Random Thoughts on my 400th Post!

400 blog postThat’s a lot of words. A lot of posts, a lot of time. These little blogiversaries are fun ways to take stock of where we are in our creative worlds. We all have different reasons for blogging. Sometimes those reasons evolve and grow; sometimes they get forgotten in the realities of everyday life.

At my 100th post, I found myself thinking about the values of developing the discipline to sit and write a couple of posts every week. That’s where I find my mind 300 posts later. I have a pretty predictable rhythm now. I post on Mondays and Wednesdays. One of those is something fun or shocking or intriguing that came out of my reading, while the other tends to be a short essay that is a little more influenced by research. Occasionally I do a “Feature Friday” post, usually something short and pithy, or a reblog of something I loved.

400I have also had some trends in the last 100 blogs. 2014-15 saw a series on The Great Divorce, which about a dozen guest bloggers and a renewed interest in what is perhaps an overlooked C.S. Lewis book. I’ve also brought J.R.R. Tolkien into the conversation in a more intentional way. I have blogged each of the Hobbit films, including conversations with other fans and scholars through things like the “Battle of 5 (or 6) Blogs” or the Hobbit podcast.  I have been reading Lord of the Rings aloud to my son, so I occasionally post astounding things from the reading. Sometimes there is some controversy in the Tolkien posts, such as one of the respondents to my “The Hobbit as Living Text.” Usually, though Tolkien posts are well received.

Most readers will never notice, but over the last 3 years this blog has followed me through my chronological reading of C.S. Lewis. I am now in 1954. It is a fascinating moment. Lewis has just finished Narnia and spent 15 or 20 years working on a stunning book of literary history (16th Century English Literature, Excluding Drama). He has just been offered a Chair in Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Cambridge, and has accepted (with some reluctance and awkwardness). He is working on his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. And although he doesn’t know it yet, he is on the verge of falling in love with the woman who helped him write one of his most stunning pieces, Till We Have Faces.

400th blogBecause I am reading chronologically, I have the benefit of being able to look back and see the hinge moments in Lewis’ life. I have blogged some of them:

400th post image and headerThe chronological project has been one of my favourite things about this last 2 or 3 years. I am now flipping through Lewis’ letters, waiting to see what will come next. It is a lot of fun, and I’m super pumped that I should be finished reading everything Lewis ever published–and some things he never got to print–by about Christmas.

As I am doing research some things emerge from my thinking. These are not always reader favourites, but they are sometimes fan favourites. My work on fantasy and science fiction is well received, such as “From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, From Fairy Tale to Epic” and “Age of Ultron: Mythic Mess or the Absurd Man?“–both of which were re-blogged. I am pleased for the patience of those who put up with posts on evangelicalism–especially as I am defending societal misconceptions (see here and here). And sometimes, when I have something to say about the ridiculousness of the world–such as the 50 Shades phenomena or the weird conversations about Jesus in the media–you have been terrifically patient.

600px-New_Mexico_400.svgYet–and I hope you will forgive me here–it is not all about you. I know what I could do to make a popular fantasy blog. Instead, I like being a baby blogger–perhaps a heavy baby blogger–where I can explore ideas and take risks. Again and again I am astounded by the intelligent and engaged reader response–whether in the comments, on facebook or twitter, or on campuses and in coffee shops as I run into readers. While I don’t allow the audience to shape everything I write, it is rewarding to be part of an extending digital friendship with readers and bloggers.

These were my six goals in beginning A Pilgrim in Narnia. This is where I am in my writing 400goals:

