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

A Secret ViceA Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was the fall of 2001. I was rereading The Lord of the Rings in anticipation of the film, which I was sure would be screened even in our rural, mountainside Japanese town. One afternoon, I was killing time at our church, a peculiar community of expats from Thailand, China, Brazil, and North America who worshipped with a tiny group of Japanese confederates. As the church was a multiuse building for fellowship, education, and community service, it was filled with all manner of rigmarole. It was a strange place, and unusual people, but it was our community for a critical part of our young, married lives.

I don’t remember if I was waiting for worship practice or biding time between language classes, but I found some magnets on a whiteboard and began to play. The magnets were not just Arabic numbers and Latin letters as we might find in a castoff corner of an American suburban church. The magnets were the remnants of various kits, including kanji and geometry and hiragana. I began to shape the educational flotsam and jetsam into a syllabary, adapted from the Japanese system I was learning, but with characters from my own twenty years of reading fantasy and science fiction. I was quite lost to the project for an hour or two.

Japanese HiraganaThe magnetic oddments served the purpose well, so that when people arrived it was clear to them that I had made what I was calling in my head an “alphabet”—although “alpha” and “beta” had no part in it. The distinctive rhythms and tonal patterns of Japanese language had entirely infused my mind, but my system didn’t sound like Japanese. It was richer in Ls and Rs, with some gutturals and sibilants from the Hebrew alephbet I was learning at the time. It was the syllabary I wanted to capture from my new culture, not the staccato give and take of Japanese speech.

Someone noted—it was Mickey, I think—that it looked like something from The Lord of the Rings. And he was right. The liquid nature of my syllabary as it contrasted with harder-edged sounds—what I later would recognize as fricatives to add to my gutturals—was most certainly coming from the Professor himself, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Quenya_Example.svgI can’t remember if I was annoyed at being derivative back then, but I have since become comfortable with that status. When it comes to the constructed languages in fiction (conlangs), Tolkien is the master. Terry Pratchett captures the truth of it well, given the fact that I was (re)discovering the mythic elements of language invention in the Land of the Rising Sun:

Tolkien appears in the fantasy universe in the same way that Mount Fuji appeared in old Japanese prints. Sometimes small, in the distance, and sometimes big and close-to, and sometimes not there at all, and that’s because the artist is standing on Mount Fuji.

While the conlangs that appear on screen and in print can often be simplistic and perhaps no more than a part of the atmosphere—I’m reading Stephen King’s Desperation, and his elemental-alien-demonic language of Tak is there merely as a tool to invite horror and to give a sense of cavernous, instinct-soaked deadliness—many of our fictional languages are constructed with some complexity. The TV version of George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire is a strong example, which I enjoyed reading about in David J. Peterson’s, The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building.

David J. Peterson The Art of Language InventionBack in 2001, I knew little about Tolkien’s philological idiosyncrasies. I was a fan, reading as a lover of Tolkien’s words and worlds and responding with my own bit of word-playfulness. Good readers do this, I think, sketching out family trees and maps, rewriting the story and playing with its possibilities. And, in the case of a carefully constructed speculative universe with diegetic languages that have some heft, playing with the words of that world.

It was what Tolkien himself loved to do, of course. As I grew as a Tolkien reader, I came to realize the extent to which his entire legendarium is rooted in language and language invention. While I have played with language forms when writing fiction, Tolkien wrote fiction to give space for his languages to breathe and grow. It is why, I think, Tolkien’s writings feel like they have a mythic quality to them. And, like a magnet, it is a feature that either attracts or repels readers.

Tolkien was aware of the polarizing nature of invented languages when he finally came public in the early 1930s with his own. Before The Hobbit—long before The Lord of the Rings was in anything like a readable form—Tolkien shared what he called his “Secret Vice” in a lecture of the early 1930s. Tolkien believed in the interconnected nature of language and mythology, and shared this thesis with the Samuel Johnson society of Oxford in a 1931 talk called “A Hobby for the Home.” As Tolkien’s secret vice of language development is the root of his legendarium, the more we invest in Tolkien’s conlangs, the more we learn about his worlds.

lord of the rings ballantineAs such, Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins’ 2016 publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “A Secret Vice” in a critical form is very welcome. A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Language is a beautifully designed edition in the HarperCollins Middle-earth series, and includes critical texts with extensive notes of two of Tolkien’s connected lectures, “A Secret Vice” and “Essay on Phonetic Symbolism.” They also publish a number of related manuscript notes in Bodleian Tolkien MS. 24 which would only be available to people with archival access. The volume closes with a chapter on “The Reception and Legacy of Tolkien’s Invented Languages” and a helpful chronology of Tolkien’s philological and language work in 1925-1933.

