Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis by Gina Dalfonzo, a Review

Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis by Gina Dalfonzo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

C.S. Lewis is famous for his comment on a dust jacket autobiographical note that

“There’s no sound I like better than adult male laughter.”

What does this clubbable male Oxbridge bachelor don have to do with Dorothy L. Sayers, author of feminist essays like “Are Woman Human?” and famous mystery writer? While Lewis was good at cultivating male friendships among writers and thinkers, he was also deeply invested in literary friendships with intelligent women. These include conversations on writing and spiritual life with Sr. Penelope, thoughtful poetic dialogues with Ruth Pitter, and the friendship in letters that became the love of his life, Joy Davidman.

And, of course, there is Dorothy L. Sayers: poet, mystery writer, cultural critic, playwright, and Dante translator.

Sayers and Lewis–Dorothy and Jack, as their friends would call them–began a correspondence of literary appreciation that became a two-decade-long friendship. As I confess in my piece, “The Literary Life in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Mystery, Whose Body? (1923),” I was drawn into reading Sayers through the correspondence. Their surviving letters are bright and intelligent, including dialogues about writing, theology, culture, and spiritual life. They challenge and support one another, offering critique and comradeship in their uniquely overlapping roles as Christian public intellectuals who are literary artisans writing in popular modes while working as somewhat reluctant apologists resisting the miry clay for culture-bound thinking. It is an intriguing story of unusual friends.

Thus, I am grateful for Gina Dalfonzo’s enjoyable and thoughtful study, Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis (2020). With a storytelling style accessible to all curious readers, Dalfonzo captures the story of this unique friendship and how it shaped both of their adult lives. It takes years of study to become an expert in the life and works of either figure, and yet Dalfonzo is able to invite us into the essential elements of their relationship without causing us to be lost in the myriad details of their full lives. I am far from a Sayers scholar, and yet I was able to feel the inside of her story. This is not an easy task for any biographer–let alone someone trying to tell the story of two figures who each produced dozens of books and left thousands of letters on record.

There are some features that I wish were a little stronger in even a short book like this one. I would have liked more moments from their fiction–tiny links to Narnia and Wimsey that capture the voice of the artist in everyday life. I really like how Dalfonzo handled a longer chapter on gender. However, in carefully responding to concerns about Lewis’ ideas of gender, I thought Sayers was overshadowed a bit on this point. As I often feel in reading well-written biographies, I feel like some of the edge is lost in the decades between–that we cannot feel as readers the social horror and public controversy that threatened both of these writers behind the scenes.

Finally, in the preface and in the text, Dalfonzo is offering pushback on a concept that seems strange to me: that men and women cannot be friends. Presumably, she is addressing an American Evangelical culture of sex division. While American Evangelicals are significant readers of Lewis, interest in both Sayers and Lewis is broad and global. Dalfonzo’s story of friendship should not be limited by local concerns.

For there is a story of the ages that lives in the pages of Dorothy and Jack. For me, this was a delightful introduction to a figure that intrigues me–D.L. Sayers–in conversation with someone I study in interest–C.S. Lewis.

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A Thing of Forms Unknown: Thoughts on C.S. Lewis and Horror with Chris Calderon

Within a longer project on C.S. Lewis and the Ransom Cycle, I have outlined a chapter focussing on some instinctive horror elements in Lewis’ science fiction. I have written up the close readings for the piece, but am missing one element of the horror theory–a link I can’t quite name. Thus, when a horror-informed friend comes along, I have a series of questions for them. In a traditional vampyric vein, I am always looking to draw out the life of knowledge from others when they happen upon my path.

One of these knowledge donors is ChrisC, curator of The Scriblerus Club blog and sometimes conversation partner in the comments section of A Pilgrim in Narnia. Chris also provided an editorial note on a great find: “George Macdonald’s ‘The Princess and the Goblin’: The Animated Movie.”  Not only is Chris a prolific young critic, but we have corresponded from time to time on horror as a genre, and he has provided me with something like a primer on the genre. Intriguingly, ChrisC discovered C.S. Lewis not through Narnia or Screwtape, but as a lover of Gothic and horror fiction.

Today, on All Hallows’ Eve, I wanted to share ChrisC’s recent piece, “C.S. Lewis’s Form of Things Unknown (1957-59).” “Forms of Things Unknown” is a late 1950s science fiction short story by C.S. Lewis that was never (as far as we know) published during his life. This quick-moving first-planetary contact story was first published in anthologies:

“Forms of Things Unknown” is probably my favourite of C.S. Lewis’ remaining short stories. However, in terms of sheer enjoyment, I am not honestly a fan of Lewis’ brief tales. “The Man Born Blind” is an interesting philosophical tale, and Charlie Starr’s work with this story in Light: C.S. Lewis’s First and Final Short Story intensifies its meaning. The other two complete prose stories that remain are “The Shoddy Lands” and “Ministering Angels.” I loathe one of these tales and enjoy the other, and I have never been won over by those who want to vilify or exonerate Lewis for the sexism at different layers of the pieces.

This piece though, “Forms of Things Unknown,” is a literature-lovers classic SF tale. The piece could use an editor’s hand, even in the area of “atmosphere” where Lewis excels. Still, as ChrisC identifies, “Forms” is an atmospheric tale, evoking what he cleverly calls “The October Country Genre”–evoking Ray Bradbury‘s 1950s collection of his own dark tales. ChrisC writes:

“Lewis manages to capture a snapshot of this dream in his waking memory, and his latent artistic abilities as a wordsmith allowed him to make his readers see that veiled figure making its inexorable way toward the audience.  In my mind, it moves like a slow-motion time-lapse film.”

For anyone who enjoys classic science fiction tales but also appreciates a touch of haunting or a shiver of wonder, C.S. Lewis’ “Forms of Things Unknown” is worth a quarter of an hour’s reading.

And, going deeper, for those who want to explore Lewis’ ’50s tale, ChrisC’s blog post is really more like a book chapter offering a number of perspectives within a single argument. Here are some things readers might find in ChrisC’s “C.S. Lewis’s Form of Things Unknown (1957-59):

  • ChrisC’s story of discovering “Forms of Things Unknown”–and C.S. Lewis–when he found a story in an October Country story anthology by Roger Lancelyn Green
  • A creative rewriting of “Forms of Things Unknown” as a screenplay for the TV show, The Outer Limits
  • Contextual literary critical notes on mythic backgrounds and meaning, as well as important connections to SciFi and horror of the period
  • Some notes on the perspectival nature and atmospheric qualities of Lewis’ science fiction writing
  • A series of cool SF art pieces that work to enhance our enjoyment of the story
  • Engagement with some C.S. Lewis scholarship on “Forms of Things Unknown,” including Suzanne Bray and Bruce R. Johnson, as well as other bits of literary scholarship (myth, Gothic, horror, etc.)
  • A bit of warranted pushback on Lewis’ belief that only the first literary exploration of a planet works as a journey tale, and that real exploration of planets would ruin the storytelling potential for artistic tale-tellers

ChrisC also brings aspects of Roger Lancelyn Green‘s introduction to the Uncanny tales, with a prescient comment on Lewis’ “Forms of Things Unknown.” I would not have seen this piece otherwise, so I am grateful to ChrisC for it. However, I share it with two provisos.

First, don’t read ChrisC’s piece or the Green quote below if you haven’t read C.S. Lewis’ “Forms of Things Unknown,” but want to. Essential to enjoying “Forms of Things Unknown” is reading the story without any background, and then rereading it knowing how it is soaked in myth as it means the heart of humanity.

Second, go and enjoy ChrisC’s larger piece, “C.S. Lewis’s Form of Things Unknown (1957-59).”

Thus, in closing as the sun sets here on Hallowe’en, a note from Roger Lancelyn Green on C.S. Lewis’ October Country story, “Forms of Things Unknown”:

“Although not properly ghosts, many creatures even more uncanny haunted the world in the heroic age of ancient Greece.  What could be more gruesome than the Gorgons?  These three monstrous women had snakes growing out of their heads instead of hair, they had great tusks like wild boars, brazen hands and golden wings with which they flew.  Anyone who looked at them was immediately turned to stone; but Perseus, by looking only at her reflection in a polished shield, managed to cut off the head of Medusa, the only one of the Gorgons who was mortal.  Her sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal; not only could no one kill them, but presumably, if one follows the legend to its logical conclusion as C.S. Lewis did, they would remain alive under any circumstances, even without air and in the extremes of heat and cold that they would encounter if either of them found herself outside the Earth’s atmosphere (xii)”.

