannah Hubin, Olivia Rodrigo, Jon Foreman, The Killers, Bruce Hornsby, Needtobreathe, Andrew Osenga, Dallas Willard, Pedro the Lion, James K. A. Smith, Lana del Rey, Marilynne Robinson, Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine, Taylor Swift, The Beatles, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, numerous references to Spiderman: No Way Home, and space for that crazy and beautiful adaptation of The Green Knight. And I suspect any Rabbit Room artist conversation couldn’t miss Wendell Berry.

You can find the full write-up here. Perhaps there is something here to add to your 2022 literary and artistic discoveries.

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L.M. Montgomery’s After Many Years, and Thoughts on Reading Montgomery’s Short Stories

As L.M. Montgomery was a consummate storyteller, it is lovely when we get the occasional pleasure of a new L.M. Montgomery story collection.

We must admit to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to access to Montgomery’s short stories. Her 500 or so published stories are not in some archive in manuscript form, simply waiting to be published. Montgomery’s work is scattered among dozens of magazines and periodicals over a period of 50 years. Thus, our short-story richness has come with the time and commitment of hard-working Montgomery readers and editors over the past generation.

Of Montgomery’s work in her lifetime, we have Chronicles of Avonlea (1912), followed by the illicit Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920)–initially published without Montgomery’s permission and the subject of a legal drama. Finally, we now have The Blythes Are Quoted, edited by Benjamin Lefebvre in 2009, which is the complete version of the 1974 Road to Yesterday collection.

Through the late ’80s into the ’90s, Rea Wilmshurst carefully provided us 8 thematic collections that follow a similar editorial design as The Doctor’s Sweetheart and Other Stories (1979), edited by Catherine McLay.

Here is a list of Rea Wilmshurst’s collections:

  • Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans (1988)
  • Along the Shore: Tales by the Sea (1989)
  • Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side (1990)
  • After Many Days: Tales of Time Passed (1991)
  • Against the Odds: Tales of Achievement (1993)
  • At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales (1994)
  • Across the Miles: Tales of Correspondence (1995)
  • Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories (1995)

Hidden behind these lovely volumes are hundreds of hours of detective work, discovery, transcription, editorial revision, administrative tasks, correspondence, and collection–work carried on by Rea Wilmshurst and many invisible hands. In 1986, Ruth Weber Russell, D.W. Russell, and Rea Wilmshurst published Lucy Maud Montgomery: A Preliminary Bibliography–which is hard to find but available in research libraries. Carrying on the attention to detail of Rea Wilmshurst and others, Carolyn Strom Collins has compiled and edited materials for eager readers, both published in 2016 by the L.M. Montgomery Institute:

  • An Annotated Bibliography of L.M. Montgomery’s Stories and Poems (which specifically extends Wilmshurst’s 1986 bibliography)
  • A Guide to L.M. Montgomery’s Story and Poem Scrapbooks 1890–1940: Stories and Poems Published in Periodicals and Preserved by L.M. Montgomery in Twelve Scrapbooks

With all of this good work of story collecting, editing and anthologizing–including individual pieces published in places like Fr. Bolger’s The Years Before Anne (1974, reprinted in 1991), there are still fewer than 200 stories in print.

It is always a treat, then, when we hear about a new collection. Ben Lefebvre’s LMMIOnline web resource notes that a 9th volume of 17 stories selected by Rea Wilmshurst will appear in May 2022, Around the Hearth: Tales of Home and Family, edited by Joanne Lebold. In their years of commitment, Carolyn Strom Collins and the late Christy Woster have each found dozens of Montgomery stories that might have been lost, or they have succeeded in finding the original publications of those stories later published in anthologies.

In 2017, they also edited and published a new Montgomery story collection, After Many Years: Twenty-one “Long-Lost” StoriesAfter Many Years is an anthology of rediscovered short stories by L.M. Montgomery–21 pieces originally published in periodicals between 1900 and 1939 that Collins and Woster came across in their research. The volume has a preface and notes by Collins and Woster, as well as a foreword by Kate Macdonald Butler, one of Montgomery’s grandchildern. After Many Years is published by Nimbus and available in paperback, as a Kindle e-book, and in an audiobook reading by Elva Mai Hoover.

As you might expect of Montgomery in this mode, the stories are full of charm and grace. In the warp and weft of something like fate or providence, families shatter, hearts break, and lovely things are lost. But in that same movement of the weaver’s tale, there is space for discovery, healing, and life-after-brokenness. Children are faced with terrible decisions that, in the moment, are so intimate and life-changing that the characters almost lose themselves in the choosing. Lovers have a chance to find their way back to lost loves–or the chance to turn with bitterness toward the future. Neighbours chase and peck and quarrel, but there is every opportunity for neighbourliness to return in the end. Cats inspire adventure and lead the way home. Ghosts shake the root of injustice while fair houses haunt the lonely and mirrors speak more than the truth. More than one good soul dies too young, and more than one old soul lives long enough to laugh at themselves.

For at the heart of Montgomery’s best humour-laden short story-telling is the truth that folly waits at the edge of every one of our stories.

Since Montgomery’s copyright has expired on much of her work–though it still continues in the US for another 15 years or so for many pieces–the stories have been collected into chronological bundles and released as inexpensive Kindle books and read on Librivox–at least up to 1922 (check out Librivox’s volunteer-read Montgomery story collections here).

However, without the work of Carolyn Strom Collins and Christy Woster–as well as other editors that work with them and came before them–these stories would be lost to us.

In a note of sadness, After Many Years book is dedicated to the memory of co-editor Christy Woster, who died in April 2016 as the book was moving toward print. One of my favourite collections of Montgomery’s short stories to date, After Many Years is a fitting tribute to the work of these longsuffering literary detectives and Christy Woster’s memory.

Besides the treasures, the bibliographies, and this collection of stories, Carolyn Strom Collins is also the editor of Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript–a never-before-published version of the original text of Montgomery’s most famous manuscript. This recent publication of the Anne of Green Gables manuscript provides readers with a rare chance to peek in on Montgomery’s creative process, allowing us to see the author’s scribbled notes, additions and deletions, and other editorial details and marginalia.

I have read Anne of Green Gables in my old Seal paperback, and I have listened to the story read by professional and amateur audio readers. Each time the book becomes brighter and better for me. However, reading this original manuscript edition resulted in my most fruitful and fun summer reading of Anne yet. With restrained and professional editorial comments, critical notes, and photocopies of Montgomery’s handwriting, Carolyn Strom Collins has done a superb job editing this version, providing us insight into Montgomery’s writing process and allowing us a way to read this classic text anew.

As host and founding producer of the MaudCast, I was privileged to sit down with Carolyn Strom Collins for an interview about her work. In the episode (which you can find here or on Spotify), we discuss Carolyn’s editorial work and we focus in on her work in the archive and her final manuscript publication. I hope you enjoy this resource–as well as the wealth of resources for reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s short stories.

*if anyone locally needs a copy of Fr. Bolger’s The Years Before Anne, I have an extra that I would part with

View all my Goodreads reviews

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Inkling Folk Fellowship Conversation about Nightmare Alley (Free Online Event Friday, Jan 7, 2022 at 4pm Eastern) (Nightmare Alley Series)

At A Pilgrim in Narnia, we are in the midst of the “Nightmare Alley Series,” inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s new film starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, and Toni Colette. Moving back from visually stunning film to William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 psychological thriller, Nightmare Alley–and its first film adaptation in 1947, which del Toro follows closely–we are hoping to provide some background to Gresham’s connections. Notably, Bill Gresham’s wife at the time he wrote the novel was Joy Davidman, who began a friendship a few years later with C.S. Lewis that grew into deep intimacy.

Curious as we are at A Pilgrim in Narnia, this has developed into a playful series with these posts thus far:

I am still trying to pull my own thoughts together on the novel and films for a review of some kind, but it will have to wait until next week. Fortunately, later today (at 4pm Eastern, free event signup here) we are holding a special Zoom event at Inkling Folk Fellowship (hosted by Joe Ricke), where John, Connor, and I will join our friends there for a video discussion. Here is the event announcement, and I hope to see you there!

The close of 2021 saw the release of Guillermo del Toro’s critically acclaimed new film, Nightmare Alley, starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, and Toni Colette.
An acknowledged master of dark fantasy, del Toro won Academy Awards previously for Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017).

Of particular interest to Inkling aficionados and scholars is the fact that the film is an adaptation of the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham. Yes, that Bill Gresham. The first husband of Joy Davidman, the enigmatic poet and prose writer who found her way into an unlikely and tender late-in-life marriage with C.S. Lewis. After Joy’s death, Gresham once visited his two sons and Lewis at the Kilns. Previously, Gresham had written a fascinating introduction for the American publication of Charles Williams‘s novel, The Greater Trumps.

Following the recent “Nightmare Alley Series” on A Pilgrim in Narnia, Brenton Dickieson will join the Inkling Folk Fellowship and host Joe Ricke this Friday, January 7, for a conversation with two students of and writers about popular culture (especially film and fantasy), John Stanifer and Connor Salter. Both John and Connor are IFF regulars, and both are steeped in Inkling lore and scholarship. The conversation will range from Gresham’s original novel to recent and classic film adaptations to the complicated relationship between Bill Gresham, Joy Davidman, and C.S. Lewis.

Brenton Dickieson is a frequent contributor to IFF, as well as being THE Pilgrim who produces the monumental achievement that is A Pilgrim in Narnia. Join us and we will make sure you know how to read more about that.

Alright then, join the Inkling Folk Fellowship (via Zoom) this Friday, January 7, at 4 p.m. EST, 3 p.m. CST, 9 p.m. Oxford and Belfast time, 6 a.m. Japan time.

Invite your friends, especially those who might usually be more interested in del Toro or Tarot Cards or Cate Blanchett than C. S. Lewis. We figure that the Lewis people know how to find us, but others might need your help. If you are a member of the Inkling Folk Fellowship email list, you will receive the Zoom information in an email. If not, please message us here requesting the link.

Bios:
Brenton Dickieson is a Canadian researcher in literature and theology. He teaches at Signum University, among other places, and curates the blog www.aPilgrimInNarnia.com.

Connor Salter is an American journalist, writer, and editor with hundreds of articles to his credit, including literary critical research on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Connor gave an Inkling Folk Fellowship presentation on the Inklings and English Gothic Horror films in October 2021.

John Stanifer is a librarian and English tutor by day and a crime-fighting vigilante by night. An avid fan conference attendee, John holds an M.A. in English from Morehead State University and has published a book on faith and pop culture, Virtuous Worlds: The Video Gamer’s Guide to Spiritual Truth (2011).

This event marks the second time that Connor and John have co-presented: In 2018, they spoke about H.P. Lovecraft and the Inklings in a “Lewis Tea” event (the forerunner of the Inkling Folk Fellowship) hosted by Joe Ricke at Taylor University’s Lewis Center.

Brenton edited pieces by Connor and John for the “Nightmare Series” on A Pilgrim in Narnia. Among other things he does, he works diligently to feature and promote the next generation of Inkling scholarship and Inkling-inspired artists.

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Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham, book review by G. Connor Salter (Nightmare Alley Series)

At A Pilgrim in Narnia, we are in the midst of the “Nightmare Alley Series,” inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s new star-filled feature film. This film is an adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley–and follows closely the first film adaptatiod Inspired by the cultural moment, we are hoping to provide some background to Gresham’s connections. Especially, Bill Gresham‘s wife at the time he wrote the novel, Joy Davidman, began a relationship a few years later with C.S. Lewis that changed all their lives. As we prepare for a conversation at 4pm this afternoon on Inkling Folk Fellowship (details here), you may be interested in G. Connor Salter’s book review from Power Book Review, originally published on Dec 7, 2021.

Power Book Review

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Perfect for classic crime noir fans, and for readers seeking a well-developed psychological thriller.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The author creates an almost cinematic style with strong images, tight plotting and careful pacing the suspense elements.


Published December 7, 2021 by New York Review of Books

Edition: Movie tie-in edition

Originally published in 1946.

ISBN: 978-1681376103

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime

🔪🔪One death by poisoning, a violent fight at the climax, various scenes of psychological suspense.
💋💋💋💋Various sexual references in dialogue, and three to five brief sex scenes (all of which move the plot forward). None of the sex scenes include much detail, but one has quasi-violent undertones.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩A Trigger Warning: this book has references to alcoholism, sex with masochistic dialogue.