Overall, A Secret Vice is excellently done, neither disappearing too deeply into the involved worlds of Tolkienist language scholarship nor skating quickly across the issues. The reviews of scholarship are adequate though not exhaustive, and the review is accessible to new students. Some will use this book for a broad-based introduction, while others will use it primarily for the texts.

george rr martin the game of thrones fullMy criticism and concerns are probably issues of publication rather than editorial control. I am eternally frustrated by endnotes, especially in critical editions. This is even less endearing when we are dealing with conlang poetry. My shout into the wind on this issue will do little to shift what is the normal practice in the industry. Beyond that, the “coda” that offers the section on Tolkien language reception could have been longer. A little more detail about the living nature of Elvin tongues would be welcome, but I am surprised we don’t have a significant portion on what is the most extensive and complete post-Tolkien Tolkienist conlang, that of The Game of Thrones on screen. I can only guess that someone else has done this job or that it didn’t fit in the vision of the publishers or others behind the scenes.

These issues are minor and shouldn’t take away from a volume of worth. As a fan, as a curious reader, I’m appreciative of Drs Fimi and Higgins for their work.

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One cool feature is that Drs Fimi and Higgins each led various parts of a three-section academic series on A Secret Vice hosted by Signum University. Here are those sessions, available free to you.

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Silence: a Sonnet for Remembrance Day

I was looking to publish something of my own for Remembrance Day, but I found this sonnet by poet-priest Malcolm Guite. Lest we forget.

Malcolm Guite

As we approach Remembrance Sunday I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which was first published in my book Sounding the Seasons.  I’m posting it a couple of days early so that any one who wishes to, can use it in services or events on this Remembrance Sunday.

So here is how it came to be written. On Remembrance Day I was at home listening to the radio and when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. Suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a sense that, alone in my kitchen, I was sharing the silence with millions. I stood for the two minutes, and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily, wrote this sonnet. You can hear the sonnet, as I recorded…

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An Open Class on Narnia and Friendship with Brenton Dickieson, Jason Lepojärvi, and Diana Pavlac Glyer

Friendship was an absolutely critical part of C.S. Lewis’ life. His lifelong friendship with his brother created a literary household. Lewis’ childhood and university friendships helped him renegotiate his core values and his life philosophy. The Oxford Inklings, the main space for Lewis’ professional friendships, was a group that worked together to (and sometimes against one another) to produce groundbreaking linguistic history, literary history, literary criticism, Christian apologetics, and fiction–a group out of which came The Hobbit, The Lord of the Ringsand The Chronicles of Narnia. And as Lewis was writing Narnia, his memoir, and his acclaimed work of literary fiction, Till We Have Faces, Lewis developed a friendship with American poet, Joy Davidman. That friendship would grow into romantic love, giving life to new projects and, upon Joy’s death, a transformative memoir of loss, A Grief Observed.

One of the most powerful chapters in C.S. Lewis’s book, The Four Loves, is his treatment of friendship. Because friendship is so important for Lewis, and because Lewis’ writings have been so inspirational to readers, a discussion about Friendship and Narnia could be valuable. This worked well earlier this semester, “C.S. Lewis, Gender, and The Four Loves: An Open Class.” I decided to give this another go, opening up the digital classroom to discuss “Narnia and Friendship.”

And I will bring some friends along! I will be joined by C.S. Lewis scholars Diana Pavlac Glyer and Jason Lepojärvi. Dr. Glyer has written books on the power of friendship for artistic production among Lewis and the Inklings. I have talked up her groundbreaking research book, The Company They Keep, which is offered in a more popular form for artists and readers in Bandersnatch. Dr. Lepojärvi’s PhD dissertation was on Lewis and Love, offering a sophisticated reading of Lewis’ theology of love (you can download “God is love, but love is not God: C. S. Lewis’s theology of love” here). Dr. Lepojärvi will be making some comments from articles you can see here and here.

This is a supplemental, open class to Signum’s course on C.S. Lewis and Mythologies of Love & Sex. All are invited to join. Familiarity with Narnia is recommended, and I will offer a reflection of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The class is open, though, to anyone who has an interest in friendship and C.S. Lewis. You can sign up here or see the Signum announcement here.

Note: Audience members should be aware that if they chose to participate using their microphone, their voices will be recorded.

