Will They Want Me Even Though I’m A Boy? Heading to the L.M. Montgomery Institute Conference (L.M. Montgomery Series) #LMMI2018

Though Matthew and Marilla would have been considered me a fine specimen of boyish orphan for Mrs. Spencer to bring home from the orphanage, they, like my farming fathers before me, would have been disappointed. And a little puzzled, if experience teaches me well. As a child, I was so instinctively bad at farmwork–so dizzyingly incapable, forgetful, and unknowledgeable–that I would even make visitors to the farm tilt their heads in puzzlement. My father, who lived and breathed farming, who left the streets of Vancouver as a hippy youth to farm, who travelled to other parts of the world to help poor farmers farm better–even he knew when I was very, very young, that I would not walk in his ploughed furrow.

See, that’s part of it. I know that a ploughed field is made up of ridges and furrows because “ridge,” “furrow,” and even “plough” (spelled that way) are such evocative words. But I could never actually ever plough a field. It wasn’t just tools and machines, but the whole life of the farm. Except for my keenly refined habit of stumbling upon skunks, nothing else I did on the farm went well for me. Unless the 4th “H” in 4H–the “H” I can never remember–is “Hapless,” this is another sign that I am one of the few people to ever fail 4H. The other signs include scattering crowds, terrified animals, the worst animal in our farm’s history, my bloodied and tear-stained face, and a certain bovine organic compound convincingly painted upon my lily white show uniform.

Honestly, if I was the Cuthberts’ boy, we would have lost Matthew around chapter 7 or 8.

I have come to a resolution about this, mostly. The fact is that I have never fit in well to “guy” spaces. I never liked hunting, have never caught a fish in dozens of outings, and I have always thought snaring rabbits a cruel affair (though that’s probably because of Watership Down). Guys can fix things or build things, but I’ve never had the knack. The only car thing I was ever good at was detailing, which is what guys call cleaning. And in a place and time where hockey was a thing like religion in Montgomery’s novels, I was so poor as a hockey player that I was lumped in with the heretics like soccer lovers or moviegoers. I was frequently picked last, after the girls.

This is largely how my life has gone. The result has been, not unhappily, that I am often in “girl” spaces. I liked to read growing up, and it was largely the girls I knew who could talk about books (though I was so awkward as a teenager that the conversations usually didn’t get off the ground). In college, when I finally discovered I had a brain that I could use from time to time, it was my female classmates that I had to keep up with. I have always been pretty good at connecting with guys, but it is entirely normal in an evening for them at some point to gather somewhere and talk about guy stuff and I discover that I am surrounded by women.

It is not much of a hardship. The women in my life have been very compelling. My wife is a superstar in her field, far more excellent than I will ever be in my career. My sister is now a successful leader. My mother was a fiery feminist who finished her degree as a young mom and then ran for politics as a young woman in the 80s. My grandmother, like Lucy Maud Montgomery before her, took her teaching license in a year and forged a career for herself in the Great Depression and through the war. Most of my bosses and team leads have been women, many of my co-teachers have been women, and my PhD supervisor is a woman. Honestly, in the top 5 students in any undergraduate cohort I teach, there will usually be one guy. But there always be at least 4 women who are the best and the brightest.

I am used to being around powerful women. Yet, I must confess, I find the L.M. Montgomery Institute conference a wee bit intimidating. In the four-day conference, there is only one other name on the paper presentation list that is definitively in the “guy” category. There were a couple of other lads at our workshop day yesterday, but women dominate the program with what look like strong and varied projects. All the keynotes are women, and there was a rumour that the “greats” in the field were haunting the UPEI halls yesterday–these are the (mostly) women who challenged the view of the literati gatekeepers that Montgomery’s work was popular slub, just another clatch of genre fiction that will pass as the girls that read her grow up. They took Montgomery seriously and forged a space for academic conversation.

It’s a little bit intimidating, frankly.

I think about these things, about me as a boy in this women’s world I love so much, because I think that L.M. Montgomery invites us to think about gender in her books and in the places we live in. “You don’t want me because I’m not a boy!” is one of the great literary contrivances of the 20th century. And of that period we might want to reach back to Virginia Woolf’s brilliant work to think about women and literary spaces in new ways, Montgomery’s work, though more varied in quality, is rich and ready for exploration.

Besides, I’m not the first guy to walk into this room. Among the Montgomery trailblazers was Dr. Francis W.P. Bolger, a local legendary figure that we lost last year. Father Bolger was the kind of historian who excelled as a storyteller. I remember as a teenager watching his lectures with fascination and starting to feel that hunger for the past–which, when you listened to Fr. Bolger, felt like “our past.” Fr. Bolger took Montgomery seriously, and joined these renegade women in creating space for me at this conference (indeed, in creating the conference to begin with).

So, I must admit that as I get ready to head into the conference today, I am feeling well in body although considerable rumpled up in spirit. I hope there isn’t anything too startling in that. I suspect that I will be received well enough, and if I am well behaved, I can avoid having a slate broken over my head.

I am part of the social media team for the conference, and you can follow at #LMMI2018 on Twitter and Instagram. On Sunday or Monday I will be blogging some highlights and notes I made during the weekend. Feel free to chat online, and I may add an update or two on here.

Update: So, there are some guys here. At least a dozen in a crowd of nearly 200. One is a teaching colleague, Dave Hickey, who created a gorgeous display, “Unearthly Pleasures: The Artful Astronomy of L.M. Montgomery.” This is a digital exhibition based on his academic work, highlighting how connected Montgomery was to the heavens. I also had a chance to meet some Japanese scholars and a Japanese-Canadian librarian. Breaking out my rusty Japanese, but I can still bow in all the right ways. I think I’ll be okay.

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Posted in Canadian literature, L.M. Montgomery, Thoughtful Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The First Meeting of the Inklings, with George Sayer

I wrote last week about all the literary groups that formed some of the greatest writers of the 20th century, and how L.M. Montgomery was alone. One of those was the Inklings, which made C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien into the writers that they were. Without the daring possibilities in Tolkien’s work and the intelligent conversation of the Inklings, Lewis may never have turned to popular fiction and cultural criticism. Without Lewis’ persistent support and criticism and the company of other mythopoeic writers, Tolkien may never have completed that grand project of turning his mythology into popular story, lyric, and epic. I don’t think that the Inklings were more important to English literature than the Paris Expats or the Bloomsbury Set or the Detection Club, but in terms of the development of fantasy literature, the Inklings created new worlds.

Since I refer to the Inklings and their meetings so often, I thought I would be best to share a bit more of their background. To do this, I want briefly to introduce George Sayer.

Sayer was a student of C.S. Lewis’ at Magdalen College, Oxford. Until the close of the war where he worked in the Intelligence Corps. Following the war, George and Moira Sayer moved to Malvern College where would become a teacher and eventually head of English. The schoolmaster kept up his relationship with Lewis and Tolkien through letters and visits. Some of those audio recordings kicking around the internet of Tolkien reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were recorded at Hamewith, the Sayers’ Malvern home (though I don’t know which ones).

Lewis would visit the Sayers and hike through the Malvern Hills–this was, after all, where Lewis went to school as a boy. When he was a student at Oxford, Sayer’s spiritual interest was piqued by Lewis’ tutorials–though Sayer only realized in his third year of tutelage that Lewis was a Christian. Sayer is one of the converts to Catholicism–with Dom Bede Griffiths, Walter Hooper, and a score of others–whose spiritual journey was energized by Lewis and his work. The Sayers remained intimate with Lewis when he married Joy Davidman, the four enjoying visits together at the Kilns before Joy’s death.