Stan Carlisle isn’t planning to spend the rest of his life as a low-level carnival lackey. He’s got plans, and a taste for stage…

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“The Fine Lines Between Mind Reader and Geek”: Thoughts on Nightmare Alley, Film Noir, and the American Dream by Mark Osteen (Nightmare Alley Series)

At A Pilgrim in Narnia, we are in the midst of the “Nightmare Alley Series,” inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s new film starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, and Toni Colette. Moving back from the star-filled screen to William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley, and its first film adaptation in 1947, we are hoping to provide some background to Gresham’s connections: his wife at the time he wrote the novel, Joy Davidman, and her relationship a few years later with C.S. Lewis. A playful series, we have been looking at these sorts of things:

As we prepare for our conversation on Inkling Folk Fellowship tomorrow night, I thought I would share some pieces on the 1947 film adaptation of Nightmare Alley from Mark Osteen’s 2014 academic study, Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream (Johns Hopkins University Press). Osteen’s essay is part of a larger project to situate film noir social, cultural, and political realities of the United States in the wake of World War II. Osteen will argue that “film noir remains a useful term with which to designate a peculiarly interrogative, deeply moral, visually adventurous and politically aware sensibility that characterized American cinema between 1944 and 1959” (28). To set up what is an argument about the cultural prophetic criticism of film noir, he uses the 1947 film Nightmare Alley to show the deep conflict that exists in how the American Dream was imagined. Nightmare Alley challenges the “dreams” and promises of American identity, upward mobility, and economic or social success.

I have selected from Osteen’s introduction where he discusses Nightmare Alley in some detail. The film and culture essay contains spoilers for readers and film-watchers, and thus makes a good reading for those who will not get to the films or novel before we discuss it (though the 1947 film is free online, linked at the bottom). The essay also works in conversation with John Stanifer’s review, Connor Salter’s essay, Nick Tosches’ thoughts on the novel, and Bill Gresham’s personal story. I have made some paragraph adjustments to the text, and the footnotes (which are all Osteen’s own thoughts) make some contrasts between the 1947 film and Gresham’s original novel.

“The Fine Lines Between Mind Reader and Geek”: Thoughts on Nightmare Alley, Film Noir, and the American Dream by Mark Osteen

“Is a guy born that way?”

Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power), the protagonist of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley, asks this question about the geek, an abject figure on the lowest rung of the carnival hierarchy, whose chief task is to bite off the heads of chickens.[i] One of the darkest films in the noir canon, Nightmare Alley traces Carlisle’s rise from carny assistant to slick mentalist performing in chic hotels, followed by a fall into destitution, which ends as Stan, now a groveling alcoholic, is hired as a carnival geek. The answer to his question is ambiguous: Stan’s cynicism, arrogance, and greed motivate the bad choices he makes, as does his relationship with the scheming psychologist Lilith Ritter. Yet the film’s circular structure and motif of tarot cards imply that Stan was indeed “born that way”—that he always has been a geek.

Carlisle’s quest for fame is a quintessentially American tale that depicts the pursuit of happiness through individual striving, but it is an anti–Horatio Alger fable of the perils of ambition, a warning that transforming the self may also empty it of meaning. More broadly, the geek figure offers an opportunity to assess critically the American ideals of self-creation, individualism, free choice, and upward mobility. Though the geek’s pursuit of happiness is drastically attenuated—he will do anything for a drink—it nonetheless resembles those of many film noir protagonists, obsessed with a desirable goal or object—a falcon sculpture, a seductive woman, a big score—or fleeing, like Stan, from a traumatic event. Indeed, Stan Carlisle’s life evokes questions that have troubled Americans since before the nation even existed: what is the relation between personal history and present character? Is it possible to escape from one’s past? Is identity inborn or a set of masks or performances? Nightmare Alley provides one answer to the question that lies at the heart of this book: what does film noir tell us about the American Dream?

In his study of that overused but little-understood phrase, Jim Cullen lists four dreams: those of upward mobility, equality, home ownership, and the West as a symbol of undying hope, best epitomized by Hollywood (8–9). I would add to his tally the ideals of free enterprise and personal liberty. Beneath each of these values lies an enduring faith in what the Declaration of Independence calls “the pursuit of happiness,” a phrase that, Cullen proposes, “defines the American Dream, treating happiness as a concrete and realizable objective” (38). Underpinning even that goal is the ideology of individualism—the belief that personal effort enables one to determine one’s own destiny and character; throw off the fetters of history; overcome class, gender, and racial barriers; and gain wealth and prestige. The crime films made in Hollywood between 1944 and 1959 challenge these beliefs by portraying characters whose defeat or death seems fated; by dramatizing the obstacles to class mobility and racial or gender equality; by asking whether anyone—whether detective, war veteran, or homeless woman—can truly reinvent him- or herself; by questioning whether new consumer products and technologies such as fast cars really liberate us; and by raising a skeptical eyebrow at the midcentury faith in psychoanalysis and the therapeutic ethos that supports it.

Stan Carlisle’s question has been answered in two conflicting ways throughout American cultural history. One answer, perhaps best represented by Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, portrays identity as an endless process of entrepreneurial invention. Thus young Ben leaves his childhood home in Boston to make his way to Philadelphia where, in part 2, he deliberately sculpts a new self through the sedulous application of reason and industry (see 79–86). For the rest of his life he constantly remakes himself: first a printer and publisher, he becomes at different periods a musician, an inventor, a scientist, an ambassador, a military leader, and a legislator. Franklin also inserts into his life story a letter from a friend, Benjamin Vaughan, who writes that Franklin proves “how little necessary all origin is to happiness, virtue, or greatness” (72). In this archetypal American success story, one’s past is irrelevant to one’s present and future: an American can be anything he or she wishes, so long as he or she maintains resilience and curiosity. Franklin’s story is the Protestant conversion narrative—a narrative of being born again—shorn of supernatural trappings. Whatever a Franklinesque American becomes, he or she is never merely “born that way.”

Set against this model of infinite reinvention is the philosophy presented by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his influential essay “Self-Reliance.” For Emerson, a person cannot reinvent him- or herself; instead, one must discover and refine his or her true nature by looking within. Emerson holds that

“a man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages” (29).

The self must be free of fetters—on this Franklin and Emerson agree—but unlike Franklin, Emerson argues that “no man can violate his nature” (35). Self-reliance thus presumes the existence of an authentic self to be relied upon. That “aboriginal Self” cannot be escaped, for it underlies “every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present” (38, 41). Nor does mobility make a difference. Emerson writes,

“I pack my trunk, … embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from” (48)….

But self-reliance requires an aversion to conformity; it is individualist through and through. Despite their differences, then, and putting aside the nuances overlooked in this admittedly simplified distillation of the two figures’ philosophies, it is clear that the Franklinesque and Emersonian models of identity share a foundational belief in individual choice. And this agency, according to Cullen, is the “bedrock premise” that “lies at the very core of the American Dream” (10). Without self-determination there can be no dream.

But this premise also creates a problem: how to create a cohesive community composed of self-interested individuals. Cullen finds in the Puritans a balance between individualism and community that “straddles … the tension between one and many” (32); this is a balance that few noir protagonists achieve. Instead, in pursuing happiness they find themselves alienated, cast out, defeated; worse, their end seems fated, as if they have played only a minor role in engineering their own lives. As Ken Hillis comments, noir protagonists come to recognize “the difficulty—if not impossibility—of achieving modernity’s implicitly cosmopolitan promise that an individual, by dint of hard work, education, and reason, can develop a politically robust subjectivity” (4). To put it another way, film noir often paints the pursuit of happiness as a chimera and shows self-creation constrained by forces beyond individuals’ control.

If, as John Orr proposes, the noir protagonist initially believes that “America is the dreamland of opportunity, where all possibilities can be considered,” his or her story ends with an awakening into a chastening reality (160). The obstacles aren’t merely character flaws; they are features of society. Thus, as Hillis notes, when noir protagonists do reach the top, they discover that life there is “as rotten as it is at the bottom” (7). In short, social mobility is seldom possible in noir and irrelevant when it does occur. Considering these patterns, John Belton suggests that noir registers a “postwar crisis of national identity” related to the “dissolution of the myth of Jeffersonian democracy” (qtd. in Chopra-Gant 152). Noir, that is, posits an inversion of equality whereby almost everyone is equally trapped. Made during a period marked by social and political upheaval, films noir test and critique both the principles of the American Dream—individualism and self-determination, liberty, equality, upward mobility, capitalist enterprise—and their practice….

Among the many forces that converged to create the phenomenon we call noir [which Osteen outlines in his book] were 1930s gangster films. Movies such as Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface are fables of American entrepreneurship camouflaged as exposés or action thrillers. As Jack Shadoian notes, the 1930s gangster is “a paradigm of the American dream”: an immigrant who, by ruthless force of will and relentless energy, rises to the top of his “industry” but is eventually punished for the very qualities that have fueled his elevation (3). Shadoian astutely observes that gangster films expose a fundamental contradiction in the American psyche:

“It’s fine to get ahead, but it’s wrong to get ahead. It’s good to be an individual, but then you’re set apart from others.” Such films, he continues, are often “disguised parables of social mobility as a punishable deviation from one’s assigned place” (6).

In them the Franklinesque and the Emersonian visions of identity collide head-on….

Fredric Jameson has analyzed a condition he calls “seriality”: a sense that

“the uniqueness of my own experience is undermined by a secret statistical quality. Somehow I feel I am no longer central, that I am merely doing just what everybody else is doing.”

Yet “everybody else feels exactly the same way” (76; emphasis in original).

Hence, while the burgeoning consumer economy offered fungible goods as the means to happiness, it also induced further fragmentation, because those satisfactions remained private and required constant renewal. Noir diagnoses this fragmentation, demonstrating the fraudulence and ineffectuality of the therapeutic ethos as a remedy for anxiety and alienation. The pursuit of wealth, like the pursuit of mental health, is portrayed as a means of exploiting the disenfranchised or dissatisfied, of gulling the naive or impulsive with fantasies of achievement or perfection. The therapeutic ethos, as it links psychiatry to consumerism, ties both practices to American ideals of self-reinvention, class mobility, free enterprise, and the pursuit of happiness. These beliefs and associations are all displayed in Nightmare Alley, where Carlisle’s enactment of the dream of upward mobility fuses what Cullen calls “earthly goals and heavenly means” (97).

Though Stan admits to the carnival’s owner that he is fascinated by the geek (“you’re not the only one,” the owner replies; “why do you think we’ve got him in the show?”), he doesn’t understand how anyone can “get so low.” Yet he loves the carnival life—the sense that carnies are “in the know” and audiences are “on the outside looking in.” “I was made for it,” he crows to Zeena (Joan Blondell), the star of a mind-reading act. The carnival worker indeed exemplifies the mobile self: one day freakish or superhuman—geek, strong man, or “electric girl” (the role played by Molly [Coleen Gray], Stan’s soon-to-be lover)—the next day, or the next hour, a fire-eater, mentalist, or retail clerk. Never part of the masses, the carny exploits them, gives them what they want, then moves on to the next town.

Yet, as Tony Williams points out, many carnies are “one step away” from “poverty and destitution” (“Naturalist” 133). In other words, these traveling entertainers are always, in some sense, geeks. And so, Nightmare Alley implies, are their audiences, hungry for the shows’ packaged intensity to light a spark in their drab lives. Simultaneously titillated, disdainful, awestruck, and credulous, the crowds see in the carnies what they both wish and fear to be. Thus, as Zeena performs—answering questions written on cards that she never reads—the camera sits amid the crowd, shooting upward at her and Stan, who seem larger than life. But when we go backstage, we learn that Zeena’s telepathy is a trick: the cards are given to her husband, Pete (Ian Keith), who sits below the stage and feeds her their contents as she gazes into her crystal ball.

If Stan feels contempt for his audiences, Zeena resembles them: she, too, believes in cards—tarot cards. She and Stan scheme to dump Pete and start a romance and a new act using a code system (a set of verbal clues to the contents of the cards), but when the tarot predicts failure (the death card is found face down on the floor), Zeena backs out: “I can’t go against the cards.” Stan scoffs at her belief in “boob-catchers,” but he is not immune from the allure of the inexplicable. That night Pete, now a beaten alcoholic, nostalgically recalls when he was “big-time,” launches into his old act, and gives a “psychic” reading of Stan’s early life.

“I see … a boy running barefoot through the hills. … A dog is with him.”

“Yes,” Stan responds.

“His name was Gyp.” Pete breaks the spell: “stock reading. … Every boy has a dog!”

The shadowy mise-en-scène encourages us to recognize the fine lines between mind reader and geek, duper and duped.