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Call For Papers: C. S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium, Taylor University, June 4-7, 2020

I want to share the Call for Papers for one of my favourite conferences (which I describe here and here). The topic is intriguing, calling upon Dorothy L. Sayers’ 1938 essay, “Are Women Human?” I’ll also note that there is one space for a reviewer of the recently released volume that came from the 2018 conference. Send me an email at junkola[at]gmail[dot]com if you are interested.

Are WomEn Human (Yet)?
Gender and the Inklings
C. S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium
Taylor University
June 4-7, 2020
CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENT and CALL FOR PAPERS

JOIN US for our 12th Biennial C. S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium, June 4-7, 2020. Sponsored by Taylor University’s Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis & Friends, the Colloquium features keynote addresses from top scholars in the field, plus hundreds of presentations of both original scholarship and original creative work in paper sessions, workshops, panel discussions, performances, artist exhibitions, and much more. The Colloquium welcomes scholars, teachers, students, life-long learners, fans, seekers, and, as always, new friends to be part of our adventurous company. For the first time in our history, and as part of our mission to identify and support the next generation of friends, the Colloquium will feature a one-day pre-conference especially for “Young Inklings” on June 3.

Of course, this liveliest of conferences will have its usual dramatic performances, board games, late night singalongs, tea and biscuits,  and the return of the fabulous pop-up bookstore by Eighth Day Books. In addition, The 2020 Colloquium will also once again include the opportunity to buy used and rare copies of books by Lewis & Friends authors. Come discover why Devin Brown says “The Taylor University Lewis Colloquium is the premier Inklings conference on the planet, with something for every level of scholar.”

Plenary Speakers: We are happy to announce that our plenary speakers for 2020 include Monika Hilder, Jane Chance, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Don King, Diana Glyer, Jason Lepojärvi, and Charles Huttar.

Conference Theme: The 2020 Colloquium program will highlight the specific theme of “Are WomEn Human (Yet)? Gender and the Inklings.” Over eighty years after Dorothy L. Sayers first posed her startling question (and in honor of the centennial of woman’s suffrage), we think it is high time to acknowledge and celebrate women in the lives and works of authors like C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, and George MacDonald, but also to look carefully at their attitudes towards and relationships with women. We also hope to encourage new scholarship on individuals such as Ruth Pitter, Joy Davidman, Mary Neylan, Barbara Reynolds, Louisa and Lilia MacDonald, Ida Gordon, Katherine Farrer, Sister Penelope, Anne Ridler, and others whose contributions have been insufficiently noticed and/or undervalued in the shadow of their more famous friends. In keynote addresses, panel discussions, paper presentations, and creative work of all kinds, we will explore together these topics and many others. As always, papers on more general topics are also encouraged.

Call for Papers: We invite proposals for scholarly papers on any topic related to C. S. Lewis and his circle (broadly defined) – Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and others. We are especially interested in papers on the conference theme, papers that expand the horizons of previous scholarship, and papers from new and emerging scholars. We also invite creative work—poetry, fiction, essay, drama, film, visual art, musical composition—that responds to or is influenced by the conference theme and/or these authors.  Proposals should be 100-200 words in length and should anticipate a twenty-minute presentation time limit.  Creative work must be a complete work, rather than a proposalDeadline for proposals is February 15, 2020. All proposals will be considered on a rotating basis.

Complete information, including submission instructions, will be available soon at our website: library.taylor.edu/cslewis. Direct all proposal-related questions to jsricke@taylor.edu. Please address all other questions to cslewiscenter@taylor.edu.

Young Inklings Pre-Conference: College and university undergraduates are invited to the first-ever “Young Inklings” event on June 3. The complete student registration package will include lodging, meals, and the events of that day, as well as the main conference. Students will have the opportunity to attend special lectures and participate in workshops with leading scholars, as well as to present their own scholarly and creative work. Work submitted for the student writings contests (see below) will be considered for presentation at both the pre-conference and the Colloquium.

Student Essay Contest: Currently enrolled undergraduate students may submit complete critical essays on the work of C. S. Lewis or a related author (see Call for Papers above for further information). Essays should not exceed ten double-spaced pages, excluding Works Cited. Winners will present their papers at the Colloquium and will receive free registration, room, and board. First place will receive a cash award as well. Deadline for student essays is March 1, 2020. For further information and submission instructions, please see our website at library.taylor.edu/cslewis.

