A Dangerous Sermon for Pastor Appreciation Month: “My Anxiety for all the Churches”

L.Backhuysen / Paul’s Shipwreck.Backhuysen, Ludolf; Dutch painter. 1630–1708

Readers may not know–indeed, in 950 posts I’m not sure if I have mentioned it–but I am an ordained minister. I trained for ministry at Maritime Christian College (MCC), and served in various ways over the next few years. About 15 years ago, I began translating that vocation into an academic field. I’m still trying to work that out today.

Part of that development in my vocation is having landed in a local church in Prince Edward Island, Cornwall Christian Church. Our church is not big, but it is small. One of the reasons that it has remained small is that it has a history of sending ministers out over the last decade or so. Cornwall Church has been a refuge for many pastors, ministers, seminary professors, and missionaries in transition–as well as a safe space for those who are looking for a home church for their parachurch ministry. Our church has also been a place for young leaders to test their mettle, and a place of recovery for a number of servants of the church who have been wounded and need a place to heal.

Though far from perfect, our church has a unique history and a unique ministry. Moreover, my years in professional church ministry has given me the ability to understand what church leaders experience in their lives. These two factors combined allowed me to speak specifically to the weight that pastors and church leaders carry. I took for my text the passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul is boasting of his struggles. Beyond shipwrecks and persecution and illness, Paul names what is the greatest weight of being a pastor to his people:

And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor 11:28, ESV).

The Stoning of St Paul and St Barnabas at LystraThis sermon for Pastor Appreciation Month is, then, a somewhat dangerous sermon. I open up the heart of my experiences so that church people can see the struggles that pastors go through–and the impossibilities that we have set up for them. It is a sermon that active paid pastors can’t preach in their home churches, but I can preach it because I have nothing to gain–or nothing to lose. And it is a sermon that I could only give at this generous, flawed little church in Cornwall, who will hear it in the right spirit and then seek to encourage people with it.

So, hesitantly, I share it with you. There are some tech issues, but they are okay. It is a very local sermon, but I think those who need to hear this sermon can appreciate that. And the sermon relates my negative experiences in churches, leaving out much of the positive. I hope that those who have shaped me in my various churches know how much I love them. But I share this sermon because people need to know what their priests, ministry leaders, pastors, missionaries, and elders experience.

I also share it because I believe that the church (in North America, at least) has some need of responsibility and repentance. If I am right, it is not something we dare put off.

Note: If the embedded link does not play, click here.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Prime Minister Trudeau and C.S. Lewis

Granted, I’m being a little cheeky. I am posting this on election day in Canada, where Prime Minister Trudeau may soon be Opposition Leader Trudeau–or, indeed, Former Prime Minister Now Working as a Barista in Disgrace Trudeau. Prime Minister Trudeau may well fight his way through to another term, but such are the risks that great figures face when they enter the fickle world of politics.

This was a lesson that Justin Trudeau’s father new well. Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau came onto the Canadian scene in the 1960s as a political rockstar, gaining an international reputation and easily winning the 1968 election, securing his place as the 15th Prime Minister of Canada. In 1972, however, Trudeau’s Liberals won a slim majority of seats, requiring the 3rd-party New Democrats to prop up his minority government–a second term squeaker that is a likely scenario tonight. It was a fruitful coalition, and Trudeau won handily in 1974, only to lose in 1979. After an unsustainable Conservative minority fell in 1980, Trudeau won a majority for his final term.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau was many things to many people, and did great and terrible things. “Just watch me!” he would challenge people when they warned him about the potential for failure. As a personality, he never failed to intrigue and offend. He danced behind the queen, gave the Prairies the middle finger (the “Trudeau salute”), and dated Barbra Streisand.

And, on top of these colourful and dubious achievements, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau also read The Screwtape Letters.

At least, that is, he knew enough to reference Screwtape, and did so in a letter of congratulations upon the launch of The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal, a quirky, zine-style newsletter in those heady days of the 70s and 80s as Lewis was rising as a literary and religious figure.

One of the idiosyncratic features of the newsletter was that it printed notes from readers, often raw and unedited. One of these notes is from an embattled Prime Minister Trudeau, facing his last days in office before an election that he would lose. It is not a terribly well-written letter, and it is not clear that Trudeau knew the significance of what he was quoting for his own political future. Still, he took the time to send a note to The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal and honour Lewis as an important 20th-century literary figure.

Thanks to a happy accident, I can now share this Trudeau-Lewis letter with you.

I had seen the letter in a visit to the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy at the Toronto Public Library. Beyond being a superb resource for scholars and fans of sf and fantasy, the (Judith) Merril Collection has a good C.S. Lewis archive with the entire Canadian Journal collection. I had read the Trudeau note there, but without permission to photograph it, it remained merely a note in my journal.

Recently, however, I have been going through some books by a former student of C.S. Lewis, Eddie L. Edmonds. In his copy of A.N. Wilson’s biography of Lewis, I found the Trudeau note torn from the journal and folded between the pages. It was a discovery that greatly increased my admiration for Wilson’s biography!

And, honestly, it is a bit of Lewis fun. So now, I choose to share it with you! A picture of the note is followed by a transcription.

I have finally found someone nearby with most of the 100 or so issues of the Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal, so I look forward to learning much from the past readers of Lewis, sharing in their love and wisdom–and no doubt some of their peculiarities. For now, though, here Prime Minister Trudeau’s note on C.S. Lewis and The Screwtape Letters. True, he got Clive Staples Lewis’ name wrong, and the entire thing might have been written by a staffer. Quoting Kenneth Tynan, though, is a nice touch, and it is nice to think that prime ministers of the past at least carried out the facade of literacy.

No doubt, not a few of Screwtape’s protégés do fine work on Parliament Hill.

Prime Minister-Premier Ministre

The Future is something everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.

C.S. Lewis

Clive Stephen Lewis has indeed reached the future and will continue to do so, for his works were of inspiring and eternal wisdom.

In paying tribute to a great man, and to use Kenneth Tynan’s words: “a classical writer, a mediaeval poet,  and a brilliant and vivacious mind.”, the Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal is pursuing in its own way, the communication of those works.

As you launch your journal, I am pleased to offer to the management and staff my sincere congratulations and best wishes of success.