Stan, who had earlier bought a bottle of moonshine, takes pity on the old trouper and gives it to him. But when Pete is found dead the next morning, having drunk a bottle of wood alcohol that Zeena uses in her act, Stan blames himself for giving Pete the wrong bottle, and this (possibly unconsciously deliberate) mistake, along with the geek’s howls, haunts him for the rest of the film.

Pete’s death opens the door for Stan to become Zeena’s assistant, but his big break comes when a sheriff tries to close down the carnival. Exuding a sincerity spiced with folksy references to his “Scotch blood” and blending biblical quotations and platitudes (many taken directly from William Lindsay Gresham’s searing source novel: 596–99), Stan senses that the sheriff feels unappreciated and exploits his religious beliefs to save the show.[ii] In the novel Zeena remarks, “Not much different, being a fortuneteller and a preacher”—or an alcoholic: later in the novel, Stan exults,

“They drink promises. They drink hope. And I’ve got it to hand them” (556, 599).

In the film Stan recalls learning to fake religiosity in reform school.[iii] He seems to have no religious feeling himself. But he wishes he could believe in something to help him conquer the feelings of meaninglessness and helplessness that trouble him—the recognition that humans merely stumble “down a dark alley toward their deaths” (579)—and that motivate the recurring dream of enclosure alluded to in the title (587).

In both versions Stan’s success prompts him to leave the carnival and, with Molly, begin a new, classier act as The Great Stanton, a nightclub “mentalist.” At one show a woman sends him a card asking if her mother will recover; Stan discerns that her mother is actually dead, then exchanges gazes with the woman—Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker)—to acknowledge their kinship.

And indeed, Lilith, a “consulting psychologist,” performs a function similar to Stan’s, delving into her patients’ darkest fears, doling out reassurance or advice, but most of all making them feel important. In their early scenes together Stan and Lilith are presented as two of a kind, placed at the same level of the frame in matched singles or two-shots. The power differential begins to change, however, after a visit from Zeena brings back Stan’s memories of Pete’s death; tortured by guilt and haunted by the geek’s howls, he goes to Lilith for advice. In earlier scenes Lilith had worn masculine suits and hats, a composite figure combining the parents Stan lost.[iv] In this scene, however, she wears her hair down, dons a flowing robe, and, like a forgiving mother, reassures Stan of his normality by telling him he is “selfish and ruthless when you want something; generous and kind when you’ve got it,” just like everyone else (Williams, “Naturalist” 135–36). He feels guilty, she says, only because he profited from Pete’s death. Because of her advice, Stan pledges to proceed into the “spook racket,” holding séances in which bereaved survivors contact their deceased loved ones. This is his ticket to the big time: “I was made for it,” he declares.

Through Lilith and a wealthy client, Mrs. Peabody, Stan meets Ezra Grindle, a rich industrialist who carries a burden of regret over the death of Dorrie, a girl he loved and lost. Lilith and Stan engineer a swindle whereby Stan will receive $150,000 to “recall” Dorrie and permit Grindle to speak to her again. To do so, however, Stan must persuade the reluctant Molly to perform as the dead girl.[v] Although Stan exhorts her to help him save Grindle’s soul, Molly demurs: mentalist acts are one thing, but this is “goin’ against God.” They might be struck dead for blasphemy! Stan assures her that his séances are “just another angle of show business.” When Molly threatens to walk out, he resorts to his final ploy: phony sincerity. Admitting that he’s a hustler but professing undying love for her, he persuades her to play Dorrie, complete with turn-of-the-century garb and parasol, in a scene staged for Grindle.[vi] But the trick fails when Molly, moved by Grindle’s pleas, breaks the illusion: “I can’t, not even for you!” she cries, then flees (in the novel Grindle tries to grope Molly). Exposed as a “dirty sacrilegious thief,” Stan—or at least his plan—is ruined.

No matter: he already has the 150 grand, which he retrieves from Lilith, who has been holding it for him. But Lilith turns out to be a bigger con artist than he, having replaced the roll of high denominations with one-dollar bills. When Stan tries to get the money back, she retreats into her psychologist persona and insists that he suffers from delusions. “You must regard it all as a nightmare,” she informs him. Having learned from her research that Pete’s death was “self-administered,” she coldly tells Stan that his guilt is merely a “homicidal hallucination” and that he has made a “strange transference” to her. Just in case he doesn’t get the picture, she also reminds him that she has recorded his sessions and can, if necessary, implicate him in fraud.

Confused and desperate, Stan sends Molly away: along with his money he has lost the only person who loves him; perhaps worse, he has lost the swagger that enabled his success.

His fall is as precipitous as his rise: he begins drinking heavily, moving from one seedy, dark hotel room to another, hearing the geek’s howls wherever he goes.[vii] Before long he has become a hobo giving stock readings to other derelicts in exchange for a slug of cheap liquor. Echoing Pete’s earlier words, he scoffs at his credulous listeners:

“Every boy has a beautiful old, gray-haired mother. Everybody except maybe me.”

At last he seeks work as a carnival palm reader but is told that they don’t hire boozers. On second thought, there may be a job for him—a temporary one, just until they can get “a real geek.” Stan accepts the gig:

“Mister, I was made for it.”

This is where the novel ends, but the film adds a semiredemptive epilogue (probably the work of producer Darryl F. Zanuck) in which Stan—shot amid deep shadows on the barred carnival set—goes berserk, then rushes into the arms of Molly, who happens to work in the same carnival. The film gestures toward the salvation narrative that the novel deliberately eschews. We are even given a moral, as one man, echoing Stan’s question at the film’s opening, asks

“How can a guy get so low?”

Answer:

“He reached too high.”

This pat wrap-up does little to soften the disturbing tale we have witnessed and warns audiences that pursuing the American Dream may lead one down a nightmare alley.

But Stan’s fault isn’t that he reaches too high; it is that he doesn’t believe in his own greatness. Like many a performer, he is actually solitary and fearful, and the alienation that permits him to rise above the masses eventually pulls him down. He wants to feel superior to others yet dreads being different, thus exemplifying the gangster’s paradox that Shadoian outlines. Indeed, the film suggests that Stan lives out his destiny, that he has always been and always will be a geek. His “geekness” lies partly in the willingness, shared by many noir protagonists, to do anything to get what he wants. Unfortunately, however, Stan doesn’t know what he wants—or, rather, he wants conflicting things: both admiration and pity.

We do as well: watching him, we at once relish our moral superiority and identify with him, suspecting that we, too, are secretly geeks.

Carlisle is just one of the film’s objects of criticism, as it places him among gullible audiences who line up to be cheated and wealthy citizens duped by the elaborate con games called religion and psychoanalysis. Pursuing happiness through amusements or therapy, these citizens hope to fashion new identities out of consumer purchases, but their commodified selves are as bogus as the ghosts in his séances.

Yet Carlisle’s fate forcibly exposes the underside of the American Dream of upward mobility, singular achievement and fungible identity: his mobility isn’t freedom; it is merely restless appetite.

Nor does he ever have a home—the carnival being the antithesis of home—and his constant changes only bring him back where he started, to the no-place of the geek.

This nonidentity, a subhuman persona that lacks even a name, is the accursed share of the pursuit of happiness. Nightmare Alley suggests, then, that Carlisle’s decisions only push him to a destiny already ordained. His commodified identity as The Great Stanton is exposed as a hollow shell, inside of which dwells the geek. Individualism personified—caring for no one else; severed from community, lovers, and friends—Carlisle is a failed Franklin brought down by the Emersonian truth that no matter where he goes, he will meet himself—someone who is, at the core, nobody at all….

Nightmare Alley is a particularly potent challenge to the dream of upward mobility, [and] it is not an anomaly in film noir….

Footnotes

[i] At that time (1947) the word geek bore none of its current associations with computer engineers, their allegedly poor social skills, or their highly developed analytical powers. Yet the word’s current connotations—describing a creature at once superhuman and disabled—may derive from this earlier incarnation.

[ii] Gresham, like so many writers of the period, had joined the Communist Party in the 1930s; he later married poet Joy Davidman (to whom Nightmare Alley is dedicated). He underwent psychiatric treatment and later became a devout Christian. None of his other works achieved the success of this, his first novel. See Polito’s “Biographical Notes” in Crime Novels for further details (980–81). In an irony appropriate to his grim, deterministic tale, Gresham committed suicide in the same hotel where he wrote Nightmare Alley (Williams, “Naturalist” 137).

[iii] Because the film’s Stan is an orphan, the movie omits most of the novel’s Oedipal conflict, in which young Stan, after witnessing his mother having sex with her lover, is bought off with a toy magic set (Gresham 618–22). His magic acts automatically invoke his filial betrayal, and his guilt over this betrayal and his confused feelings about his parents make him susceptible to Lilith’s machinations.

[iv] In the novel she tells him he has imagined himself as his mother’s lover and deliberately takes the mother’s place (688). She is said to be “hooked” to him by “an invisible gold wire” (689); in the film her power is illustrated by the weblike barred shadows that surround her in her office.

[v] In the novel Grindle had impregnated Dorrie and persuaded her to have an abortion. The girl died of septicemia afterward, and Grindle has been tormented ever since. In 1947 Hollywood it was forbidden even to mention abortion, so the film cleans it up, thereby obviating Grindle’s most powerful motive.

[vi] Goulding and his director of photography, Lee Garmes, employ deep focus and fog to make the bower resemble a late nineteenth-century postcard.

[vii] . These scenes in the novel are much more gloomy and expansive, as Stan is driven crazy by violent, paranoid fantasies. Gresham implies that Stan is caught in a classic double bind: all along he has desired to be his nemesis—his mother’s lover, Mark Humphries—but once he has become him, he can do nothing but ruin him (771). While on the run, Stan also meets an African American Communist labor organizer, Frederick Douglass Scott, who is on his way to fight Grindle’s union-breaking efforts. Scott’s presence indicates Gresham’s political allegiances and, as Williams notes, signals a path that Stan “could have taken” (“Naturalist” 129; Gresham 767–76). Stan then kills a policeman whom he confuses with his father (Stan’s demons are all associated with gray stubble): this is his “own personal corpse” (781), the alter ego he both fears and inhabits. Finally, Stan shows up at a carnival, and on the novel’s last page, he is given the geek job (796).

This selection is from Mark Osteen, Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), pp. 12-28.

Mark Osteen is a professor of English, chair of the English Department, and founder of the Film Studies Program at Loyola University Maryland. He is the author of several books, most recently the memoir One of Us: A Family’s Life with Autism (2010). He is the editor of Hitchcock and Adaptation: On the Page and Screen (2014).

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Nick Tosches’ Remarkable Introduction to William Lindsay Gresham’s Novel “Nightmare Alley” (Nightmare Alley Series)

At A Pilgrim in Narnia, we are in the midst of the “Nightmare Alley Series,” inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s new film starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, and Toni Colette. Moving back from the star-filled screen to William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley, and its first film adaptation in 1947, we are hoping to provide some background to Gresham’s connections: his wife at the time he wrote the novel, Joy Davidman, and her relationship a few years later with C.S. Lewis. A playful series, we have been looking at these sorts of things:

  • Some of my early thoughts about the del Toro film teaser, reworked into a series introduction
  • John Stanifer’s thoughtful review of Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, “It Ain’t Hope If It’s a Lie, Stan” (which is a cool title too, I think)
  • Connor Salter has written an essay worth reading for those who know Gresham’s novel (and the film adaptations) and Lewis’ late-WWII dystopia, “The Nightmare Alley of That Hideous Strength: A Look at C.S. Lewis and William Gresham
  • Because I had great difficulty finding it, I published William Lindsay Gresham’s Conversion Story, “From Communist to Christian
  • I am right now trying to pull my own thoughts together on the novel and films for tomorrow
  • Friday, Jan 7th, we are holding a special Zoom event at Inkling Folk Fellowship (hosted by Joe Ricke), where John, Connor, and I will join our friends there for a video discussion beginning at 4pm Eastern (free event signup here) (it’s also worth noting the Joe retitled the event with a far better title than I had provide: “Fate, Hope, and the Dark Side of Enchantment: The Complicated History of Nightmare Alley” (his title) vs. “Nightmare Alley, Bill Gresham, and Links to Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis” (my title)

Today, I am publishing a long selection from Nick Tosches’ “Introduction” to Gresham’s Nightmare Alley, where Tosches illuminates the reader about Gresham’s literary inventiveness and its contribution to popular culture. In 2010, the New York Review Books Classics series was prescient in reprinting Nightmare Alley. In anticipating a waiting audience eager for this neglected noir classic, this edition also restored some of the text that was excised through editorial accident or discomfort over the years. Beyond the wisdom of recovering the novel, biographer and pop culture writer Nick Tosches provides what I think is a remarkable preface to the book. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to see the book on Bill Gresham that Tosches left unfinished at his death, but this essay is a work of art as it considers the gritty core of Nightmare Alley without intruding on the dream.