Student Creative Writing Contest: Currently enrolled undergraduate students may submit creative writing (poetry, prose, drama, creative non-fiction, graphic novels, screenplays, etc.). Submissions should not exceed ten double-spaced pages (and should be at least five pages). The creative works should show familiarity with and influence by (or response to) the works of C. S. Lewis and his circle (broadly defined). Winners will present their papers at the Colloquium and will receive free registration, room, and board. First place will receive a cash award as well. Deadline for student creative work is March 1, 2020. For further information and submission instructions, please see our website at library.taylor.edu/cslewis.

Keep in Mind: The best way to be aware of Colloquium news and updates is to pay attention to our new website: library.taylor.edu/cslewis[Note: We are currently undergoing a redesign of our website. The current website contains all necessary information, but you will notice an updated format soon.] Colloquium announcements and other important information will also be added regularly on our Facebook page (please “like” to make sure you are in the loop): https://www.facebook.com/cslewiscenter/.

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An Anti-Ginger Bias in American Publication? A Note on Publication Whitewashing

I posted on Monday a reflection about my reading of The Gift of Asher Lev, the sequel to Chaim Potok stunning novel, My Name is Asher Lev. Potok’s book really is a “gift,” but I noted some “curse” elements as well. One problematic feature I left out was the book cover.

I know, I have complained of bad book covers before. One of the worst I noted was the book description to C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, but there are some hilarious book covers to Perelandra, including a never-nude superhero-pose Ransom confronting some half white/half green alien elemental beings.

Man, those sexy butt cheeks. Convenient clouds too. Totally Lewis. Absolutely.

But the Gift of Asher Lev cover is not much better. Here is the cover of my copy:

Pretty terrible, isn’t it? I set this sequel to the literary fiction classic My Name is Asher Lev on my bedside table and my wife said, “Oh, now you’re reading trashy novels?” Little could she know, between these trashy covers is a highly sophisticated exploration of faith, love, art, and culture.

Do you get that from the cover?

There are some nicely artistic covers of the Asher Lev series in brash colours:


In a more etherial vein, there are also these:

As book covers go, these at least capture the essence of the novel. They’re all better than this:

And yet, this last terrible, terrible book cover has one essential truth. Would you have gotten from this survey of paperback covers that Asher Lev was a ginger?

More than that, in youth, Asher’s distinctive red hair was a feature of the novel, and he grew his forelocks (payos) out beside his ears. Later he tucked his payos behind his ears, and then grew a solid, red beard. In the sequel, Asher’s red beard becomes streaked with grey. But it is a constant feature of the book–a gene that is passed on to his little son, Avrumel. Asher’s father’s beard goes white, but he continues to wear his payos, often tucking them behind his ears.

Let’s take a look at this terrible book cover again, looking for a Jewish artist with a large red beard who always wears a fisherman’s cap, his young ginger son with a sweet disposition, and his father with the white payos:

Well, at least there is a vaguely Jewish looking bearded elder on the cover, just below the Harrison Ford tan-boy doppelgänger staring off into the middle distance and beside the child from Omen.

The anti-ginger element is clear and shocking.

I admit that I have some skin in the game. It isn’t just recent media messages, such as the fact that redheads have genetic superpowers or that there is a ginger pop culture movement afoot, a “gingerenaissance“. It isn’t even that I am from Prince Edward Island, home of Anne of Green Gables, where we are legally required to love redheads. My son is a ginger, and is pretty good at it. As he looks forward to a future as a rock legend, I know that there will be some rough paths ahead.

Now, if I had written a long, detailed, and technical master’s thesis on antisemitism, I might be inclined to also note that the Jewishness on most of these covers is entirely erased or hidden, and the story of Hasidic Judaism is most certainly not at the front of the reader’s mind when going to this shelf–though there is one anti-ginger Hasidic cover, and some vaguely Jewish or European peasant hints in others.

Perhaps an even more important story than anti-ginger bias is the not-so-subtle suppression of Judaism in two of the most Jewish-soaked books I have ever read.

There’s actually a term for this. “Whitewashing” is when publishers present a character of colour as white for marketing purposes. Here is an example that’s pretty classic and well known. This is the copy of the cover of Octavia Butler‘s brilliant and disturbing root novel of the Xenogenesis series, Dawn:

The protagonist is a distinctively black character, though when I was first reading the book it wasn’t something I really noted. When I saw the first edition of the softcover, however, I did a double-take:

Quite beyond the fact that it would be difficult to place this scene in the book at all, this is clearly a case of whitewashing. In this article on Book Smugglers, they take the time to show some examples from different genres (see here). It is a pretty effective visual aid to see a quiet and consistent trend in publishing, including one of my favourite books, Wizard of Earthsea, a brown-skinned magical genius:

There’s a lot to explain about that cover, quite beyond the whitewashing. But it highlights a concern in the industry. More than anti-ginger sentiment–and even more than when they want C.S. Lewis’ green naked gigantic etherial aliens to seem more human so they make their faces white–the publishing industry, like so much of visual culture, seems content to take the colour out of things. I suppose it’s no wonder that so many stories look so pale.