Showing an unusual degree of restraint, Goerge Sayer waited until 1988 to write a biography of his mentor and friend. And this is a very good biography–really the best biography for those who simply want to get to know C.S. Lewis. There are other other biographies I would recommend for those interested in literature, spirituality, or sheer fact, but for an intimate memoir-biography, turn to Sayer’s Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times (1988; 1994; 2005). I don’t know if Sayer ever attended an official Inklings event, but his description of how the Inklings emerged and what happened there is a great introduction both to this Oxford literary circle and to Sayer’s biography.


For years no regular event delighted Jack more than the Thursday evening meetings of the little group of friends called the Inklings. His was the second group to use this name. Its predecessor was founded in about 1930 by a University College undergraduate named Tangye Lean. Members met in each other’s rooms to read aloud their poems and other work. There would be discussion, criticism, encouragement, and frivolity, all washed down with wine or beer. Lean’s group consisted mainly of students, but a few sympathetic dons were invited to join, including Tolkien and Jack, who may have been Lean’s tutor. Lean graduated in June 1933, and that autumn Jack first used the name the Inklings to describe the group that had already begun to meet in his rooms.

It was always utterly informal. There were no rules, no officers, and certainly no agenda. To become a member, one had to be invited, usually by Jack. Nearly all members were his friends.

The first was J.R.R. Tolkien, elected Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon in 1935. He was forty-two and full of energy. Coming from Leeds, he found the Oxford English School disappointing because it seemed to him that too much time was given to Victorian and modern literature and far too little to AngloSaxon and Middle English language and literature. He set out to remedy this with a remarkable energy and practicality. He also encouraged the study of Icelandic literature by forming another group of dons, called the Coalbiters, to read and translate the Sagas and Eddas. Most members of this group had a good knowledge of the language, but a few beginners, including Jack and Nevill Coghill, were invited to join. Tolkien presided and corrected everyone’s mistakes.

Jack’s first impressions of Tolkien were not entirely favorable, but he found the meetings of the Coalbiters exciting. He loved both the language and the literature, and the study revived his taste for “northernness” and brought back “the old authentic thrill” he had experienced as a child. Tolkien was a rather diffident and private person. He was a domestic man, deeply concerned with his home life and growing family. He was also a most gifted philologist and an inspired storyteller, combining these talents in the languages and people he invented for such books as The Silmarillion. A conservative Roman Catholic, he was rather quick to draw his sword if he thought his faith was under attack. He kept the best of himself for his own secret creative world as a storyteller, of which few indeed had any idea in the 1930s.

Although Jack studied Icelandic literature under Tolkien every few weeks, he did not realize until December 3, 1929, that they shared a taste for “northernness” and a delight in Norse mythology. Jack invited Tolkien to come back to his rooms after a Coalbiters meeting for a chat and some whiskey. He stayed for three hours, “discoursing of the gods and giants of Asgard.” The visit was longer than Jack had intended, but “who could turn him out, for the fire was bright and the talk good.” This discussion was the germ of the Inklings and the beginning of one of the most important literary friendships of the twentieth century. A few days later, Tolkien asked Jack to give his opinion on two poems, lyrical versions of some of the stories later published as The Silmarillion. Jack wrote encouragingly and suggested improvements. Although Tolkien did not care for many of these, he was delighted by Jack’s genuine interest and suggested that they might meet once a week so that he could read the rest of The Silmarillion to Jack.

The duo became a trio in 1933 by the addition of Warren [Lewis], who had been collecting books on the age of Louis XIV since World War I and was probably considering how to approach the study he hoped to write for publication. Although he did not begin his “doggerel history of the reign” until June 1934, meetings of the Inklings were for him among the high points of the week. He brought to the sessions a keen mind, an experience of army life at home and overseas, and a knowledge of a large number of unusual subjects.

In 1934 Hugo Dyson and Dr. Robert E. Havard made it a group. Dyson, a lecturer at Reading University, was volatile, exuberant, and eccentric, a quick-witted comedian; Jack enjoyed his sort of humor. Dyson’s encounter with Councillor Brewer, a man of vast bulk, in an Oxford pub is typical. Hugo addressed him with an almost servile deference, “You will pardon the liberty, sir. I trust you don’t think I presume, but I shall call you Fred.” Then, gazing intently at his full pale face, broke in again, “You’ll excuse me, sir, but am I looking at your full face or your profile?” The Councillor, still smiling determinedly, turned to his friend and began to reminisce about their having rowed together in the Teddy Hall boat the year Teddy Hall was bottom of the river. But we had never heard the story. “Bottom? Bottoms?” said Hugo. “Admirable things if ample enough, but you, sir, of course, could have no difficulty about that!” He much preferred talking to listening, and he disliked The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. For these reasons, people sometimes found him irritating.

Dr. Havard (always called Humphrey, a name given to him by Dyson) was Jack’s and Warren’s doctor from 1934 on. Although he was too busy to write much, he was well-read and keenly interested in the processes of literature and in theology. Havard did much to encourage Jack in the writing of the Narnia stories, the first of which was dedicated to his daughter. He was an entirely delightful man and much respected for his concern with the whole person, rather than just the physical body. I remember a reminiscence of Tolkien’s that illustrates this point.

“I told him that I was feeling depressed, so depressed that I hadn’t been to Mass for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t sleeping well either. He said I didn’t need drugs, what I needed was to go to Confession. He was at my house at 7:30 the following morning to take me to Confession and Mass. Of course I was completely cured. Now that’s the sort of doctor to have!”

Nevill Coghill, who read light verse, and Charles Wrenn, who tutored Jack’s third-year pupils in Old English, sometimes came to the group, as did Owen Barfield and other friends of Jack’s who happened to be in Oxford on Thursday evenings.

After the arrival of Charles Williams from London at the start of the war, still others joined the Inklings. Membership required the group’s general agreement. As Warren put it, “We all knew the sort of man we wanted—and did not want.” The latter included dogmatic men who relied, not on evidence, but on cliché—“The sort of fellow,” Jack would say, “who uses language not to communicate thought but instead of thought.”

The ritual never varied. When most of the expected members had arrived (and maybe only three or four would come), Warren would brew a pot of strong tea, the smokers would light their pipes, and Jack would say, “Well, has nobody got anything to read us?” If no one else produced a manuscript, Jack might read something of his own. This was not a mutual admiration society. “Praise for good work was unstinted but censure for bad, or even not so good, was often brutally frank.” To read could be a formidable ordeal. Warren has left an account of the meetings in 1946, which he describes as a vintage year:

. . . [W]e had at most meetings a chapter of what I call “the new Hobbit” from Tolkien; this being the book or books ultimately published as “The Lord of the Rings.” [O]n 30th October . . . there was a long argument on the ethics of cannibalism, and on 28th November Roy Campbell read his translation of a couple of Spanish poems and John Wain won an outstanding bet by reading a chapter of “Irene Iddesleigh” without a smile. At our next meeting David Cecil read a chapter of his forthcoming book on Gray. Sometimes, but not often, it would happen that no one had anything to read to us, and on these occasions the fun would grow riotous, with Jack at the top of his form and enjoying every minute—“No sound delights me more,” he once said, “than male laughter.” At the Inklings his talk was an outpouring of wit, nonsense, whimsy, dialectical swordplay, and pungent judgements. . . .

