The House of Mirth and the House of Lonely Years: L.M. Montgomery on Charlotte Brontë

“And you … cannot at all imagine the craving I have for fraternal and sisterly love” (Jane Eyre, ch. 33).

I came across this diary entry recently, quoted below, which I found fascinating as it came on the heels of having reread the lyrical and evocative novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë–this time in the gorgeous audio reading by Thandie Newton. Readers of L.M. Montgomery will not be surprised that scholars have made links back to Charlotte Brontë, particularly between the self-possessed Jane Eyre and Montgomery’s literary heroine, Emily of New Moon–a series she was concluding at about the time of this diary entry (see Elizabeth R. Epperly’s treatment in The Frangrance of Sweet-Grass, for example).

It is not difficult to admire Charlotte Brontë for her literary style, which strikes the mind like woodcut drawings in an old book: gradient-line sketches that have been given a living voice on the printed page. What is intriguing is how Montgomery wants in this passage to make a personal link between herself and her Victorian literary ancestor. In doing so, she makes a fairly strong observation about the lack of humour in Charlotte Brontë’s work, while Montgomery herself was a fluidly comic writer, even in her darker and more elevated works. Montgomery also makes a strange assessment about “creative genius” in Charlotte Brontë, declaring that Brontë’s genius is not “creative.” I think that comment is bound up with Montgomery’s privileged place for realism and her skillful attention to character development. In following C.S. Lewis’ admonition to write atmosphere well, however, and I wonder if Montgomery has miscalculated an element of Charlotte Brontë’s skill. When I read Jane Eyre (and to a lesser degree, The Professor), I am immediately there in the scene.

What I find most poignant about Montgomery’s journal entry, though, is her sense of personal sisterhood with Brontë. Montgomery could probably teach Charlotte Brontë to laugh a little–or at least to dispel (or dis-spell) some of the clerical gloom about the Victorian authoress. If that failed, however, there was another kind of kinship–the “House of Lonely Years” that I tried to capture in my article, “In an Age of Literary Groups, L.M. Montgomery was Alone.” Here is Montgomery’s note in full.

The House of Mirth and the House of Lonely Years: L.M. Montgomery on Charlotte Brontë

Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1925
The Manse, Leaskdale

This evening I have finished reading Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Shorter. Hitherto I have thought that the fascination Charlotte Brontë’s life and personality held for me was largely due to the literary charm of Mrs. Gaskell’s biography. But it is just as strong in this book so I have concluded that it is inherent in her.

Charlotte Brontë made only about seven thousand by her books—not a tenth of what one of the flimsy and ephemeral “best sellers” of today would bring in. It seems unfair and unjust.

What I admire most in Charlotte Brontë is her absolute clear-sightedness regarding shams and sentimentalities. Nothing of the sort could impose on her. And she always hewed straight to the line.

I have been asking myself “If I had known Charlotte Brontë in life how would we have reacted upon each other? Would I have liked her? Would she have liked me?” I answer “no.” She was absolutely without a sense of humor. I could never find a kindred spirit in a woman without a sense of humor. And for the same reason she would not have approved of me at all. All the same, had she been compelled to live with me for awhile I could have done her whole heaps of good. A few jokes would have leavened the gloom and tragedy of that Haworth parsonage amazingly. Charlotte would have been thirty percent better for it. But she would have written most scathing things about me to Miss Nussey and Mrs. Gaskell.

In one of her letters she speaks of “the canker of constant solitude.” Ah, truly. If we could have had no soul contact in the House of Mirth we could have come together in the House of Lonely Years.

People of spoken of Charlotte Brontë’s “creative genius.” Charlotte Brontë had no creative genius. Her genius was one of amazing ability to describe and interpret the people and surroundings she knew. All the people in her books who impress us with such a wonderful sense of reality were drawn from life. She herself is “Jane Eyre” and “Lucy Snowe.” Emily was “Shirley.” “Rochester,” whom she did “create” was unnatural and unreal. “Balance Ingram” was unreal. “St. John” was unreal. Most of her men are unreal. She knew nothing of men except her father and brother and the Belgian professor of her intense and unhappy love. “Emmanuel” was drawn from him and therefore is one of the few men, if not the only man, in her books who is “real.”

Posted in L.M. Montgomery, Memorable Quotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Obsessive, Compulsive” single release by Moment of Eclipse

I  know this is a bit of a departure, but it is Friday and a good day to go casual. I wanted to share with you, dear readers, my son’s first song release. Nicolas has been writing for a couple of years and has pulled together a talented local music project, Moment of Eclipse. Their single was launched into the world yesterday, and today they released their video, directed by William Wright. An aggressive, pop-punk sound that walks the line between throwback notes and forward-looking lyricism, “Obsessive, Compulsive” was a popular song in live shows before socially distanced world of the moment.

Produced by ECMA Award-winning producer Jon Matthews, “Obsessive, Compulsive” is all the more impressive knowing that it was written and performed by high schoolers. While I can glow a bit as a father who appreciates great music with a strong, lyrical voice, I also know what is coming ahead. Because of or beyond his age, Nicolas is a skillful songwriter at the front-end of a long career in music.

Local and Atlantic support has been really positive for Moment of Eclipse. On Oct 22nd, the day of the single launch, Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC, interviewed Nicolas and another Moment of Eclipse bandmate, bassist Charlotte Lloyd. You can catch the interview here. Matt Rainnie at CBC focussed on the COVID angle of the story–how the song was trapped in the midst of recording over several months due to the lockdown–as well as the band’s links to the local music scene. Our provincial newspaper, The Guardian, also had a long feature of Moment of Eclipse yesterday, written by Dave Stewart. The angle in this piece is how these kids rely on all-ages venues and concerns–most of which have been closed for most of 2020. In this article, we also get a sense of the band’s backstory.

The members of Moment of Eclipse are itching to get back onto the stage and into the studio for their next single. Meanwhile, here is the video to “Obsessive, Compulsive.”