Cover Matters: On Whitewashing

 

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The Gift (and Curse) of Asher Lev

The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Gift of Asher Lev is a lovely, evocative book. It is my first time reading the sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, which I consider one of the closest examples of a nearly perfect novel that I can imagine (with due respect to greater works by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Chaim Potok himself).

My Name is Asher Lev (1972) is the story of a Hasidic Jew growing up in Brooklyn as the child of immigrants who have escaped the dangers of the Holocaust (ha Shoah) and the continual threat against Jews in the Ukraine and Russia. Devoted followers of the Rebbe in the fictional Ladover community of Orthodox Jews, Asher Lev’s father is a rising figure, tasked with helping Jews escape the Soviet Union and helping European Jews open their own education-centred communities. Asher’s mother, following a great tragedy, is an exception among Hasidic women as she follows an academic vocation, becoming an expert in Russian political history. The Levs are deeply invested in the faith and traditions of this ultra-Orthodox community as they work tirelessly to resist the twin destructions of the world: persecution and assimilation.

And then there is Asher, born into this faithful household. But Asher is born with a gift that the community cannot easily reconcile themselves to. In a community devoted to the commandments–at the centre of which is a command to cast away images of the divine–Asher is clearly one of the great geniuses of fine art painting of the 20th-century, nearly an equal to Marc Chagall and a spiritual heir of Picasso for his generation. The divine law against graven images has not only bred a millennia-old resistance to visual art among devoted Jews (other than word-art and Bible story pictures), but the Christian world that defines the art of Chagall and Picasso and Asher Lev is goyisch, and specifically Christian. The Crucifix, the Pieta, images of heaven and hell, Eden and the world–all of the great artistic tradition is Christian or post-Christian.

In the midst of this, Asher Lev is born with a gift from Master of the Universe that faithful believers cannot understand. Many cannot accept this gift, including Asher’s own father.

While they cannot understand each other, each of the three Levs have a vocation that cannot be resisted. Asher’s father must travel for the Rebbe, starting schools and saving families. He grows ill and despondent when he cannot do what he must do. Asher’s mother must complete the work of her deceased brother, becoming a leading expert on Russia and being a Jewish light in the Gentile world of the university. The illness that almost takes her life is broken when she discerns this vocation. And Asher must paint the truth–not pretty pictures, not stories, not even the beauty of Torah, but the truth in all its forms. His fingers itch and his heart aches until he begins to draw the truth from image.

All three share this burning, inescapable need to use their gifts–leadership, intellectual, artistic–to express their calling from God to transform the world. Yet, they cannot understand each other. The tensions pull at their family until they splinter … until oceans separate them. All along, Asher’s mother tries to hold together the geniuses of her son and husband without losing her own genius. Disastrously, inexplicably, inescapable, Asher must paint this tension. And the only symbol he has to paint the truth is the Cross of Christ. Asher paints his family in a series called Brooklyn Crucifixion. These paintings are featured in his inaugural exhibition in New York City, thus earning Asher exile from his family, his Ladover community, and his American home.

My Name is Asher Lev is a stunning book. Like much of Chaim Potok’s work, the world of Asher Lev is a thinly veiled romanticization of Jewish life in America, this time focussing upon the Lubavitch community of New York. Potok was a rabbi, but rejected the Orthodox tradition to become a Conservative (i.e. liberal) Jewish leader, writer, and teacher. Though I do not share his faith, I have never in my life encountered a text that so intimately explores the tensions of faith and the world–and does so with “vocation,” one’s gifting and calling, at the very centre of the story.

And yet the world is so foreign to me. I think that is partially where the My Name is Asher Lev‘s power remains. It is true that Potok’s prose is elegant, his voice is evocative, and his sense of cultural relevance is prophetically present through his entire corpus. Beyond this, though, Potok makes us strangers to our world, opening us to a foreign land in our midst. And, in doing so, causes us to rethink our everyday lives–these workaday lives where we impress ideas upon our children, where we sit at home and walk along the road, where we go to sleep and where we wake. This is why the krias shema is one of the concentrating images of My Name is Asher Lev. I don’t know what Potok’s books do for Jews, but they are like tefillin and mezuzahs for Gentile souls, both providing a blessing and realigning our worlds.