  1. I wanted to deepen and extend my reading. I really have exceeded my own goals in both going deeper in my reading and extending the breadth of what I pick up. Though I still struggle to read quickly–tortuously slow, sometimes–I’ve grown tremendously. A Pilgrim in Narnia has become a place to test out the ideas that came out of that reading experience.
  2. I aimed at getting to the centre of C.S. Lewis’ life and thought. My chronological project for reading Lewis was a great way to get a sense of the man. By the time I finished reading everything he wrote up until 1945, I felt like I had a good handle on who he was. I began reading other biographies and have been testing my own image of Lewis against other images. I’ll spend the next decade of my life understanding his ideas and influences. Actually, it would take my whole life and two others to understand his influences.
  3. I planned on extending my digital and academic networks. This happened far beyond my expectations. Conferences have helped, but I’ve been constantly amazed at the ability of social media and blogging to extend one’s digital friendships. There are nearly 1500 people who subscribe to this blog, plus another 2500 in social media. Besides Google, Facebook and Twitter are my biggest portals to new readers.
  4. I intended to move my work toward a PhD program. This was the biggest gamble, and my work paid off. In summer 2011, I began pretending that I was in a PhD program. I set out study  programs, reading goals, and blogging schedules and produced a lot of work. Two years later my plan paid off, and I am entering my third year doing a PhD in Christianity and Literature from the University of Chester.
  5. I shaped my blogging so I would get better at writing. This is harder to judge, but I think I have grown as a writer. Forgetting about audience response, I have worked on voice, poignancy, and vivid phrasing. I have dug for the narrative arc in an idea and used it to write good essays. Not all posts are winners, and some of my favourites get very little response, but it has been a great way to become a stronger writer.
  6. I hoped to increase my readership. Very few writers are content writing to no one. Before starting this blog I had been hammering away at the keyboard for five years without any real sense of how the world might respond. Since launching A Pilgrim in Narnia, I have grown to an audience of about 100,000 readers a year. Considering the fact that this is an intellectual blog that brings together diverse ideas of faith, fiction, fantasy, and cultural criticism, that is pretty huge.

400 blogI have some things cooking in the months ahead. I have a couple of killer Hallowe’en posts already in the queue. This August 15th is the 70th anniversary of That Hideous Strength and the week 1984 dropped in 1948. I am working on a post or two where I let those books sit beside each other. I have neat posts ahead on words, audiobooks, ham, and beards. I have some thoughts on J.K. Rowling, Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, and new authors I’m discovering. I will probably do some posts on cryptozoology leading up to the point when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them next spring.

And, off course, I will be blogging on Back to the Future Day (Oct 21st, 2015). I hope you will be too, but I can’t predict that future.

One feature on the more serious side will be a series of reviews of C.S. Lewis biographies. I will begin these in early 2016 and post about one a week. If you have a review of a Lewis biography you’d like to guest blog, let me know.

Celebrate+4001As I close, I’d like to thank all of the readers–many of them mentors to me in academics, blogging, or creative writing. I am thrilled to be part of this loose web of people thinking about how real life intersects with the fantastic–especially when real life is improbable or fabulous, or when fantasy is so rooted in who we really are. Thanks for all the shares, and make sure to follow me on twitter (@brentondana) and facebook–I will follow back.

400 posts blog

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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35 Responses to Random Thoughts on my 400th Post!

  1. Mary Baron says:

    Hello-

    I found your blog, which I greatly enjoy, while preparing a Sunday School class (Church of Our Savior, Anglican, Jacksonville Beach, Florida). I am teaching *Out of the Silent Planet *– quite different from when I teach it at the University, where we pretend it is fiction to the last chapter. We are having great discussions, and I want to bring your work to the attention of the class.

    Congratulations on your perseverance toward the degree.

    Mary Baron, PhD Professor of English The University of North Florida

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome! Silent Planet is an important 2nd gen SF book, as well as formative for C.S. Lewis. It can also be a lot of fun.
      What is also fun is to consider what Lewis does at the end of Silent Planet. He confirms that the “fiction” is really a true story in fictional garb. There really is a transplanetary conspiracy at foot. Having the class pretend that is true, how would you verify its truth? What would authenticate such a crazy idea? Makes a great discussion.
      My best to the Sunday School class Ch. of the Saviour in Jacksonville Beach, as well as to your Uni students!

      Like

  2. janetawel says:

    Really glad I “stumbled” on to your blog. Trying to find time to go back to read some of the earlier blogs, so this is a helpful blog in maybe picking and choosing a few to at least start reading. Congratulations on 400!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If you don’t mind, would you tell me more about pretending to be in a Ph.D program, and what has especially worked for you? It is something I think I’d like to try to increase my scholarly productivity as I remain (until that Ph.D program a few years down the road, hopefully) an autodidact. I finished books and wrote essays so much quicker during my master’s, and wish I could recover something of that pace.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. robstroud says:

    Amazing! Congratulations, my friend.

