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.