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J.R.R. Tolkien’s Texts on The (Down)Fall of Númenor

Because of the fire and storm digital conversation about the Amazon Prime series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, some may have missed a little bit of good Tolkien news. HarperCollins is releasing another Middle-earth legendarium book–an event that I always look forward to. Following the 12-volume History of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien published a trilogy of First Age Middle-earth tales:

Given that the Prime Rings of Power show is set in the Second Age, I am not surprised to see that at Second Age book is on its way. The Fall of Númenor, and Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth is edited by Brian Sibley, a famous adapter of Tolkien’s works. I do not haunt the digital hallways of Tolkien speculation, and neither am I privileged to have seen an advance copy of the book. I have not even seen a Table of Contents yet. However, according to the publisher’s description (below), it looks like it follows the Chronology of the Westlands, or the Tale of Years, in capturing many of the great stories of the Second Age of Middle-earth. Reputedly, there are ten new Alan Lee paintings (as slides), as well as pencil sketches and his art on the cover. The Fall of Númenor is set to release in mid-November in the United States–though not until Christmas here in Canada.

For those who are anxious to get explore the Second Age–either to anticipate the new The Fall of Númenor collection or to deepen your experience of The Rings of Power–I thought I would share my “Reading Sheet on the Downfall of Númenor.” I spoke in the summer at TolkienMoot XVIII on the collapse of Númenor in the Second Age, and thought this might be helpful to some. It is not anything original, and I might be missing things you think should be here. However, this works as a brief back-pocket guide to one of Tolkien’s central myths: Ar-Pharazôn the Pretender, Sauron’s defeat and his haunting cult of death, the Númenórean transgression of the Ban of the Valar, the White Tree of Númenor burning and finding new life in hope, Eru Ilúvatar’s destruction of the island of Númenor, the last King’s fleet lost in the chasm, the remaking of the world, and the founding of Arnor and Gondor by Elendil’s sons, Isildur and Anárion.

And, of course, the story begins again, Isildur’s bane and the rings of power the temptation of Frodo and all that follows–as well as all that preceded, the Sinking of Atlantis, the Garden of Eden, all the stories we share. The Downfall of Númenor is a myth that was with Tolkien for most of his life and patterns much of what he gave us.

Texts of the Downfall of Númenor

This list includes Second Age stories, with stories specifically about the Downfall in bold.

Letter #131 To Milton Waldman (2nd age) in Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien letter collection

The Return of the King

  • Parts of Appendix A, “The Númenorean Kings,” “Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion” (roughly the first 1/6th)
  • Appendix B, “The Second Age” (2nd age)

The Silmarillion

  • “Akallabêth,” especially “The Downfall of Númenor
  • “Of the Rings of Power” (2nd age)

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (2nd age)

  • A Description of the Island of Númenor/The Line of Elros
  • Aldarion and Erendis
  • The History of Galadriel and Celeborn and Appendices

The Lost Road and Other Writings (History of Middle-earth 5)

  • 1: The Early History of the Legend
  • 2: The Fall of Númenor
  • 3: The Lost Road

Sauron Defeated (History of Middle-earth 9)

  • The Notion Club Papers
  • Part Three: The Drowning of Anadûnê

The Peoples of Middle-earth (History of Middle-earth 12)

  • The History of the Akallabêth
  • Tal-Elmar (2nd age)
  • Of Dwarves and Men/Glorfindel (2nd age)
  • The Tale of Years of the Second Age/The Heirs of Elendil/The Making of Appendix A (2nd age)

Publisher’s Description for The Fall of Númenor

J.R.R. Tolkien famously described the Second Age of Middle-earth as a ‘dark age, and not very much of its history is (or need be) told’. And for many years readers would need to be content with the tantalizing glimpses of it found within the pages of The Lord of the Rings and its appendices, including the forging of the Rings of Power, the building of the Barad-dûr and the rise of Sauron.

It was not until Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion after his father’s death that a fuller story could be told. Although much of the book’s content concerned the First Age of Middle-earth, there were at its close two key works that revealed the tumultuous events concerning the rise and fall of the island of Númenor. Raised out of the Great Sea and gifted to the Men of Middle-earth as a reward for aiding the angelic Valar and the Elves in the defeat and capture of the Dark Lord Morgoth, the kingdom became a seat of influence and wealth; but as the Númenóreans’ power increased, the seed of their downfall would inevitably be sown, culminating in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.

Even greater insight into the Second Age would be revealed in subsequent publications, first in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, then expanded upon in Christopher Tolkien’s magisterial twelve-volume The History of Middle-earth, in which he presented and discussed a wealth of further tales written by his father, many in draft form.

Now, adhering to the timeline of ‘The Tale of Years’ in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, editor Brian Sibley has assembled into one comprehensive volume a new chronicle of the Second Age of Middle-earth, told substantially in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien from the various published texts, with new illustrations in watercolour and pencil by the doyen of Tolkien art, Alan Lee.

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The Literary Life in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Mystery, Whose Body? (1923)

Dorothy L. Sayers has fallen into my life–and I into hers–because of my gloriously irresponsible definition of the Inklings. With a lifelong interest in J.R.R. Tolkien, and a growing curiosity about C.S. Lewis, I was thrilled to discover an entire shelf dedicated to “The Inklings” at the Regent College Bookstore. Regent College in Vancouver where I chose to study sacred literature and spiritual theology at a graduate level. Regent was where I had the innocent audacity to treat St. Paul’s letters like fictional worlds in my thesis, beginning my real path to becoming a Theologian of Literature, or Literary Theologian, or whatever we might want to call it.

The Regent College Bookstore is an admirable species of its kind. It also, I believe, has a somewhat promiscuous definition of the Inklings. I have no doubt that G.K. Chesterton was in that section–and if George MacDonald was not there, he was nearby.

The Bookstore had everything Lewis-related one could imagine, as any local bookstore of its kind would. However, it also included the philosopher-poet novelist Charles Williams–no doubt because philosopher-poet professor Loren Wilkinson is one of the few folks brave enough to offer an entire graduate-level class on Charles Williams‘ theology. Before Amazon and print-on-demand gave us access to obscure and out-of-print works, the Regent College press released many of Williams’ novels and plays, as well as his theological study, The Descent of the Dove. Though I had not yet met Owen Barfield at Regent–the First and Last Inkling, and the figure who most continuously enlightens and endarkens my study of Lewis and Tolkien and literary theory–I have no doubt the bookstore had Barfield’s most important work.

Besides the Fantastic Four–Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield–extending my reading into the larger literary alliance of the Inklings has been valuable to me. I have explored Christopher Tolkien‘s work as a literary scholar and (of course) Middle-earth editor. Warren Lewis–Jack’s big brother–is a surprisingly clear and thoughtful writer in his diaries and his French histories, like The Splendid Century. Nevill Coghill has enriched my reading of Chaucer, and Hugo Dyson supplies one of the most quotable and least fully-quoted Inklings quotations that is likely to be apocryphal.

Chesterton and MacDonald are among the roots of Tolkien and Lewis’ literary mountains, to use Douglas Anderson’s phrase. So I have followed Regent’s lead–as well as the framework of the Seven Wade authors from the Wheaton archive–in allowing myself to be enriched by what I call the Honourary Inklings. One of these Honourary Inklings is a Dorothy L. Sayers–a Regent Bookstore Inkling betimes, a Wade author, and one of the transmedial intellectual-populist “Oxford Christians” of the Inklings generation.

Given the popularity of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels and successive film, radio, and television adaptations, there is no doubt that Sayers would have been known in her generation as a novelist. Sayers was one of the Queens of Crime, and a founding member (with Chesterton) of The Detection Club–formed in 1930 as a ragtag group of UK mystery writers and still meeting today.

Previously, though–and most centrally, I believe–Sayers was a poet. Later, Sayers the playwright would have been considered for her WWII BBC radio passion play, The Man Born to Be King, as well as other notable plays (such as “The Just Vengence,” 1946). Or she may have been considered for her theological reflections and influential essays like “Are Women Human?” And then, almost by surprise, a fifth motif in Sayers’ literary score is her translation of Dante‘s Divine Comedy, published by Penguin as Hell (1949), Purgatory (1955,) and Paradise (1962, completed by Barbara Reynolds).

My own discovery of Sayers is an unusual literary journey. My first encounter with her writing was in her letters. I was surprised by the sudden bright energy of Lewis’ letters to Sayers, and so I turned to Sayers’ letter collection (by Barbara Reynolds) to fill out my reading. Though I sense that Sayers’ letters to Lewis are a bit guarded, they are blunt, personal, thoughtful, and ironic. Sayers’ demonical response to Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is clever and endearing. “The Sluckdrib Letter” is uniquely self-deprecating, as Sluckdrib is the demon assigned to Sayers herself. The letter artfully offers a reflection on the spiritual complexities of the writing life (you can read the entire Sluckrib Letter with my commentary here).

Following the Lewis-Sayers letters, I read The Man Born to be King in book form (I later listened to a BBC production), and I agree with the Lewis brothers that it works as Lenten or Eastertide reading. Also from WWII, Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker (1941) is, I believe, one of the more important works in my theological understanding of creativity and vocation.