Ottawa,
1978

Pierre Elliot Trudeau

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Harold Bloom and “The Western Canon”: A Note on His Death

Harold Bloom library

I received news this week that Harold Bloom has died. Bloom (1930-2019) was an avid reader, a rapid writer, and a penetrating critic whose essays and books on literature are breathtaking in scope and exemplary in their attention to the text. His The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973; 1997) and A Map of Misreading (1975) represent a considerable contribution to literary theory. While his “influence” theory is relatively complex, it is one that can be grasped and tested by smart readers outside the academy. His forty other monographs and hundreds of anthologies, public lectures, and essays represent a huge body of work. His absence will be noticed.

Notice I did not say that he would be missed. To say that Bloom was a polarizing figure is to underestimate the distance between extreme opposites. It is difficult to think of a group of people that Harold Bloom has not offended. At a local level, he was reputed to be a player on campus and divisive in the faculty. He felt no qualms in insulting others, whether they were his nearest colleagues or literary figures like National Medal of Arts winner Maya Angelou (“Miss Maya Angelou cannot write her way out of a paper bag“), recently deceased postmodern genius and Pulitzer finalist, David Foster Wallace (“He can’t think, he can’t write. There’s no discernible talent“), and Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, whom he claimed was a “fourth-rate science fiction” writer who received the honour out of “pure political correctness.” He has even landed on an LDS trigger list for inflammatory insults.

Beyond personal insult, Bloom has staked a number of controversial claims. He has “taken a ferocious stand against political correctness in the academy,” with a certain kind of glee in going against this grain. His Western Canon (1994) is not just about capturing our most literary, compelling, and influential figures. Bloom writes to resist what he calls the “School of Resentment,” which include African American studies, New Historicist criticism (of which C.S. Lewis was instrumental in beginning), feminist criticism, poststructuralism, and postmodernism–movements often rooted in or in conversation with Marxist literary criticism. There’s even an entire Wikipedia page about this literature of Resentment that Bloom sees as degrading the literary tradition in the West. Indeed, he sees them as a threat to beauty and poetry and good reading.

As you will see below and in my “Essential List” of the Western Canon, Bloom is not just trying to recommend dead white men for reading; he simply thinks that you should Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Jorge Luis Borges because they are worth reading, not because they diversify our reading experience.

But Bloom draws ire from–or offers some of his own to–other quarters as well. He resists T.S. Eliot and his gang and argues for a renewal of Romanticism (at least in good reading of Shelley and Blake). His Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present (1989) is quite a lovely book as Bloom seeks to recover some of his Jewish tradition. Speaking as someone trained in biblical literary criticism, however, combined with his bits in The Book of J, there is so much nonsense as to make it difficult to recommend even for entertainment value. Frankly, we could have done without his The American Religion (1992)–what could have been a great book written by a historian or trained scholar in religion but which divides on strange proleptic theses like the creation of a new gnosticism. And it is difficult to see why he has chosen the texts that he anthologizes in his Modern Critical Views Series–more than 200 volumes on leading figures and literary movements, with an invisible rationale for selection besides the fact that the article was available.

So, a puzzling and polarizing figure. I think it is worth paying attention new criticism (pinning ourselves to the page), and various feminist, gender, and race critical schools worthy of our attention–I think it is always valuable to ask how girls, women, minorities, and indigenous peoples read our texts and are read by them. But I don’t think that means negating the greatest authors and works of the deep and near past. That is why I have collected “canon lists” by C.S. Lewis (see here and here) and Harold Bloom (see here), as well as a failed attempt at a canon of fantasy literature. So I leave you with my essay from 2016 on Bloom’s The Western Canon. With all its (and his) flaws and extremities, I still think this is a valuable book for people who love reading.

Harold Bloom western canon

Harold Bloom and The Western Canon

Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages was a sensation when it appeared in 1994. Harold Bloom, a curmudgeonly anti-academic ivy league scholar, fills this challenging read with fresh insights on every page. He has perhaps gone mad with his own reading, and I have trouble understanding what he means by “we” when he claims to speak for readers. I’m not sure an audience exists for his breadth of reading anymore. He is one of the last great literary priests left in the empty cathedrals we call the Western library.

Moreover, Bloom is anti-ideological, and understands pretty well the self-contradiction that this entails. The book is a sermon against what he calls “the school of resentment”—readers of feminist, Marxist, and deconstructionist leanings that would remove the Western canon from its central place.

There are problems with a “Western canon.” Though we think of the canon as simply our chief books, the word “canon” means rule or measurement. The books of the Euro-American canon are the books by which our culture measures itself.

lewis harold bloom

One of the problems with this canon is that it is biased toward realism.* Mimesis is the literary critic’s drug of choice, thus modern fantasy and medieval allegory is largely left behind. Bloom himself references Ursula K. Le Guin and C.S. Lewis, and includes J.R.R. Tolkien in a larger list of canonical books. Clearly, though, even Bloom, who edited two books on C.S. Lewis, prefers the high literary mix of the uncanny and the natural in realistic writing to broad streams of fairy tale or the high ranges of fantasy and science fiction.

Another problem is that there may be no such thing as a Western civilization, and thus we are in no need of a canon. Still, there is a “we” in that sentence. And we can speak broadly of a culture that exists, with all its inherent contradictions and diversities. So a canon (and a counter-canon) makes sense.

It is telling that our culture, such as it is, is no longer reading these books. Some individuals are, but we no longer have a class of public intellectuals—pastors, priests, politicians, professors, publishers, and pundits—who lead us in the great roots of Western civilization. It is increasingly possible that some of our most important political figures no longer know how to read. Moreover, I’m always shocked when a CNN or Fox commentator has read the book of the controversialist he or she is interviewing. As a culture, we no longer want to be led intellectually, but to receive neural stimulation from flat shiny screens (like this one).

That is good in many ways I suppose. The canon is filled with white men and women—and just a few women, really—who were typically well off. But we are still left with parts of our culture—our history, our laws, our academic institutions, our media culture, our language development, our architecture and art—that reflect the canon. In short, there are just some books that we should have read already.