The same company used to meet on Tuesdays (later Mondays) for an hour or two before lunch at The Eagle and Child (a pub that was always referred to in University circles as “The Bird and Baby”). This particular inn was chosen partly because of its small back room, but mainly because of the character of its landlord, Charles Blagrove, who had

“endless stories of an Oxford which is as dead as Dr. Johnson’s . . . an Oxford in which it was not uncommon for undergrads to fight a landlord for a pint of beer: both would strip to the waist, have a mill in the backyard, and then the battered undergrad would throw down a sovereign and depart.”

Blagrove had begun life as a cab driver. He remembered undergraduates who were so fastidious that they would give him their new suits if they did not fit perfectly. He could talk about the lavish tips he had received for driving “what he used to call ‘fancy goods’ to secluded spots; of the people who used to hire his cab to be taken ‘somewhere where they could find a fight’; of rags, dinners, that general reckless extravagance and panache which prevailed when the security of the upper classes was still absolute, and England ruled the world. . . .”

Jack held meetings of the Inklings in his rooms for fifteen years, until one horrible Thursday in October 1949 when nobody turned up. What were his motives? In his brilliant book, The Inklings, Humphrey Carpenter suggests that he sought to protect himself through the formation of a circle of friends against the powerful inner circle that seemed to him to dominate Magdalen and university politics. This seems to me to be true. He felt isolated during his early years at Magdalen and under dialectical attack during the later ones. For reassurance, he needed fairly frequent meetings with his friends, men who held similar views. Though few who met him casually would have guessed it, he was beneath the surface plagued by Celtic melancholy and a streak of pessimism, qualities the Inklings held at bay. He loved his friends and liked to think that he was of service to them in their literary careers. Meetings of the Inklings made him utterly happy (George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis, pp. 228-234).

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The Inklings and King Arthur: Selfies and News

Since the first call for chapters for The Inklings and King Arthur, this not-so-little book has been on its own adventure. Conference panels, keynote talks, digital round-table discussions, and crowd-sourced funding were all part of a long editorial and publication journey, shepherded all the way by editor Sørina Higgins. The result is a rigorous examination of the theological, literary, historical, and linguistic implications of the Arthurian writings of all the major Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. I was pleased to provide one of the chapters, where I used the opportunity to test out some theory stuff I am working on. Specifically, I wrote about how Lewis brings various fictional worlds together in That Hideous Strength (Lewis’ only overt Arthurian novel, and one of the few Inklings pieces of Arthurian fiction to be published when it was written).

While it is not a great surprise to me, the book has been received well. Philip Jenkins has a nice review on Patheos. Folks were talking about it at the recent C.S. Lewis & Friends conference (there’s a picture of me somewhere describing the book badly). Researchers are using it and there is a great social media feeling about it.

And, news of news, it has been shortlisted for the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies! This prize is given to books on J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and/or Charles Williams that makes significant contributions to Inklings scholarship. Check out editor Sørina Higgins’ release here to see the fine company the I&A book is joining. I’d love to be going to Mythcon in Atlanta this year.

Well, my copy of the book finally came! It actually arrived while I was doing archival work at the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton. I thought the address tag was so cool–that’s a powerful c/o on the label–I took a picture of it on Charles Williams’ trunk.

If any artifact were to have some degree of power it would come from Charles Williams. However, while you are at the Wade it is hard to resist the English garden, cottagy, hobbitish nature of the world of stories of letters that they made in this idyllic American town. Here I am doing my book selfie in front of the (probably imported) Narnian lamppost at the Wade:

And inside the Wade there is the Wardrobe–the Wardrobe, I’m told, the Lewis family piece that may have inspired that long-sought-for gateway to Narnia:

Have you taken a selfie with your copy and hashtagged it #InklingsandArthur? Please do so. The book has sold well, so make sure you grab your copy from your local bookseller and request that your library order it in. As an academic book it is cheap, but if the price is still high, I’d encourage you to look at the kindle version, which is $10 or less in most places. Bloggers, make sure you share your thoughts with the world and watch for academic journal reviews to start appearing later this year.

To supplement the book, there is also an extensive Inklings and Arthur series, hosted here on A Pilgrim in Narnia. The series includes authors and artists from the collection, as well as some other friends of the blog:

Post #1: “The Launch of The Inklings and King Arthur” by blog host and C.S. Lewis scholar Brenton Dickieson

Post #2: “Inklings and Arthur Series Introduction” by series editor and Charles Williams scholar David Llewellyn Dodds

Post #3“The Argument Continues: Late 20th Century Christian and Pagan Depictions of Arthur and the Grail” by Suzanne Bray, professor of British literature and vivilisation

Post #4: “A Personal Reflection on Logres and The Matter of Britain” by Stephen Winter, Anglican minister and Tolkienist

Post #5: “‘The Name is Against Them’: C.S. Lewis and the Problem of Arthur” by Gabriel Schenk, Arthurian scholar at Signum University

Post #6: “An ‘Easy to Read’ Modern Arthurian Epic” by Dale Nelson, academic and columnist for CSL

Post #7: The Signum University “Inklings & King Arthur Roundtable” with Inklings scholars Corey Olsen, Malcolm Guite, Sørina Higgins, and Brenton Dickieson

Post #8: “Wood-Woses: Tolkien’s Wild Men and the Green Knight” by King’s College medievalist Ethan Campbell

Post #9: “Inklings and Arthur: An Artist’s Perspective” by book designer Emily Austin

Post #10: “Arthurian Literature and the Old Everyman’s Library” by Dale Nelson, academic and columnist for CSL

Post #11: “Filling the Gaps in History: Mythopoesis as Deep Insight” by Inklings scholar Charles Huttar

Post #12: “Chesterton, Arthur, and Enchanting England” by Chesterton scholar J. Cameron Moore

Post #13: “Thor: Ragnarok and C.S. Lewis’ Mythic Passions” by Josiah Peterson, teacher in “The Rhetoric of C.S. Lewis” at The King’s College in New York

Post #14: “Charles Williams’s Arthurian Treasury” by Grevel Lindop, Charles Williams biographer

Post #15: “Tiny Fairies: J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Errantry’ and Martyn Skinner’s Sir Elfadore and Mabyna” by Dale Nelson, academic and columnist for CSL

Post 16: “C.S. Lewis’ Arthuriad: Survey and Speculation” by blog host and C.S. Lewis scholar Brenton Dickieson

Post 17: ““The Grail: Cup, Stone – Santo Caliz? – and the Inklings?” by David Llewellyn Dodds” by series editor and Charles Williams scholar David Llewellyn Dodds

Here are a few other Arthur-related posts on A Pilgrim in Narnia:

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Emily of New Moon’s Visitation of Beauty with Father Cassidy (L.M. Montgomery Series) #LMMI2018

The story I want to share, the tale of Father Cassidy in Emily of New Moon, is looked on a little darkly in some parts of L.M. Montgomery studies. Part of this is because the Emily books can be read as a conversation about how Emily negotiates her world, particularly with regard to the men in her life. I spoke of her schoolmaster a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Carpenter who ruined his own life but through his brusque manner was able to help fan into flame the threatened spark of Emily’s literary ability. But there is also Dean Priest, who saves Emily’s life just as she is about to come into her teen years. In their encounter he claims her for his future wife, reshaping her imaginatively into an Egyptian priestess (i.e., temple prostitute?). One of the critical tensions in the trilogy is Emily’s struggle to come to terms with this man. Even granted that girls came earlier into womanhood a century ago, the Dean Priest scenes are more than a little creepy and yet are crafted in some of Montgomery’s most evocative prose.