For those of you who subscribe to Spotify, you can check it out here or listen below:

“Obsessive, Compulsive,” Moment of Eclipse

I may be done with you all,
But I can’t leave you behind
Please don’t forget to fall,
On my bed of nails
And maybe, I just want you to fall,
So I can catch you in my arms
Or maybe, I want to hear you scream,
My name in your native tongue 

I can’t see straight, when you’re inside the left side of my mind
I’ll wait for my stuck up pretense to leave you alone
It’s not your fault, you only locked me away and altered my name
I’ll wait for your stuck up pretense to leave me alone

You say you’re obsessed, I say I’m upset,
We go our separate ways
Your pathetic behaviour is just my screensaver,
And you’re my line of code
And I can’t pretend that I don’t like to
Watch you walk away
But you insisted on staying,
And we both know it’s better off this way 

I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m waiting for you
to leave me alone
I’m laying here breaking, you’re sitting there shaking,
And guarding my gravestone

Produced and Engineered by Jon Matthews
Recorded at the Soundmill Studio in Emyvale, PEI
Vocals, Guitar, Keys: Nicolas Dickieson
Guitar: Casey Mann
Bass Guitar: Charlotte Lloyd
Drums: Jesse MacCormac

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The Tolkien And Lewis Bromance: The Diana Glyer Interview on the Babylon Bee

This is a fun little link. I have talked about Diana Glyer’s important work on creativity and collaboration. The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community is a twenty-year wonder book, one of the most important books in Inklings studies as it explores the intimate connections between Lewis, Tolkien, and their friends as they worked to get their life-changing writing out into the world. Diana has also written Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, a popular version for artists, writers, and readers of the Inklings. I was also able to join Diana on William O’Flaherty’s show to talk about the Tolkien biopic a couple of years ago, as well as an open class on Narnia and Friendship, and I really appreciate her voice.

As a careful scholar and public intellectual, I was a little surprised to see her name come across my Twitter feed connected to Christian satire collective, The Babylon Bee. Not that she isn’t funny, of course, but satire is a particular kind of chimeric beast. The guys at Babylon Bee are clearly fans of the Inklings, though–particularly C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and folks like G.K. Chesterton. So they brought Inklings expert Diana Glyer into the studio for their podcast/video show

I like The Babylon Bee. I wish they were just as funny at making fun of conservatives as progressives and liberals. We see that limitation on late-night shows on the other side, these days, so there is room for growth. I also wish they were better at making fun of Canadians, but you can’t have everything you want. “Fake News You Can Trust” is a pretty good slogan, though. In any case, I like this interview and hope you enjoy it.

There is a further, subscriber version somewhere, but I’m not a subscriber. Here’s the free bit, though, a half-hour of informative and funny conversation with Diana on the Inklings and creativity.

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My Paper, “A Cosmic Shift in The Screwtape Letters,” Published in Mythlore

My Dear Friends, I am pleased to announce the publication of my paper “A Cosmic Shift in The Screwtape Letters.” This paper is the close-reading analysis of the “The Unpublished Preface to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.” Many readers will know–and others will discover to their delight and challenge–the 31 letters written from a senior demon to a junior tempter that C.S. Lewis published in The Guardian throughout 1941. I was able to uncover and publish a handwritten preface that C.S. Lewis wrote in July 1941 when his publisher, Geoffrey Bles, began pulling together for book publication. You can find that original publication in Notes & Queries, vol. 60, no. 2, 2013, pp. 296-298.

If someone picked up the Anglican weekly, The Guardian, looking for Christian encouragement, The Screwtape Letters begin in a shocking way:

I note what you say about guiding our patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïf? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches.

Who is Screwtape? Who is Wormwood? Why is Wormwood being commended for encouraging connections with materials (atheists? naturalist? worldly people?) and rebuked using argument as a foundation for action? It is an extreme use of in medias res, “beginning in the middle.” I have looked in archives and read through the letters to the editor in The Guardian, and cannot confirm the legend. But rumour has it that one of the subscribers to The Guardian cancelled his subscription because The Screwtape Letters were “positively diabolical.” Well, yes. That’s precisely the point! Hence the need of an introduction to the letters, a preface.

And in doing so, Lewis followed the long tradition of epistolary fiction–novels written as letters, diary entries, records, and the like. It isn’t that Lewis wrote these Screwtapian letters; rather, as he says in the preface published in your copy of The Screwtape Letters:

“I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.”

What is intriguing about the handwritten preface, is that Lewis makes a link between Screwtape and his Ransom book–Out of the Silent Planet from 1938 and Perelandra, which he was writing at this time. This is the first sentence of the “Ransom Preface,” as I call it:

“Nothing will induce me to reveal how my friend Dr. Ransom got hold of the script which is translated in the following pages.”

It is a pretty exciting discovery and one that I have spent years working on. After publishing the Ransom Preface in Notes & Queries in 2013, I travelled to Mythcon at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, to share my discovery and initial thoughts with the fantastic (in more ways than one!) community of myth-lovers and fantasy fans. In 2012, I presented my first academic paper on C.S. Lewis at the Lewis & Friends Colloquium at Taylor University (see more here). In 2016, I returned to Taylor with some further analysis, “When Screwtape Haunts in Eden: Testing the Possibilities of the Screwtape-Ransom Speculative Universe” (see more here and here). And most recently, I have teamed up to do some archival work with Charlie W. Starr–Lewis handwriting expert and the first person to note in print that a Ransom Preface even exists. Charlie and I did some work on what we think to be the “Archangel Fragment,” Lewis’ single attempt to answer Screwtape with letters of angelic advice. You should be able to see bits of our paper, “The Archangel Fragment and C.S. LEwis’s World-Building Project” here, but you can order a copy of on Amazon.

My newest paper, “A Cosmic Shift in The Screwtape Letters,” is the culmination of several years of doing analysis and then setting the project aside to rest. As my coming out ball was Mythcon, I am extremely pleased that my paper has been published in Mythcon’s peer-review journal, Mythlore. I have long admired Mythlore, which began as a high-end and creative society journal with the design sensibilities of a paste-and-print zine. Over the years, it has developed into one of the most pre-eminent journals in the field.

Here is the abstract of my paper:

A Cosmic Shift in The Screwtape Letters, by Brenton D.G. Dickieson

C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters rocketed him to fame during the second world war. Apart from a “toast” some years later, Lewis never added to his Screwtape letters. Most people read Screwtape’s dry, fragmented hellish speculative universe without much connection to the fictional worlds of his other novels. However, archival discoveries now reveal that Lewis made playful imaginative links that expand the scope of Screwtape’s speculative universe and link it to the world of the Ransom Trilogy, also called The Field of Arbol. By using unpublished and newly published manuscript evidence to supplement close readings of published texts, this paper reconsiders the extent of the Ransom fictional universe. Lewis’s imaginative experimentation with a broader speculative framework for the Field of Arbol has significance in several areas, including invented languages, angelology, the psychology of temptation, and the possible breadth of his myth-making project. This paper offers an experimental rereading of the Perelandra prologue as a sequel to The Screwtape Letters, cautiously testing the merits of a rereading based on archival research, and showing the advantages of considering Lewis’s WWII-era speculative fiction as a “Ransom Cycle”—a diverse, tentative, and experimental project of theological exploration and cultural criticism with cohesive themes and a coherent central vision.