I hope you enjoy, and check out the New York Review Books Classics edition, which has Nick Tosches’ essay in the 2010 paperback (which I read), the e-book, and the new film tie-in edition.

Nick Tosches’ Introduction to the New York Review Books Classics edition of William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley

Many who read this will have read Nightmare Alley. But it is to be hoped that others will be drawn to read this singular work for the first time. I envy the latter, and I don’t want to interfere with the experience that awaits them by delving into matters that would reveal its plot, which grows increasingly more powerful and bizarre from beginning to end. But, to paraphrase Ezra Pound, a little knowledge can do us no harm.

This book, first published in 1946, was born in the winter of late 1938 and early 1939, in a village near Valencia, where William Lindsay Gresham, one of the international volunteers who had come to defend the Republic in the lost cause of the Spanish Civil War, was awaiting repatriation. He waited and he drank with a man, Joseph Daniel Halliday, who told him of something that took him aback with a scare: a carny attraction called a geek, a drunkard driven so low that he would bite off the heads of chickens and snakes just to get the booze he needed. Bill Gresham was only twenty-nine then. As he would later tell it,

“the story of the geek haunted me. Finally, to get rid of it, I had to write it out. The novel, of which it was the frame, seemed to horrify readers as much as the original story had horrified me.”

Upon his return from Spain, according to his own account, Gresham was not a well man. He became deeply involved in psychoanalysis, one of the many ways he sought throughout his life to banish his inner demons.

It was while writing Nightmare Alley that Gresham drifted away from psychoanalysis and became instead fascinated with the tarot, which he discovered while turning from Freud to, in the course of his research for Nightmare Alley, the Russian mystic P.D. Ouspensky (1878– 1947).

Had only Gresham known of the paper Freud delivered at the Conference of the Central Committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association in September 1921. In it, Freud declared:

“It no longer seems possible to brush aside the study of so-called occult facts; of things which seem to vouchsafe the real existence of psychic forces other than the known forces of the human and animal psyche, or which reveal mental faculties in which, until now, we did not believe.”

Freud and Ouspensky then might have walked even more closely together down Gresham’s alley of nightmares.

Gresham used the tarot to structure his book. The tarot deck consists of twenty-two figured trump cards, of which twenty-one are numbered, and fifty-six cards divided into four suits of wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. The deck has been used for centuries for both gambling and fortune-telling. In the case of fortune-telling, it is the trump cards, also known as the Major Arcana, that are primarily employed, and these are the cards which give the titles to the chapters of Nightmare Alley. The first trump card is the Fool, which is the card that bears no number, and the final one is the World. Gresham begins his book with the Fool, but then shuffles the deck. His deck ends with the Hanged Man.

As piercing as the psychological probings of Nightmare Alley are, eerily the tarot alone is bestowed at times with a hint of ominous gravity and credence amid all the other spiritualist cons of the novel that are to Gresham and his characters nothing more than suckers’ rackets.

It is interesting, too, that while still undergoing psychotherapy, Gresham crafted in Nightmare Alley, in the somewhat heavy-handedly named character of Dr. Lilith Ritter, the most viciously evil psychologist in the history of literature.

He would later say of this time [in his conversion story published here] that six years of therapy had both saved him and failed him:

“Even then I was not a well man, for neurosis had left an aftermath. During years of analysis, editorial work, and the strain of small children in small rooms, I had controlled anxieties by deadening them with alcohol.”

He said,

“I found that I could not stop drinking; I had become physically an alcoholic. And against alcoholism in this stage, Freud is powerless.”

Nothing worth reading was ever written by anyone who was drunk while writing it; but Nightmare Alley evinces every sign that its writing was binge-riddled. Booze is so strong an element in the novel that it can almost be said to be a character, an essential presence like Fates in ancient Greek tragedy. The delirium tremens writhe and strike in this book like the snakes within. William Wordsworth’s dictum that poetry was “emotion recollected in tranquillity” here finds a counterpart in Gresham’s evocation in sobriety of what he calls in his novel “the horrors.”

Surely “the horrors” in this sense had been part of colloquial speech, at least among drunks and opiate addicts, before Robert Louis Stevenson used it in Treasure Island (1883), and it is still very much current today.

The matter of language is paramount here. Gresham’s cold blue steel prose is consummate, as is his use of slang in dialogue and interior monologue. Never affected, always natural and effective.

As noted in a little profile of him published in The New York Times Book Review soon after the novel’s release:

“Among the Gresham interests are confidence men, their wiles and argot, which he tosses off with a bland ease that, one executive at Rinehart was saying the other day, is enough to frighten an ordinary, law-abiding citizen.”

The word “geek” (derived from “geck,” a word for a fool, simpleton, or dupe, in use since from at least the early sixteenth through the nineteenth century) was generally unknown in its carnival sense of a “wild man” who bites the heads off live chickens or snakes, until Gresham introduced it to the general public in Nightmare Alley. In November 1947 the popular Nat “King” Cole Trio made a record called “The Geek.”

As an elaboration of “cinch,” the phrase “lead-pipe cinch,” to denote a sure thing, had been around since the nineteenth century, and it would stay around a good while more. It could be found in 1949 in Nelson Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm and in 1974 in a New York Times financial report.

Some of the enchanting slang Gresham used seems to have appeared in print for the first time in Nightmare Alley. Geek, in its sideshow sense, may have been one of them. The earliest instance to be found thus far in Billboard’s carnival section occurs in a want ad of August 31, 1946, after the novel was already for sale: “No Geek or Girl Shows” stated a notice that Howard Bros. Shows was seeking acts and concessions. (Want ads for geeks in the carnival section of Billboard continued until at least 1960. An advertisement placed by Johnny’s United Shows in the issue of June 17, 1957, was blunt: “Want outstanding Geek for Geek Show. Must know snakes.”)

The phrase “cold reading” almost certainly appeared in print for the first time here, as did the unforgettable “spook racket.” (We become aware of the meaning of these slang terms as we encounter them. Gresham never stoops to explication through forced dialogue.)

Both phrases next show up, almost immediately and in the same sentence, in Julien J. Proskauer’s 1946 The Dead Do Not Talk, which was received by the Library of Congress almost four months after Gresham’s novel and was assigned a later control number. After that, “cold reading” is found the following year in C. L. Boarde’s slim, self-printed, spiral-bound guide to the spiritualist’s craft, Mainly Mental, then begins to appear more widely, while “spook racket” seems to vanish to its well-deserved solitary throne beyond the veil.

The passage in which “cold reading” first appears, in the fourth chapter, “The World,” also contains one of the novel’s turning points, when the tale’s central character, Stan, reading in the long-fallen mentalist Pete’s old notebook, comes upon the words “Can control anybody by finding out what he’s afraid of” and “Fear is the key to human nature.” Stan

“looked past the pages to the garish wallpaper and through it into the world. The geek was made by fear. He was afraid of sobering up and getting the horrors. But what made him a drunk? Fear. Find out what they are afraid of and sell it back to them. That’s the key.”

Here too in “The World” is Stan’s, and Gresham’s, view of the language that enthralled. As Stan enters the remote piney deep South, where the fortune-teller did a better trade in John the Conqueror Root than in the horoscope cards she peddled at the close of her show:

The speech fascinated him. His ear caught the rhythm of it and he noted their idioms and worked some of them into his patter. He had found the reason behind the peculiar, drawling language of the old carny hands— it was a composite of all the sprawling regions of the country. A language which sounded Southern to Southerners, Western to Westerners. It was the talk of the soil and its drawl covered the agility of the brains that poured it out. It was a soothing, illiterate, earthy language.

This is the language of Nightmare Alley, and many urbane critics of the time found it shocking and brutal as well. Gresham’s wicked lyricism is unique: a gutter literacy that probes the stars, at times a celestial literacy that probes the gutter.

The nightmare alley into which William Lindsay Gresham leads us is not one of moral depravity, for the nicety of morality has nothing to do with it.

Gresham’s novel is a tale of many things: the folly of faith and the cunning of those who peddle it; alcoholism and the destructive terror of delirium tremens; the playing deck of fate, which allots its death-bound destines without rhyme and without reason. What it is not is a tale of crime and punishment, sin and retribution. To see it as such is to misread it. What we consider to be crime and sin pervade this alley, but the punishment and retribution here seem more the wages of life itself.

“It was the dark alley, all over again,” Stan tells himself in Nightmare Alley.

“Ever since he was a kid Stan had had the dream. He was running down a dark alley, the buildings vacant and menacing on either side. Far down at the end of it a light burned, but there was something behind him, close behind him, getting closer until he woke up trembling and never reached the light.”

Stan reflects of his marks, of everyone: “They have it too— a nightmare alley.” Yes, as Stan— that is to say, Gresham— observes elsewhere, fear is the key to human nature.

And Stan and Gresham were indeed one. There is a bizarre letter, frayed and torn, preserved in the collection of the Wade Center of Wheaton College, written by Gresham in 1959, when the end was near. In it he wrote:

“Stan is the author.”

Upon its publication, in September 1946, Nightmare Alley was an acclaimed and successful novel, and a damned and banned one. For thirty years after the first edition of 1946, every edition remained corrupt and censored. To use but one example, instead of “society dames with the clap, bankers that take it up the ass,” readers encountered “society dames with a dose, bankers that have fishy eyes.”

Within little more than a decade, it was all but forgotten. Sixteen autumns later, in September 1962, Gresham’s body was found, self-killed, in a hotel room off Times Square. He has just turned fifty-three a few weeks before. In his possession were business cards that read:

And so the alley, and the running, and the light beyond reach came to an end— for the man who wrote of that alley, if not for us who read of it.

Nick Toshes’ essay is from the introduction to William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley (New York Review Books Classics, 2011 Kindle edition, 61-151).

Nick Tosches authored twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His recent novel, In the Hand of Dante, was published in seventeen languages and selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Called “Newark’s Greaser Poet” by RockNYC, Tosches’ most notable work of music writing was his biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, Hellfire, which was praised by Rolling Stone magazine as “the best rock and roll biography ever written.” His life project, a book about William Lindsay Gresham, remained unfinished at the time of his death in 2019 at the age of 69.

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“From Communist to Christian”: William Lindsay Gresham’s Conversion Story (Nightmare Alley Series)

At A Pilgrim in Narnia, we have been looking at Guillermo del Toro’s critically acclaimed new film, Nightmare Alley, and its connections to the past. The 2021 film, is an adaptation of the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, the husband of Joy Davidman–the enigmatic poet and prose writer C.S. Lewis’ wife in the late ‘50s. As we continue our “Nightmare Alley” series–and make sure you check out previous pieces (here and here), and make sure you attend our special Zoom video conversation on Inkling Folk Fellowship this Friday, Jan 7th, 4pm Eastern–this is a special background post for readers. Whenever you encounter information about Bill Gresham, they will often talk about his conversion story. I have not been able to find this story online, and it took quite some time to source it. Gresham’s conversion story, “From Communist to Christian,” was published first by Presbyterian Life magazine, and then in These Found the Way: Thirteen Converts to Protestant Christianity, edited by David Wesley Soper in 1951.

Peculiar as it is, I have decided to reproduce the essay—with most of the editor’s preface—as a resource for those who want to better understand Bill Gresham and his connections to Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. In the midst of the strange diction and situatedness of this piece are occasional moments of vivid writing and self-discovery. As much as it is a tribute to C.S. Lewis that gives more context to Joy Davidman’s spiritual journey, it is perhaps most powerful when Gresham is slaying his intellectual temptation of Marxist thought. It also shows a surprisingly sophisticated sense of the need for mental health from a man in the midst of a journey.

Editor David Wesley Soper’s Preface

William Lindsay Gresham was born August 20, 1909, in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents were from the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia. The family moved to New York City in 1917, and in 1926 he graduated from high school in Brooklyn.

After high school and during the early years of the depression, he held a variety of jobs and took some college courses. At one time he was determined to become a Unitarian minister. Out of a job in the spring of 1933, he sang in Greenwich Village cellar clubs for a time and then entered the Civilian Conservation Corps. After leaving the CCC he married.