Then we have Father Cassidy, who is read by some as another adult male shaping and forming the girl into his imaginary wont. I’m not so sure, though. Certainly, the father-mentor-brother-lover-friend lines blur in the Emily series, so Aunt Elizabeth is really kind of a female grandfather and Cousin Jimmy a non-adult man. I like these readings, but I want to step outside of them for a minute to look at Father Cassidy.

There are very few well-drawn Catholic figures in Montgomery’s work, and I think this is one of them. In this case, she uses the Catholic stereotypes to work for her. Instead of shoreline white trash or ignorant Acadian farmboys, she has with Father Cassidy a whimsical adult who is a friend of fairyland–I would argue even a kindred spirit.

Montgomery’s brilliant children often lose some of their brilliance as they settle into adulthood; readers complain that Anne disappears as the Anne books progress. I think Montgomery tries to stop that regression by creating an adult version of “kindred spirits,” what her best friend had once called “the race that knows Joseph.” In Anne’s House of Dreams and the early Ingleside books, the race that knows Joseph are a quiet collective of resonant souls. As Anne must learn in Anne of Green Gables that kindred spirits come in all shape and sizes, the race that knows Joseph has a diversity of personalities and points of view. Throughout her books, Montgomery uses these little cyphers to join together kindred spirits, things like the “household of faith,” those that have heard the “horns of elfland” or are “that kind of people” that see rock people on the Island’s north shores, those who are of the “sect of dreamers” or are “children of light.”

I want to read Father Cassidy in this category of characters.

The scene is one of crisis for little orphan girl Emily. She is creative and completely misunderstood in her old-fashioned household. Besides the daily persecution against her imagination, she is being blamed for the actions of her neighbour, Lofty John, who has threatened to mow down the little wood at the edge of the New Moon property–the wood that provides shade and beauty and blocks the wind. Trust me, as a child who grew up in a draughty house at the top of a hill in rural PEI, we would have dearly loved a grove on the west side of our house. The New Moon people were about to lose that gift and Emily was distraught.

“One day by the banks of Blair Water Emily sat down and wept” (ch. 18). Her close friend, Teddy, happens upon her and gives Emily the idea that Lofty John’s priest could be petitioned for help,

“Because the Catholics have to do just what their priests tell them to, haven’t they?” (ch. 18).

After turning the task over in her mind, determined and afraid, Emily decides to make the long walk to throw herself upon the mercies of Father Cassidy.

You have to read the passage with your imagination of an Irish Catholic PEI accent. Is Father Cassidy of the race that knows Joseph or one of the dark figures of Emily’s life? Or perhaps he is both? In any case, allow yourself to switch perspectives as you read: think of yourself as a little Scotch Presbyterian girl encountering a Catholic priest for the first time, and think of yourself as a country priest who has Emily Byrd Starr wander into his garden. Perhaps I can win you over to the idea that Fr. Cassidy holds “a passport to the geography of fairyland” (The Alpine Path ch. 5).


Emily went home with a determined twist to her mouth. She ate as much supper as she could–which wasn’t much, for Aunt Elizabeth’s face would have destroyed her appetite if she had had any–and then sneaked out of the house by the front door. Cousin Jimmy was working in his garden but he did not call her. Cousin Jimmy was always very sorrowful now. Emily stood a moment on the Grecian porch and looked at Lofty John’s bush–green-bosomed, waving, all lovely. Would it be a desecrated waste of stumps by Monday night?

Goaded by the thought Emily cast fear and hesitation to the winds and started briskly off down the lane. When she reached the gate she turned to the left on the long red road of mystery that ran up the Delectable Mountain. She had never been on that road before; it ran straight to White Cross; Emily was going to the parish house there to interview Father Cassidy. It was two miles to White Cross and Emily walked it all too soon–not because it was a beautiful road of wind and wild fern, haunted by little rabbits–but because she dreaded what awaited her at the end. She had been trying to think what she should say–how she should say it; but her invention failed her. She had no acquaintance with Catholic priests, and couldn’t imagine how you should talk to them at all. They were even more mysterious and unknowable than ministers. Suppose Father Cassidy should be dreadfully angry at her daring to come there and ask a favour. Perhaps it was a dreadful thing to do from every point of view. And very likely it would do no good. Very likely Father Cassidy would refuse to interfere with Lofty John, who was a good Catholic, while she was, in his opinion, a heretic. But for any chance, even the faintest, of averting the calamity impending over New Moon, Emily would have faced the entire Sacred College.

Horribly frightened, miserably nervous as she was, the idea of turning back never occurred to her. She was only sorry that she hadn’t put on her Venetian beads. They might have impressed Father Cassidy.

Although Emily had never been to White Cross she knew the parish house when she saw it–a fine, tree-embowered residence near the big white chapel with the flashing gilt cross on its spire and the four gilt angels, one on each of the little spires at the corners. Emily thought them very beautiful as they gleamed in the light of the lowering sun, and wished they could have some on the plain white church at Blair Water. She couldn’t understand why Catholics should have all the angels. But there was not time to puzzle over this, for the door was opening and the trim little maid was looking a question.

“Is–Father Cassidy–at–home?” asked Emily, rather jerkily.

“Yes.”

“Can–I–see–him?”

“Come in,” said the little maid. Evidently there was no difficulty about seeing Father Cassidy–no mysterious ceremonies such as Emily had half expected, even if she were allowed to see him at all. She was shown into a book-lined room and left there, while the maid went to call Father Cassidy, who, she said, was working in the garden. That sounded quite natural and encouraging. If Father Cassidy worked in a garden, he could not be so very terrible.

Emily looked about her curiously. She was in a very pretty room–with cosy chairs, and pictures and flowers. Nothing alarming or uncanny about it–except a huge black cat who was sitting on the top of one of the bookcases. It was really an enormous creature. Emily adored cats and had always felt at home with any of them. But she had never seen such a cat as this. What with its size and its insolent, gold-hued eyes, set like living jewels in its black velvet face, it did not seem to belong to the same species as nice, cuddly, respectable kittens at all. Mr Dare would never have had such a beast about his manse. All Emily’s dread of Father Cassidy returned.

And then in came Father Cassidy, with the friendliest smile in the world. Emily took him in with her level glance as was her habit–or gift–and never again in the world was she the least bit afraid of Father Cassidy. He was big and broad-shouldered, with brown eyes and brown hair; and his very face was so deeply tanned from his inveterate habit of going about bareheaded in merciless sunshine, that it was brown, too. Emily thought he looked just like a big nut–a big, brown, wholesome nut.

Father Cassidy looked at her as he shook hands; Emily had one of her visitations of beauty just then. Excitement had brought a wildrose hue to her face, the sunlight brought out the watered-silk gloss of her black hair; her eyes were softly dark and limpid; but it was at her ears Father Cassidy suddenly bent to look. Emily had a moment of agonized wonder if they were clean.

“She’s got pointed ears,” said Father Cassidy, in a thrilling whisper. “Pointed ears! I knew she came straight from fairyland the minute I saw her. Sit down, Elf–if elves do sit–sit down and give me the latest news av Titania’s court.”

Emily’s foot was now on her native heath. Father Cassidy talked her language, and he talked it in such a mellow, throaty voice, slurring his “ofs” ever so softly as became a proper Irishman. But she shook her head a little sadly. With the burden of her errand on her soul she could not play the part of ambassadress from Elfland.