Harold Bloom western canon

And yet we haven’t—or at least I haven’t–read all our most influential books. I have at times pretended to read this writer or that book. How absurd! To pretend that I have read the same books as you! My awkward social sin, though, shows us the value of the library that has been left to us. I have determined to spend a good deal of the 2010s and 2020s catching up on all the reading I’ve missed. My wan education, even growing up in a very poor but literary home, has been woefully inadequate to my profession (my faith profession, my vocation as writer, and my roles as professor and policy writer).

If culture can no longer do it for us—can no longer provide us with the education we need—we have to do it for ourselves. Thus the value of a book like Bloom’s. As often as he reminds us how inadequate we truly are as readers, we can still use his book as a resource for self-teaching.

And if your project isn’t the discovery of a Western canon, the books Bloom focusses on are excellent in their own right.

What is this canon?

That’s part of the fun: despite the standards that are part of our shared cultural library, there is no one canon. So we make our own lists.

Harold Bloom genius

Bloom lists as the “highest fictions” these well known works: the Divine Comedy, Hamlet, King Lear, Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, Faust (Part Two), Peer Gynt, War and Peace, and In Search of Lost Time. Ibsen’s Peer Gynt was a surprise to me, though none of the others are. You will note that the novelists are missing, such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens. These he will spend a great deal of time on, as not quite the “highest fictions,” but still canonical. I know all of these writers in one way or another, even if I have never read them all.

I have endeavoured to include the entire list that you will not need to read his Western Canon in its entirety before you begin reading great books. Any canonical reader will have to have a knowledge of Blake, Coleridge, Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, Emerson, William Empson, Freud, Hemingway, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Marlowe, Fernando Pessoa, Alexander Pope, Shelley, Wallace Stevens, Charles Williams, and Yeats. And, of course, you will need to know the classics, the Bible, the Greek philosophers, contemporary literary critics, the existentialist writers, and the most popular poets of history.

So, here we are overwhelmed by our own lack of education again!

There are surprising additions and omissions in Bloom’s taxonomy of Western standards. Tolstoy sits at the centre of the canon, almost as high as Shakespeare. Yet it is not War and Peace that is highlighted, but an obscure posthumous novel I had never heard of. I don’t think Persuasion is Jane Austen’s best or even her most important novel, but it might be the most paradigmatic. Bloom is highly Anglo-American, so Voltaire is mostly ignored, and there is a surprising weight in his treatment of the Americans (Dickinson and Whitman).

The Nordic and Celtic traditions are almost entirely gone–they are speculative in nature, after all–and Beowulf gets not a single mention in the entire book. Arthur almost never happened. It is like Augustine wrote some notes in his journal, the world slept for a millennium, and Dante suddenly decided he had something on his mind. Coleridge is discussed in his relationship to Wordsworth, but neither his Rime of the Ancient Mariner or his Biographia Literaria are mentioned. And Bloom has a peculiar fascination with the Torah writer, “J”—the reconstructed and perhaps fictional persona whom he is certain is a female writing in ancient Hebrew.

Finally, Canada does not exist, in literary terms, which will surprise all the Canadian writers.

These peculiarities as a whole only serve to highlight the inversive nature of Bloom’s work. At the same time he is setting up for us the canon that literary critics of history have given us, he is reshaping that canon, recentring it, redefining its Greek and Hebrew lineage, and doing his best to steal it back from contemporary ideological critics** who would tear it open, piece by piece.

How can you have an iconoclast bent on restoring the art? Somehow it works in Harold Bloom’s exciting memoir of a culture’s library. Or is it a eulogy? He is an anti-establishmentarian who dies to protect the establishment. Despite—and because of—its idiosyncrasies, it works for those of us trying to move our (realistic) reading into deeper and deeper realms.


** I am one of the ideologues, by the way.

Posted in Original Research, Reviews, Thoughtful Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Why Most of Us Will be Disappointed After the Election

Throwback Thursdays are where I find a blog post from the past–raiding either my own blog-hoard or someone else’s–and throw it back out into the digital world. This might be an idea or book that is now relevant again, or a concept I’d like to think about more, or even “an oldie but a goodie” that I think needs a bit of spin time.

It is election time in Canada. For Americans, you might be surprised: It is always election time in the USA, so a little election in Canada is barely worthy of attention compared with the globe’s newest soap opera, “The White House.” People in Britain and Israel are embroiled in your own series of catastrophic electoral and constitutional crises. Good luck with that. The rest of us are waiting with Brexcitement to see what happens.

Still, here we are in Canada, a country small in population but with the potential to lead the world in response to climate change, global migration, and innovation–if we chose to do so. The electoral fortunes are shifting as I speak and we are almost certainly headed toward a minority government or coalition of some sort. The data in this piece is a little dated as I am talking about the 2015 election. But the principle remains: Most Canadians will be unhappy with the result next Monday.

This disappointment is not unique to us. In the 2017 UK election, the Conservatives secured an uneasy minority government that has chosen to rule as if it was still a majority government–partly because its opponents can’t decide which kind of failure they want Boris Johnson (and Theresa May) to experience. In the 2016 US election, not only did President Trump fail to receive a popular vote mandate from the majority of Americans, he did not even get the highest vote count. 46.1% of Americans voted for Trump, and Trump holds the record for the highest vote deficit in history. And it isn’t even close. So while I am talking about Canadian realities, most of my readers are American or British. Though my thinking has developed on point #3 (see this post for an example), I think the lessons are more universal, and I’ve tried to include some UK and US realities in my comments. 

Here’s to disappointment!

A man's hand putting an envelope in the slot of a box

Monday, October 19, 2015, Canada

After the longest campaign in memory, Canadians are lining up to vote today. Even though I am discouraged by the media’s election coverage and fed up with the level of conversation by the parties, I will probably be up late tonight arguing with friends at the pub and trolling TV stations for the best coverage while I tweet out the madness.

The truth is, despite my growing despair, I love politics. I love the race, the hunt for precise, simple ideas, and the hope that someone will emerge with a clear vision of what we could be as a country.

Yet, there are three clear reasons most of us will be disappointed by the election results. The first has to do with the system, the second has to do with us as people, and the third is because of our consumer culture.