For a short time Gresham was office boy and music, movie, and book reviewer for the New York Evening Post. Then he took a job as copy writer for a small advertising agency. In 1936 he started out as a free-lance writer. When one of his closest friends was killed in 1937, at the battle of Brunete in Spain, he volunteered as a soldier of the Spanish Republic.

In 1942 he was divorced from his first wife, and later in the same year married Joy Davidman. There are two sons: David and Douglas. After living ten years in Greenwich Village, the family moved, first to Westchester and then to Staatsburg, New York. His first novel, Nightmare Alley, was published in 1946, and produced later as a moving picture. Limbo Tower, his second novel, appeared in 1949.

Presbyterian Life magazine published, in three installments, the following account of his spiritual autobiography; the three installments are presented here together by permission.

“From Communist to Christian” by William Lindsay Gresham

On a misty night in November, 1937, a hundred men from a dozen different countries climbed the Pyrenees, wearing silent, rope-soled sandals. At dawn they crossed the divide into Spain. I was one of that group. In all, 2,800 Americans served in the Army of the Spanish Republic. More than half of them were killed. I shall try to explain what took me there, for some of the same forces, in time, brought me to Christianity.

I was born in Baltimore forty years ago. My family were flotsam of the Old South, drifting through an industrial world with no guide save legends of a golden age when their ancestors had been slaveholders and gentlefolk. My mother was vaguely agnostic, vaguely Fabian Socialist. My father was a strong “company man”; what his religious beliefs were I never knew. My parents had no coherent view of the world and so could give me none.

I picked up scraps of personality where I found them. An ancient Shakespearean actress, a friend of the family, taught me manners — and manner. My high school teacher of English, the poet Florence Ripley Mastin, encouraged and guided a developing sense of beauty. My mother’s rebellion against Fundamentalism had left her rootless and distraught. What clear ethics I had came from my grandmother during early childhood, before we moved to New York.

“Grandy” was a Presbyterian, and she saw the world whole. Had she lived, she might have taught me to see it, but I was so young when she died that all I kept was her ideal of a perfect man: General Robert E. Lee. Out of that memory and my own pride I built a neurotic perfectionism for a moral standard. General Lee, I believed, led a flawless, superhuman life, and I must try to be exactly like him.

Many of my schoolmates had a materialist creed in place of religion: they worshiped prosperity. It was called “believing in America” but it was not patriotism. America was a great slot machine: drop in your talents and out would come the good things of life — cars, beautiful women, suburban homes.

But I had no confidence in possible future wealth to hold me up. The family had never been prosperous since “the War”’ they accepted lower-middle-class life with bitterness but without hope.

What happened to prosperity in 1929 we remember. When my parents separated during my teens, I drifted, doing unskilled office and factory work, and dreamed of being a writer. Life was enigma. I asked no definite questions because I was all question, ignorant that answers could be found.

In my early twenties I wanted to be a Unitarian minister—out of pride, not religious conviction. I didn’t know what true religion was. I simply felt that a socially conscious preacher could do some good in the world. But I could not afford a college degree, and the ambition raveled away.

I married; I held a number of jobs, more or less connected with writing; for years I lived in Greenwich Village, which symbolized revolt, poetry, and romance. And there, at last, I found a world view — the first coherent philosophy that I had ever met.

A stormy old man sat for years in the British Museum, piecing it together out of German philosophy and English economics, his genius blinded by pride, bitterness, and anger against injustice. The sufferings of the poor stung him to fury; in the whirlwind of his wrath he spun fragments of early science and stories of popular uprisings into a doctrine of universal class war. With this, Karl Marx and his partner, Friedrich Engels, explained the universe. The formula, “Everything consists of matter in motion,” disposed of first and last things. But their real concern was with human history. Unable to destroy evil overnight, they dreamed of controlling the future a world in which men and nations would be the raw materials of vast scientific experiments. In their youth, one of the hobbies of the intellectuals was science: making a dead frog kick by hooking it to a galvanic battery. By analogy, this laboratory counterfeit of life was used to explain the human brain, consciousness and all; a comfortable materialist doctrine for the rising bourgeoisie, who found Christian ethics a barrier to profits.

Marx and Engels simply turned the “new weapon” against its inventors. They were atheists. They believed, like the “progressive bourgeoisie” before them who fought kings, in something called Man—the accident that made itself king. All unsuspected, their revolutionary creed was a crippled version of Christ’s injunction to love one’s fellow men: not our children only, nor our own clan, but all men. The brotherhood of man in the Fatherhood of God became the international solidarity of the working class. Its aim was to give every member of the toiling masses the material blessings enjoyed by the owner of a small factory under the capitalist system—free, of course, from business cycles and wars. Switzerland was full of small manufacturers, living in comfort and peace. The motto of Marxism might just as well be, “Every man a Swiss.”

In the beginning, perhaps, it was love that moved the Marxists. But it is a fact of human experience that love and hate combined form an unstable compound. And an atheist, cut off by his belief from the fountainhead of all love, cannot replace his store. Hate in time fills the entire man, even though it may take the outward shape of love.

It is difficult for me to write about Marxism for emotional reasons: I have known so many selfless, devoted, courageous, intelligent Marxists. Not one of them ever did me an unkind or dishonest turn. The cruelty and crookedness of “the Reds,” played up by yellow journalism, has a foundation in fact, nevertheless. It stems, not from bad people, but from a bad philosophy. The joker is the abstraction: Man.

The term “Man” is valid only in comparison with other abstractions on the same level: the great apes, plant life, inorganic matter. In dealing with human problems one can only think in terms of men. And men disagree. Men are imperfect creatures. When they disagree on how to abolish social evils, which one are you to believe: Stalin or Tito? “The majority.” Very well: Hitler’s Volk, or the tiny, anti-Nazi underground? In the end, unfortunately, Man boils down to me.

A rank-and-file Marxist has to believe in “The Leadership.” And the leaders can believe only in themselves: We are man; we are the future; all who oppose us are criminals who forfeit their humanity by standing in the way of history (what we want to happen) against the laws of social change (the way we plan to make it happen). The majority of workers distrust us? They are politically backward; they are bribed by capitalism; they are held in subjection by “sprites and hobgoblins” created by the owning class to frighten the slaves (Lenin’s answer to the religious experience of the ages).

This is sick thinking, poisoned by ignorance, anger, and pride. And the Marxists are willing to die for it.

In the year 1936 capitalism was sick too. Marxism said, ” Look — unemployment, police brutality, lynching, home relief machinery designed to humiliate the unemployed and destroy their self-respect — while the rich eat steaks.”

This much I could see.

“Only let us come to power,” said the Marxists, ” and there will be plenty for every man, with art and literature thrown in. Meanwhile we fight for home relief and against evictions. There is a country covering one sixth of the earth’s surface where we have made a start toward socialism. It’s far away — you can’t see it — but just take our word for it. What’s the worst thing you can think of right now? Unemployment, right? Well — over there they have no unemployment. You boil at outrages against Negroes? Read Stalin on the national question; over there anti-Semitism is a crime. You couldn’t go to college? Over there the state pays for it.

“Naturally we can’t seize power here now. But when the masses start to move, we will be there to lead them. All history is the struggle of exploiters against the exploited, nothing more. Take our study courses, and you will understand.”

I took the courses. In them history, philosophy, and economics were tailored to fit the theory that class struggle is the world’s power shaft. They ignored such factors as climate changes, soil exhaustion, and human originality without an ax to grind. An alchemist-monk discovered gunpowder? Then it was to serve as a weapon by which the lowly could conquer the armored knights. Or else it was a weapon the feudal lords wanted against the crossbows of the commoners. Where the doctrine seemed to vary from fact, I chalked it up to my limited education and mental confusion.

In 1936 I was thrown out of a polling place three times. I had a perfect right to be there, as poll watcher for a legal party on the ballot, but the police disagreed.

The next day I joined the Communist Party of the United States. The cop who had threatened me with his club was wrong; therefore, by my angry, black-or-white logic, the Communists were right—philosophy and all.

Our little group of middle-class dreamers and a few half-educated workers were the chosen of history. All the rest of the world was a vast conspiracy against us. We taught paranoia and called it political education. Yet we drew strength from three realities: the real misery brought by an industrial system, the real desire to help others, and a real cause: the Republic of Spain.

Most Protestant Americans—and many Catholics—admired Spain, but felt that the “civil war” was really none of our business. The Communists were right: The attack on Spain was the prelude to the Second World War.

Spain was not a Communist country. All who volunteered to fight for Spain were not Communists. But many Communists did fight there. They died there too. Father Michael O’Flanagan, the “Red priest” of Dublin, said that they were doing our Father’s will. The atheist philosophy, “dialectical materialism,” implies that self-interest is the only real basis for ethics—and that it can best be served by self-destruction: dying for the working class. I think Father O’Flanagan had more logic on his side.

I spent fifteen months in Spain and never fired a shot. Carrying a bag of bandages, I went where I was told, stayed where I was put, and ate what I could get. In the collapse of the Republic, the Internationals were hurried over the border to safety. I came home to the bitterness of a lost war, a light attack of tuberculosis, and a long nightmare of neurotic conflict within me.

My mourning for the crushed Republic had strange roots in the subconscious, I learned later: Spain was identified with the Southern Confederacy; antitank guns and orange trees became swords and roses. I had been trying to be “Marse Robert” Lee on Traveler; what came out was more like Don Quixote on Rosinante, with Marxism the barber’s basin on my head. Yet I have never regretted going to Spain. Father O’Flanagan had said, “I cannot rest while Spain is bleeding.” Those words, spoken by a Christian, took me over the Pyrenees.

My neurosis had a complicating factor. It certainly derived from an insecure childhood, but there was something else: a false attitude, assumed when I was full-grown. Deep inside me I must have begun to strip Marxism of its high-sounding generalizations and noble phrases. And what I found I kept trying to cram back into the cellar of the subconscious, for what Marxist philosophy really says is this:

“Blessed are the poor-in-goods: for theirs is the kingdom of earth. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted by revenge. Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after self-righteousness: for they shall be filled by the victory of the working class. Blessed are the merciless: for they shall receive worldly goods. Blessed are the revolution makers: for they shall be called the fathers of Socialist man. We say unto you, that ye resist opposition by indignant words, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also — until the kingdom, the power, and the glory are thine, and thou canst execute him. Hate your enemies, plan death or captivity for them who hate you, do harm with words and intrigues to them which despitefully use you, that ye man put a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot. For the world has no good except what ye shall eat and what ye shall drink and what ye shall wear. And death is the end of you. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for proletarian science will someday abolish death, after you die.”

A specter was haunting Gresham; it was the specter of reality.

As a philosophy to live by, Marxist materialism is a fair-weather friend. While a man is busy and can sink his identity in a feeling of “mass solidarity,” it may give his life an illusion of meaning. It can carry him through hunger and even police beatings. But let a crisis occur in his own mind, and Marxism will fail him. It offers the individual no personal moral guidance. Its ethical principle—the only “good” is what best serves the interests of the working class—hides at its core a contempt for the individual and his needs unless his hardships can be dramatized for propaganda.

The personal courage of some American Communists is unquestionable. They have demonstrated it in labor struggles, in organizing under every form of police and vigilante terrorism. But the majority of Party members take it out in talk:

“Comrades, we must get out a leaflet!” “Comrades, we must draw up a petition!” “Comrades, we must write letters to a Congressman!”

When I got back from Spain, this ritual of verbalism was hard to take. The meetings of the Party branch resembled a phonograph record with the needle stuck: endless debates on who was going to bell the cat.

Ignorant of philosophy, I could not understand why the whole process rang false. I blamed myself and my weakness of character. The Spanish Republic was lost; its leaders were in flight, in prison, or murdered. Some of the veterans of the Brigade managed to bounce back like rubber balls and plunge into labor organizing. I could not. My first wife and I had parted by mutual consent; I was alone, and I had neither strength nor courage enough even to get out of bed. My will was paralyzed; the prospect of action of any sort filled me with panic. I realized that I was mentally ill.

Fortunately for me, through our Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade organization, I met a social worker who knew what a neurosis was, and through her I got to an expert psychoanalyst after two years of disintegration and despair. I snatched at love; when my health improved, I snatched at writing; I did a little work for left-wing writers’ organizations. And I tried to control my own mind by will power; diamond cut diamond. Finally, since my mind was only “a function of matter in motion” and since it was filled with nightmare, I decided that this painful motion had gone on long enough. I hanged myself with a leather belt, to a hook in a closet.