I then began hopscotching through Sayers’ essays, including Sayers’ long contribution on Dante to the paperback Inklings colloquium edited by C.S. Lewis, Essays Presented to Charles Williams (which included formative essays like Tolkien’s “On Fairy-stories,” C.S. Lewis’ “On Stories,” and Warren Lewis‘ first historical work). From Sayers’ tribute to Williams and Dante, I began working slowly through her translations of The Divine Comedy. Sayers’ attempt to preserve Dante’s original Italian terza rima rhyme structure in English makes for a refreshing reading of the Comedy. However, for me as an amateur, Sayers’ most helpful work is her commentary and resource guide for each book and each Canto–“supplementary” notes that make up more than half of each volume. I would love someday to have an interactive version of Sayers’ Dante, with a dramatized reading of the text, visualizations of the notes, and nicely designed maps and reading guides based on Sayers’ notes.

It was only then, having found Sayers through letters, theological and literary reflection, and translation, that I turned to Lord Peter Wimsey. Almost all of the mystery fiction I have enjoyed comes from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction–Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton, in particular–and the Sherlocks before, within, and after the Golden Age. So while I can offer very little critical judgement of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels as a specimen of the genre, I can give a brief response from my growing sense of Sayers the writer.

And Whose Body? is where it all began in the early 1920s, not long after Sayers received her MA–5 years after she had received first-class honours for doing the work at Somerville College, Oxford. Sayers had published poetry and worked in education, publishing, and advertising, and found herself writing a bit of detective fiction.

Whose Body? is lovely to read. Lord Peter Wimsey is a deeply ironic nobleman who has an awkwardly affable relationship with English aristocratic life and who has begun amateur sleuthing to stimulate his mind and fill his hours. Whose Body? begins when Lord Peter, by some coincidence, catches wind of a murder. A hilariously daft architect has found a dead man in his bath wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez. Within hours of the discovery, Inspector Sugg–a police detective deeply committed to following false presumptions to their logical conclusion–has arrested two innocent people (hoping that one of them might be the murderer) and sent the wife of a missing Sir Reuben Levy into despair by falsely identifying the body as his. As the weight of police incompetence has further obscured the paucity of evidence, Lord Peter is recruited as a resource for solving the crime.

Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey has an uncommon intellectual gift for observation and logic. Wimsey, though, has Watsons everywhere in Whose Body?  Chief of these is Mervyn Bunter, Lord Peter’s “man,” a butler who keeps Wimsey shaved and in suits and stumbling on the next piece of evidence. Mr. Bunter is intensely competent, cooly sarcastic, and able to anticipate Lord Peter’s personal needs and legal curiosities. Bunter is a photographer, and thus supplies some of the scientific basis for Wimsey’s work, and opens their investigations up to other levels of society.

Mr. Bunter is the chief Watson, but Lord Peter collects these people.

Scotland Yard Inspector Charles Parker is a true partner in crime detection: a competent and thoughtful policeman who is friendly enough with Lord Peter to trust him, but distant enough to provide counterpoints and other perspectives as they talk through the case.

Lord Peter’s mother, Dowager Duchess of Denver Honoria Lucasta Delagardie, provides cunningly accidental support–“The Duchess was always of the greatest assistance to his hobby of criminal investigation, though she never alluded to it, and maintained a polite fiction of its non-existence” (ch. 1)–however, discretion is not her first line.

And whether they know it or not, Wimsey is able to use experts as his Watsons, like the neurologist Sir Julian Freke or medical student Mr. Piggott. Lord Peter is even able to use Inspector Sugg’s reliable incompetence to sift the evidence.

Beyond Lord Peter’s success in using all of these Golden Age collaborators, he is by temperament patient, generous with port, distrustful, a lover of fiction, deeply intuitive, and thrilled by the adventure. He also suffers from PTSD, or shell shock, from his experience in WWI. Despite his high-profile position and trust in his own critical intelligence, Lord Peter does not invest his suffering with shame, but invites his various kinds of Watsons into this weakness.

And although “Lord Peter Wimsey was not a young man who habitually took himself very seriously,” he discovers in himself a deeply rooted moral centre that goes beyond social expectation, evolutionary design, and personal instinct–though I am not certain he has understood the full nature of his self-awakening in Whose Body?

Sayers the author, though, recognizes Lord Peter’s conversion of the soul, even if no one in the story does. This moment of crisis between Lord Peter and Inspector Parker shows all Wimsey’s moral character: weariness in the weight of suffering, a commitment to goodness and truth, the desire to see himself truly, and his sardonic sense of humour:

“Look here, Wimsey,” said Inspector Parker, “do you think he has murdered Levy?”

“Well, he may have.”

“But do you think he has?”

“I don’t want to think so.”

“Because he has taken a fancy to you?”

“Well, that biases me, of course—”

“I daresay it’s quite a legitimate bias. You don’t think a callous murderer would be likely to take a fancy to you?”

“Well—besides, I’ve taken rather a fancy to him.”

“I daresay that’s quite legitimate, too. You’ve observed him and made a subconscious deduction from your observations, and the result is, you don’t think he did it. Well, why not? You’re entitled to take that into account.”

“But perhaps I’m wrong and he did do it,” Lord Peter admitted.

“Then why let your vainglorious conceit in your own power of estimating character stand in the way of unmasking the singularly cold-blooded murder of an innocent and lovable man?”

“I know—but I don’t feel I’m playing the game somehow.”

“Look here, Peter,” said the other with some earnestness, “suppose you get this playing-fields-of-Eton complex out of your system once and for all. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that something unpleasant has happened to Sir Reuben Levy. Call it murder, to strengthen the argument. If Sir Reuben has been murdered, is it a game? and is it fair to treat it as a game?”

“That’s what I’m ashamed of, really,” said Lord Peter. “It is a game to me, to begin with, and I go on cheerfully, and then I suddenly see that somebody is going to be hurt, and I want to get out of it.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” said the detective, “but that’s because you’re thinking about your attitude. You want to be consistent, you want to look pretty, you want to swagger debonairly through a comedy of puppets or else to stalk magnificently through a tragedy of human sorrows and things. But that’s childish. If you’ve any duty to society in the way of finding out the truth about murders, you must do it in any attitude that comes handy. You want to be elegant and detached? That’s all right, if you find the truth out that way, but it hasn’t any value in itself, you know. You want to look dignified and consistent—what’s that got to do with it? You want to hunt down a murderer for the sport of the thing and then shake hands with him and say, ‘Well played—hard luck—you shall have your revenge tomorrow!’ Well, you can’t do it like that. Life’s not a football match. You want to be a sportsman. You can’t be a sportsman. You’re a responsible person.”

“I don’t think you ought to read so much theology,” said Lord Peter. “It has a brutalizing influence (ch. 7, with a couple of slight changes)”

Although she never attended an Inklings meeting, Dorothy L. Sayers has become part of my mental collective of British Christian authors who combined intellectual life and popular, genre-defining fiction and contributions to culture.

While my path into Sayers’ work was unusual, there is continuity throughout: the artful irony, spiritual curiosity, careful self-depreciation, and literary skill that I detected in her letters are features in all of her writing–including her first detective novel, Whose Body?. Not all of the literary experiments work in this first novel: using letters, interviews, and courtroom testimony is effective, while the occasional interruption of second-person narration feels disconnected to me. And I don’t think that Lord Peter is quite settled as a character.

However, by whatever path you find your way to the novel, Whose Body? is a delightful book for first-time Sayers readers or long-term Inkling friends.

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Back in the Light After 12 Days: Lessons from Hurricane Fiona

It is day 13 since Hurricane Fiona, and I have been updating my feed on Facebook with daily notes about life without power. But it is day 1 of being restored to the electrical grid. I woke up to this symbol on my phone: 100% Fully Charged. It was a relief.

Physically and emotionally, I’m not quite fully charged. But our devices, fridge, and hot water heater are ready to go. This morning felt very normal: alarm sounds, flick on a light, hot shower, dress, check email and online news, and then hastily throw together lunches since I didn’t give myself enough time to get out the door on time. Typical Thursday.

No generators rumbling rudely day and night, no keeping things in the freezer because the fridge isn’t cold, no bread and peanut butter on the go, no heating hot water on the BBQ, no showering at the gym, no looking at the outage map to see when we might see our community get hooked back up to the grid.

Living 12 days in an “emergency” scenario has been a powerful and unusual experience.

As I talked about in “Day 7 Without Electricity,” “Stone Soup, Cherry Trees, and Shorelines: An Update from Prince Edward Island on Hurricane Fiona,” and some Facebook posts, there have been beautiful aspects of Fiona’s aftermath. We strengthened our relationship with our neighbours as we gathered around to support one another. We were able to give and receive gifts of friendship, time, food, gas, and little reprieves from apocalyptic doom. We have received dozens of lovely notes of cheer and offers of help, and I have a deeper understanding of the unseen webs of support that are part of my daily life. I have also gained a deeper appreciation of how much of my modern life is a gift that I take for granted: hot food, hot coffee, hot showers, cold drinks, safe food, everlasting Internet access, a phone line, light before dawn and after dusk, a warm and dry house.