“I’m only Emily Starr of New Moon,” she said; and then gasped hurriedly, because there must be no deception–no sailing under false colours, “and I’m a Protestant.”

“And a very nice little Protestant you are,” said Father Cassidy. “But for sure I’m a bit disappointed. I’m used to Protestants–the woods hereabouts being full av them–but it’s a hundred years since the last elf called on me.”

Emily stared. Surely Father Cassidy wasn’t a hundred years old. He didn’t look more than fifty. Perhaps, though, Catholic priests did live longer than other people. She didn’t know exactly what to say so she said, a bit lamely,

“I see you have a cat.”

“Wrong.” Father Cassidy shook his head and groaned dismally. “A cat has me.”

Emily gave up trying to understand Father Cassidy. He was nice but ununderstandable. She let it go at that. And she must get on with her errand.

“You are a kind of minister, aren’t you?” she asked timidly. She didn’t know whether Father Cassidy would like being called a minister.

“Kind av,” he agreed amiably. “And you see ministers and priests can’t do their own swearing. They have to keep cats to do it for them. I never knew any cat that could sware as genteelly and effectively as the B’y.”

“Is that what you call him?” asked Emily, looking at the black cat in some awe. It seemed hardly safe to discuss him right before his face.

“That’s what he calls himself. My mother doesn’t like him because he steals the cream. Now, _I_ don’t mind his doing that; no, it’s his way av licking his jaws after it that I can’t stand. Oh, B’y, we’ve a fairy calling on us. Be excited for once, I implore you–there’s a duck av a cat.”

The B’y refused to be excited. He winked an insolent eye at Emily.

“Have you any idea what goes on in the head av a cat, elf?”

What queer questions Father Cassidy asked. Yet Emily thought she would like his questions if she were not so worried. Suddenly Father Cassidy leaned across the table and said,

“Now, just what’s bothering you?”

“I’m so unhappy,” said Emily piteously.

“So are lots av other people. Everybody is unhappy by spells, But creatures who have pointed ears shouldn’t be unhappy. It’s only mortals who should be that.”

“Oh, please–please–” Emily wondered what she should call him. Would it offend him if a Protestant called him “Father”? But she had to risk it–“please, Father Cassidy, I’m in such trouble and I’ve come to ask a great favour of you.”

Emily told him the whole tale from beginning to end–the old Murray-Sullivan feud, her erstwhile friendship with Lofty John, the Big Sweet apple, the unhappy consequence, and Lofty John’s threatened revenge. The B’y and Father Cassidy listened with equal gravity until she had finished. Then the B’y winked at her, but Father Cassidy put his long brown fingers together.

“Humph,” he said.

(“That’s the first time,” reflected Emily, “that I’ve ever heard anyone outside of a book say ‘Humph.'”)

“Humph,” said Father Cassidy again. “And you want me to put a stop to this nefarious deed?”

“If you can,” said Emily. “Oh, it would be so splendid if you could. Will you–will you?”

Father Cassidy fitted his fingers still more carefully together.

“I’m afraid I can hardly invoke the power av the keys to prevent Lofty John from disposing as he wishes av his own lawful property, you know, elf.”

Emily didn’t understand the allusion to the keys but she did understand that Father Cassidy was declining to bring the lever of the Church to bear on Lofty John. There was no hope, then. She could not keep the tears of disappointment out of her eyes.

“Oh, come now, darling, don’t cry,” implored Father Cassidy. “Elves never cry–they can’t. It would break my heart to discover you weren’t av the Green Folk. You may call yourself av New Moon and av any religion you like, but the fact remains that you belong to the Golden Age and the old gods. That’s why I must save your precious bit av greenwood for you.”

Emily stared.

“I think it can be done,” Father Cassidy went on. “I think if I go to Lofty John and have a heart-to-heart talk with him I can make him see reason. Lofty John and I are very good friends. He’s a reasonable creature, if you know how to take him–which means to flatter his vanity judiciously. I’ll put it to him, not as priest to parishioner, but as man to man, that no decent Irishman carries on a feud with women and that no sensible person is going to destroy for nothing but a grudge those fine old trees that have taken half a century to grow and can never be replaced. Why the man who cuts down such a tree except when it is really necessary should be hanged as high as Haman on a gallows made from the wood
av it.”

(Emily thought she would write that last sentence of Father Cassidy’s down in Cousin Jimmy’s blank book [her writing diary] when she got home.)

“But I won’t say THAT to Lofty John,” concluded Father Cassidy. “Yes, Emily av New Moon, I think we can consider it a settled thing that your bush will not be cut down.”

Suddenly Emily felt very happy. Somehow she had entire confidence in Father Cassidy. She was sure he would twist Lofty John around his little finger.

“Oh, I can never thank you enough!” she said earnestly.

“That’s true, so don’t waste breath trying. And now tell me things. Are there any more av you? And how long have you been yourself?”

“I’m twelve years old–I haven’t any brothers or sisters. And I think I’d better be going home.”

“Not till you’ve had a bite av lunch.”

“Oh, thank you, I’ve had my supper.”

“Two hours ago and a two-mile walk since. Don’t tell me. I’m sorry I haven’t any nectar and ambrosia on hand–such food as elves eat–and not even a saucer av moonshine–but my mother makes the best plum cake av any woman in P. E. Island. And we keep a cream cow. Wait here a bit. Don’t be afraid av the B’y. He eats tender little Protestants sometimes, but he never meddles with leprechauns.”

When Father Cassidy came back his mother came with him, carrying a tray. Emily had expected to see her big and brown too, but she was the tiniest woman imaginable, with snow-white, silky hair, mild blue eyes, and pink cheeks.

“Isn’t she the sweetest thing in the way av mothers?” asked Father Cassidy. “I keep her to look at. Av course–” Father Cassidy dropped his voice to a pig’s whisper–“there’s something odd about her. I’ve known that woman to stop right in the middle av housecleaning, and go off and spend an afternoon in the woods. Like yourself, I’m thinking she has some truck with fairies.”

Mrs Cassidy smiled, kissed Emily, said she must go out and finish her preserving, and trotted off.

“Now you sit right down here, Elf, and be human for ten minutes and we’ll have a friendly snack.”

Emily was hungry–a nice comfortable feeling she hadn’t experienced for a fortnight. Mrs Cassidy’s plum cake was all her reverend son claimed, and the cream cow seemed to be no myth.

“What do you think av me now?” asked Father Cassidy suddenly, finding Emily’s eyes fixed on him speculatively.

Emily blushed. She had been wondering if she dared ask another favour of Father Cassidy.

“I think you are awfully good,” she said.

“I am awfully good,” agreed Father Cassidy. “I’m so good that I’ll do what you want me to do–for I feel there’s something else you want me to do.”

“I’m in a scrape and I’ve been in it all summer. You see”–Emily was very sober–“I am a poetess.”

“Holy Mike! That is serious. I don’t know if I can do much for you. How long have you been that way?”

“Are you making fun of me?” asked Emily gravely.

Father Cassidy swallowed something besides plum cake.

“The saints forbid! It’s only that I’m rather overcome. To be after entertaining a lady av New Moon–and an elf–and a poetess all in one is a bit too much for a humble praste like meself. Have another slice av cake and tell me all about it.”

“It’s like this–I’m writing an epic.”

Father Cassidy suddenly leaned over and gave Emily’s wrist a little pinch.

“I just wanted to see if you were real,” he explained. “Yes–yes, you’re writing an epic–go on. I think I’ve got my second wind now.”