Whether it was an accident or the intervention of a Power greater than myself, I shall never know in this life. At any rate, I came to myself on the floor — the hook had pulled out of the wall. I have tested many similar hooks since; they will hold my weight. The suicidal impulse had met reality at last; life won. The next day I called up a psychiatrist—at the urging of an educated girl Comrade—and told him that I needed help. He knew that I was a Communist, and suggested that I give up all Party work until I had put myself together again.

Through the next years runs a visible theme of mental healing, emotional growth, and the building of a more normal life. And, as counterpoint, a theme of spiritual seeking. I was psychoanalyzed intermittently, according to advanced Freudian technique, over a period of six years. My first stretch of analysis allowed me to remarry successfully. My wife, the poet and novelist Joy Davidman, was then a Communist like myself and is now, like myself, a Christian. Later sessions with my analyst adjusted me to fatherhood. Eventually, the false attitudes assumed in my childhood as defenses, and intensified by the Spanish war, were brought to consciousness and dispelled. Anxiety stopped; I was discharged as cured.

Without analysis I should not be alive today. Yet I have come to suspect that the psychic injuries of childhood are only half the story of neurosis. It seems to me that a false philosophy, a false attitude to the world, adopted consciously in adult life, may make a man just as ill as false attitudes learned unconsciously in infancy. Materialism was my disease. To a clear-sighted atheist, life can hardly be anything else than a nightmare, if he faces it squarely and brings it into sharp mental focus. There are atheists who seem to live contented, socially useful lives. But I have never known one whose days were not filled to the brim by devotion to some cause that completely occupied him: medicine, scientific research, teaching, union organizing—or his own digestive tract. Let a man sit still and think about the double mystery of time and his own consciousness, and his atheism will crumble or his personality will take the blows and be beaten out of shape.

My chance to think came in a tuberculosis hospital: “What am I? What is life? death? matter? energy? time?” In the end I could not endure the answers that reason kept thrusting at me. I left the hospital in panic and went to live on the kindness of a friend. A year later came the suicide attempt. And after six years of treatment, the neurosis did not vanish until I realized, in one last great flash of insight, that I no longer believed Marxism to be true.

Even then I was not a well man, for neurosis had left an aftermath. During years of analysis, editorial work, and the strain of small children in small rooms, I had controlled anxieties by deadening them with alcohol. When I no longer had the anxieties, I found that I could not stop drinking; I had become physically an alcoholic. And against alcoholism in this stage, Freud is powerless. Seventeen months ago I stopped drinking — by the grace of God and the fellowship of a group of other alcoholics, men and women, who have made a decision to turn their will and their lives over to God.

During my analysis, however, I was a long way from believing in God or accepting Christ. I still believed in Marxist theory, though my discouragement with the Party and its shrill, self-justifying confusion made it impossible for me to work at it. The first wedge in my materialism was driven, strangely enough, by Yoga. Sometimes the longest way round is the shortest way home.

Before I came to psychoanalysis, Yoga seemed to offer a technique of courage, of mental discipline! The Party insists: “You must have courage! You must have discipline!” It doesn’t tell you how to get them, except to “read the theoretical literature and throw yourself into the Movement.” In other words, the way to develop these virtues is to have them already.

I discovered that ages ago in India men had faced the problem of using the mind to change itself and had worked out a technique for it. The mental discipline could be separated from the theology of Yoga and used by an atheist. For a time it actually brought me some peace and detachment. But as I grew more disciplined, another phase of reality, hitherto unsuspected, rose up to haunt me. It was this:

Convinced, consciously at least, that mind was a “function of matter in motion,” I had never dreamed of separating myself from my stream of thoughts. Yet the first mental exercise of Yoga is to sit still, eyes closed, and practice quieting the thoughts. Months of intense effort brought me to the point where I could actually do this, sometimes for a quarter of an hour; the mind would be free from thoughtforms, yet alert, fully conscious —of what? I became aware of the mysterious watcher behind thought. The watcher does not change, does not move; it can be separated from thought, from emotion, from all save consciousness alone. At this point what happened cannot be stated in words, but it was like a window opening on another dimension.

More concretely I saw something else — that happiness is within us, a spiritual state, not the enjoyment of a pile of physical comforts.

During my analysis I had a brief period of prosperity: I managed to write a novel, savage, violent, and neurotic, which made money. Yet with a temporary release from financial worries, my own inner nightmare grew worse. It was not true, then, that men live by bread alone?

While doing research for the novel, I had discovered the writings of the Russian mystic and occultist, P.D. Ouspensky. This remarkable man, who devoted a lifetime to esoteric study of the fourth dimension — time — came back in his last book to repentance, grace, and Christian love as the real answer to the problems of life. Two things in his work particularly excited me. The first was his speculation on time: The world of “solid” experience, which I had taken to be all of reality, might be only a three-dimensional section of a multidimensional world. A thin slice, from the center of a carrot, would tell us nothing about the true shape of a carrot if we had never seen one. In yogic meditation I had come dangerously close to perceiving this “seventh side of the cube.” My certainties began consciously to crack. Materialists seemed like adults who insisted on staying in kindergarten, frightened of anything more complex than blocks which they could pile up with their fingers. I saw at last a great Mystery at the heart of the world, and my Marxist arrogance split at the seams and fell away, piece by piece.

The second thing I learned from Ouspensky was the existence of the tarot cards. The tarot deck, ancestor of our modern playing cards, is now used mainly by fortunetellers. These cards owe their origin to ancient religious mystics, who embodied their revelations in symbolic designs which became the figures for the face cards in the tarot deck. These mystics, casting about for a way of perpetuating their ideas in a barbarous age, hit upon the card game as having as great longevity as anything else in a world in which all things seem to perish. And they may have been pretty shrewd at that, for the tarot is now the oldest card deck in the world.

The twenty-two picture cards — pictorial statements of spiritual truths derived, possibly, from Neoplatonism — suggested a host of ideas about human life and thought; they seemed to unlock the subconscious and release a new kind of mental energy. I have always found it easier to think in images and analogies than in abstractions, and here I had a pictorial vehicle for thought.

This is not the place for an essay on tarot symbolism, but I must describe one card. It is called “The Hanged Man.” A youth is suspended by one foot from a T-shaped cross. His hands are bound behind his back. He hangs upside down, but on his face is an expression of unearthly peace; from his head radiate spokes of light. And the cross is putting forth shoots of green—living wood, in the spring of the year. The card fascinated me. Slowly, without realizing it, I was coming toward Christ.

My days were filled with neurotic problems, writing problems, and the needs of my children. Then, in the spring of 1946, I developed a painful bone infection, osteomyelitis of the jaw. I had another mental breakdown, during which all the ground gained by analysis seemed lost. And my wife had a spiritual experience so definite that it threw my own vague wonder into sharp focus.

Joy had been raised by dogmatically atheist parents, and was more inflexible in her materialism than I—until in a moment of panic, out of fear for me, she let her defenses drop and became suddenly aware of the presence of God. This was the turning point in both our lives. She was completely astonished, but she had to believe it; she had no choice. The sudden awareness gave her no comfort in her anxiety about me—it simply threw her life into a new perspective; it made her see that her attitudes had been wrong, running against the current, all her life. I knew something of mystical experience, through accounts I had read, and I received the news with a great surge of hope. Together, accepting God, we started tentatively, and at first unwillingly, to remake our spiritual lives.

In 1946 I had reached the frame of mind that C.S. Lewis calls “Christianity and.” A person suffering from this ailment comes to link Christ with some pet cause of his own: Christianity-and-Social-Reform, Christianity-and-Prohibition, Christianity-and-Vegetarianism. At first, perhaps, he values social reform because it seems to embody Christ’s teaching; later he is likely to value Christ as support for social reform. He is lucky if he does not end by perverting the Gospels for his private altruistic purpose.

I had Christianity-and-Revolution. I inflated the incident of Christ and the money-changers until it obscured the real message of Jesus. The gentle communism of the first Christians seemed to me only a foreshadowing of the violent Communism of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Though, as an atheist, I had been discouraged about Marxism and annoyed by the more strident Marxists, my new duty to God apparently demanded that I force myself back into the Communist Party. It was the only channel I knew of serving my fellow men, and obviously Jesus had insisted on service.

I did not, at first, understand the divinity of Christ. There seemed to have been many prophets and God-filled men. I had to find out what the other great religions contained. I was romantically attracted by the mystic East (early influence of Kipling), and I did owe a great deal of mental discipline to Yoga. My wife, Joy, was at first drawn to the Judaism of her grandparents, as was natural. The beauty of the Seder, the Passover supper, with its rich symbolism of the release from bondage, struck a powerful answering chord in the heart of a girl who was both a poet and a Communist. Together we began an unsystematic but intense course of study and debate—history, philosophy, formal logic, the scriptures of half a dozen nations, the Bible itself and its modern interpretation. Never had I been so conscious of my lack of education, but for the first time in my life my mind was clear enough to do something about it.

No story of our spiritual growth would be complete without a tribute to C.S. Lewis. His books exposed the shallowness of our atheist prejudices; his vision illumined the Mystery which lay behind the appearances of daily life. We used his books as constant reference points, and though it was long before I could accept his arguments for the divinity of Christ, Lewis’ clear and vivid statement of Christian principles served as a standard by which to measure the other religions we studied. Christianity outshone them as the sun outshines smoky torches.

In the Sermon on the Mount and in certain epistles of Paul we found what seemed to be the ultimate truths of human life, ethical and spiritual. They were so revolutionary, in a spiritual sense, that men could not have made them up.

Joy and I, as fiction writers, approached the Gospel story from our own angle: we knew something about fiction, about legend, myth, and folklore. Our critical sense told us that the story of Jesus, from internal evidence, really happened. The way it is reported is the most eloquent proof: the Gospel authors are trying to set down something that transcended human experience on every side. They could not believe their own eyes. Yet they had each other’s word that it happened. This is not the supernatural hero myth of antiquity. It is a bare chronicle, by sensible men, of an event out of space and time.

I still took it for granted that Marxism contained economic truths. So I turned to people who were trying to organize a revolutionary Christian socialism.

Joy and I were invited to a meeting of left-wing clergymen who were working, with the best of intentions, to spread Marxist policies inside their churches. Their immediate objectives were worthy enough: world peace, equality of opportunity for the Negro, education of the Southern sharecropper away from lynching and prejudice—above all, the rights of labor. The sincerity of their desire to help their fellow men was unquestionable.

And yet… The meeting made us faintly uneasy at the start. It began without a word of prayer. Presently it turned to considering ways and means of effective fund-raising; wouldn’t it be wise to drop the word “Christian” from the title of the committee, since the name of Christ might offend the New York liberals—most of them atheists and many of Jewish descent—who were likely to be the most generous financial contributors?

After the meeting we adjourned to the home of some friends, where the leader of the movement climaxed everything for us by demonstrating in the best backwoods preaching style that Saint Paul was really a Roman spy, sent into Christianity to destroy its revolutionary character. His proof was the famous number of the Beast of The Revelation; 666, he declared, was Paul’s official number in the Roman FBI.

It was a fine illustration of how Marxism, and thinking that echoes Marxism, can pervert Christianity. The “Christ of Revolution” fell out of my mind. Instead, I began to see the Good Shepherd. He was dim, but he grew clearer with time.

Meanwhile some study of philosophy showed up the naïveté of the materialist, assuming that we know all about the nature of the universe. His proud “mastery of the laws of nature” boiled down to nothing but fancy carpentry, kiteflying, and bonesetting: all good things, but nothing for a sane man to worship.

When I was willing to take God on faith—that is, as an unavoidable conclusion derived from the total of the evidence—I was surprised to learn that a disproof of God is logically impossible, but that there is good logical proof that God does exist.

Most shattering of all was the fallacy at the heart of dialectical materialism. Ignorant of philosophy and logic, I had been unable to see it before. Now I found this: The Marxist claims that man is the product of material forces acting upon him, directly or indirectly, but that man has, “within the limits of necessity,” the power to change his own destiny. Fatalism I could grasp, for I could not as yet understand free will in myself. And, on the other hand, I could at least follow the logic of those who insist on a man as a free creature of God with moral responsibility. But the Communists believe in both free will and determinism at the same time.

They get around it by protesting that they are not “mechanical determinists,” that free will has evolved with the development of man’s brain, which, somehow or other, has started to go in business for itself. How this break in the iron chain of causation came about they will explain with eloquence—and nothing more.