I have also come to see how fortunate we are. It was during Hurricane Ida last year–where we got something like 120 mm of rain in 90 minutes–when I realized that my home was built for winter storms, but not equipped for tropical storms and hurricanes. As my friend Alan MacEachern notes here, historically, Prince Edward Island is susceptible to summer and autumn storms. His write-up of the “October Gale” 99 years ago is eerily reminiscent of Hurricane Fiona’s impact.

However, I don’t think of PEI as a hurricane place. Ida’s deluge gave me the impetus to prepare for future storms. Thus, we had the ability to keep our freezer cold, save the house from significant water damage, and keep connected with our students and family. These plans were the difference between discomfort and disaster.

But we were also lucky. As lovers of camping, we had supplies that many urban folk wouldn’t even dream of keeping around, like tarps, bungee cords, coolers, lamps, candles, and cooking stoves. With camping in mind, I bought a boxful of outdoor extension cords at a yard sale one year, and we used every inch of cord available to us in the last 12 days. We had our chainsaw stolen, but we had the resources to make a 2-hour pilgrimage and purchase one of the last chainsaws in the Province. We have a wood stove as part of our heat plan in the house, which gave us the ability to heat the house and dry the basement without the need of power.

And, most fortunate of all, we have a huge support network of neighbours, friends, family members, work colleagues, and church folk that could step in if things tilted toward disaster–and who stepped in just to make bad things better.

Even with planning and luck, many things were far more difficult than they should have been. It was clear that I never understood the capacities of what a storm like this could do. Thus, while we battened hatches well, we were only prepared for 3 or 4 days of emergency living, not 12. While my work demands never ceased, from dawn to dusk of every day, I found myself caught up with endless little tasks and unpredictable jobs that were ncecesary to keep my household going–not to mention supporting my wife’s parents,  helping out around the neighbourhood, and encouraging my students–many of whom are new to PEI and Canada, and are feeling somewhat adrift.

It has been physically exhausting and emotionally wearisome–especially the gassy, gnawing, rumbling wine and chatter of diesel tractors and chainsaws and generators, which in the last few days have been running at all hours of day and night.

And even as I sectioned my fallen Cherries, Maples, and Birches for firewood, it feels like a loss.

This whole experience has taught me much. It may have been far worse–and is far worse for so many others. Thank you to everyone who sent a nice note, dropped off gas or food, helped us clean up debris and block trees, and waited patiently for delayed emails, messages, and bits of work. While I have been in the dark for nearly two weeks, I have drawn energy from all of you.

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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day, Day 7 Without Electricity

Today is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation here in Canada, what we have been calling Orange Shirt Day for a few years. Today, as Canadians, we remember our historic relationship with the first peoples of this land. We mourn and honour the children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities where the pain reverberates still.

As someone living in Epekwitk, Abegweit, the “Cradle in the Waves: we call Prince Edward Island, PEI, the Island, I am reflective of the fact that this is not merely the ancestral unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq, but the ongoing territory as well. I am open to learning from my neighbours.

On June 21st, I blogged about National Indigenous Peoples Day, an opportunity on the longest day of the year for Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. In “An Unfinished Walking Song and Prince Edward Island’s Mi’kmaq on National Indigenous Peoples Day,” I also talk about residential schools and my own growth in understanding of our shared story. It was a hard post to write, but I hope you will take the time to read it.

More recently, I wrote about C.S. Lewis and some peculiar ways that he can help us think differently about colonial history: “’We Became to America what the Huns Had Been to Us’: C.S. Lewis and the European Colonization of America.”

Today is also Day 7 without electricity, and I’m sporting my orange shirt in front of my beloved tree, downed by Hurricane Fiona. Our Cradle in the Waves has been rocked, stirred, disturbed … the land and shorelines have changed. I blogged about my experience a bit on Tuesday in the post “Stone Soup, Cherry Trees, and Shorelines: An Update from Prince Edward Island on Hurricane Fiona.” I am embroiled with little tasks and jobs tr;lying to keep my household going, support my wife’s parents and neighbours, and help my students keep moving forward, so I don’t have time for a real update. However, I’ll share a bit from a social media post yesterday that works as a follow-up to my Soup-Trees-Shorlines Tuesday update:

Day 6 in the Dark, Random Thoughts and notes of Blessing:

  • I have received dozens of lovely notes of cheer and offers of help, and I feel blessed by the unseen webs of support that are part of my daily life
  • we had a big BBQ last night to cook all the meat Kerry’s parents had in the freezer, and a double rainbow made an appearance
  • did you know that tater tots work well on the BBQ? (lucky)
  • Tuesday’s “Stone Soup” by Rick (whom I hilariously called Rusty) was such a nice treat–hot, good food made with ingredients from the neighbourhood’s supplies and then given back to the neighbourhood
  • hot coffee, a blessing remembered
  • having a generator for part of the day is such a lift that it makes me tear up: I can work, our freezer is cold, our basement is dry
  • once I understood the limits of a generator, we’ve been able to string extension cords together to plug in neighbour’s freezers, one at a time, which has been neat
  • a tea kettle draws the most power of any appliance
  • a chainsaw I have! and itching to use
  • the gassy, gnawing, rumbling wine and chatter of generators and chainsaws from 7am to 1am is wearisome, though I’m trying to keep it in perspective
  • we are waiting for the electricity to come back on by standing on our top floor deck and scanning the community, and then looking at the Maritime Electric outage map–it’s really like an inversed invasion map, as a circle of lightlessness surrounds our home
  • I could hit a baseball to where the whole block has light (if I could hit a baseball)
  • Wednesday night Kerry and I walked through our neighbourhood, encouraged by how quickly things have been cleaned up, and amazed at the damage that still exists
  • it was beautiful to see flickering candlelight behind the curtains
  • all summer we try to get out of the house to sit by the campfire, away from electric light, but it was cheerful last night to sit beneath a lamp and watch an old TV show I had on my laptop
  • I think I want to hang solar-powered garden lights so that future apocalypses are more cheerful
  • it is a blessing to help betimes: a family last night was burning storm debris to cook supper in a metal bowl (with poisonous potentials), and I was able to give them dry wood (from my dry basement), which warmed me in a different way
  • my downed cherry tree is providing frost cover for tomatoes, which survived the storm (amazingly)
  • a sober note: Hurricane Ian is ravaging the US coast, refugees are scattering through Europe as winter sets in, and we have had warm nights in PEI since Hurricane Fiona; however, only 50% of Islanders have power and the temperature is going to drop

And from a Wednesday Post: 

I’ve got gas! No, not that kind! I mean the ole fashioned dinosaur detritus, stinkify the air, run the car and warm the earth kind.

As the post-hurricane Fiona chaos in Atlantic Canada meant gargantuan lines and empty pumps, we decided to wait. We traded generator time for gas around the neighbourhood, and I learned to siphon gas without drinking it, sacrificing my beer-making supplies to the venture. It meant we lost our fridge food, but our basement is dry, our freezer is cold, and there are a half-dozen freezers around us that are still keeping food safe to eat.

Before dawn today, on day 5 without electricity, we went on a gas hunt. ⛽️ We succeeded, and also found bananas and coffee! ☕️ What a wonder. We will have gas for the generator and car. And if I can find a way to replace my stolen chainsaw, I can get the yard cleaned and scavange some neighbourhood wood for winter.

Happy Wednesday!

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Stone Soup, Cherry Trees, and Shorelines: An Update from Prince Edward Island on Hurricane Fiona

Dear friends, I wanted to provide an update on our Hurricane Fiona experience here in Prince Edward Island. Since the storm hit on Friday night, we have been amazed at just how powerful it was. I appreciate the kind personal notes and shows of support via email, Twitter, and DMs. I hope this note will fill folks in while I catch up on correspondence.

In brief: We are safe and well, mostly dry, relatively well fed, and we have intermittent cell access that is increasingly stable.

We have been without electricity since midnight Friday or early Saturday morning. It really was a harrowing experience trying to sleep through the night of the storm, waiting for the next transformer to explode into yellow and green light, or the next tree to crack like thunder and fall into the darkness. However, our most pressing issue was a flooded basement—filling my office and family room floor with water when we no longer had power to run the sump pumps. After dawn, in the eye of the hurricane, I was able to get a generator to fire the pumps. It was a close call, but by mid-afternoon Saturday we were mostly dry. We saved the computer equipment and all the books—though Dorothy Sayers’ letters were in some danger.

Beyond the water damage, we are thankful that we don’t have any structural problems with our house and barn. We are sad that of the 6 trees on our property, the storm took out 5 of them. About 1/3 of the branches from our young (about 45-year-old) Maple came down, and its sister next door was demolished. However, the Maple tree with Nicolas’ treehouse held firm. Two 15-year-old paper birches fell—though one of them is snapped at a high enough point that it may throw up its crazy white branches and keep going. Saddest of all, is the loss of our 17-year-old Cherry tree. The Cherry provides shade and colour and pollinates with a neighbour’s tree, a place for birds and bees and cats’ fascinations. Its leaves were just turning auburn and burgundy this week. It fell and crushed the dwarf apple tree (and part of the garden) beneath it. It is a loss. Admittedly, that apple tree is the ugliest thing in nature besides mole rats, with tasty wormy apples from branches glued back together after previous storms. It may survive yet.