    It’s one thing to produce quantity… But to be prolific while maintaining such consistent quality is truly rare.

    I look forward to continuing to read your knowledgable and well-crafted posts during the coming years. On to 500!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the note Rob! “500” sounds exhausting, but it will happen by accident I am sure.
      Your blog (for those peaking in) is one I read every time, at least for the last 3 or 4 years. Your consistency of format leads me to think you should get that thing done up in a book.

      Like

  5. Congratulations on reaching your 400th post! I love the idea of reading Lewis chronologically. I am interested to know at what point in his writing did George MacDonald begin to have an influence? What year was it? I need to get into re-reading some of Lewis’s work. It has been too long. Looking forward to your future posts!

    Like

  6. J Washburn says:

    Hi, Brenton!

    I love your blog, and admire your devotion to Lewis. I’m reaching out to ask a favor.

    I wrote a novel partly inspired by Lewis’s life and some of the themes he taught. I’d like to give a few of your readers a free copy. I was wondering if you might pass along the message below.

    Thanks! You’re super awesome.

    If you’re a die-hard C.S. Lewis fan, you might be familiar with the German noun sehnsucht. It describes a deep emotional state, but it has been simplified to mean a “longing” or “yearning.” Lewis often talked about sehnsucht, calling it an “inconsolable secret,” a “desire for our own far-off country,” “the echo of a tune we have not heard,” and an “unnameable something.”

    Locke, the hero of SONG OF LOCKE, is based on the young C.S. Lewis. He, like Lewis, lost his mother and in turn lost his faith. Thus Locke is an atheist living in an unexplainably wondrous world, searching for answers to life’s deeper questions, and ultimately setting out on a quest in search of sehnsucht.

    SONG OF LOCKE explores many of the deep Christian themes that Lewis wrote about. Its dramatic pacing also packs in more action, updated for the mind of the modern reader. If this sounds like a book you will love, you can buy the ebook here: http://songoflocke.jwashburn.com . If you want to be notified when the paperback comes out next month, subscribe here: http://theinformant.jwashburn.com .

    Last and most importantly, we’re looking for a few people to read the book and then post an honest review. So the first 20 people to email me@jwashburn.com with “I want a C.S. Lewis book!” in the subject line WILL GET A FREE COPY OF THE EBOOK today!

    Like

    • Hi J. I will send this out through my facebook page, and leave this note here on my blog. I like what indie writers do, and may end up being one myself.
      I followed you on Twitter–please follow back. And find your way to my facebook page if you like.

      Liked by 1 person

      • J Washburn says:

        Hey, sorry. Thanks for replying, and I don’t mind if you remove this comment here since it’s not in line with the discussion. (I just wasn’t sure of a better way to contact you.)

        Thanks and thanks! I will follow you back and I’ve already liked your FB page. Really appreciate the help!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hanna says:

    Congratulations on reaching 400 posts! It wasn’t that long ago that I found your blog, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far and I’m looking forward to the next 400 posts. 🙂 I’m especially looking forward to the reviews of CS Lewis biographies (I’m always looking for a good biography) and the posts on Charles Williams. I’ve just barely dipped my toes into his work so far, but he intrigues me nonetheless.