The System

first past the post ukThe first reason is that most people will vote for a party that did not win. This happens in parliamentary elections where you vote for a local person who is part of a party, and can happen in America’s electoral college system. At the end of the night, the party with the most local people elected (seats) win. If they have a majority of seats, they form government. In a minority there can be coalitions–formal and informal partnerships between parties where they agree to support each in rule, or rule together. There have been significant coalition governments in Israel, Japan, the UK, and most of Europe. We have not seen a coalition to form government in Canada since confederation, though there have been cooperative agreements (and there is talk of a 2019 coalition on the left).

democratic_reform_en_1This First-Past-the-Post system creates huge disparities in voting powers. In the UK it only took 36.9% of votes to help the Conservatives form a majority government in 2015. Almost 2/3rds of Brits were disappointed in the 2015 election. Moreover, the UK is divided by region. Though the cities split between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, other regions voted in blocs. The strongest was the Scottish National Party who got nearly twice as many representatives in parliament than their popular count would warrant.

In Canada, we had England’s old two-party system until WWI. Like the US, the elections were usually 50/50 with a few percentage points going either way. Beginning in WWI, however, we had bloc parties and special interest parties—usually in French-speaking Quebec, but also in the prairies of Western Canada. After WWII, a third party emerged as a significant voice and is now the official opposition (now the NDP—similar to Labour in the UK).

canadian pmsSince 1960, only once have the majority of Canadians voted for the party that won. This was Brian Malroney’s Conservative win in 1984, and he got a smidgen more than 50% of the vote. In the last 55 years, most Canadians felt their view wasn’t represented in Ottawa (our capital is not Toronto!). Only once since WWI has a Canadian Prime Minister received more than 51% of the party vote: William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1940, who led Canada into the second war.

I lived in Alberta for five years when conservative parties were divided. The sense of dissatisfaction with the government in Ottawa was palpable. Even now (in 2015), with a conservative government, Albertans have voted a provincial NDP majority—largely because of dissatisfaction. That sense of discouragement and despair is driving the vote in my region of Atlantic Canada, which remains the poorest region of the country.

The US has had the majority of votes disappointed 16 times since John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson with only 30.9% of the vote. JFK beat Nixon in votes, but still did not get to a majority, and Nixon would win in 1968 with only 43.4% of the vote. Nixon’s was the 5th lowest result in history, yet still ahead of Bill Clinton who even with 5m votes more than Bush Sr. only had 43% of the people. As polarizing as Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Hoover, and FDR were, they received some of the highest vote pools in history. In recent memory, George W. Bush received 500,000 fewer votes than Al Gore, prompting one of the most contested election results in US history. Donald Trump has one of the largest vote deficits of a President, with nearly 3m fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

american presidentsIn America, though, the discontent moves past the numbers. George Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 both received majority votes, yet people were not happy. Movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street show the growing frustration of people with the system itself. Indeed, we should view Trump’s 2016 electoral victory as a protest vote. And while the U.S. Primaries are entertaining in 2015, they sure didn’t give most of us in the world very much confidence in the quality of leadership we’ll see in the decade ahead.

first past the postWhether it’s the electoral college system of the US or parliamentary systems in the UK and Canada, there are real limitations to first-past-the-post politics. It is the system that is broken. In this day and age, with all the technology and communications systems available to us, can we not invent a representative democracy that isn’t based on systems created before electricity and the railroad? We have parliaments today based upon an age of pages. We are doing telegraph age democracy while living digital daily lives.

That has to change.

The People

If the US party system is any indication, there are only two kinds of Americans: Red or Blue, Right or Left, Conservative or Liberal. The UK has many more voices in parliament, but two or three big parties typically stand out.

Canada-political-partiesIn Canada the colours are opposite and it is a bit more complex. We are Red (Centre-Left), Blue (Centre-Right), Orange (Liberal-Progressive), Green (Progressive Special Interest), and the Light Blue Bloc Québécois (Centre-Conservative Regional Bloc). Even our conservative party isn’t very right wing, though it has strong elements within it that would connect with the US’s Tea Party movement [note: There is now a deep Blue right-wing party that has developed out of dissatisfaction with the centrist nature of the Conservative Party of Canada].

canada provincial partiesAt the provincial level it is even more complex. In some cases the Red-Left and Blue-Right are indistinguishable, like here in PEI where neither has any clear ideology. In other places, there are true Conservative parties, like Alberta’s official opposition, the Wildrose party. There are conservative-leaning parties in power in Saskatchewan and the Yukon, and the Quebec and BC Liberal Parties are left-right coalitions–none of these are aligned with federal parties. Throughout the country, we also have special interest groups like the Marijuana Party, the Marxist-Leninist Party, and the Christian Heritage Party, but they get few votes.

partylogos canadaWhere do I fit on the left-right spectrum?

This is the second problem. I am a fiscal conservative, mostly, but in Canada’s scene most (but not all) of my social interests are liberal or progressive. For example, I’m interested in environmental protection, which puts me in with one of the three major left-leaning parties. In my opinion, though, these parties, the two bigger ones in particular, misunderstand the relationship between job creation and social reform. The conservatives would be the most efficient at streamlining refugee entry in a safe way, but (against my view) are the least interested in giving people a home in Canada to start businesses and send kids to our schools. I have views on foreign policy, rural economic development, abortion, end-of-life-care, Pharmacare, research funding, equity, immigration, human rights protection, aboriginal relationships, minimum wage, and the role of culture and religion in public policy. Add these together and there is no party that represents even half of them.

apple hand beauty artAnd nobody, it seems, wants to talk about education. We are a society founded upon education, and it is slipping to the background. By the time we want to do something about it, we won’t be smart enough to do anything about it.

So where do I fit on the spectrum between Blue and Red in Canada?

You see, I don’t fit. I am colourless in Canada’s black and white politics.

I am not alone. Being a Christian makes the question even more complex. Christians, and anyone else who lives out of a deep worldview, can do well in Canada, the US, or the UK. There is a lot of space for us to live and breathe and have our being. While there is overlap between a Christian worldview and a political party, they will never match perfectly.

Often enough, Christians vote for the party they think will do the least damage.