Perhaps I go too far. I know My Name is Asher Lev is not Chaim Potok’s most important work. But it has been a transformational novel for me, and one I love (and fear to) teach.

The sequel is very good: evocative, immersive, poetic, emotional. The Gift of Asher Lev picks up precisely where the first book ends off, so that the first word is “Afterward….” The voice is similar, though the setting is twenty years later. As The Gift of Asher Lev is filled with the tensions of My Name is Asher Lev, that means that poor Asher has lived with these tensions for twenty years, through marriage and the raising of children and his success as an internationally renowned artist. In that time, Asher has refused to let the threats of the world and the pressures of his community cause him to abandon either faith or his art. He lives the rhythms of his Jewish faith, and prays for guidance from the Master of the Universe.

And, yet, the tension is bound up with his family–and this tension he cannot escape and he cannot reconcile, as much as he tries. Ultimately, he is faced with the problem that he cannot solve when he was younger–a problem that he can only express in the kind of art that makes the problem worse. The symbolic image in Gift, though, is not the Crucifixion, as in Name. This time, the guiding image is the Sacrifice of Isaac. Except in this version of the story, God does not provide a ram in the thicket.

The Gift of Asher Lev is a stunning book, though it cannot approach its Ur-text for me. It has the danger of being an “Afterword,” and perhaps deserves four rather than five stars. However, these books are, to me, a gift.

But the books are also a curse, quite frankly. I want to read Davita’s Harp, but I must stop. Potok’s writing invades my dreams, like an ancestor storming into my present. I cannot sleep. I dream Hasidic romances and paint my nights by number. And, in looking at a 2016 lecture on My Name is Asher Lev, it appears that I was having dreams when I read the book then as well. I can’t keep living this way–reading until ideas and images and thoughtful doubts and doubtful thoughts and intense love shred my mind. I am exhausted.

So, beware. These are gorgeous books, essential works of American literature and transformational stories about art, faith, and love. But like great art and integrated faith and verdant love, they are hard. Perhaps these are tensions you cannot authentically escape if you want to live meaningfully in the world, but reading about Asher Lev has a cost.

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A University of Prince Edward Island-L.M. Montgomery Institute Timeline (Feature Friday) #LMMI @UPEI @LMMI_PEI

In preparing my paper proposal for The L.M. Montgomery Institute’s Fourteenth Biennial Conference at the University of Prince Edward Island (25-28 June 2020; see my paper abstract here), I made a timeline of Montgomery as a WWI-era figure. In my Montgomery scholarship, as much as I love the first Anne of Green Gables and the later Emily books, I have chosen to focus on the trilogy of Anne books set in Glen St. Mary (New London, PE): Anne’s House of Dreams (1917), Rainbow Valley (1919), and Rilla of Ingleside (1920). Though there is only a hint of the storm on the horizon, the first world war haunts through these books, and Rilla is a brilliant account of WWI from the perspective of the women left at home. These are courageous books, full of pain and contrast, but also a sense of billowing goodness and light.

I think there is a great opportunity in focussing on a particular point in an author’s career, and you can see my WWI-era Montgomery Timeline here.

It is also a helpful exercise to look at what happens after an author has died with similarly concentrated tools. I talk a lot about archives as I love digging into the papers of my favourite authors. But certain kinds of archives are also great for telling the story of how authors’ books grow and how their work is received. The University of Prince Edward Island has collected a strong archive on Montgomery and studies on her work, and the Marion E. Wade Center compliments original papers and first editions with an academic library on their seven authors (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald). I have been growing in my interest in how these authors are read and talked about.

And timelines can be helpful in thinking about how authors are received. I have played with timelines in my relatively simple Montgomery WWI-era timeline and in my more interactive C.S. Lewis Major Talks timeline. UPEI has been doing similar work with L.M. Montgomery, including a “major dates” list and very cool Ryrie-Campbell Periodicals Timeline, logging Montgomery’s Short Stories–though I doubt they have captured all 500 published stories that Montgomery penned!

Now Heidi Hearing, a Student Research Assistant for the L.M. Montgomery Institute at UPEI has created a timeline that captures the history of the Institute and UPEI’s relationship with Montgomery studies. You can read the press release here, or spend some time in the interactive timeline here.

(Note: You can’t click on the picture, but this link here).

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