    Like

    • That sort of makes me tired–400 more posts! But I sort of just think a few months out.
      Of course, I have to actually read all the biographies! Hence the 2016 date. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the major bios.
      Be careful about Charles Williams: he can suck you in.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Congratulations! It suddenly makes me think of various Patristic collections of ‘Centuries’ (like those of St. Maximus the Confessor, for example) – though I think the items in such centuries tended to be a lot shorter than full posts, and I don’t know of any so vividly illustrated by the editorial genius of the author!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations! The arrival of your blog posts has become a looked forward to event in each week. When I read Sorina Higgins’ post on the Hallows in J.K Rowling, Charles Williams and in medieval literature yesterday it struck me that it was a remarkable achievement of the middle-ages that the Grail myth came to form part of the common mind, at least among the aristocratic class. In so doing it enabled the Christian gospel to penetrate that culture. I can think of few, if any, who have even attempted such work in our time apart from the Inklings. I suppose I would have to include the Left Behind series as an attempt to do so but as far as I can see they have little impact on this side of the Atlantic and compared to the works of the Inklings I think they will be short lived in their impact. I am so glad that the idea of the blog has arrived to enable people like you to extend that influence and long may it continue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was just reading about “common mind” (greek, “kainhn nous”) in CSL’s Studies in Words. It starts out as the zeitgeist of culture but becomes “common sense” over time. I wonder if the Grail ever came to “common sense”–obvious that the hallows were important to all. I suspect so.
      I don’t know if Left Behind can be compared with the Inklings. Even setting aside the quality, it lacks anything that is about engagement with culture. It has all the counter-cultural elements of the Christian critique with none of the translational elements. But it is worth considering: Who is doing what the Inklings are doing?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I felt I had to make reference to Left Behind as an attempt to connect a Christian narrative and contemporary life. I agree with everything you say about it. On the Grail I am not sure that we know enough about the popular and largely illiterate masses to know if they knew much of it although Glastonbury was very popular as a place of pilgrimage. I do think that the spiritualising of chivalry at least offered the possibility of something that transcended the warrior way of life.
        As for the Inklings, we would need a group of people who combined both their scholarship and their abilities as story tellers. I think they stand as unique in that respect.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Perhaps unique as a group. There are people like Daniel Foster Wallace and Marilynne Robinson doing it now. Matthew Dickerson at an unpopular level. And, I might add without being cheeky, the indie community of writers has a significant Christian cohort. However, they have almost no impact on culture as a whole. That may change.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. jubilare says:

    Congratulations!

    “Yet–and I hope you will forgive me here–it is not all about you.” Thank goodness! I wouldn’t be reading your blog if it were. I am very glad to have discovered your blog.

    I just started listening to my audiobook of LotR again. It’s amazing to me how I can know it so well, and yet still be surprised and thrilled by it!

    Like

    • We are re-listening to the Rob Inglis Hobbit. Much fun. I actually benefit from audiobooks–I ear-read better in some ways than eye-reading. I have to keep a pen & notepad in my pocket though.

      Like

      • jubilare says:

        The LotR is Inglis, too. What a great voice! Though it hurts me when he tries to sing. 😉
        I’m an auditory learner, so long as I have another task to occupy my hands, so listening whilst doing house-work, or artwork, or job-work (don’t tell my boss!) is perfect for me.

        Like

        • Yes, the singing makes me giggle a bit. Especially the pauses. But I do the same for Nicolas. As far as he know, singing is normal in book reading!
          We start disc 2 on the drive home Friday. I’m not sure my wife is thrilled with it.
          I can listen cleaning and walking, but nothing that contains writing/reading.

          Like

  11. loritischler says:

    Thank you Brenton, again, for the wonderful posts–I do believe you are the ONLY blogger I read regularly: content, style, etc.–you’ve got it all! And this most recent one is giving me some direction as I consider blogging… God bless!

    Like

    • What a nice note! I think setting goals for your own blogging is pretty key. The problem might be that you simply just start, then wander. If you must wander–as pilgrims often do–wander toward something!

      Like

  12. not all who wander are lost, indeed! Brenton, I too am grateful to have wandered into your realm. There is so much to nourish one here. Thanks for giving. Two things in this post stand out for me. The first, that this digital world has broadened friendships. Second , your ‘pretending’ to do a PhD program. I laughed , heartily! Not at you, no, no! Just yesterday I thought to structure a similar program, to gain understanding of something dear to me. I have no formal academic background, just desire to know and practice. In this blog you have shared a structure though which I can begin.
    I agree with Lori; yours is the blog I read regularly. My purpose this a.m. was to catch up with those I’ve missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: How I Stumbled into C.S. Lewis (“On Pretending to be in a PhD” pt. 1) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  14. L.A. Smith says:

    Congratulations from here too! I really enjoy your blog – certainly one that I read with great interest and appreciation. I feel as if I have found a kindred spirit (to borrow from one of your most famous Islander’s expression) here with you and with the others who comment. Keep on wandering, and I will happily follow!

    Like

  15. Pingback: On Pretending to be in a PhD (pt. 2) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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