There are many losses that are much greater than ours in the storm—including friends’ homes and the Prince Edward Island land- and shore-scapes, which are forever changed. We did not prepare well for this storm, but we have resources that many don’t have. Though the fridge food is mostly gone, there is a generator that is cycling through the neighbourhood to keep freezer meat from spoiling. We are using it to keep our basement dry and charge laptops and devices for work, connection, and entertainment—for my work did not cease with the storm. We ran out of gas in the generator, but a neighbour came by who had gas but his basement was flooded, so that exchange worked well. If we can get the time and someone to lift the generator, we will siphon some gas to take it to Kerry’s parents’ house—both of whom are fine, but want to warm up the house and keep food from spoiling. We also have a church community that would support us if we needed help.

And, unlike so many folks, we have a wood stove to keep us warm, a BBQ to cook our food (and that of the neighbour’s as freezers thaw), a good amount of data, and a pretty strong network of support.

I really wish my chainsaw hadn’t been stolen, because there is much work to do. I wish we had prepared for a week without electricity rather than a weekend, because we are constantly improvising. I wish I hadn’t = put my back out lugging this generator around (though it’s only spasms now, very light pain, I can do stretches). However, given the damage that others have sustained, we feel fortunate, blessed, and hopeful.

And it is a beautiful blessing to rediscover and re-member neighbourliness. A neighbour had improvised a cooking bowl in his backyard and asked for wood from our winter pile. We could give his family dry wood from our basement and he taught folks in his building how to cook safely. Another neighbour spent two days cleaning up his downed trees and gave me the Maple wood he can’t mill for next year’s fire. I have had one of the local drug suppliers kindly offer me something “stronger than ibuprofen” for my back, which was kind of sweet. My counsellor was able to do a session in candlelight in his office, a real gift—though he reacted to me bringing him home-brewed coffee as if I was the one gifting him! One of our neighbours—whose house we can now see because the trees between us are gone—is going about the neighbourhood collecting items for a chicken soup. We traded some herbs, carrots, and corn for supper tonight. It is a pretty lovely Stone Soup moment.

So, best wishes to you all. We are responding to well-wishers when we get moments of electrical connection. I’m reconfiguring my local classes to alleviate student concerns, but it will be a week or so before work stuff is back to normal for us.

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“The Saxon King of Yours, Who Sits at Windsor, Now. Is There No Help in Him?” Thoughts on the British Monarchy from “That Hideous Strength” by C.S Lewis on the Death of Queen Elizabeth II (by Stephen Winter)

On Thursday, when I heard about Queen Elizabeth’s passing, I shared some brief thoughts with a longer essay about what C.S. Lewis called the “tragic splendour” of royal ceremony. Lewis was referring to a coronation–and, as Stephen Winter says while partly quoting Lewis, King Charles III “will be ‘crowned and anointed by the Archbishop’ in Westminster Abbey in the coming year as every monarch has been in this land for a thousand years.” There will be another liturgy too, a funeral, another sacramental moment. Lewis struggled to find the word for what he was describing as he spoke about the coronation. He tried words like awe, pity, pathos, mystery, and “the situation of humanity itself” to capture an image where monarchy symbolizes humanity’s role as vice-regents on earth, where we are set apart as high priests of creation.

Malvern College Chapel

I woke up this morning, made some coffee, and read Stephen Winter’s latest essay on “Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings.” I admire Stephen’s weekly reflections and I try not to miss them–even in busy periods (like now). Stephen and I met digitally as writers both interested in faith, culture, and the Inklings. Stephen is an Anglican priest with a title like “Rector of the Severn Parishes”–though I always miss his title a little bit, partly because in my mind there are seven churches in the Severn Parish, though I might be wrong on that point too. As we hiked the Malvern hills together–where Lewis went to school for a period–Stephen pointed out the River Severn and its valleys. If I remember rightly, he also pointed to the snaking River Monnow dividing England and Wales, and something both Arthurian and Shakespearean stirred within me.

The Malvern Hills of England

Hiking with Stephen was a bit of an experiment in trying to feel the landscapes and towns that are behind and within C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era science fiction (you can read about it in “What is the Significance of Worc(h)ester in C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Cycle?” and “An Old Pictorial Map of Central Oxford (Are There Links to C.S. Lewis’ Fiction?)“). And it was also about visiting, friendship, talk, and food. I got to visit one of Stephen’s churches at a propitious moment and meet his family. It was a great weekend.

St. Ann’s Well, Great Malvern

So I thought of Stephen and his church–the Church of England, C.S. Lewis’ church–when the Queen passed on. My grandmother, a closet Anglican, was worried in the 1980s about Charles becoming king because she did not think he would be a good “Defender of The Faith.” For the king is the Head of the Church of England, and is styled Charles the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. King Charles III is Defender of the Faith and Défenseur de la Foi now in Canada, and he will be named as such at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa in the days to come. As a Canadian who grew up without much religious connection, I find these things a bit puzzling. As a fantasy reader, a lover of English history, and a theologian, I must admit to a little fascination.

Thus, I am pleased that Stephen took this week to step out of his Tolkien-specific space to reflect on being “the king’s man having sworn an oath to serve him as a clerk in holy orders in the Church Established,” Stephen thoughtfully links his conversation to Lewis’ prophetic dystopia that concludes the Ransom Cycle, That Hideous Strength. This essay is worth reading because of Stephen’s peculiar perspective on the throne. It is a good note about the relevance of the novel–and there is an Alan Lee painting I had never seen before, which is brilliant. Mostly, though, it is a perceptive comment about power. There is power, Stephen notes–and power to overcome–but that power does not lie where we might expect.

I hope you click through and read Stephen’s thoughtful piece.

Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings

That Hideous Strength by C.S Lewis (Pan Books 1983) pp.286-294

The death of Queen Elizabeth II in this last week leaves a huge gap in my life and in the lives of many of her subjects. Her long reign means that you have to be a few years older than 70 to remember any other monarch and I have not reached that age yet. She was Queen for the whole of my life. That is until Thursday 8th September 2022. During her reign she graced our lives with her presence being a constant amidst all the grime of power politics. She was just there, and now she is with us no longer. May she rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon her.

Her passing led me to think about a reference to monarchy and its significance in That Hideous Strength by C.S Lewis, a book first published in 1945…

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The “Tragic Splendour” of British Monarchy and the Passing of Queen Elizabeth II

“The Queen is dead, long live the King!”

I don’t know if anyone was there today to carry on this royal tradition of succession. The media reports of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing had the feeling of children and grandchildren witnessing the passing of a family matriarch rather than the succession of a royal house. Within moments of her passing, though, the news media and social spaces began to celebrate this regal legend. There is much that one can say about the only royal figure that most of us in the Commonwealth has ever known. It occurs to me that my mother and father both lived and died under a single crown–and in a period of dramatic social transformation. It was a bit of a shock to here someone on the radio today speak of King Charles III.

I certainly don’t know about those last moments of the Queen’s life and the beginning of the King’s reign. I’m not even certain that someone is really there to say “The Queen is dead, long live the King!” in that moment. Historians would know who said this phrase at the passing of Victoria, but I do not. I am more struck by the poetry of the proclamation, having read once that someone said “The king is dead, long live the king!” at the passing of Henry VII. As in the greatest magisterial moments of liturgy and inspiration and invention, there is profound history and tremendous possibility in that little phrase.

As a reflection upon the Queen’s passing, I have decided to reblog this piece I wrote earlier this year for the Jubilee celebrations. It uses the life of C.S. Lewis to chart the occupants of the throne from Queen Victoria–another long-living legend–up to the royal situation that existed at dawn this morning. Except for playing with a couple of dates, I have not updated the piece. There is an entire section to add–the reign of King Charles III–who is, not insignificantly, the head of Church of England. Readers can translate the bits below about “Prince Charles,” as well as Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, who is now the Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, and a friend of my son’s.

The post is less sombre than a memorial should perhaps be–and more personal than anything you might see being distributed by a respectable news agency. However, C.S. Lewis’s comments on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation–and his idea about the “tragic splendour” he witnessed–resonate still. I hope you enjoy.

I must confess that I am not terribly fascinated by royalty. I do like coronation chicken sandwiches, Beefeaters clearly have style, and if the Earl and Countess of Strathearn invited me to be a theologian in residence, it would definitely become a family conversation. Usually, though, I am more interested in dead and fictional royalty than the lives of those who haunt royal halls today.

With the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, however, I must admit to being curious about C.S. Lewis’ interest in the British monarchy.