Besides my family and church, who are everlong supports to me, I have a lot of people that I could thank. Those of you who are my teaching and research colleagues, who have connected to A Pilgrim in Narnia, and who are part of my digital scholarly community–you know who you are and that I am grateful for your help. Scholars who have read drafts or had conversations along the way include Crystal Hurd, Callum Beck, David C. Downing, Charlie Starr, Charles Huttar, Jonathan Himes, Dale Nelson, and William O’Flaherty, who has written C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell: A Companion and Study Guide to The Screwtape Letters. Joe Ricke has always been brilliant about giving me space to workshop my material, which I appreciate deeply. I am grateful to Walter Hooper for a chance to talk about the work in Oxford. A special thank you to Jennifer Rogers, who did some editing work in 2017 and 2018. Prominent praeternatural historian Richard Raiswell sat down with me to help me think about publication pathways and ways to approach the project–a meeting far more valuable than the grateful pint provided. Dr. Alana Vincent, my PhD supervisor, provided conversation along the way–including the advice to set this piece down for a couple of years as my thesis moved in a mother direction. And Sørina Higgins was particularly encouraging to me–first in the moments of discovery and early implications, and throughout the early stages of pulling this into a research project of value.

Thanks always to the professionals at the Bodleian Library in Oxford with its rich and interesting C.S. Lewis archive. Thank you to the Berg Collection at the New York City Public Library for access to the original manuscript of The Screwtape Letters. Thank you to Mary Robison and the folks at the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library at The General Theological Seminary in New York City for access to fragile original copies of The Guardian.

And, of course, to all the amazing folks at the Marion E. Wade Center, one of the most prominent Lewis archives in the world and home to the Ransom Preface. Laura Schmidt is ceaselessly helpful and extremely knowledgable, and generally recognized as an archival superhero across the land. Marjorie Lamp Mead, Crystal Downing, and David Downing, in their roles as directors at the Wade centre, have each taken specific opportunities to encourage and challenge me along the way. Similarly, as an editor for Seven at the Wade, Aaron Hill has been helpful in provoking my work along.

Finally, thanks to the entire Mythcon community and specifically Janet Brennan Croft, editor at Mythlore. For scholars of speculative and mythopoeic literature, the process of submission, review, and publication at Mythlore is quick, professional, and enjoyable–among the best I have encountered (though my experiences have been invariably good thus far). Janet is not only an engaging scholar in her own work, but has spent thousands of hours raising the quality of and increasing access to Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature. As a reader, fan, critic, and scholar, I am grateful for your work!

You can purchase Mythlore here, and the free open-access copy of this paper is available here. You can check my conversation with the guys at Pints with Jack podcast about the Ransom Preface here.

Posted in Original Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Anatomy of the Vampire Myth

Recently, we opened up the digital doors of Signum University. Our Folkloric Transformations class this semester is treating the theme of Vampires and Big Bad Wolves. The transformation of vampire folklore and superstition into folktales, novels, films and television, and popular culture gives us a huge library to browse through in the course. A colleague and I each took an opportunity to tackle some great topics that come out of our studies and teaching.

Dr. Maggie Parke, an expert on how texts work in the world, did a session on “Adaptations and Fandoms” (video included below). It was a very cool lecture and discussion time.

What I decided to do for my out-of-hours class session was to discuss “The Anatomy of the Vampire Myth.” Rather than give a lecture, I used a “whiteboard” approach–a classroom discussion with “Coggle” software, where collectively we made a mental map of various literary links between critical aspects of vampire stories. I am looking for the mythic realities within and behind and after the stories, the ways that vampire tales speak to us about our deepest truths. Wrapped into vampire lore are some mythic ideas that occur again and again–foundational stories about blood, sacrifice, love, life, and humanity.

In this “whiteboard” workshop session, we sketched out the “anatomy” of the vampire myth using concept mapping. The audience really showed up and created a great concept map. Here is a picture of that concept map that we created and the recorded video. I hope you can enjoy this session, and extend it out to your own teaching, writing, and great reading.

These open classes link to ideas in the Folkloric Transformations: Vampires & Big Bad Wolves course.

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Review of “C.S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview” by Michael L. Peterson

Note: This is a longer and more conversational version of a review that was published this week in Literature and Theology, which you can find here (free, open access). For those of you who would like a short, tight review, click the link. For those who want a double-lengthed, wandering, and more detailed and critical response, read on! My approach is not as a professional philosopher, but as someone who teaches with some frequency in worldview studies and has a popular grasp of philosophy and Christian thought.

C.S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview. By Michael L Peterson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020, 240pp. ISBN: 978-0190201111. Hardback, £19.99.

If we think about C.S. Lewis’ impact in the public mind, I believe there are five main areas:

  1. For select scholars, Lewis has a lasting genius as a literary historian (The Allegory of Love and his 16th-century literature volume, in particular) or as a feisty, readable, and engaging–though perhaps wrong–literary critic in A Preface to Paradise Lost and some other pieces.
  2. For tens of millions of fans, he is the Narnian.
  3. For millions of readers, mostly though not wholly appreciative, he is an apologist, the author of Mere Christianity–perhaps the most important popular-level apologetics text of history.
  4. Though many in this group have their experience mediated by pastors and teachers, there are many who appreciate Lewis as a popular theologian in works like The Screwtape LettersThe Four Loves, and Letters to Malcolm (but, unfortunately, not so much The Great Divorce, where I believe the good stuff is).
  5. C.S. Lewis is also very important today for saying inspirational things on social media, most of which he never said.

There are the Lewis devotees, I know, and some hardcore class SciFi fans who appreciate his Ransom Cycle. But these are the main categories where most readers find themselves.

Intriguingly, box #3, Christian apologetics, is a philosophical tradition with a long history–going back to the early feisty days when Christian thinkers were trying to distinguish themselves between a strong Greco-Roman Jewish philosophical tradition and the dominant Pagan worldview. Beyond some articles, C.S. Lewis ultimately wrote 3 volumes in that tradition:

I argue in my research that these books are better if we tilt our lens of reading them a bit, but they are read by most as apologetics books–and, I suspect, thus as philosophical texts. Lewis’ theodicy is quirky and incomplete in The Problem of Pain, but it is a theodicy–a defence of a providential God in a world that seems ill-designed and full of suffering. The apologetics aspect of Mere Christianity is primarily in the first half and really focussed only on a couple of arguments, but it has convinced many. And Miracles, Lewis’ most philosophical book and one tested and reforged in scholarly debate, has a philosophical air about it.