Driven by logic into a corner of contradictions, the Marxist has several resources: He can label his opponent’s arguments bourgeois (i.e., bad); he can divert the argument into other channels by introducing a topic heavily laden with emotion, such as lynching; he can assume that there is something intrinsically funny about his opponent and try to laugh the whole thing off; he can try to awe his opponent by using unfamiliar Marxist jargon; and, as a last resort, if he is modest, he can admit that he is unable to defend his position, but that other Comrades, more developed than he, know the answers; he will ask them and return to the battle. He never returns.

I could no longer consider myself a Communist, though I thought that Marx had correctly analyzed the decay of capitalism and the source of capitalist profits: the difference between what a worker is paid and what his labor is worth in terms of new value. Also, I still followed Lenin’s views on imperialism. But I was now living in farm country, learning the importance of agriculture. When I read Vogt’s Road to Survival, it dawned upon me that Marx and Lenin had mistaken symptoms for the disease. We Communists were city dwellers; down deep we really believed that milk comes out of milk bottles and bread originates in a bakery. Seeing only the inequalities of an unchristian system of distribution, we forgot that the real physical problem of the human race is, and always has been: “Where’s the food going to come from?” There is just so much arable land, and it is shrinking. The population is growing, come Communism or not.

I have come to believe that what matters in life is the relation of the individual soul to God. The species is not my responsibility. The behavior of Bill Gresham is my responsibility. And if I can help a neighbor, that I must do. I decided to leave the species in God’s hands.

My difficulties were not quite over. I was still arrogant; I had difficulty in praying; I refused to admit that I had enough free will to be morally responsible for anything I did. I had carried such a load of false neurotic guilt for so long that I was reluctant to accept the smaller burden of real guilt which a Christian must admit that he bears. For a year I had been trying to write a novel about Spain from a Marxist point of view, and when, in the autumn of 1947, I suddenly burned all my work and notes in the furnace, not only the Marxism but my neurosis vanished with it. Alcoholism, which began sometime in my years of neurotic conflict, stayed with me.

By the spring of 1948 my drinking had begun to frighten me. Then something happened which is, I think, more important to the Christian than his own search for God.

God sought me.

I was panicky when I realized at last that I couldn’t stop drinking. A chemical change had taken place inside me. Drinking was no longer fun; it was a bitter necessity. And my personality was being poisoned by it. I had always been a genial, expansive drunk; now I was getting pugnacious and irrational. In despair my pride burst and God could reach through to me. I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol; I admitted my defects of personality; I asked God to remove my faults and to help me to stop drinking. And my prayer was answered. Up until now I have never taken another drink. If ever do, it will mean that I have let anger or fear blot out God in my mind or have cut myself off from the company of other alcoholics who have had the same experience and who must suck together to reinforce God’s will in each of them.

I no longer doubted the divinity of Christ—the Helper who had come to me was unmistakable. At this point I felt that a task had been assigned to me: the building of a rational Christian faith.

Superstition can be defined as “a belief or notion entertained regardless of reason or knowledge.” This is also a description of much that passes as faith. If a boy’s first encounter with the theory of evolution “shatters his faith,” he obviously had no long-range faith to start with. His approach to the book of Genesis was on a par with believing that a horsehair, placed in a jar of water, will turn to a snake.

My assignment seemed to be one of reasoning – more intensely and clearly than I had ever reasoned before. This sort of religious discipline is like a series of exercises to strengthen the spiritual muscles of the inner eye; it is the only thing—aside from an overpowering mystical experience — that can cure the self-focused myopia of materialism.

I also discovered this: No person with scientific training is likely to disagree with the basic theories on which the sciences conduct their endless search. The hypotheses, founded on observation, experiment, and deduction, stand until new facts call for their expansion. Yet there are leading physicists and astronomers who are to be found every Sunday morning in the family pew, putting in a lusty baritone on hymns their grandsires sang. The smug, man-centered cosmos has its greatest following in such fields as sociology, anthropology, and psychology—useful studies, certainly, but not sciences at all, since they deal with an unpredictable quantity—the human mind. The thinner the guesswork, the more thunderously positive the guesser is in presenting his guesses as if they were facts.

Theology, also, is only one man’s guess, or so it seems to me. Revelation is something else again: a truth about the world and man’s place in it which is self-evident, once we can peel the scales of self-worship from our eyes. Revelation is different for every man, but it is a force to sustain and a light to direct us all. There is much theology in the New Testament, but the light of revelation is there, burning gloriously down the centuries.

I began to see that a Christian must strive constantly to know God’s will for him, day by day. One of the terms that always stung me to fury in my atheist years was “original sin.” Now I saw it as nothing more hideous than the gap between what I ought to do and what I do. The Helper, of course, is always there, ready to give us a hand if we ask him with an honest and humble heart, after we have done the best we can under our own power. This asking is prayer. All those years I had been loathing a specter—a false notion of prayer created out of my own ignorance; I had thought prayer was a whining plea for God to work miracles in providing a raise in salary or a new car.

Real prayer is the beginning of an alcoholic’s salvation. I am glad, indeed, that I am an alcoholic—otherwise I might never have found it.

Sober at last and able to face reality happily for the first time in my life, I began to consider church membership. Having accepted the grace of God and the help of other people whose alcoholism was arrested, I was no longer too proud to accept the help of other Christians in a community of worship. But what church should I join?

I felt that I belonged in a conservative church, trinitarian in doctrine, whose worship avoided extreme drabness, extreme individualism, and ungoverned self-dramatization, with the consequent spiritual pride that goes with them. On the other hand, I wanted to avoid corporate self-righteousness and dependence on ritual, which so easily becomes ritual magic.

I could be at home in any of several denominations. But a Christian should not pick and choose his fellow worshipers. To select a congregation because it is of our own social class or congenial intellectual type, or is similar in its politics or composed of personal friends, seemed wrong. It is our neighbors who are our fellow men—not our fellow Republicans, or fellow music lovers, or fellow whites—just our neighbors. I didn’t think this out for myself: I learned it from the works of C.S. Lewis.

Our neighborhood church is Presbyterian—a lovely old Doric building, set in a farming countryside. There my wife and children were baptized, and there I joined the body of Christ, which lives not between walls but in the heart.

Baptized an Episcopalian, raised an agnostic, in turns a Unitarian, a hedonist, a Stoic, a Communist, a self-made mystic, and an eclectic grabber after truth, I had at last come home.

Note: This is my own transcription from 2022. Please contact Brenton if there are errors: junkola[at]gmail[dot]com.

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A Brace of Tolkien Posts for his 130th Birthday (#TolkienBirthdayToast)

As J.R.R. Tolkien was born about 68,374,080 hours ago, the Tolkien Society is once again raising a toast to the Professor on his birthday, 3 January 2022 (see here). After Bilbo left the Shire on his eleventy-first birthday in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo toasted his uncle’s birthday each year, which he shared. Tolkien fans continue the tradition for the maker of Middle-earth on this day. J.R.R. Tolkien was born in South Africa on 3 January 1892, making this (if he had had Hobbitish longevity), his 130th. The Tolkien Society invites us to celebrate the birthday by raising a glass at 9pm your local time, simply toasting “The Professor!” Tolkien Society members are invited this year to join in the toast in a Zoom call, which could be interesting. It is inexpensive and rewarding to join the Tolkien Society if you are not yet a member.

In honour of Tolkien’s birthday, each year I update the catalogue of Tolkien posts featured here on A Pilgrim in Narnia. In 2021, I wrote 17 new Tolkien-related articles, reflections, reviews, or blog posts, and I edited one new guest essay. I also rewrote 3 older posts that struck me with new relevance, reblogged another person’s work, and provided notes on a handful of Tolkien-related events or resources.

Tolkien posts continue to be popular at A Pilgrim in Narnia. In 2021, 5 of the top 15 most-read archived posts and 3 of the top 10 new posts are about Tolkien. One of the most viewed posts of 2020–my tribute to Christopher Tolkien–was also popular this past year. There are now over 100 article links in this post! I hope you enjoy the great selection of guest bloggers, hot links, and feature posts, filling out your Tolkien reading and inspiring you to widen and deepen your Tolkienaphilia.

And, of course, thanks to all you great readers, with special thanks for those who share my work on social media or in your teaching curriculum or scholarship.

Frodo, Sam and Gollum in IthilienTolkien’s Ideas at Work in Word

Tolkien’s work is rich with reflections upon the world around us. In posts like “Let Folly Be Our Cloak: Power in the Lord of the Rings” and “Affirming Creation in LOTR” (updated in 2021), I explore themes related to ideas that are central to Tolkien’s beliefs. The latter idea, creation and good things green, is covered also with Samwise Gamgee here and with Radagast the Brown here. One that resonates long after the first reading is the theme of Providence, which I explore in “Accidental Riddles in the Invisible Dark” (updated for Hobbit Day 2021 here).

I would also encourage readers to check out the annual J.R.R Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. Tolkien editor and historical fantasist Guy Gavriel Kay was the 2021 lecturer which I talk about here: “Just Enough Light: Some Thoughts on Fantasy and Literature.”

One surprising connection was “Simone de Beauvoir and the Keyspring of the Lord of the Rings“–a pairing that many would find unusual and includes some great old footage. Guest blogger Trish Lambert rounded out the discussion with “Friendship Over Family in Lord of the The Rings.” Author Tim Willard talks about “Eucatastrophe: J.R.R Tolkien & C.S. Lewis’s Magic Formula for Hope.” And you can follow Stephen Winter’s LOTR thought project here and Luke Shelton’s Tolkien Experience Project here.

Perhaps Tolkien’s most central contribution beyond the storied world is his idea of subcreation in the poem, “Mythopoeia” and in other works like the essay, “On Fairy-stories” and the allegorical short story, “Leaf by Niggle.” I have been reading a lot about this concept–partly because of students working on the idea–and appreciated poet-philosopher Malcolm Guite’s take on it here.

I have admitted before that my Tolkien thinking-out-loud is pure enjoyment. I don’t pretend to have much original to say on the scholarly level. My most important contribution, I think, is my Theology on Tap talk, called “A Hobbit’s Theology,” which I rewrote in 2021 for Northwind Theological Seminary’s doctoral degree in Romantic Theology (which has a Tolkien studies track). It is one of the ideas I am struggling with most specifically in my academic work, and I hope to do some future writing on the topic. Out of that same lecture series came this piece, “‘Small’ and ‘Little’, a Literary Experiment on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit,” where I used some word-date analysis by Sparrow Alden and her “Words That You Were Saying” Tolkien word-study blog.

Sparrow’s research, I should note, is part of a strong community of Tolkien digital humanities research (e.g., Emil Johansson’s LOTRProject, or Chiara Palladino and James Tauber’s , or Joe Hoffman’s blog, or this resource list here), and is definitely worth checking out.

In a similar mode–thinking of Tolkien’s work through a theological lens–is Mickey Corso’s excellent work on Tolkien and Catholicism. The entire video conversation of “The Lady and Our Lady: Galadriel as a ‘Reflexion’ of Mary,” A Signum Thesis Theatre on Tolkien and Catholicism by Mickey Corso, is now online. In this mode, I blogged “’Joy Beyond the Walls of the World, Poignant as Grief,’” a conversation between J.R.R. Tolkien and Frederick Buechner. As a Tolkien Easter reflection, I reblogged Wade archivist Laura Schmidt’s piece, “Wounds that Never Fully Heal.” Also check out a couple of video conversations: “Inklings of Imagination” with myself, Malcolm Guite, and Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson on the theological imagination, and “Imaginative Hospitality” from a theological angle, with Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Diana Glyer, Michael Ward, and Fr. Andrew Cuneo.

Tolkien as a Writer

I remain fascinated by Tolkien’s development as an author, and spent some time of late exploring the theme. The most popular of pieces I wrote was the coyly titled, “The Shocking Reason Tolkien Finished The Lord of the Rings.” The reason is, of course, not all that shocking, but could be helpful for the subcreators amongst us. Two more substantial posts on the topic are “12 Reasons not to Write Lord of the Rings, or an Ode Against the Muses” and “The Stories before the Hobbit: Tolkien Intertextuality, or the Sources behind his Diamond Waistcoat.”

C.S. Lewis took an interest as well in Tolkien’s formation (see “Book Reviews” below). You can read more about it in Diana Pavlac Glyer’s Bandersnatch, and in this blog post, “‘So Multifarious and So True’: The C.S. Lewis Blurb for the Fellowship of the Ring.” Lewis’ support for Tolkien did not go unrewarded. Besides the great joy of Tolkien’s work, there was a time when Tolkien interceded a time or two on Lewis’ behalf. Friendship goes both ways. Tolkien historian John Garth takes some time to explore this literary friendship further in his detailed explanation of “When Tolkien reinvented Atlantis and Lewis went to Mars.”