Evangelicals in the US are often highlighted for driving the Republican vote. I think that is true, even if it was less true 15 years ago. But evangelicals are becoming more environmentally sensitive, and have diverse views about immigration—both hot button Red-Blue divide issues. Moreover, the culture of an evangelical is different in Kansas City, Orlando, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Calgary, Halifax, Edinburgh, London, and Utopia, NY. While evangelicals share a great deal at the deepest levels, there is diversity–despite the way the media presents it. Non-American evangelicals will always wonder why some American Christians feel so deeply about gun ownership, just as American evangelicals will be puzzled by Canadian or British evangelical tolerance toward same-sex marriage.

Evangelicalism is diverse, even in such a local place as the US. Add other Christian expressions to the mix and we’ll find that Christians don’t perfectly fit well in the Red-Blue spectrum. Americans, when you look around do you only see two kinds of people–red and blue? Even if you happily align with Republicans or Democrats, and despite the increasing polarization, you’ll recognize there is more diversity in the US today.

And, of course, the way we vote will connect with what we see as important in our local context. I won’t tell you how I’m voting, but I’m not voting on the particular issues that I mentioned above. Any of the four parties alternately intrigue me and horrify me.

federal-party-leadersInstead, I’ve decided to vote for the party that I think will best use power well. Because this election will result in a minority government, I am voting based on my confidence that these elected officials will create the kind of political environment where I think the least damage and the best good can take place.

Since I don’t fit anywhere, this is the best I can do.

And I think most of you are like that too. Not all of you. Some of my readers will be committed to a party with conservative, progressive, centrist, or special interest focus. Well done. Some of you will be disappointed in the looming UK election, the Canadian election, or the impending US election. Others of you will be perfectly pleased.

But if your political personality is more like a scatter map than a spectrum, you are likely to be disappointed. Even if the party you vote for gets in, the best you might feel is relief!

The Culture

True_North_Times_screenshotThe third reason why most of us will be disappointed is that we now live in a culture that has made truth-telling impossible. Instead of an open culture of debate and exchange of ideas, we are now being governed by Scandalocracy. We have an entire media group dedicated to the project of exposing the stupid things people say.

One by one our Canadian politicians have fallen off the ballot because of things they have said on social media. Some of these things are really old. One is a comment that the oilsands in Alberta are like Mordor—a seven-year-old post on facebook. Another was a relatively sophisticated religious criticism where the politico used a single wrong word. Some complaint is legitimate, like the candidate who encouraged someone on twitter to “Go blow your brains out,” and said, “Your mother should have used that coat hanger”. There is also a lot of Islamaphobia playing to a particular population—I wish these were called out more. But some of the comments are just dumb things people say out loud.

Alberta MordorWhen did we come to believe that the state of never being offended is a human right? People say offensive things about my worldview all the time. The rights to freedom of speech guarantee us that if we say something truthful that isn’t libel or slander, we haven’t infringed on another person’s rights. But now the range of what people are allowed to say out loud is super small.

It won’t help, by the way. It simply means that people will keep their crazy beliefs to themselves, breeding them at the family table and pub and lunchroom. It is why antisemitism is still an issue in Europe, even if it is illegal.

More than Scandalocracy, our commercialization of politics has made it impossible to have a real debate. When you have to sell your 300-page party platform in 30 seconds, how can you ever say anything visionary, constructive, or even truthful? For a couple of generations now we’ve known that the party with the most cash will make the best play. Now it’s the party with the most cash and brightest smiles–and with the best social media researchers ready to reveal the sins of the past.

Frankly, I don’t care that our Prime Minister looks like a Lego figure, that our opposition leader is a bearded man in a country that doesn’t trust bearded men, or that the frontrunner today is a pretty boy with a gorgeous family. Somebody please convince me of the correlation between the ability to campaign and the ability to govern.

I have yet to see the link.

2015-08-07-election-(2)And the Winner Is…

Well, the winner isn’t me. And it probably won’t be you either.

I suspect the liberal party (Red) with the pretty boy leader will win the most seats tonight, though about 20% of the seats are too close to call. The Lego PM and his conservatives (Blue) will get about 1/3 of the vote and will still have a chance to win the most seats, though not by much. And the bearded non-hipster NDP (Orange) will come either 2nd or 3rd, unless Quebec and BC go orange. Though they are a favourite among undecideds and youth, they are only polling at 25%. The Green party with Elizabeth May will get one or two seats, but will come in second in a handful of areas.

The result? Either a Blue squeak-by with an opposition that will sink the government, or a Red or Orange win and a stable minority government. Only the Red liberals have the chance to take off now, and I think are in a minor surge. I suspect tonight Justin Trudeau will be asking our Governor General to form a government and Stephen Harper will be resigning.

None of these parties will get the confidence of 40% of Canadians. 3 out of ever 5 Canadians will lose in tonight’s democratic event. And more that than will feel like the people in Ottawa don’t represent them—or even understand where they are coming from.

This is the result of a broken one-size-fits-all system that is supposed to make complex people think in idiotically simple ways about very complex issues.

That’s why most of us will be disappointed last spring in the UK, next fall in the US, and late tonight in Canada.

Still, though, see you at the pub and on Twitters tonight!

@BrentonDana

Note: I was right about all the predictions, except that Trudeau’s 39.5% was enough to get him a majority government as confidence in the NDP faltered in the last week.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I Love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice … Even Though I’m a Guy

Honestly, it’s not that bad. It’s true, I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s fiction–and I would read more if she left us more. Pride & Prejudice is my favourite, so that I find I have blogged on it a number of times, including:

  1. Advice to my 13 Year Old Niece Madison on Reading Pride and Prejudice for the First Time (tips for young readers);
  2. Superior Equality in Love: A Thought from Pride and Prejudice (on how Austen plays with gender roles); and
  3. The Stories behind Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (on intertextuality).

I find the 2005 Pride & Prejudice film with Keira Knightly both beautiful and compelling–though no adaptation can ever capture for me the skill, humour, depth, and beauty of the original text. Films can do many things, but they don’t capture poetry very well.

I love Austen’s writing, though I’m not as religiously devoted to her as Keri Russell in Austenland or some of the characters of the Jane Austen Book Club. A quick scan at those two Austen-fan films shows that being a guy who loves Austen makes me a singular gentleman indeed. I honestly can’t remember if I have ever met a male who is neither a teacher nor a writer who confesses that Pride & Prejudice is among their favourite books. No doubt these fair readers exist, but when it comes to estates, the guys in my world are far more interested in the TD Gardens in Boston or the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto than the fishpond at Pemberley or the forbidden rooms of Northanger Abbey.