“I began it last spring. I called it The White Lady first but now I’ve changed it to The Child of the Sea. Don’t you think that’s a better title?”

“Much better.”

“I’ve got three cantos done, and I can’t get any further because there’s something I don’t know and can’t find out. I’ve been so worried about it.”

“What is it?”

“My epic,” said Emily, diligently devouring plum cake, “is about a very beautiful high-born girl who was stolen away from her real parents when she was a baby and brought up in a woodcutter’s hut.”

“One av the seven original plots in the world,” murmured Father Cassidy.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just a bad habit av thinking aloud. Go on.”

“She had a lover of high degree but his family did not want him to marry her because she was only a woodcutter’s daughter–”

“Another of the seven plots–excuse me.”

“–so they sent him away to the Holy Land on a crusade and word came back that he was killed and then Editha–her name was Editha–went into a convent–”

Emily paused for a bite of plum cake and Father Cassidy took up the strain.

“And now her lover comes back very much alive, though covered with Paynim scars, and the secret av her birth is discovered through the dying confession av the old nurse and the birthmark on her arm.”

“How did you know?” gasped Emily in amazement.

“Oh, I guessed it–I’m a good guesser. But where’s your bother in all this?”

“I don’t know how to get her out of the convent,” confessed Emily. “I thought perhaps you would know how it could be done.”

Again Father Cassidy fitted his fingers.

“Let us see, now. It’s no light matter you’ve undertaken, young lady. How stands the case? Editha has taken the veil, not because she has a religious vocation but because she imagines her heart is broken. The Catholic Church does not release its nuns from their vows because they happen to think they’ve made a little mistake av that sort. No, no–we must have a better reason. Is this Editha the sole child av her real parents?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, then the way is clear. If she had had any brothers or sisters you would have had to kill them off, which is a messy thing to do. Well, then, she is the sole daughter and heiress av a noble family who have for years been at deadly feud with another noble family–the family av the lover. Do you know what a feud is?”

“Of course,” said Emily disdainfully. “And I’ve got all that in the poem already.”

“So much the better. This feud has rent the kingdom in twain and can only be healed by an alliance between Capulet and Montague.”

“Those aren’t their names.”

“No matter. This, then, is a national affair, with far-reaching issues, therefore an appeal to the Supreme Pontiff is quite in order. What you want,” Father Cassidy nodded solemnly, “is a dispensation from Rome.”

“Dispensation is a hard word to work into a poem,” said Emily.

“Undoubtedly. But young ladies who will write epic poems and who will lay the scenes thereof amid times and manners av hundreds av years ago, and will choose heroines of a religion quite unknown to them, must expect to run up against a few snags.”

“Oh, I think I’ll be able to work it in,” said Emily cheerfully. “And I’m so much obliged to you. You don’t know what a relief it is to my mind. I’ll finish the poem right up now in a few weeks. I haven’t done a thing at it all summer. But then of course I’ve been busy. Ilse Burnley and I have been making a new language.”

“Making a–new–excuse me. Did you say language?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the matter with English? Isn’t it good enough for you, you incomprehensible little being?”

“Oh, yes. THAT isn’t why we’re making a new one. You see in the spring, Cousin Jimmy got a lot of French boys to help plant the potatoes. I had to help too, and Ilse came to keep me company. And it was so annoying to hear those boys talking French when we couldn’t understand a word of it. They did it just to make us mad. Such jabbering! So Ilse and I just made up our minds we’d invent a new language that THEY couldn’t understand. We’re getting on fine and when the potato picking time comes we’ll be able to talk to each other and those boys won’t be able to understand a word we’re saying. Oh, it will be great fun!”

“I haven’t a doubt. But two girls who will go to all the trouble av inventing a new language just to get square with some poor little French boys–you’re beyond me,” said Father Cassidy, helplessly. “Goodness knows what you’ll be doing when you grow up. You’ll be Red Revolutionists. I tremble for Canada.”

“Oh, it isn’t a trouble–it’s fun. And all the girls in school are just wild because they hear us talking in it and can’t make it out. We can talk secrets right before them.”

“Human nature being what it is, I can see where the fun comes in all right. Let’s hear a sample av your language.”

“Nat millan O ste dolman bote ta Shrewsbury fernas ta poo litanos,” said Emily glibly. “That means, ‘Next summer I am going to Shrewsbury woods to pick strawberries.’ I yelled that across the playground to Ilse the other day at recess and oh, how everybody stared.”

“Staring, is it? I should say so. My own poor old eyes are all but dropping out av me head. Let’s hear a bit more av it.”

“Mo tral li dead seb ad li mo trene. Mo bertral seb mo bertrene das sten dead e ting setra. THAT means ‘My father is dead and so is my mother. My grandfather and grandmother have been dead a long time.” We haven’t invented a word for ‘dead’ yet. I think I will soon be able to write my poems in our language and then Aunt Elizabeth will not be able to read them if she finds them.”

“Have you written any other poetry besides your epic?”

“Oh, yes–but just short pieces–dozens of them.”

“H’m. Would you be so kind as to let me hear one av them?”

Emily was greatly flattered. And she did not mind letting Father Cassidy hear her precious stuff.

“I’ll recite my last poem,” she said, clearing her throat importantly. “It’s called Evening Dreams.”

Father Cassidy listened attentively. After the first verse a change came over his big brown face, and he began patting his finger tips together. When Emily finished she hung down her lashes and waited tremblingly. What if Father Cassidy said it was no good? No, he wouldn’t be so impolite–but if he bantered her as he had done about her epic–she would know what that meant.

Father Cassidy did not speak all at once. The prolonged suspense was terrible to Emily. She was afraid he could not praise and did not want to hurt her feelings by dispraise. All at once her “Evening Dreams” seemed trash and she wondered how she could ever have been silly enough to repeat it to Father Cassidy.

Of course, it was trash. Father Cassidy knew that well enough. All the same, for a child like this–and rhyme and rhythm were flawless–and there was one line–just one line–“the light of faintly golden stars”–for the sake of that line Father Cassidy suddenly said,

“Keep on–keep on writing poetry.”

“You mean–?” Emily was breathless.

“I mean you’ll be able to do something by and by. Something–I don’t know how much–but keep on–keep on.”

Emily was so happy she wanted to cry. It was the first word of commendation she had ever received except from her father–and a father might have too high an opinion of one. THIS was different. To the end of her struggle for recognition Emily never forgot Father Cassidy’s “Keep on” and the tone in which he said it.

“Aunt Elizabeth scolds me for writing poetry,” she said wistfully. “She says people will think I’m as simple as Cousin Jimmy.”

“The path of genius never did run smooth. But have another piece av cake–do, just to show there’s something human about you.”

“Ve, merry ti. O del re dolman cosey aman ri sen ritter. THAT means, ‘No, thank you. I must be going home before it gets dark.'”

“I’ll drive you home.”

“Oh, no, no. It’s very kind of you”–the English language was quite good enough for Emily now, “but I’d rather walk. “It’s–it’s–such good exercise.”

“Meaning,” said Father Cassidy with a twinkle in his eye, “that we must keep it from the old lady? Good-bye, and may you always see a happy face in your looking-glass!”

Emily was too happy to be tired on the way home. There seemed to be a bubble of joy in her heart–a shimmering, prismatic bubble. When she came to the top of the big hill and looked across to New Moon, her eyes were satisfied and loving. How beautiful it was,
lying embowered in the twilight of the old trees; the tips of the loftiest spruces came out in purple silhouette against the northwestern sky of rose and amber; down behind it the Blair Water dreamed in silver; the Wind Woman had folded her misty bat-wings in a valley of sunset and stillness lay over the world like a blessing. Emily felt sure everything would be all right. Father Cassidy would manage it in some way.