One post from 2018 created a lot of (pretty positive) controversy. In “Lewis, Tolkien and Different Views of Fan Fiction” I invited thought about two trends: Tolkien-readers’ resistance to fan fiction (in concert with Tolkien himself), and a strong trend of good fanfiction from Tolkien lovers. The post is worth reading, but so are the 100+ comments. But my most substantial and original written piece on Tolkien’s writing, I think, is the 2020 article, “Trees, Leaves, Vines, Circles: The Layered Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fiction, A Note on ‘Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth,’” which includes art by Emily Austin.

And one of the more popular posts of 2016 was a very personal one about me as a writer and researcher, “Battling a Mountain of Neglect with J.R.R. Tolkien.” Though I am still not sure if I should have written that post, it has connected with readers. In retrospect, 2016 was a very difficult year in many ways.

The Tolkien Letter Series

Tolkien’s letters remain a rich resource for researchers that is available to everyday readers–and usually available used for a pretty cheap price. In these letters, I discovered the tidbits on writing above, as well as notes like “The Tolkien Letters that Changed C.S. Lewis’ Life” (which remains a top 10 post). But it goes much deeper. In “The Tolkien Letter that Every Lover of Middle-Earth Must Read“–also a top 10 post–I include much of a draft that Tolkien wrote to a Mrs. Mitchison that fills in much of the background to Middle-earth. I also took the time to put Tolkien’s great “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size)” quotation in context, which I updated in 2020 with a note on books and their authors.

A more sober but quite moving letter is the one that I featured in this popular post from fall 2018: “The Last Letter of J.R.R. Tolkien, on the 45th Anniversary of His Death.” It is a post to read when raising a toast. And now, with the passing of Christopher Tolkien, son of the genius, I have added a second toasting post. In my 2020 tribute piece, Christopher Tolkien, Curator of Middle-earth, Has Died, there is also a pretty poignant letter from his father. I hope you enjoy.

The letters afforded me some time to think about some other ideas. In a longer popular post that any conlanger will know is poorly named–“Why Tolkien Thought Fake Languages Fail“–I discussed Tolkien’s own constructed language program and surmised with the Professor that conlangs fail when they lack a mythic element. I think I am mostly correct and the essay is quite fun, even if I am missing some key elements. I was able to push further when I did a personal response to new Tolkien language research in this post: “J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Secret Vice” and My Secret Love: Thoughts on Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins’ Critical Edition of A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Language.”

Recently, I was thinking through the relationship between C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot. In the midst of that search, I found Tolkien’s 30 August 1964 letter to Anne Barrett of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin. On the anniversary of that letter, I shared this piece: “Great and Little Men: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letter about C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot.” As with much of Tolkien’s praise of Lewis, there is a slighting comment or two. And yet, it is a powerful bit of testimony to the content of C.S. Lewis’ character, in his friend’s estimation. In this vein, check out “C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien: Friendship, True Myth, And Platonism,” an academic paper by Justin Keena published here on A Pilgrim in Narnia.

Finally, a little fun with the post, “When Sam Gamgee Wrote to J.R.R. Tolkien.” As you might guess, it is about a real-life Sam Gamgee who sends a note to the maker of Middle-earth. And, of course, when the season of advent returns, check out the Father Christmas Letters. While there are others with better Father Christmas Letters posts and articles, my piece got picked up on Reddit in 2021, so I touched it up again for that Christmas day reading.

The Silmarillion Project

This is a newish feature for me, partly because 2017 was the year I completed The Silmarillion in its entirety in a single reading (rather than the higgledy-piggledy approach of cherry-picking stories and languishing in the mythic portions, as I am wont to do). I reread it in early 2020, this time by audiobook, and enjoyed it deeply. Still, I find it a challenge. I thought I would take advantage of my status as a Silm-struggler to offer suggestions and resources to people looking to extend their reading of the Legendarium.

In “Approaching “The Silmarillion” for the First Time” I made a handful of suggestions for readers intending to read this peculiar book for the first time. If you are a fellow Silm-struggler, I hope this helps you get a fuller experience of a beautiful collection of texts. That experience inspired me to write “A Call for a Silmarillion Talmud,” an unusual post for Tolkienists with more creative and technological skills to consider.

Finally, I had to write as a fan and as a scholar together in considering the cycle of Lúthien and Beren. In “Of Beren and Lúthien, Of Myth and the Worlds We Love” I talk about my love of the story and its links to the Legendarium while noting my hope for the 2017 release of the Beren and Lúthien materials and sharing some Silmarillion inspired artwork.

Thinking about Tolkien Studies

Over the last few years, I have slowly been gathering an understanding of Tolkien studies as a discipline. I am far for an expert, but I have been struck by the strongest Tolkien books and essays I have encountered. Verlyn Flieger‘s Splintered Light is a lyrically beautiful critical study: it is tight and thematically vibrant, invested in the entire corpus and yet completely accessible as a single study of light and darkness. John Garth‘s Tolkien and the Great War is not simply one of the best Tolkien historical works I have read, and is by far my favourite study on WWI. There are numerous strong medievalist approaches to and with Tolkien, and Tom Shippey is a Tolkien scholar of great clarity and energy. Among younger scholars, I greatly admire Dimitra Fimi’s Mythopoeic Award-winning Tolkien, Race, and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits, and I carefully watch what her students and colleagues are doing.

Inspired by this work–and a sense of frustration in Lewis studies–I began reflecting on Tolkien Studies in 2021. The result was a somewhat saucy but generally thoughtful series on “Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship?”, in three parts, and among the top Tolkien-related posts of the last year:

My work turned out to be once again relevant as “Tolkien Studies Projects Swept the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award Shortlist in Inklings Studies.” While my vote was for Garth’s The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien (see my blog post on the results here), the 2021 winner was John M. Bowers for Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer. A smart and helpful book from a Chaucer specialist who came to love Tolkien’s work later in life, I wrote a substantial review and response, “The Doom and Destiny of Tolkien’s Chaucer Research: A Note on John M. Bowers, Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer,” after working through the text while teaching Chaucer locally.

Interested in continuing to resource Inklings readers, I published “5 Ways to Find Open Source Academic Research on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings“–a living post that I have updated as scholars and librarians have written in. And I have edited and published a guest essay by G. Connor Salter, “Lewis and Tolkien among American Evangelicals“–an interesting contribution to reception studies.

Reading Tolkien in Community

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 (touched up for Hobbit Day in 2021).

In 2021, I used Tolkien Reading Day (March 25th) to share some of my fun Tolkien bookstore discoveries and to think about Tolkien’s audiobooks as “adaptations” or interpretations: “Reading J.R.R. Tolkien by Audiobook and Adaptation: Thoughts on a Portland Discovery.” In this piece, I talk about The Green Hand in Portland, ME, and how at Enterprise Records I found a beautiful, library withdrawal vinyl collection of the Nicol Williamson’s abridged reading of The Hobbit. Spinning this record, and thinking about Andy Serkis’ version of The Hobbit, I discuss what audiobook readings do for me on an imaginative level. I also talk about some of my Tolkien collectable books that I’ve discovered hither and yon. None of these are super valuable: a US 1st edition of The Silmarillion that I got for $10 at a used bookstore (and I added a UK 1st edition this year for $20), a nice boxed illustrated anniversary edition of The Hobbit, the original wide-sized printing of the Tolkien-illustrated Mr. Bliss, and my UK 2nd edition Lord of the Rings, which looks nice on the shelf. Truth be told, I also love the design of the Middle-earth volumes from the last decade or so, and my wife and I were pleased to give our son hardcover editions of Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin for Christmas.

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies - Evangeline LillyFilm 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 had some hope I would enjoy it. The huge comment section shows in that post shows that not everyone agreed it was possible!

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.

When I finally got to The Battle of 5 Armies, I decided it would be fun to do a Battle of 5 Blogs. 5 other bloggers joined it, making it a Battle of 6 Blogs! But the armies are pretty tough to count anyhow. I titled my blog, “The Hobbit as Living Text.” It was a controversial approach to the film, I know. Make sure you check out the other reviewers link here. Some of us chatted about the films in an All About Jack Podcast, which you can hear here and here.

While these aren’t substantial reviews, I featured two indie films: a documentary on Tolkien’s Great War, and a fictional biopic recreating Tolkien’s invention of Middle Earth called Tolkien’s Roadboth inspired, perhaps, by John Garth’s work.

Though the Hobbit films were unsatisfying, I still miss having a Tolkien-Peter Jackson epic to watch in theatre at Christmastime. 2019 supplied us, though, with the Tolkien biopic. Besides posting the trailers, I did lead-up posts like “Getting Ready for TOLKIEN: John Garth and Other Resources.” I still encourage people to read John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War before watching the film, but I am not like many Tolkien fans who simply could not connect with the film. I reviewed it in three different ways, in three different places:

Perhaps 2022 will let us know what we can expect for Middle-earth tales on Amazon Prime?

Book Reviews

secret_viceThere 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 have also done more book reviewing in the last couple of years on this blog. I note Fimi & Higgins’ “Secret Vice” above, as well as my review of Bower on Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer. I reviewed Verlyn Flieger’s edition of Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervo, which I quite loved. I also reblogged John Garth’s review of Tolkien’s Lay of Aotrou and Itrou–also edited by Flieger, and also gorgeous.

Tolkien 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, whose work as a whole is visually stunning, even for those who don’t feel he was true to the books. One of my favourites was captured 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! 

I was also blessed throughout the year to wander through two beautiful and rich newish Tolkien books: John Garth‘s The World of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Bodleian Library exhibit text, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, edited by Catherine McIlywaine.

I know that the world of Tolkien art is rich beyond my imagination. However, I would like to note that (with permission) I have been using some of Emily Austin’s Inklings-inspired art in my lectures, and keep her 2018 “Niggle’s Country” in my office.

Tolkien’s Worlds and World-building

radagast-the-brown

I would like to spend more time thinking about the speculative universes of J.R.R Tolkien. Meanwhile, 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. 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. I take some time here to put a comment that Lewis made about Tolkien’s work in the context of other speculative writers, especially J.K. Rowling.

You can also check out the work of people like the Tolkienist, the links on the Tolkien Transactions to catch what kinds of conversations are about these days, or the academic work of people like David Russell Mosley. And, of course, we are all interested in Tolkien’s work on Beowulf. I read it in 2017 for the free SignumU three-lecture class with Tom Shippey, which is now free on the SignumU youtube channel. Signum continues to offer an MA in Tolkien Studies, and you can feel free to reach out to me for information.

While the Inklings and King Arthur series in Winter 2017 touched on Tolkien all throughout, there are two posts of particular interest. Prof. Ethan Campbell writes about “Wood-Woses: Tolkien’s Wild Men and the Green Knight,” and intertextuality expert Dale Nelson writes about “Tiny Fairies: J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Errantry’ and Martyn Skinner’s Sir Elfadore and Mabyna.” Beyond these, we are always on the lookout for new research. So check out the Signum University thesis theatre with Rob Gosselin. I chatted with Rob about his MA thesis on “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sub-creative Vision: Exploring the Capacity and Applicability in Tolkien’s Concept of Sub-creation.” It’s not only a great conversation about world-building, but a very personal one.

Finally, this post includes resources for Tolkien readers (in conversation with Ursula K. Le Guin): “John Garth, Maximilian Hart, Kris Swank, and Myself on Ursula K. Le Guin, Language, Tolkien, and World-building.”

And Just For Fun….

Well, before the fun but still interesting, I hope, is my post “Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien & Me: Thoughts on Grief.” Not super heavy on Tolkien, but we do know that Stephen Colbert is a fan. 2020 also saw two new pieces on Tolkien’s friendships. One was Pilgrim favourite Diana Glyer on The Babylon Bee, talking about “The Tolkien and Lewis Bromance.” The other piece on friendship is “C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien: Friendship, True Myth, And Platonism,” a Paper by Justin Keena. This was the top guest post of 2020, and one of the few times a long, academic paper had gotten a lot of traction on A Pilgrim in Narnia. I think that is a testimonial to Justin’s work, but also a comment about how readers like that Lewis-Tolkien connection that I’ve brought out in some of those letter posts noted above.

For the fun of it…. Weirdly, the top 2019 Tolkien post is my note on “Philip Pullman as a Reader of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.” It’s short and light and good to get the blood-boiling.

And have you caught my post-Mythmoot post, “The First Animated Hobbit, and Other Notes of Tolkienish Nonsense“? Terribly awesome, awesomely terrible.

Oh, plus this. Or this!

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