Yet, Lewis was not a trained philosopher in fluid, rigorous, weighty 20th-century tradition. He was a great debater with an exceptionally ardent and dynamic mind. Lewis received a first-class honours degree in philosophy at Oxford, and had tutored for a year his mentor’s stead before going to teach in English. He was unusually well-read, and for a good part of his life kept up a conversation with the dominant intellectual ideas that circulated around Oxford. But as a philosopher–even a popular one–Lewis rarely offers a systematic approach to a question. Perhaps only Miracles is close–and it does make a single epistemological clarification as well as a potential argument for the existence of God.

However, we must as the question that I begin my recent piece in Literature and Theology:

Can the philosophical statements scattered across the fiction and nonfiction of a non-specialist public intellectual be systematized into a coherent whole?

I have been curious about this question for awhile, and this is what American philosopher Michael L. Peterson attempts to do in his recent book C.S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview. I am not the only faithful reader of Lewis to doubt whether Lewis’ vast and diverse–but intentionally popular–project of Christian writing and speaking can be read as philosophically credible when looked at as a whole.

Peterson captures his project’s theoretical approach midway through the book:

“Our task … is to translate Lewis’s response using more contemporary categories and evaluate its effectiveness.” (111)

Ultimately, then, Peterson is taking Lewis’ philosophical statements diffused throughout lectures, essays, books of apologetics, and works of fiction. Then he aims to systematize them into a coherent philosophical whole, sometimes supplementing them with contemporary philosophical conversations and sometimes letting the arguments stand on their own. This is not a summary of Lewis’ work, but Peterson is attempting a work of “translation.” Though not perfect in its results, Peterson produces what I call in my piece a “primer on Lewis’ Christian philosophical thought that demonstrates” a consistency and comprehensiveness that some will find surprising.

Indeed, though I am a pretty capable and comprehensive reader of Lewis, I was impressed with Peterson’s systematization.

Peterson begins his philosophical study of this literary critic and novelist with a literary metaphor:

“Mind, morality, and longing for the transcendent were ‘inscriptions’ that Lewis sought for several decades to ‘interpret’ philosophically” (4).

Peterson argues that Lewis was a realist in his philosophical outlook, rooted in ancient thought and yet forward-looking in his perspective. Lewis was a searcher for a total explanation of existence and found it in what he called “mere Christianity”–what most Christians in most times and places believe most of the time–and what Peterson peculiarly calls “classical consensual orthodoxy” (79).

In approach to philosophical questions, Peterson uses the term “abduction” to describe the way that Lewis engaged his search for truth and meaning. This was a new term to me, and Peterson draws it from a century-old exploration of the philosophical project.

Abduction is “inference to the best explanation,” and gave Lewis the intellectual space to engage in a

“comparative reasoning process regarding the explanatory power of different worldviews in regard to several important phenomena” (16).

Peterson walks through Lewis’ philosophical development in young adulthood, showing the reasonable strengths of each successive move in his path: from atheism to “the New Look” to cosmic dualism to idealism and pantheism and ultimately to an intellectual theism that sets the stage for his conversion to Christianity. Though there are stronger lengthy approaches (i.e., Norbert Feinendegen’s “The Philosopher’s Progress,” David Downing’s The Reluctant Convert, and Joel Heck’s From Atheism to Christianity), I found Peterson’s concise treatment of Lewis’ move from 1916-1930 particularly helpful, providing brief philosophical assessments along the way. Peterson demonstrates that, for example, idealism is a stronger critical framework than materialism because it accounted for more of the “data”—philosophical and empirical—that the universe provides. While Peterson does not explain whether “abductive reasoning” is instinctive to Lewis or a scholarly discovery, it is a helpful description of how Lewis assessed truth claims.

Following introductory matters, Peterson uses Adam Barkman’s study of terms Lewis uses for “transcendent desire” to structure chapter three on “Joy and the Meaning of Life.” While this survey is helpful, the question of whether Lewis contributed to an apologetic “Argument from Desire” is the most interesting as Peterson. Because we are hungry, Lewis argues, we know not that we will be fed, but that we live in a universe that was designed for us to find food. Likewise, because we are spiritually hungry, the universe is such that this hunger can be satisfied. Peterson explores Lewis’ basic argument and the scholarly discussion about the question. These early chapters are frustrating to me as they avoid the question of how one access truth to discern meaning–the discussion of epistemology and hermeneutics could be great in a scholar like Lewis who plays with the question throughout his writing–but each of the individual questions is discussed well.

Chapters four and five turn to the question of what it means to be a “self” and the moral law, which includes a critical discussion of Lewis’ “Argument from Reason” for the existence of God. In each of these and subsequent discussions, Peterson emphasizes how Lewis is a realist who uses a middle-way approach. Lewis is, ultimately, a moral realist, a critical realist, a scientific realist, and a theological realist–an observation that is one of Peterson’s most important in the text.

Thus, with this approach to realism, Lewis retains an entrenched insistence on human and divine personhood. At the centre of the discussion are discussions of human nature and the Incarnation (chapter six) and human selfhood in relation to a trinitarian God in relation to God’s self. There are inelegant moments, such as an overly long section on Scripture and the Historical Jesus, and an incomplete thought about being made in the “image of Aslan.” However, there are helpful distinctions in this discussion, such as a clarification of unfallen human nature and Lewis’ exalted anthropology, and an understanding of Incarnation in conversation with Athanasius that made me realize how much of Lewis’ thought beyond the incarnation is shaped by the way Athanasius thought about it. In particular, Lewis’ emphasis on personhood highlights the relational understanding of sin and his metaphor of the “Great Dance” of the Trinity.

Considering how much weight has been given to “Lord, Lunatic, Liar” trilemma–that, logically speaking, Jesus can only be a conman, or gravely deceived about himself, or who he said he was–it isn’t surprising that Peterson commits a large section to the idea. Astonishingly, the bibliography on this section is several years behind, and I always remain disappointed in these discussions, though I cannot precisely say why. His discussion on the “Lord, Lunatic, Liar” trilemma is, however, clear and coherent.

Given Peterson’s specialization as a philosopher of science and a philosopher of religion with a focus on theodicy, it is not surprising that the chapters on “Pain, Suffering, and Death” (eight) and “Science, Scientism, and Evolution” (nine) are among the most straightforward, concise, and compelling. Fortunately, Peterson avoids popular rabbit trails in theodicy-making and Intelligent Design debates. The chapters on “Salvation and Persons Outside the Faith” (ten) and “Prayer and Providence” (eleven) are weaker but still helpful in two ways.

First, Peterson describes a spectrum of models of salvation, from universalism and pluralism on one side to exclusivism on the other. Mediating these positions is Lewis’ own approach that Peterson calls “inclusivism,” which holds that Christian faith has the most complete understanding of divine reality, but there is both truth in other faiths and honest seekers among the religions of the world. Though the semantics might be debated, the spectrum is helpful and Peterson’s careful defence of Lewis’ position shows “a picture of God who is infinitely just and infinitely loving, rejecting no person for lack of knowledge and desiring to give his own divine life to as many persons as possible” (149). A return at this point, however, to the deeply Christological centre of chapter 6 would clarify our understanding of the particularism within Lewis’ inclusivism.

Second, while the chapter on “Prayer and Providence” is interesting given the intellectual problems it involves, this study of Letters to Malcolm and other short texts lacks the weight of the rest of the volume and could be strengthened by situating it within Peterson’s definition of “worldviews.” Where does “praxis” fit in worldview studies? His argument that “Lewis sees honest, authentic relationship as the foundation—and the chief goal—of prayer” (151) is a clear and simple summary of the position. Lewis follows a Thomistic approach to argue that there is no essential contradiction between divine and human will, though Lewis admits that he can never answer the essential conflict between two important kinds of prayer: the “thy will be done” prayer and the persistent prayer of specific and deep need.

The most interesting section of the chapter on prayer is fundamental to the character of God:

“Our thinking about prayer inevitably rests on philosophical assumptions about God’s attributes and purposes in relation to human choice and action” (158).

In particular, Peterson offers his only substantial challenge to Lewis’ philosophical understanding on the subject of God and time. Lewis, who followed Boethius in understanding God as existing in an “unbounded Now,” is able to avoid mental befuddlements about prayer and God’s linear capacity to answer prayer, as well as the question of human freedom and divine knowledge. Peterson argues that “divine timelessness” is incompatible with the “divine dance” of the Trinity, discussed in ch. 7. The Godhead’s mutuality of love and response must be sequential, and in incarnation occurs in space and time, so God is thereby not timeless. The critique of Lewis is refreshing because Lewis is so seldom challenged “from within” as it were, except sometimes from Reformed perspectives. Moreover, one of my deepest concerns about the book is the lack of ultimate assessment of the systematic nature of Lewis’ philosophical models. So I’m glad that Peterson challenges Lewis on his idea of time and God’s character. Peterson concludes this section in a way that summarizes his approach:

“we are encountering here the fact that Lewis was not always systematic in constructing his worldview, leaving us to organize and prioritize its various elements. But his unsystematic approach does not cancel the need to identify the central elements of his worldview and present them as a coherent whole, a presentation that will fail with timelessness in the mix.” (160)

I agree that Lewis was not always–or even often–systematic, though I have always admired his generally logical mind. Honestly, I wished Peterson punched back more; the weakest part of the book is how few of these disagreements exist. However, I’m not certain that Peterson is right in his critique. Although Lewis is perhaps open to criticism at this point, it is not clear that Lewis is arguing that God does not experience time at all, but that with regard to creation, all time and space exists in a single experience—including God’s own creative activity, answers to prayer, special revelation, and incarnation. Lewis was not advocating “simple foreknowledge,” but limiting mental fallacies with regard to prayer and human freedom. I quote my conclusion in this matter from the published review:

“An analogy to the Athanasian concept of Incarnation is helpful, so that the timeless God takes time up into God’s self, rather than entering time.”

The text concludes with less power than its best bits. While Peterson falsely describes The Great Divorce as an allegory, his study of “Heaven, Hell, and the Trajectory of Finite Personality” in ch. 12 is helpful. In particular, the language of “trajectory” combined with the critical moment of theological self-confrontation in The Great Divorce is key to Lewis’ thought. Peterson’s confusion of genre also highlights an argumentative problem about his logic of using fantastic fiction to establish theological facticity—particularly since Lewis’ own preface warns again factual curiosity about the afterlife arising from the reading of his dream story.

I wish that Peterson had not missed some of the key texts in the field. For example, Peterson studies Lewis as a Christian realist but leaves out John G. Stackhouse‘s treatment of Lewis as a Christian realist (Making the Best of It). Likewise, Peterson considers Lewis’ idea of longing-Joy-Sehnsucht as central to his thought, but leaves out the foundational
analysis on the topic, Corbin Scott Carnell’s Bright Shadow of Reality. Pressing in, Peterson’s section on disordered love is precisely prefigured in Gilbert Meilaender’s 1978 study, The Taste for the Other—a philosophical study on C.S. Lewis that is puzzlingly absent from Peterson’s study. Peterson is correct about the prison of self-choice and ends his study in precisely the right focus to understand Lewis’ thought:

“The idea of a “false self” is found throughout Lewis’s writings, along with its corollary: that we must die to our false self in order to truly live” (171).

That he calls this escape “moving toward God” is telling of his own religious perspective, but his treatment of the logic of purgatory, heaven, and hell in Lewis’ thought is sound.

There are other less than perfect points, including a couple of examples where Peterson’s admirable brevity leads to reductive definitions, including “postmodernism” as a version of anti-realism” (5) and a definition of “total depravity” than not all Calvinists could support (97-8). Typically, though, he is on the whole generous and careful in examples.

However, one of my main critiques about definitions is one that is at the core of Peterson’s approach. I write in the review:

it remains puzzling to me in such a precise book that the definition of “worldview” is reduced to “a comprehensive and coherent set of beliefs about the deepest matters” (4), leaving out symbolic and praxeological elements

These elements of symbol and religious practice are critical to many in worldview studies, so it is strange Peterson simply doesn’t address them. Plus, Peterson decides without discussion the question of whether one’s worldview is presuppositional or consciously constructed–such a key question in the field. Even in Peterson’s own narrow definition and the way he chooses to approach the material, we are missing really key philosophical questions that I want answered, such as a survey of Lewis’ literary theory and the question of the degree to which we can access truth and meaning with relation to the meaningful world that Lewis claims exists (i.e., questions of epistemology and hermeneutics). Other Christian philosophical points, such as relations of the sexes (critical to human identity) and how God can be known (revelation), though covered in other approaches to the material may be lacking evidence for Peterson or may be deemed too large to cover briefly. Some of the leaner points are covered by other authors, such as the role of myth in Lewis’ worldview (see Charlie Starr’s newer study, The Faun’s Bookshelf), but no rationale for these excisions is given.

On the whole, however, C.S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview is a tight, sharp introduction to C.S. Lewis’ philosophical thought. It fits between a more systematic volume, like folks referenced above and the work of Adam Barkman, and individual studies like those of Victor Reppert, John G. Stackhouse, Michael D. Aeschliman, Gilbert Meilaender, and various collections edited by people like David J. Baggett, Gary R. Habermas, Jerry L. Walls, and Gregory Bassham—or, in opposition, studies like that of John Beversluis. For all its limitations–and in some senses, because of his narrow range of study–Peterson’s volume does what no other text does: it takes Lewis’ philosophical statements from across a diverse corpus and organizes them into a single, clearly articulated primer. As such, there are some key takeaways for me:

  • Peterson shows that Lewis is largely in the tradition of “mere Christianity”
  • Lewis’ thinking is remarkably consistent and coherent, though people who take up his arguments can often give them a full philosophical form
  • If I were to spend time re-assessing Lewis’ project of Christian thought, I would approach it from a different perspective, that of the thinkers that have framed his approach, in particular: Plato, St. Paul, Augustine, Boethius, Thomas Aquinas, perhaps Julian of Norwich, and certainly Athanasius
  • I would want, then, to relate those approaches to the two elements that really “pop” in Peterson’s assessment of Lewis: the framework of “realism” and Lewis’ “middle-way” approach (I admit that the latter I have developed from Peterson, while he focusses more on various kinds of “realism”)

I think readers of Lewis with some facility for reading philosophy will find this book useful, but I suspect it will be far more helpful to Christian thinkers (and other-than-Christian thinkers with imagination) in their development of a coherent intellectual framework for their faith.

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Is L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea a Sequel or a Prequel?

Okay, I admit it: the title question is, at first blush, a little ridiculous.

In my article a couple of weeks ago, “Smiles and Laughs from Anne’s Marking Pile, a Quote from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea,” I talked about how L.M. Montgomery worked so hard to shape her second novel, Anne of Avonlea (1909). I enjoy this book. It is full of little anecdotes and cute stories, showing Montgomery’s strength as a short-story writer. Lovers of Anne will, I’m sure, be pleased just to get as much of her as they can.

I think most critics would admit, however, that it is not nearly as strong as most of the rest of the Anne series, from Anne of Green Gables in 1908 through the 1910s. My four-star rating is there because I simply quite enjoy reading the tale, and there are a few evocative moments of poetry and prose. But I admit that it sinks a bit beneath the pack–especially after the literary strength, imaginative power, and roaring success of Anne of Green Gables.

However, what if we flipped the frame a little bit? I think that sometimes readers set Anne of Green Gables down–which many receive as a heartwarming, inspirational classic–and then read Anne of Avonlea with a little shrug. It’s good, but it is no Anne of Green Gables, they say.

As a sequel, Anne of Avonlea really struggles to do what great sequels do: Bring us back into the fictional world and characters of the first book, but move the story forward into a new adventure.

Frankly, nothing really happens in Anne of Avonlea. Anne teaches well for a couple of years. The Green Gables household stretches and grows and adapts. There is an incident with a saucy parrot. A building is turned blue. An old maid discovers lost love, Diana leaves behind her Byronic hero for a pudgy farmer, Anne shrugs off love and expectation of marriage within her comfortable Avonlea, and many good spirits find their spiritual kin.

As a sequel, Anne of Avonlea is really a placeholder book–though one that Montgomery fans like a great deal.

Instead of setting aside Avonlea because of its weaknesses, however, I think we can turn them around as its strengths. Anne of the Island (1915) is Anne’s tale of going to university to complete her BA. During her college years, she creates a sisterly menagerie in an unusual old city home, including some lifelong friends. Anne finds closure with her orphaned past and begins a romance with her own not-terribly-Byronic hero, the tall, dark, and handsome Roy Gardner.

More than anything, perhaps, in Anne of the Island, our red-headed hero grows to adulthood and must, then, come to terms with who she wants to be in the world. Anne toys with a writing career using a story she sketched out in Anne of Avonlea. The first of the Avonlea gang of young adults falls to consumption–following a tension set up in Anne of Avonlea. Like Jane Eyre and the Story Girl, who entrall others though lacking traditional beauty, Anne captivates many young men, receiving I don’t know how many proposals for marriage. At least four, for certain. Anne excels academically, leaving open the question of whether being a homemaker or a smalltown schoolmarm are sufficient activities for this “B.A.”

And, without providing a spoiler, there is Gilbert.

The long-won friendship between Anne and Gilbert is one of the climaxes of Anne of Green Gables. At that point, teenage friendship is its own rewards, and healthy boy-girl friendships romp through Montgomery’s novels of the 1910s and 1920s. Growing up, though, complicates matters for everyone but Anne. Although everyone in Avonlea knows that Gilbert is in love with Anne, and although Anne cuts a fine young-adult figure in Anne of Avonlea–Anne, after all, wears her hair differently now that she is sixteen–Anne resists the growing-up nature of growing up. One of the climactic moments of Anne of Avonlea is that Anne must face in herself a crisis when her best friend, Diana Barry, will share the bosom of another for life.

Ultimately, then, the Anne-Gilbert relationship is only set on hold in Anne of Avonlea. Montgomery’s sequel ends with words that sound very much like a prequel:

For a moment Anne’s heart fluttered queerly and for the first time her eyes faltered under Gilbert’s gaze and a rosy flush stained the paleness of her face. It was as if a veil that had hung before her inner consciousness had been lifted, giving to her view a revelation of unsuspected feelings and realities. Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps . . . perhaps . . . love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.

Then the veil dropped again; but the Anne who walked up the dark lane was not quite the same Anne who had driven gaily down it the evening before. The page of girlhood had been turned, as by an unseen finger, and the page of womanhood was before her with all its charm and mystery, its pain and gladness.

Gilbert wisely said nothing more; but in his silence he read the history of the next four years in the light of Anne’s remembered blush. Four years of earnest, happy work . . . and then the guerdon of a useful knowledge gained and …

Actually, I don’t want to finish that line–just in case I am successful in making a case for this book for you, a new reader. For the lines that finish Anne of Avonlea play out the tensions of Anne of the Island and what comes after.

Thus, I think that Anne of Avonlea is better read as a prequel to Anne of the Island than as a sequel to Anne of Green Gables.

Now, if you follow my L.M. Montgomery WWI-era timeline, you’ll discover that although Anne of the Island (1915) completes a pre-married life trilogy of the period–Montgomery will add Anne of Windy Poplars in 1936, another teacherly book–it appears five and a half years after Anne of Avonlea. In the meantime, Montgomery has published Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910), the Story Girl/Golden Road couplet of episodic books (1911 & 1913), and a collection of Anne-related short stories, Chronicles of Avonlea (1912). She has also gotten married, moved to Ontario, and began a double life as a minister’s wife by day and an international celebrity author by night. Or perhaps it is the opposite–I can never be sure how secret identities work.

But my proposal should not be set aside for all that. As a prequel to Anne of the IslandAnne of Avonlea sets up the story beautifully. There are other ways that we can read Montgomery’s second novel. It works as a “Janus text”–a novel that looks both fore and aft. But I think that considering Avonlea as a prequel succeeds in moving it out of the quite significant shadow of Green Gables. In this new light, we see that it isn’t really true that almost nothing happens. For all that happens is happening as Anne moves to the critical moments of her early adult life in Anne of the Island.

Here is a little clip of “Anne & Gilbert,” the small-stage folk musical that has been playing in Prince Edward Island for a generation. This clip is a practice and from Ottawa at the National Art Centre–I couldn’t find a local version–but the play is great in that it shows the link between Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island that I propose here. Sadly, the big-stage Anne of Green Gables musical that has the world-record for longest-running musical did not run this year because of COVID-19.

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I Won the 2020 Elizabeth R. Epperly Award for Outstanding Early Career Paper!


This is good news! Over the weekend, it was announced that I am the recipient of the 2020 Elizabeth R.  Epperly Award for Outstanding Early Career Paper for my paper, “Making Friends with the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Popular Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams.” It isn’t the Avery Award, but for me, it’s the next best thing!

The L.M. Montgomery Institute’s Elizabeth R. Epperly Award for Outstanding Early Career Paper

For the last 27 years, the L.M. Montgomery Institute (LMMI) has encouraged researchers from around the world to share their work at its biennial conferences. These conferences have also become a welcoming place for new scholars from across disciplines. In 2018, to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary and to recognize the outstanding work of these voices, the LMMI created an award for outstanding paper by a student or an early career scholar (within three years of terminal degree completion).

Dr. Elizabeth R. Epperly is a leading L.M. Montgomery and Victorian literature scholar. She was critical to the founding of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, and continues to serve the scholarly community as a mentor and scholar. Her The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass: L.M. Montgomery’s Heroines and the Pursuit of Romance (1992; 2014) is a foundational text, probably the first literary-critical monograph on Montgomery and essential to the development of the discipline of Montgomery studies. It is also beautifully written, which is not always true of works of literary criticism.

The winner of the Elizabeth R. Epperly Award will be recognized on the Vision Virtual Conference Space (on the Journal of L.M. Montgomery website) and will receive a certificate, expedited peer review of her/his paper for possible publication in the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, and complimentary full registration at the 2022 biennial conference. The winner’s name will also be engraved on a plaque to be placed in the LMMI space in Robertson Library.

Selection Process

A panel of four judges (Lesley Clement, Kate Scarth, Bonnie Tulloch, and Emily Woster), appointed by the LMMI Management Committee, received six very strong papers. representing a diverse range of disciplines, from six different counties (three continents).

Given the unique circumstances of 2020 and the cancellation of the onsite June conference, early career presenters were asked to submit papers prepared for journal publication, rather than for presentation at the conference as they would normally have done. The judges then decided which of the six papers best demonstrated “both thoughtful engagement with past Montgomery scholarship and an original, compelling argument.”

A Sampling of the Panel’s Comments

  • “This paper related to the theme of vision through its exploration of the significance of darkness and light in Montgomery’s Anne’s House of Dreams. The author made a notable effort to engage with a substantial corpus of Montgomery scholarship and positioned the essay in dialogue with Elizabeth Epperly’s ideas in particular.”
  • “Beautifully written, scholarly informed reflection on Anne’s House of Dreams drawing on a tension central to Montgomery between darkness and light.”
  • “The argument flows nicely…asking pertinent and engaging questions along the way.”
  • “Beautifully argued, a unique reading of Anne’s House of Dreams with a nicely contextualized final argument/conclusions that invite comment and conversation going forward – just what an essay like this should do!”

Making Friends with the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Popular Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams

In this piece I was taking a few risks. In reading and rereading Anne’s House of Dreams, I began to discern a rather sophisticated approach to darkness and trouble. House of Dreams seems to me, of the Anne books, to have the most sophisticated mix of lovely and terrible moments, of light and darkness. And yet, Montgomery never seems to negate either the value of good, beautiful things or of the heart-rending difficult moments of suffering. Because Epperly’s Fragrance of Sweet-Grass is such an influential text, I wanted to dialogue with her thesis about Anne’s House of Dreams, where she argues that “all things harmonize” in this text. Her metaphor of “harmony” works well as a tool for analysis, but I wanted to trouble it a little bit. Can light and darkness ever really harmonize? Or is something going on in the core experiences of the characters and Montgomery’s consideration of how such pain and suffering can exist in a providential world? This paper is my attempt to consider that question. Here is the abstract of the draft that I submitted:

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, 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 Montgomery’s “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 faithfully lived as it excels in the “effects of light and shadow,” allowing for both “joy and sorrow” (Anne’s House of Dreams 84, 93). As a novel filled with biblical and poetic references to the nature of life, and as a story unwilling to look away from difficult themes, readers are left with the assurance that “Everything works together for good” (Anne’s House of Dreams 16; see Rom 8:28). In dialogue with Epperly’s treatment—both accepting the basic argument but interrogating the metaphor of “harmony” in order to generate new analysis—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 defence of goodness, which is a lived theodicy where readers are invited to make friends with the darkness in order to see the light.

I have submitted the piece for peer-review in The Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, and my hope is to complete a video presentation this fall. My free-access article “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: Initial Explorations into L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality in Fiction” was recently published in the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, which you can read about here. I am also the host and founding producer of The MaudCast: The Podcast of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, and I hope there will be a new episode out soon.

My thanks to the organizers of the Epperly Award! As an emerging scholar, it is gratifying to know that people would commit so much time to providing support for the next generation of readers.

Reblogged from here:

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Signum University Folkloric Transformations Open Class on “The Anatomy of the Vampire Myth,” with Drs. Maggie Parke and Brenton Dickieson (Tues, Oct 13, 6pm Eastern)

Once again, we are opening up the digital doors of Signum University. Our Folkloric Transformations class this semester is treating the theme of Vampires and Big Bad Wolves. The transformation of vampire folklore and superstition into folktales, novels, films and television, and popular culture gives us a huge library to browse through in the course. Frankly, we can’t get it all done in our normal weekly class sessions.

So the preceptors, Dr. Maggie Parke and myself, have decided to have an out-of-hours class session and open it up to the wider world. My session is “The Anatomy of the Vampire Myth.” I am using a “whiteboard” approach, making mental maps and literary links between critical aspects of vampire stories, looking for the mythic links. Maggie’s class is on adaptation. Everything in vampire lore is a kind of adaptation, but her specialty will allow attendees to dive deep on box office adaptations and fan reactions.

Open Class: The Anatomy of the Vampire Myth, with Dr. Brenton Dickieson (Tues, Oct 13, 6pm Eastern)

The vampire tale is one of the stories that we study at Signum University as a “Folkloric Transformation”–a story that moves from folklore to folktale, into the stories of the West and the modern novel, and finally into adaptation and pop culture. Wrapped into vampire lore are some mythic ideas that occur again and again–foundational stories about blood, sacrifice, love, life, and humanity. In this “whiteboard” workshop session with Prof. Brenton Dickieson, we will attempt to sketch out the “anatomy” of the vampire myth using concept mapping. Audience participation is key, so bring your favourite vampire tales to this open class session.

Click here to register for this session.

About the Teacher

Besides teaching in the literature department at Signum University, Dr. Brenton Dickieson is Lecturer in Literature at The King’s College in New York City, Lecturer in Theology and Literature at Maritime Christian College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Sessional Instructor in the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of Prince Edward Island, and Instructor in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. He also does freelance speaking and writing and is the author of the popular Faith, Fiction, and Fantasy blog A Pilgrim In Narnia.

About Signum Open Classes

Signum University runs special classes as part of our mission to establish an open and globally accessible digital campus. These classes are linked to specific master’s courses but are open to everyone whether they are a Signum master’s student or not. The teaching is interactive and accessible, requiring no prior knowledge… only an active interest and intellectual curiosity!

Open Class: Adaptations and Fandoms, with Dr. Maggie Parke

Note, this great class is already complete. See the video below.

In this open class, Dr Maggie Parke will discuss something everyone has a strong opinion on ⁠– turning our favorite books into films (and games, tv shows, merchandise, theme parks…) ⁠– for better or for worse. She will walk us through the process, and discuss the industry engagement with the fans in the process of translating a textual work to a visual one, how that affects reception, engagement, and box office return.

About the Teacher

Maggie Parke earned her PhD in Film and Digital Media from Bangor University, Wales UK, with her specialty in the Creative Industries. She focused on the adaptation processes of event films and fan management, and her research included working on the sets of Twilight (2008), Captain America (2009), case studies of The Golden Compass, The Lord of the Rings, Eragon, Harry Potter, and The Dark is Rising. She also worked on the Academy Award shortlisted short, Love at First Sight (2010), as well conducted research at the game design company Turbine Inc., makers of The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) and DC Comic’s Infinite Crisis.

She currently works in both education and the film industry, developing projects, editing scripts, and consulting on fan management, while also lecturing at Signum University and CAPA University’s London campus. She also works with Universities Wales promoting and enabling International Education. She has been published in The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds (2009), co-edited a book of Critical Essays on Twilight, published by McFarland (2011), writes for, has a chapter on ‘Utilising Fans in the Adaptation Process of The Lord of the Rings’ (2015) in Intellect Publishing’s Fan Phenomena series, and has written the forward and was interviewed about her work on Twilight in their Twilight edition (2016).

These open classes link to ideas in the Folkloric Transformations: Vampires & Big Bad Wolves course.

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Thesis Theater: Jens Hieber, “Negotiated Symbiosis: Power, Identity, and Community in the Works of Octavia E. Butler” (Oct 2nd, 7pm Eastern)

I am pleased to announce that Signum University MA student Jens Hieber will present his thesis “Negotiated Symbiosis: Power, Identity, and Community in the Works of Octavia E. Butler,” and respond to questions from the audience in an interactive Thesis Theater. The discussion will be facilitated by Jens’ thesis supervisor–me! I have confessed before that I am a fan of Butler’s work, including some of her tips on writing and thoughts about her vampire novel, Fledgling. Jens’ work is an important consideration of a key theme in Butler’s work–an author who was one of the very few women Black science fiction authors in the 80s, 90s, and 00s.

You can click here to register.

Thesis Abstract: “Negotiated Symbiosis: Power, Identity, and Community in the Works of Octavia E. Butler”

Octavia Butler continually explores different versions of symbiosis, ranging from mutualistic to parasitic. In this range of relationships, one side is clearly more human than the other, and through negotiating their survival and benefits, Butler emphasizes certain traits of humanity that force her characters to go beyond viewing themselves as only individuals and into an acceptance of hybridity. Through symbiosis, these relationships allow Butler to explore her self-professed interest in power dynamics, the fraught process of identity deconstruction and reconstruction, and concerted insistence on building hybridized community. By laying out these tendencies through one of Butler’s more well-studied stories “Bloodchild” and some less-explored works in “Amnesty” and Fledgling, my project seeks to illuminate how Butler uses negotiated symbiosis to give her characters shared power; construct fluid, cyborg identities; and build other-centered, hybridized community.

About the Presenter

Jens Hieber is a high school English teacher from Germany, working at an international school in Malaysia. His fascination with all things speculative fiction informs his studies, reading, teaching, and creative writing. Someday, he hopes to release his fiction upon the world. He lives on the island of Penang with his wife, two cats, and an assortment of tropical fish.

About Signum Thesis Theaters

Our graduate students write a thesis at the end of their degree program, exploring a topic of their choice. The Thesis Theatre is where they can present their thesis to the Signum community and wider public, enabling them to explain their research in detail, and respond to questions from the audience.

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