After all, Lewis served King and country in war, he became an expert in English and Scottish literature during the long 17th century, and his brother, Warren, was something of a French royal historian whose seven books include The Splendid Century: Some Aspects of French Life in the Reign of Louis XIV. This knowledge and experience is no doubt behind Lewis’ great literary invention, Queen Orual of Glome in Till We Have Faces. Doubtless a Greek echo of Queen Elizabeth I in certain particulars, Orual succeeds her father with a genius for perceptive leadership, alliance-building, courage in battle, and strong social and economic policies.

And, of course, the globally famous seven Narnian Chronicles are bound up with courtly adventures. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the story of a revolution against tyranny based upon a prophecy to establish two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve upon the four empty thrones of Cair Paravel. Prince Caspian is likewise a civil war story about recovering the throne from a usurper. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about a second Narnian golden age under King Caspian’s reign–an era nearly lost in The Silver Chair, where a regicidal plot must be thwarted by English schoolchildren and a Marshwiggle. By rescuing a lost prince, they can restore the heart of the throne and secure Caspian’s succession. The Horse and His Boy is full of international courtly intrigue and establishes Cor of Archenland and Aravis of Calormen as the future King and Queen of a great Narnian neighbour. The Magician’s Nephew establishes the first King of Queen of Narnia, providing an outline of royal character that will be the testing point of Narnia’s last King in The Last Battle

The links were enough that I wanted to go into Lewis’ biography to discover what royal touches were there. Frankly, there are not that many links–though this is an important point about Lewis’ biography in and of itself. In walking briefly through the careers of the five British monarchs of Lewis’ life and considering Lewis’ thoughts on the monarchy, we discover some beautifully mundane and some startlingly powerful historical and theological moments.

Queen Victoria (1837-1901)

As C.S. Lewis took his first breaths in November 1898, Queen Victoria was entering a year of sorrow that preceded the last months of her life. Then the longest-serving British monarch in history, Victoria reigned for a stunning, era-defining 63 years and 217 days.

The Victorian era was a period of radical change in innovation, technology, industrial development, the institution of the family, mass migration, and British expansion on the global stage. Queen Victoria’s personal sense of morality created a culture of restraint in tension–and sometimes in cooperation–with religious revivalism and activism, an expansion of higher education, early critical moments in women’s liberation, and the slow redefinition of class in England.

In terms of legacy, the Victorian era gave us Dickens, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Eliot, the Brontës, Wilde, Hardy, Kipling, Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald and Anna Sewell, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, Sherlock Holmes, William Morris, World Fairs, the Gothic and Classical revivals, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and some of their sisters and daughters, public museums, photography, early modernization of farm and kitchen, electricity, the idea of a hospital designed not to kill people, and the railway, telegraph, and telephone.

The period, though, also brought poorly managed urbanization, soul-destroying factories, deadly environmental disasters, the Crimean and Boer wars, the loss of English and Scottish rural culture, and an ideological, imperial, church-implicated cultural genocide perpetrated in residential schools throughout the colonies that has caused generations of suffering and has brought shame upon the Christian church.

We might be right in thinking that Lewis as a reader and writer in his formative years gained much from the Victorian literary legacy. Lewis was somewhat anti-progress in terms of technological development, and primarily looked askance at Victorian art and architecture. However, as an Anglo-Irish Oxbridge public intellectual and the son of two University-educated parents from clerical and industrial families, he is truly the child of each of these social, political, and economic cultural moments. In this respect, Lewis biographies by George Sayer and Alister McGrath provide the strongest links to the Victorian cultural background.

Edward VII (1901-1910)

In 1901 Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria of Hanover and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, took the throne following decades of public service as Prince of Wales and other titles as he waited for his mother to turn the clock on the century. While the limitation of his leadership in the period may be clearer with the advantage of history, King Edward VII was known as a peacemaker. Near the end of his reign, a young “Jack” Lewis lost his mother and was beginning to test his literary capabilities. He also began his own sentence at ideological, imperial, residential schools. When Lewis was in his late ’20s, we read Sidney Lee’s Edward VII, but I do know his thoughts on the book or the man.

George V (1910-1936)

King George V was the second son of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark. He reigned through a dramatic period of revolutionary and reactionary ideas, British constitutional redesign, WWI, the beginning of the withdrawal of the throne from global dominion and the new era of the British Commonwealth (though not the collapse of empires like Germany, Russia, and Turkey), the global economic crisis of the 1930s, and the rise of Nazism. Although he was by reputation a homebody, during WWI he was a visible public figure. He presented himself as a British patriot in his support of the war and his connections with the public. Although the monarchy had been German for centuries, the king set aside the German name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and inaugurated the House of Windsor, which reigns today.

In his brilliant C.S. Lewis Chronology, Joel Heck reports that in July 1911 the Lewis brothers saw Queen May, Princess Mary, and Prince Edward (later, briefly) drive by. I don’t know if they showed much interest. As a young man, King George V would have been most visible in the war effort. However, Lewis admits to being somewhat distant from the overwhelming social moment of war as he focused on study and writing.

Following the war, Lewis remained distant from political commentary. When they occur, Lewis’ political statements growing up are often sarcastic and elliptical–showing only one side of a letter conversation. For example, when King George V went to Lewis’ hometown of Belfast to open the parliament of Northern Ireland, Lewis quips to his father:

I am sorry you didn’t go and get yourself made an O.B.E. or
something when George-by-the-grace-of-God came to Belfast (27 Jun 1921 letter).

Besides the slighting reference to the King, Lewis is somewhat pessimistic about the Irish policies as a whole–royal or parliamentary. Although concerned about the Irish situation, as in many aspects of social life, Lewis was somewhat protected from the consequences as he shaped a small personal foundation for a peculiarly large cultural platform.

Edward VIII (1936)

King Edward VIII was the eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary. He was a reputed philanderer and impatient with protocol–courtly or otherwise. He occupied the throne for a record-breaking 326 days when he abdicated for a marriage that was deeper to be unacceptable for the head of the Church of England.

As Prince of Wales, Edward attended Magdalen College, Oxford, in the 1910s, before Lewis matriculated to University College and where Lewis was later a don for nearly 30 years.

George VI (1936-1952)

George VI was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary. He unexpectedly ascended to the throne a the age of 40 after living in the shadow of his brother, the heir apparent.

Although he was a reluctant king with a verbal tic and public profile that created some doubts about his qualities as a ruler–now even more iconic in the award-winning film, The King’s Speech–King Goerge VI was instrumental in England’s role in WWII. This began with acts like a Canadian tour in the spring of 1939 that eased Canada’s (and perhaps also the United States, as it included a visit with Roosevelt) pathway to joining the Allies in WWII. However, his reputation solidified with frequent public events in Great Britain to raise the spirits of the people, as well as visits to troops throughout the world. The king and queen communicated resiliency and rugged resistance by remaining in residence in London during air raids–and, indeed, experiencing near-deadly bombing in their home. King George developed a strong relationship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, which was critical to wartime leadership. As WWII closed, the public flocked to Buckingham Palace in celebration of the king on both VE day and VJ day. And following the war, George VI was part of the rise of the United Nations and the global retreat of the British Empire.

As it turns out, just a few months before the king died, in December 1951, Lewis was nominated by Churchill for the honour of being elected by George VI as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). However, so as to distance himself from the appearance of political commentary, Lewis declined in writing to the Prime Minster’s Secretary:

I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always however knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there. I am sure the Prime Minister will understand
my reason, and that my gratitude is and will be none the less cordial.

Given the royal nature of the honour and its history of recognizing educational, literary, and artistic contributions, Lewis seems overly cautious on this point. Tolkien was right to accept his honour in 1972, and I am open when my own invitation letter comes.

Queen Elizabeth II (1952-forever 2022)

Queen Elizabeth is the eldest daughter of George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. When her uncle Edward abdicated, Elizabeth became heir presumptive at the age of 10. She is now the longest-ruling monarch at 70 years and 116 days (as of the Jubilee; 70 years and 214 days at the time of her death). Elizabeth is the only British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. Not long after her Jubilee celebration, she passed Thailand’s beloved Rama IX and became the 2nd longest-reigning sovereign in verifiable history. Nearly two more years would have been needed, however, to surpass King Louis XIV of France and his Splendid Century.

Elizabeth has served through the era of media fascination, from the radio and print to television and social media. Indeed, as part of her war service, like Lewis, she turned to the radio. Elizabeth first spoke on BBC radio when she was 14 years old–and only later served as a mechanic (which I think is pretty spunky of her). Through disaster and illness and waves of popularity and critique, Elizabeth continues to meet her public in their homes from her own home in the visual medium of the moment.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953, though Lewis chose not to attend. In a 22 Jun 1953 letter to Mary Shelburne, Lewis explains his feeling about the Coronation:

I didn’t go to the Coronation. I approve of all that sort of thing immensely and I was deeply moved by all I heard of it; but I’m not a man for crowds and Best Clothes. The weather was frightful.

Warren, however, watched the coronation on television, and may have been the source of Lewis’ quite distinct view of the matter. Lewis was struck by “the real devout piety shown by the Queen, who obviously took her vows very seriously” (17 Jul 1953 letter to Mrs. Frank Jones). In a follow-up letter to Mary Shelburne, Lewis makes a point about British royal-watching culture and a much deeper connection to the spiritual significance of the coronation:

You know, over here people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the sacramental side of it. Hence, in the spectators, a feeling of (one hardly knows how to describe it)–awe–pity–pathos–mystery. The pressing of that huge, heavy crown on that small, young head becomes a sort of symbol of the situation of humanity itself: humanity called by God to be His vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if He said ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding.’ Do you see what I mean? One has missed the whole point unless one feels that we have all been crowned and that coronation is somehow, if splendid, a tragic splendour.

Through thousands of letters and pages of print up to this moment in his life, there are very few comments about royalty in real life. And then there is this stunning description of the British throne. Lewis speaks not from the mind-numbingly obsessed perspective of the press, or the distant lens of the historian, or the heart-rapt vision of the lover of fairy tales, but from the altitude that only a cosmic point of view can provide. Ritual, sacramentality, awe, pity, pathos, mystery, symbol–an image of monarchy that draws all humanity into the moment of coronation as a people created vice-regents on earth and set apart as high priests of creation.

How have I never seen this note in this light before? Think of the consequence of this kind of view: the moral responsibility, the relational possibility, the sacramental invitation, and the mythopoeic potential.

It is, I suppose, because of this Platinum Jubilee that I am seeing it now.

There are other consequences of this view of the coronation for Lewis. When discussing the event with American correspondent Mary van Deusen, Lewis makes an intriguing comment:

Hasn’t what you are kind enough to say about our Coronation a wider relevance?–that nothing stirs us if it has the sole purpose of stirring us: i.e. the stirring must be a by-product (8 Jun 1953 letter).

That is an intriguing principle of psychological authenticity that public leaders and artists should each consider.

Lewis missed the coronation but had other brushes with royalty in multiple spheres. Friend and fellow poet Ruth Pitter wrote to Lewis about her recent encounter with Queen Elizabeth when she received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry–quite a distinctive honour that puts Pitter in the company of W.H. Auden, Siegfried Sassoon, John Betjeman, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, Simon Armitage, and Grace Nichols. Pitter–who, incidentally, did not turn down her CBE honour in 1979–writes:

I had been received by the Queen (in October of this year) to present her Gold Medal for Poetry, and I felt that it did me good. One plugs away for half a century, getting little praise and less cash, then suddenly one is summoned to the Palace and given a medal. All is now well: if the highest in the land approves one, we can do without those in between. Besides, it was an Adventure: and to crown all, as I left the Queen, there outside the drawing-room door stood Albert Schweitzer, waiting to be received in his turn!’ (Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. lett. c. 220/3, fol. 136).

The capital-A “Adventure” is a nice touch, as is the Schweitzer note–so many thanks to Walter Hooper for sharing this discovery as a footnote to Lewis’ 31 Jan 1956 letter to Pitter. In that letter, Lewis shares about a royal encounter of his own:

It’s also amusing that a few nights before getting your letter I dreamed that I was presented [to] the Queen, and found to my horror, half way through the audience, that I was wearing my hat. At the same moment a lady in waiting approached me from behind with the speed of a roller-skater and snatched it off my head with the words ‘Don’t be a fool.’ I left the presence, pensive (as may be supposed) and on my way through a great gallery, finding, without surprise, a photograph of myself on an occasional table, tore it to pieces and went on. I’ve never had the dream of appearing in public insufficiently dressed: but I suppose too much means pretty well the same as too little. So you beat me both by the difference between reality and dream and that between success and failure. And Schweitzer too! Well, you deserve it all.

It is not clear to me that too much is precisely the same as too little, but point taken.

Later that year, on 12 Jul 1956, a Thursday, Lewis was invited to attend a garden party given by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. In a letter the week before, Lewis asks Pitter if she is also going to the garden party and if they would like to go together:

Do you play croquet with the Queen on Thursday. (Croquet is not mentioned in the invitation but I am well-read enough to know that a royal garden party will involve hedgehogs, flamingos, soldiers, Heads-man, and the grin of a Cheshire cat). If so are you coming via Oxford? I was thinking of going up by 1.58 [train] and returning by the 6.45 or 7.35 on either of which we cd. dine. You are an experienced courtier and it would give me great moral support to arrive in your company!

So, perhaps I am wrong: It is not so much Lewis’ expertise as a Medieval and Renaissance literary historian but his knowledge of Alice in Wonderland that provides him with his understanding of courtly life.

Unfortunately, Ruth Pitter was not among the thousands of guests who, to Lewis’ disappointment, so crowded the reception that it made finding a cup of tea impossible. It was one of those lonely-in-a-crowd moments for Lewis until he met a friend. Lewis never saw the queen.

Incidentally, in his peculiar ability to be completely clueless about popular culture and still make occasionally prescient comments, Lewis anticipated the pressures of a media-infused royal culture in a 12 Nov 1957 letter to Vera Gebbert:

If we can accept as true what our papers tell us, the Queen’s trip has been a real success…. I don’t suppose royalty feels the same embarrassment at these kinds of reception as we luckier mortals would in their place. After all, they have been in the limelight since they could walk almost. Look at Princess Anne and Prince Charles–still very young children, and I suppose they would find it odd if they were not photographed when they went out!

Prince Charles, heir apparent to the throne has lived his life thoroughly harried by this “limelight.” And yet he appears (like his mother) to move forward, one step in front of the other. While I have reservations about his role as head of the Church of England, he was affable and personable in his 2014 visit to our community. In spending time with local community leaders, he showed the same kind of curiosity about rural Prince Edward Island culture and the pressures facing churches as he showed in the technical details of our “heritage carpentry” program at our local college (on the site of what was Prince of Wales College, the Protestant university before it joined with St. Dunstan’s University to form the University of Prince Edward Island).

Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, likewise, betrayed any tabloid expectation in her warmth and generosity of spirit. She visited the school where my son attends and my wife teaches. She made fascinators (a kind of feathery hat, I think) with some grade four girls, followed by a series of dramatic presentations. Although I helped prepare the teenage actors for a remarkably abridged and buoyant Royal Shakespearean production–where the kiss of love was substituted with a high 5–I was not cleared by international security to attend the event (for reasons that those who know me would find obvious).

However, my son, then 9 years old, was chosen to recite a poem. With a nervous wink to Her Royal Highness, Nicolas recited “The Road Goes Ever On” by Bilbo Baggins. Here is the Duchess congratulating him on his recitation.

Nicolas, believe it or not, graduates high school in a couple of weeks–no doubt heightening expectations for this Platinum Jubilee [see update on Nicolas here].

That is, perhaps, not a bad place to end this royal exploration–a walking song “Where many paths and errands meet” that has its own tragic splendour for those that know the tale. After all, it takes on new words and new meanings after the Return of the King.

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A Garden Gate Summer Note on Teaching and the First Days of School

Summertime has come and passed–at least here in Prince Edward Island. Island folk wisdom has it that summers break on the weekend of the Gold Cup & Saucer race in mid-August. How global weather patterns know about a two-minute horserace on our little Island remains somewhat of a mystery. Contrary to folk wisdom about folk wisdom, the estimation continues to be true. Once again this year, we could feel the weather tilting at the end of the Gold Cup & Saucer Parade and the Exhibition. Though brilliantly warm days have continued through August and into September, the cool nights and evening breezes began right on queue.

Although the PEI weather is more variable in Fall–with spells of rain, threats of frost, and the occasional post-tropical storm–we generally have gorgeous Septembers and Octobers. Muggy heat softens into autumnal warmth. The leaves burst into colour while sunny days find their way into gorgeous dusks and stolen moments around campfires and on decks. As a child, I loved the poetry of the phrase “Indian Summer” to describe this reprieve from the dying year–the surprising second-blessing summer we cannot always count on, a gift of warmth that buoys the spirit. I doubt the phrase “Indian Summer” always had the warmth and appreciation I gave it as a child, but I have yet to find a good replacement. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes some other names related to feast days. “St. Luke’s Summer” (Oct 18th) has a nice ring to it–as does the French “été de la Saint-Martin” (Nov. 11th) and the English “All-Hallows summer” (Nov 1st). Canada is a bit thin on saint days, and Oct 18th would be unusually late for a PEI little summer. 

In my search for the right word, I have begun calling these autumnal warm periods “Garden Gate Summers.” I doubt that phrase will catch on very quickly. In any case, when some local Island celebrity announces the last call to the post at the racetrack in mid-August, our world shifts toward Fall–though a little bit of summer tends to linger at the garden gate.