So what is it that draws me into Austen’s worlds–so much so that I may have admitted off the record to my students that while I did not actually design an entire masters-level course to find a way to teach Pride & Prejudice, I would be willing to do so. I love this book.

For the sake of my students–not to mention my readers, who may be puzzled why writers like Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery pop up so frequently in a blog about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and speculative fiction–I thought I would try to explain why I love Pride & Prejudice.

I could go on an on in answer to this question (my students have discovered that I do indeed go on and on), but a short passage may help us out at this point. This passage is from the penultimate chapter, part of the long denouement that is entirely unnecessary to good novel writing and yet so appreciated by Austen fans. This passage occurs after Darcy and Elizabeth have admitted–begrudgingly, yet impossible to deny–that they have mutual love one for the other. After having survived the shock of explaining their love to her family, Elizabeth wants to know how Darcy could possibly fall in love with her when she was so obstinate, resistant, sardonic, occasionally determined to be belligerent–and when, classically, Darcy had on the night of their first meeting suggested that Elizabeth was merely “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Here is the exchange:

Elizabeth’s spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. “How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?”

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

“My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners—my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?”

“For the liveliness of your mind, I did.”

“You may as well call it impertinence at once. It was very little less. The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you. There—I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it; and really, all things considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you knew no actual good of me—but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love.”

This passage captures a number of things I love about the book:

1. I have a literary crush on Eliza Bennett

No doubt there are greater beauties in the text, but like Darcy, I am most deeply attracted to Lizzie’s “liveliness of mind.” Her impertinence is no doubt a large part of that liveliness, but not the whole. Eliza does resist the patterns of vacant women like Miss Bingley, who use the vanity of men to secure their power. And in doing so, she shines as an individual personality. Intellectually speaking, Elizabeth is unmatched in her rather large household, except perhaps by her father. Wit, in all the senses, is always on her tongue. And when she sees that she has been wrong or been wronged, she is able to mortify her shame and fortify herself to virtue.

Elizabeth Bennett is one of the great characters of literary history.

2. Jane Austen draws great characters

We can only see the strength of character in Darcy and Lizzie here, but in shadow form, we can see the “foil” that is Miss Bingley, who is always “speaking, and looking, and thinking for [Darcy’s] approbation alone.” If Austen could only draw foils, however, we would be unsatisfied. We see a great variety of insipid and “silly” women, including Mrs. Bennett, Kitty, and especially Lydia. These characters certainly stand in contrast to sensible and reasonable women, like Jane, Elizabeth, Charlotte, and perhaps Georgiana. Yet, this is part of the problem. In the end, Jane is no judge of character, Elizabeth has allowed her stubbornness and pride to nearly shipwreck her happiness, and Charlotte has married Mr. Collins. While we can instantly spot the insensible and silly girls, tempered emotion and reasonable action are hard for everyone.

But in case we think silliness is only a female vice and temptation, there is Mr. Collins. What a marvellous character this vacant, verbose, supercilious preacher is. I would die happy knowing I had created someone as daft and entertaining as Rev. Collins.

3. I love the prose

This passage is not the height of Austen’s prose, but a great example of what is relatively plain and straightforward prose where the poetry rests upon a lightness of atmosphere, a firmness of intent, and humour all the way through. There are many big words in the text–I had to look up supercilious–but these words bring energy to the text rather than take the story away from the reader. But this passage shows how the narrative is always reshaping the characters. “You loved me because I am saucy and resistant,” Eliza challenges Darcy. “I loved you for your liveliness of mind,” he answers. And they are both right. It is the kind of complexity and simplicity bound up together in this opening sentences of the novel–really one of the great first lines of history:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The wordplay in this passage alone is enough to fill the exegetical portion of at least three of Fordyce’s Sermons.

4. Jane Austen extolls virtue while resisting aspects of culture

Finally, I want to briefly note the intriguing mix that Pride & Prejudice is to us. It has its roots in manners books, where the tale is meant to shape young people toward virtue. Virtue is commended throughout, so that humility, curiosity, and intelligence are valued over pride, rigidity, and rashness. Yet, Austen also challenges much that is common wisdom. The word “reason” is used hundreds of time in the text, and yet so is the word “feeling.” Rashness is problematic, but hesitancy can be deadly. Curiosity and a smile are necessary for heroic liveliness, and yet there is an in-built sensitivity to family shame and status. And though that status and station are maintained, love challenges, transcends, and rebuilds the importance of name, status, material wealth, and connections.

Beyond all the elegance of character and prose–beyond even Eliza’s liveliness of mind and spirit–I love Austen’s ability to read culture, speak to the cultural moment, and offer something of depth beyond it.

These, then, are my reasons. I thought I would share them with you systematically, before I am run away with my feelings. And now, nothing remains for me but to assure you all in the most animated language of the violence of my affection for Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

My Paper was Accepted for the 2020 L.M. Montgomery Conference! #LMMI @UPEI @LMMI_PEI

I am very pleased to announce that my paper proposal was accepted for the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s 14th Biennial conference in 2020! This is the premier Montgomery studies event in the world, gathering scholars and readers together from around the world for a four-day early summer conference in Prince Edward Island. Though I admitted in 2018 that I had some timidity in joining this crew–not least because there were few other male scholars there–I found the community warm and receptive and the talks of the highest quality.

I have been working on a trilogy of theological papers on the three Anne books Montgomery wrote entirely during WWI or in response to the war (you can see the timeline I made here): Anne’s House of Dreams, Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside. In 2018, I presented a paper on spirituality and Rainbow Valley, titled, “In Her Own Tongue: L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality of Imaginative Literature, with C.S. Lewis.” As I moved toward the paper, I found I had gone too broad in sketching out the topic. In rewriting the paper for print, I titled it “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: L.M. Montgomery’s Narrative Spirituality in Rainbow Valley.” I have submitted it to the peer-reviewed Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, and am working on revisions this fall.