And he had told her to “keep on.”

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Why the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium is Awesome: The Bit About Students

I have just returned from what remains for me the best conference I have ever experienced when it comes to engendering an atmosphere of support for emerging scholars while remaining critical on the material. Part of this is no doubt nostalgic. A few years ago, the C.S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium at Taylor University was my “coming out” as a Lewis scholar, and there I found a cohort of friends in my generation interesting in these kinds of questions–not just researchers, but a motley crew of broadcasters, poets, novelists, fans, collectors, gamers, theologians, critics, performers, musicians, renegade scholars, and folk that kick around the archives. Since that conference, I have felt such thorough support from senior and established scholars and artists. Now that I’ve come out of my shell I am pleased that I was able to get to know about half of the students at the conference.

And these students are awesome. Whatever “kids these days” balderdash you might hear from media or so-called community leaders, I continue to proclaim that there is a quiet confederation of authentic, skilled, integrated millennials (and Gen-Zers) who carry with them a greater potential than my generation has been able to supply. Hashtag, the kids are all right.

Some of these students I knew were awesome going in.

After all, there was a contingency of Signum University students, including one of my research methods students, Emily Austin (not Austen–sorry about the misspelled tweets!). Emily, who designed the cover for The Inklings and King Arthur, was a kind of artist-in-resident for the weekend (see something I picked up below) and gave a paper pressing in on central themes common to both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I hesitate to put Josiah Peterson into the “student” category as he is a debate coach and teaches rhetoric and C.S. Lewis at The King’s College in NYC. But Josiah took my C.S. Lewis class a couple of years ago and is in the MA in cultural apologetics program at Houston Baptist University, with Holly Ordway and Michael Ward (C.S. Lewis readers may have heard of them). I caught Josiah’s first paper, where he enlightened us on Edwin Abbott Abbott’s novella, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884), which was important to Lewis’ intellectual development.

Beyond the Signum and King’s College crowd–including guest bloggers on A Pilgrim in Narnia–there are the Taylor superstars. I don’t know if Taylor University is an elite college or not–their staff and faculty suggest it, as well as the tuition price–but the school either invites or creates elite students. There are too many to name, but they are poets and scholars and organizers extraordinaire. Not wanting to highlight and exclude, I’d still like to brag that I have the paper copy of the award-winning student short story by Bethany Russell. I may have to sell that one day to pay for my kid to go to Taylor.

I got to have a great discussion with Kayla Beebout and Annalee Brantner, students of the intrepid Devin Brown at Asbury University. We had a discussion about whether Prince Edward Island was a real or a mythical place (it is both), and given their capacity for critical thought I would have loved to hear their papers. Part of that is their topics, both working in the Ransom Cycle. Annalee has “Hnau” in the title, so I’m won over there, and Kayla asks the important question, “What do Weston and Devine look like as post-Christian characters?” Expanded out to broader literature, this is the question that we are under-highlighting in socio-literary readings today. The Asbury students were joined by Trevecca students with an eye for a great question, Torri Frye and Christian Mack. I’m still trying to decide if I agree with Christian’s imaginative construct in reading of Till We Have Faces, but it was a strong paper.

Through serendipity or fate or the wisdom of conference grandmaster Joe Ricke, my own little paper on C.S. Lewis and L.M. Montgomery was in a session with not one but two papers on archival discoveries. Not unconnected, these are both students from Azuza Pacific where Roger White and Diana Pavlac Glyer excel in teaching and research. I had met Christine Murphy on the first day as she was talking to handwriting expert Charlie Starr about a piece she found haunting Azuza’s C.S. Lewis archive. Christine used archival research to skillfully make a link through Lewis’ literary critical work between 1930 and 1942. Sara O’Dell is a little further along than most and doesn’t fit in the same kind of “student category” as she is a PhD/MD researcher. She also is doing archival research worth noting, discovering the full, unpublished “Appendix” fellow Inkling Dr. Havard wrote for Lewis’  The Problem of Pain. I can’t wait to see the full paper for each of these pieces.

I got to chat with a half-dozen more students, many of them from the Taylor University superstar section of undergrads. After a reception on Saturday night, a large circle of us stayed up chatting about topics that ranged from C.S. Lewis’ ridiculous use of money to the experience today of evangelical millennials to murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. It was a great night and highlighted for me the quality of mind and heart that millennials can bring to social conversations if we can be perspicacious enough–or humble enough?–to see it.

This is one of Emily Austin’s pieces, “Leaf by Niggle”. Check out her blog for more Inklings inspired art.

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In an Age of Literary Groups, L.M. Montgomery was Alone (L.M. Montgomery Series) #LMMI2018

I first saw the trend with the Oxford Inklings. Out of an informal Nordic literary society in the late 20s where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien first met, the Inklings began gathering in the early 30s. Although C.S. Lewis wasn’t the most important member of the club, his skill for spotting talent and pulling together books quickly combined with his fierce sense of friendship. These characteristics coalesced so that Lewis became the prime “resonator” of the Inklings, to use Diana Pavlac Glyer‘s terms. Over the years he spent a great deal of time encouraging authors by providing editorial support, criticism, and vision for their project. Everyone did this in the Oxford collective, but even Humphrey Carpenter, author of The Inklings, admits that Lewis shone in this role.

For instance, without Lewis, Tolkien may never have had the gumption to complete The Hobbit and see it through to completion. As The Hobbit was finally in the publisher’s hands, Lewis and Tolkien flipped a coin with the commitment that one should write a space fantasy and one a time travel piece. Lewis won the space side of the coin and wrote Out of the Silent Planet, beginning a weird, jumbled, wonderful science fiction cycle of uneven quality and enduring interest. After Charles Williams died, Lewis edited a volume of essays in honour of him, pulled together his unfinished Arthurian history, and provided a commentary for his obscure and evocative poetry. Inklings meetings were not just talks about literature, but in Lewis’ Magdalen College rooms or at the Eagle and Child pub, many books were read out loud, including The Lord of the Rings, The Problem of Pain including Dr. Robert Havard’s appendix, The Great Divorce, some of Warren Lewis’French history work, and short stories or poems by all members.

Each of the Oxford Inklings left his mark–and the central group were all “hims”–at least partly due to the energy of their literary set. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia changed literature in their own way, and they were brought to fruition by bookish, cider-drinking friends.

This was a feature of the period in the authors I like to read. The Inklings were far from the most famous group in the first half of the century–though a 25-year almost unbroken history of weekly meetings is a bit unusual for any writing club. Is the Bloomsbury Set the most famous group, or is it the Paris Expats? I don’t know, but there are links between the groups and I like to think of the Bloomsbury Set as being, like the Inklings, the Group Proper and the authors in concentric circles around the group.

My interest in these groups caused me to pick up two books. One was Bill Goldstein’s The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature. This book narrows in on 1922, when Woolf finished Jacob’s Room and begins Mrs. Dalloway, Lawrence published Aaron’s Rod and work on Kangaroo, Forster completes his recovery book A Passage to India, and Eliot finally completed The Waste-land after years of prodding by friends, including Ezra Pound. It is an enjoyable book, though my real interest was Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot. What Goldstein’s worked confirmed for me was to what degree loneliness and friendship are competing forces in the building and destroying of a writer.

Another book that you absolutely have to find is Canadian Morley Callaghan’s 1963 memoir That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Some Others. The book is very like the title, a winsome series of stories with none of the lurid sharpness that a telltale bio of the “greats” would normally have. Callaghan is a poet and storyteller, and through the eyes of a talent just emerging into his own voice we see the summer of 1929. Hemingway has proofs of A Farewell to Arms but spends his evenings boxing and drinking, Scott Fitzgerald is trying to make Tender Is the Night happen, and the whole literary scene is laid out in front of them. I don’t know what the sources for the unusually strong and poorly titled biopic Hemingway and Gellhorn were, but if Woody Allen didn’t use Callaghan’s book for his beautiful fantasy, Midnight in Paris, it is one of the great literary coincidences of history. The film, though, includes not just James Joyce, but Salvadore Dali and Gertrude Stein to fill out the Parisian literary set.

T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are inextricably linked with one another and hang on the edges of these groups (with Eliot and Sayers even connecting loosely with the Inklings). But these aren’t the only literary groups. The New York magazine, The Smart Set, played the role of resonator like C.S. Lewis, Ezra Pound, or Leonard Woolf, giving an informal connection for rising voices. Dorothy L. Sayers was a key figure in a group with the self-deprecating name, Mutual Admiration Society–a group of Oxford women who were never household names like Sayers, but who I am told made their mark in significant ways. And of course there is The Detection Club, formed in 1930 as a ragtag group of UK mystery writers and still meeting today. Dorothy Sayers was one of the energizing forces, and G.K. Chesterton was the first president, but it included all the known detective authors, most famously Agatha Christie who would dominate the genre. With the energy of this group, mystery writers bullied their way into social acceptability, and Sayers herself went on to be a respected Dante scholar.

All these groups, all this energy, books that transformed the century. These sets gave space for creative imaginations to flourish in a variety of genres. Modernist, antimodernist, and postmodernist, fantastic and realistic, popular and literary–they are the writers that transformed a generation and had the support of friends and groups that orbited certain resonating figures.

Then there is Lucy Maud Montgomery, and she is almost entirely alone.

We shouldn’t underestimate her impact. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Agatha Christie are in the 100 million club, a super-elite space for English writers. At 50 million copies, though, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables outsold Chesterton, Sayers, Hemingway, Lawrence, Forster, Pound, Eliot, Woolf, Fitzgerald, Williams or any of the figures mentioned here. I think the importance of Eliot, Woolf, and Hemingway on literature is undeniable, but Montgomery is not just Canada’s author–or the most famous of the “women’s magazine writers”–but a globally significant literary figure. Her Rilla of Ingleside is as important for WWI as Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms or Woolf’s To the Lighthouse–and it is critical disdain for children’s writing that limits vision. Montgomery was a great, but she was largely alone.

She could really have used a literary group. Montgomery was steeped in the greatest 19th-century novelist and the romantic poets. That finds its way into the work–anyone who has taught Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” will have students admit they know it from the Anne of Green Gables films–but a great editor could have enhanced the literary quality of her books without losing the popular attraction. I think Montgomery approaches this in her Emily books, and she had no shortage of output. She produced a book nearly every year from her breakout Anne series in 1908, including 500 published poems and as many published short stories. Despite her popularity, because she was “a simple woman from Prince Edward Island,” she was railroaded by her big New York publisher and lost a decade of energy fighting it in court. She won, but the emotional toll was terrible.

Other things wore on Montgomery. Her mother died in early childhood, her father abandoned her, and she was raised by two old, strict, cheap, and unimaginative grandparents. She was an orphan, as were her literary heroines. Her father died when she was a young adult, followed by her grandfather, but she spent more than a decade taking care of her increasingly problematic grandmother (who wouldn’t die). Her commitments to family put off her marriage to a minister that she had come to love, making for a five-year engagement. When finally married and desperate for children in her late-30s, she lost one of her babies–see Anne’s battle in Anne’s House of Dreams–and WWI sat on her heavily. She lost her best friend to the flu, and as the battle with the publisher was heating up, her husband would occasionally descend into fits of religious mania and melancholy.

Rev. MacDonald’s mental illness, the legal battles, unwanted moves, and her feeling of being trapped in juvenile fiction wore on her. Over the decades, Montgomery’s journals become increasingly dark and punctuated with notes of despair. These notes increase in the 1930s as she is also rejected by the literary society of Ontario, set aside by the literary elite of a country finding its own voice. While she was not completely alone, and there were moments where her husband was lucid, she sank into her own depression. Listen to her in this 1935 entry:

“Today I re-read my old volume of short stories Chronicles of Avonlea and found myself crying over “Old Lady Lloyd” and “Each in his Own Tongue.” I remember some reviewer said when the book appeared that ‘Each in His Own Tongue’ was one of the most beautiful stories in the English language. I don’t think I could write like that now—I have lost something” (Selected Journals V:85).

The sadness is palpable, and she grows to feel like God is distant and that life is hopeless. Her books of the 30s and early 40s are not her strongest. The two known Anne books of the period are really a string of short stories with little plot where Anne is a hero that brings the community together by haphazardly and kindheartedly solving their problems. In her own darkness, she sought Anne’s light–and fans are glad to have the books. More intriguing is the book that was left with the publisher on the day she died. The Blythes are Quoted–hard to find and only recently published–is much more nuanced. Anne is still the hero linking the stories, and the device is over-played. But in the book we see resonant themes of death and illness, war and loss. Anne has continued to write poetry rather than merely disappearing into domestic life. It is an unusual book and an experiment of genre with short stories linked by “vignettes”–poems being read aloud and commented upon around the Blythe’s hearth.

Biographers don’t think that it is coincidental that her last manuscript landed at the publisher’s on the day she died. Montgomery ended a brilliant literary career and a beautiful mind, lost in illness in 1942. Her pain and loneliness, her husband’s ill health, and the fear that her sons would be caught up in another global, interminable war was too much for her.

With respect to her personal pain, as readers we are missing something that could have been there if Montgomery had had a “set.” We would not have the work of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and J.R.R. Tolkien if it wasn’t for the people in their lives who saw the value of the work in the troubled genius’ hands and made sure the task was complete. All Montgomery had was a manic husband and publishers who just demanded more “books like Anne.”

Moreover, think of what was lost because Montgomery was not there to give a literary group the benefit of her wisdom and success, skill and mistakes. She tried but failed to make an impact that way and who knows how many other writers found themselves alone? Who knows what we lost? In an age of literary groups, Lucy Maud Montgomery was alone.

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Why the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium is Awesome: Wordless

Just a quick note to say that I have had an amazing conference at Taylor University this past week. The C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium is truly awesome, and I hope to come back to why I think so. My heart is full and overflowing, transformed by the generosity of spirit and intellectual curiosity I have encountered. It was not merely an academic conference but, for me anyway, a place of spiritual development.

So, for now, I am merely going to prepare for my day at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. This is my 5th day and I have to leave on Friday. I have finished transcription corrections on The Quest of Bleheris, C.S. Lewis’ teenage chivalric tale that is still unpublished. I have immersed myself in C.S. Lewis’ early poetry and letters, and have been reading the tiny, tiny diaries of his best friend, Arthur Greeves. Where I left off yesterday, Greeves was heart-sick that Lewis was in the trenches in France. They both had a miserable Christmas, and I am reminded of the great freedom I enjoy.

To the stacks, the journals, to lives that could be forgotten but are not.

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