As an agricultural province, Fall is a harvest time in PEI–and my garden is in some need of attention. As a household of teachers and students, it also means the first days of school. Yesterday, my wife had her first day welcoming a new batch of Kindergarten students. I am a good teacher, and have even won an award. However, my wife is a genius in what she does–taking a gaggle of wide-eyed pre-schoolers and shaping them into reading, writing, sharing, self-regulating, idea-generating, curiosity-driven first graders. It is sweet to watch the little gaffers show up for their first experiences of scholarship with giant bookbags, bulging lunch bags, and nervous grins.

Kerry’s first day this year was a bittersweet one. It was the first time that Kerry has begun a year teaching at Immanuel Christian School without our son, Nicolas. Kerry began Kindergarten teaching as Nicolas entered first grade. Now our wee little punk has graduated–winning the school’s Music Award and the Governor General’s Medal, I might add–and has landed a spot in the School of Performing Arts (SOPA) at Holland College (on the campus where L.M. Montgomery studied). Yesterday was Nicolas’ first first day of school–a pretty classic local college Orientation Day. All week will be a series of first days for various parts of the program, and he will begin the normal schedule on his journey to rock fame on Monday.

We are thrilled to have Nicolas nearby (and at home) for school, but SOPA is a feeder program for Berklee College of Music in Boston–which seems very much farther away. We’ll deal with those first and last days when they come!

This term, I am thrilled to be appointed once again as an Assistant Professor in Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture (ACLC) at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). My first first day ever in the ACLC program was last January–and you can click here to read about that program and the new course I developed, “C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: Leadership, Communication, and Culture” (which, by the way, was one of my favourite teaching experiences ever). ACLC is a digitally engaged, applied arts program that helps students design their learning path by using a classical Liberal Arts foundation to make meaningful connections to the worlds of work and community.

Honestly, I love early September days on our beautiful hill-top UPEI campus. I love seeing new students arrive on campus, excited and nervous and wearing clothes that are a little new and a little nice, but not ostentatiously so. I love seeing students and faculty milling around the heritage quad, filling up the Fox & Crow, and spilling into the library that we have outgrown some years ago. I love seeing students wander through the halls, trying to match the information on their phones to the rather idiosyncratic numbering systems of our buildings–most of which are leftover from the days of St. Dunstan’s University, a Catholic Liberal Arts college that began as a seminary. I love walking into a new classroom, picking up a marker, and writing my name and class information on the whiteboard. I even enjoy the fact that every year, no matter how well-prepared they are, upon seeing my name and class title on the whiteboard, one or two students will pop up out of their seats with a gasp and hurry to the room where they are actually supposed to be.

I just love first days!

Like Nicolas, my first first day this Fall was yesterday’s New Student Orientation (NSO). It was a gorgeous day–perfect for the launch of a new term. As I walked through the heritage quad, I couldn’t help thinking that the student-scape before me looked as if it was the set of a Hollywood college film. Students were milling around, chatting and taking pictures and connecting with professors. There was a relatively mild game of croquet on the lawn, while students in NSO shirts used the walking path as the “net” for a game of outdoor badminton (with very little damage to the walkers, as far as I could tell). There were improvised games of soccer and frisbee, groups of students trundling along behind guides, and circles of students sunning on the lawn. Teams of profs and students had gathered for a dodgeball competition–with the added challenges of mature trees on the court. There was a drum circle next to the tipi that UPEI set up to launch the foundation-year “Indigenous Teachings” course–including a welcome by local Mi’kmaq folk and leaders of the new Faculty of Indigenous Knowledge, Education, Research, and Applied Studies. I loved the energy of the whole day.

Today I am putting the final touches on my lectures for my second first day–the first sessions of “Digital Literacy.” This first-year course trains students how to evaluate, integrate, and communicate information safely, effectively, and ethically within our many digital worlds of work, study, and social media. We will learn to think about what online and virtual engagement really is, rather than just receive our web-connected realities passively. “Digital Literacy” also has a significant design focus, where we learn about choosing the right tools for the right job–with a focus on digital storytelling, photography, videography, and data visualization. Because of the size of the class, I’ve broken the students up into two cohorts for their live tutorials. Today we will be talking about gender and the “hey guys!” phenomenon of Youtube and Tik Tok, and do a short critical thinking exercise about a tragedy that is underway here in Canada at this moment.

Tomorrow will be my third first day as I teach two other new-to-me courses. In ACLC, we have developed a trilogy of courses called “Putting Arts to Work.” In each of these course, we learn the history, purpose, and uses of a Liberal Arts education, and consider why it is worthwhile to study the Liberal Arts in a university environment that seems so job-focused. With a foundation in key Liberal Arts concepts like curiosity, empathy, ethics, storytelling, and core skills development, we help students shape their skills in communication, leadership, and cultural analysis. As a major, ACLC pairs well with another major or minor–disciplines of Literature and Religious Studies like mine, but we have ACLC students who also specialize in History, Sociology (and sometimes Anthropology), Psychology, Environmental Studies, Business disciplines like Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and quite a few from Diversity and Social Justice Studies. I have yet to teach a Physics student in the program, but I remain hopeful!

Last Winter, I taught the middle course in this three-pack. This Fall I am teaching the Putting Arts to Work cornerstone and capstone courses. As part of establishing the foundation for understanding the Liberal Arts, the first-year curriculum uses C.S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I will use some Narnian close readings to talk about Liberal Arts concepts like Appreciation, Joy, Beauty, Pleasure, Happiness, and Curiosity, and to enhance conversations about History, Theory, and Disciplinarity. In the capstone seminar, we guide students in assessing their entire experience as students (portfolio development, skills self-assessment, etc.) as a preparation for their post-graduation adventures of work and citizenship. There is also a large section on project management, and a current of marketing techniques runs throughout the course (directed toward self-presentation). The ACLC Putting Arts to Work curriculum is an extremely effective program.

I am a gig teacher and so I am a generalist by trade–even if my PhD was highly specialized. Since I began teaching in 2006, I have taught more than 100 university courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These include courses in my disciplines, Literature and Religious Studies–sometimes one or the other, and sometimes as an RS/Lit interdisciplinary study–at UPEI and at schools like Signum University, Regent College, The King’s College (New York City), Maritime Christian College (here in PEI), and the Atlantic School of Theology. Beyond specialty-focussed courses, I have also taught interdisciplinary and applied courses in Mythology and Folklore, Popular Culture and Film, Philosophy, History, Asian Studies, Global Issues, Inquiry Studies, Oral Communications, Leadership, and Languages (contemporary English and koine/biblical Greek). ACLC allows me to highlight my love of using key ideas in the classroom to make meaningful connections to history, language, literature, and culture.

However, ACLC is unique in the way that it integrates my other work experience that sits outside the academy. My work in government consultation and policy writing, my experience in non-profit leadership, my years as a camp and youth director, my training as a church leader and public speaker, my minor (but not insignificant) contribution to the arts and entertainment community, my popular writing (including A Pilgrim in Narnia), my social media portfolio, and my years as a small-business owner (including the ultimate failure of one of those businesses)–every part of my CV is included in my teaching in ACLC.

Can you tell I am excited for my first days this Fall?

Not everything is as beautiful as a snapshot of the heritage quad on Orientation Day or my buoyant course outlines. I am intensely superbly, dramatically busy–designing and preparing to teach three new courses just as a manuscript deadline passes and a grant application deadline looms. I really do not have time for a breath in my schedule until Christmas–and then only a quick one. I have had to say “no” to awesome speaking engagements and teaching opportunities, and I may miss nearby events this Fall (like New England Moot, just a 10-hour drive away). It has been hard to find time to write up my ideas for A Pilgrim In Narnia–or even edit the great guest pieces in the queue for the Fall. I have 500+ unread emails and a couple of dozen things on my “Do This Now Before You Take Your Next Breath” list. If I owe you an email or have stranded a connection on social media, I do apologize. Send me a follow-up note on the 22nd and I’ll try to set that straight before September ends. Good things often crowd themselves together like this–at least in my experience.

As much as I enjoy these first days on campus, now for the moment, I must set aside frisbees and fresh grass beneath my feet for a few hours of work on syllabi, spreadsheets, and slides. I have eager young minds to shape!

In reflection, I think these September first days help me avoid that feeling of the autumnal death of the year–the loss of light, the retreat indoors, the browning of fields and lawns, the Fall into Winter. In my case, part of the special loveliness of the Garden Gate Summer is not just how sometimes summer wants to linger around the hedge. A Garden Gate Summer is, for me, also the welcoming in of new people and ideas and experiences. It seems to me a lovely way to spend a season.

Note: The pictures are from UPEI’s stock photo library (which saved me having to get student permission for pictures), except the SOPA garage pick, which is from CBC.

In my long unread email list, am fielding quite a number of requests for writing and free speaking, as well as questions about “the book”. You can email me at junkola[at]gmail[dot]com. However, I am not taking bookings for free academic or artistic contributions until mid-2024–though I will be doing some events for the book launch (hopefully late 2023).  

And this is Nicolas with a song he wrote and recorded with his high school band, Moment of Eclipse, back in 2020, video directed by William Wright.

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