The second paper in my L.M. Montgomery trilogy focusses upon Anne’s House of Dreams, a very literary and intertextually rich story of contrasts set in Anne’s early married years. I’ve titled this paper, “Making Friends with the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Popular Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams.” Here is the paper abstract:

Upon completing Anne’s House of Dreams in 1916, Montgomery recorded in her journal that she had never written “amid so much strain of mind and body” (193). Caught between the pressures of life as a minister’s wife, her writing, and her role as a mother, Montgomery admitted that WWI was “slowly killing” her (185)—a war bound up for Montgomery with the agony of the loss of her second son. What Elizabeth Epperly calls her “most unselfconsciously philosophic” novel (The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass 75), House of Dreams delves into painful issues of loss, suicide, bad marriages, ill-timed love, poverty, and the beautiful-terrible consequences of duty. The result is a complex and nuanced consideration of life lived faithfully as it excels in the “effects of light and shadow,” allowing for both “joy and sorrow” (Anne’s House of Dreams 84, 93). Filled with biblical and poetic references to the nature of life, and unwilling to look away from difficult themes, readers are left with the assurance that “Everything works together for good” (16, see Rom 8:28). Like Milton, Montgomery writes so that she may “justifie the wayes of God to men” (Paradise Lost I.26)—or at least allow herself and her reader to work through the great joys and deep pains of life that are somehow providential. This paper considers Anne’s House of Dreams as a popular theodicy. “There’s something in the world amiss,” Anne admits, quoting Tennyson, but it is unclear whether it will be fully “unriddled by and by” (162). Instead, with Leslie, there is some beauty to “the struggle—and the crash—and the noise” of life (64). Montgomery offers a complex and conflicted defense of goodness, which is a lived theodicy where we are invited to make friends with the darkness to appreciate the light.

I am pleased that I was selected to present from the blind review process–though I was encouraged to shepherd my presentation toward the 2020 theme, L.M. Montgomery and Vision. The conference is local to me, but it is highly rigorous and I did not make any presumptions about acceptance. For those who are joining us next June 25-28 at UPEI, I look forward to meeting you (or seeing you again!). For those who have missed this cycle and cannot attend the conference, I hope that you will consider 2022. Abstracts will be due in August 2021, so I will begin my work on the third part of this trilogy while I’m writing this paper. Rilla of Ingleside is an astonishing book as war literature, and will be for me the greatest challenge of the three papers.

Posted in Canadian literature, L.M. Montgomery, News & Links | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

C.S. Lewis, Sexology, and the OED

I came across the word “sexology” in my recent teaching of The Four Loves. I was curious about the history of the word as it seems like the kind of word that Lewis might make up, like Aristocratophobia, Lowerarchy, Disredemption, Grailologist, Uglification, Bulverism, and other neologisms that I went into in my series here. So I did what I normally do when I’m curious about a word: I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED.

There is, indeed, an entry for “sexology.” The word has been kicking around since the 1800s, but very rare. Beyond scientific literature, it doesn’t become a popular term until–wait for it–the late 1960s. So although Lewis was ahead of the curve on this one, and although he may have thought he was making up a word, this one was living already. There is even a 1915 book called Sexology of the Bible: The Fall and Redemption of Man, a Matter of Sex by Sidney Calhoun Tapp–a truly hilarious addition to WWI literature, I think.

What made me curious, though, was that the OED had quoted the passage in The Four Loves that led me there in the first place–a phrase about “the ‘sexology’ of the medieval church.” How often, I wondered, did the OED use Lewis as a popular writer and English professor to provide examples of English words?

As it turns out, the OED turned to Lewis a lot.

In searching, I found that there are actually more than 300 references to C.S. Lewis in the OED–300+ times that Lewis is evoked to demonstrate word usage in context. A number of these are mundane usages, like “abate” (from Prince Caspian), “accent” (from Surprised by Joy), “Arabia” (from That Hideous Strength), “book” (from a 1919 letter), “bourgeois” (from Studies in Words), and “but” (from Allegory of Love) … and those are just “A” and “B.” There’s a whole alphabet worth of these kinds of entries.

Some Lewis references are a little more technical, like “ad idem” (from a 1928 letter), “alba” (from The Allegory of Love), “alpha” (as in a letter grade, from a 1962 letter), “altitudo” (from The Discarded Image), “anti-feminist” (from a 1930 letter), “article” (from a diary entry), “faerie” (from a 1951 letter),”gambado” (from a 1924 diary entry), “historicism” (from The Discarded Image), “moly” (from Christian Reflections), and “Providentialism” (from OHEL).

Beyond these, there are some intriguing usages that are worth pointing out:

  • airish, a rare word meaning, “Of or belonging to the air; aerial, airlike,” C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (1964) iii. 33: “As if the aether grew more airish or the air more aetherial at their meeting-place.”
  • aeger, British slang referring to “a student or pupil: excused from attendance at lectures, classes, etc., on account of illness,” C. S. Lewis Diary entry, 26 Feb 1925: “Ziman, who should have followed him, was aeger.”
  • arborification, an infrequent word meaning, “a tree-like or branching formation,” C.S. Lewis Allegory of Love vii. 304: “The shield of Arthur is borrowed from the shield of Atlantis,..Fradubio’s arborification from Astulph’s.”
  • aureate, a figurative and somewhat idiosyncratic word referring to “brilliant or splendid as gold, especially in literary or rhetorical skill; especially designating or characteristic of a highly ornamental literary style or diction,” C. S. Lewis Allegory of Love vi. 252: “This peculiar brightness…is the final cause of the whole aureate style.”
  • boyism, referring to the “characteristic nature of a boy; boyishness, childishness,” C.S. Lewis, Allegory of Love i. vi. 98: “Bernardus..can be elevated when his subject raises him, though never for many lines together before some ruinous conceit of ‘boyism’ breaks in.”
  • conchie, war slang that Lewis picked up for a “conscientious objector,” from a 1923 letter.
  • escapist, which in a figurative sense means “one who seeks distraction from reality or from routine activities,” and Lewis is given the first attribution in Pilgrim’s Regress vi. iii. 125 “‘And you have never heard Mr. Halfways either.’ ‘Never. And I never will. Do you take me for an escapist?’”
  • heart-root, the “source of a person’s most profound emotions”: C. S. Lewis in Oxford Magazine, 10 May 665/2 So bottomless is your pain, your strength so weak, It plucks at my heart-roots.”
  • interplanetary, “existing between planets or pertaining to travel between planets,” C.S. Lewis, Perelandra vi. 91: “In obscure works of ‘scientification’, in little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs.”
  • mazer, a “bowl, drinking cup, or goblet, usually without a foot, made from a burr or knot of a maple tree and frequently mounted with silver or silver-gilt bands at the lip and base. Also: a similar vessel made of metal or other material. Now archaic and historical,” C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian xv. 185: “In great wooden cups and bowls and mazers, wreathed with ivy, came the wines.”
  • monopod, a “creature having only one foot,” including some mythical races, C.S. Lewis, Poems (1964) 43 “Ran till the sunrise shone upon the bouncing Monopods at their heels” (but see also The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
  • Mother Kirk, an originally and chiefly Scottish word for “Mother Church,” attested first in Scottish Parliament, C. S. Lewis Pilgrim’s Regress viii. 194: “Even where Mother Kirk is nominally the ruler men can grow old without knowing how to read the Rules. Her empire is always crumbling.”
  • orenda, an Iroquoian word for “a spirit or power thought to exist in all things,” C. S. Lewis, Miracles xi. 100: pantheism “may even be the most primitive of all religions, and the orenda of a savage tribe has been interpreted by some to be an ‘all-pervasive spirit’.”
  • pash, “Soft, formless, wet matter; pulp; a pulpy mass, a mush,” C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength xvi. 434: “It..plunged..into the room, trumpeting.., heavily and soon wetly trampling in a pash of blood and bones.”
  • wardrobe, a “large cupboard or cabinet for storing clothes or other linen; (now esp.) a tall cupboard or closet, typically located in a bedroom, and often fitted with a rail from which clothing may be suspended on hangers,” C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe i. 11: “They looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door.”

Most of the coolest entries, like “churchwardenly,” “meta-history, “planetolatry,” and “world-renouncing” are from Allegory of Love or The Discarded Image–the academic books at the beginning and end of Lewis’ career. Not a few others, like “bourgeois,” “clubbableness,” “Modern English,” “morbidezza,” “poshness,” and “out of court,” are from Studies in Words–not a terribly surprising place for word source material.

While I would be intrigued to think about the “foreign” words Lewis used from aboriginal communities and other world religions, but I found myself drawn to the places where Lewis’ unique word-usage is connected to the Inklings. Characteristically, I was pleased to find out that Lewis is referenced in the OED for “Bandersnatch“–Lewis Carroll’s particular production of fancy. Lewis is famous for saying:

No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.

It is the kind of great quote by a friend that might lead to a book (hint, see here). But Lewis is also referenced in this entry, as Lewis included the word in his academic writing:

Always, at the critical moment, a strange knight, a swift ship, a bandersnatch or a boojum, breaks in” (C.S. Lewis, Allegory of Love, vii. 301).

Lewis’ approach to academic writing was always a bit adventurous–like a Bandersnatch?

Another Inklings term in the OED is “Beatrician,” invented by Charles Williams to speak of “a moment of revelation and communicated conversion by means of a girl” (Figure of Beatrice 123). Lewis goes further into “The Beatrician experience” in Arthurian Torso, his commentary on Williams’ incomplete poetic Arthuriad. “Hobbit” is a J.R.R. Tolkien invention, as we all know. The collective noun “hobbitry,” however, is attributed to Lewis, who first uses it in his essay and lecture, “On Stories“:

The Hobbit escapes the danger of degenerating into mere plot and excitement by a very curious shift of tone. As the humour and homeliness of the early chapters, the sheer ‘Hobbitry’, dies away we pass insensibly into the world of epic.

While it is quite likely that Lewis is anticipating a usage we see in The Lord of the Rings (“Hobbitry-in-arms“), and Tolkien is the originator, you could see how Lewis or one of the other Inklings may have brought this word to light in early public readings at The Eagle and Child. “Eucatastrophe” and “subcreation” (in a technical sense) are rightly attributed in the OED to Tolkien; they appear in public first in the volume Lewis edited, Essays Presented to Charles Williams. It’s sometimes difficult to parse out the lines between Tolkien’s ideas and Lewis’ words; after all, the OED credits Lewis with inventing the word “Tolkienian” in 1954–though spelling it “Tolkinian.”

Unfortunately, none of the Inklings have “mythopoeia” or “mythopoesis” attributed to them (though Lord of the Rings is used as a recent example of the genre). Lewis, however, did try to pen the word “mythonomy” in a 1939 letter:

We now need a new word for ‘the science of the nature of myths’… Would ‘mythonomy’ do?

While this very rare and pretty word for “the analysis of myths” had existed in a technical sense since Luke Burke’s 1876 book, Principles of Mythonomy, Lewis’ (re)invention of the term shows why he is a good candidate for so many OED entries. He is a lover of words himself, a student of them and an amateur philologist who worked as a professional wordsmith.

But he also had a playful streak in him–not only in recovering old words from the past–such as “pajock” in The Horse and His Boy or “roseal” in his poetry–but in coining new ones. In a letter by R.B. MacCallum, he shares that Lewis and his friends were shocked at the “dreadful hybrid” neologism, “Electionology,” so they invented “psephology” for him–which is now a technical term. We are told that Lewis is the originator of “subtopianize,” “rhetoricization,” “planetolatry,” “pornogram,” and “poetolatry,” but his use of “poethood” for Pound and Eliot in Preface to Paradise Lost might also have been an attempt at inventing just the right word.

Most of the words Lewis made up have occurred in the past, such as his technical use of recently invented words like “significacio” or “technocracy,” or even his poetic use of “transmortal“–a word that should become popular in our trans-philic age. But Lewis is sometimes attributed as having used words in a new way, such as a qualitative use of “Northernness” (from a 1930s essay on William Morris). Though I can’t believe he is the original voice on this one, Lewis is attributed with the first usage of “sacramentalism” to refer to the “theory that the natural world is a reflection or imitation of an ideal, supernatural, or immaterial world.” What Lewis had–and what he shared with Tolkien and the Inklings–was an inventiveness that makes him one of the word-masters of the modern age.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments