Guest Spot on the Pints With Jack Podcast, Talking About C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces

Recently I sat down with David Bates of the Pints With Jack podcast to discuss Till We Have Faces. Readers will know that I have been working through Till We Have Faces with some detailed close readings and some guest spots. Over drinks, David and I discussed some of those articles:

The video is below. You can read more about the interview and find the audio-only versions in this link. Cheers to everyone at Pints With Jack, and make sure you check out the great podcasts in this season’s focus on C.S. Lewis’ most important work of literary fiction, Till We Have Faces.

Posted in News & Links | 3 Comments

The Faithful Imagination, a Review by Allison McBain Hudson

Ricke, Joe, and Ashley Chu, eds. The Faithful Imagination: Papers from the 2018 Frances White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis & Friends. Hamden, CT: Taylor University, 2019.

The title of this volume refers to the theme of the eleventh Biennial Lewis & Friends Colloquium at Taylor University, “The Faithful Imagination.” Included are thirty-one scholarly essays, eight creative pieces, and six reflections on the colloquium, an unusual format for an academic anthology, but one that makes sense given the theme of the conference. As Crystal Hurd points out in her foreword, author and scholar C.S. Lewis blended the spiritual, academic, and imaginative, and the contents in this anthology tackle all three aspects. The Faithful Imagination blends thorough academic analysis of a broad variety of topics with an in-depth study of Lewis-related creativity, imagination, and faith. Although clearly aimed at conference attendees, the essays are no less valuable to scholars of Lewis and connected authors or anyone interested in the Inklings and related literature.

Some of the papers will be more accessible than others to non-Christian academics, but there is still a rich variety of work on authors including, along with C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, L.M. Montgomery, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge that will appeal to a wide audience of literary scholars. There is also variety in the formality of papers, which is perhaps to be expected from a conference anthology and does not necessarily detract from the academic rigour of the volume.

The first section, “Essays on C.S. Lewis,” features Hurd’s paper on Lewis’s background and the ways in which his family “shaped him as a scholar and author” (10). In another notable essay, “Lewis Underground: Echoes of the Battle of Arras in The Narniad,” Victoria Holtz Wodzak discuss the personal and historical foundations provided by Lewis’s experiences of trench warfare in the Great War, and in another, “The Five Deaths of C.S. Lewis,” Jennifer Woodruff Tait points out that Lewis’s life and work were “particularly shaped by wrestling with the problem of death.” Jim Stockton discusses the trees in Lewis’s Narnia, providing examples of the characterization and interaction of trees “helps develop a sense of virtue and/or religiosity” (71), arguing that the trees of the magical world offer hope to both characters and readers.

In the next section, “Lewis and…,” scholars discuss Lewis’s work alongside that of other authors. Scholars of Lewis will be aware of the influence of George MacDonald on his writing, and Marsha Daigle-Williamson provides an interesting account of Lewis’s assessment of MacDonald’s work, claiming that the influence was more spiritual than literary. There are unexpected perspectives on Lewis’s work here, too, including Brenton Dickieson’s comparison of Lewis’s Sehnsucht, or longing, to L.M. Montgomery’s “Flash” in her Emily series. John Stanifer compares and contrasts Lewis’s dead city of Charn in The Magician’s Nephew with horror author H.P. Lovecraft’s city R’lyeh from his short story “The Call of Cthulhu,” as well as the authors’ differing worldviews.

In the third section, “Essays on Inklings and Others,” a wide range of authors is considered. Grace Tiffany presents contrasting perspectives on trees as characters in “Shakespeare’s and Tolkien’s People-Trees,” Emily Austin compares aspects of J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter series to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Barbara L. Prescott discusses Dorothy L. Sayers’ second volume of poetry as “her first major statement as a Christian apologist” (246). Other scholars examine the work of those closest to Lewis, including Marie K. Hammond, who discusses the criticism of the Catholic church in Joy Davidman’s novel Weeping Bay, and Paul E. Michelson, who writes about the historical and editorial work of Lewis’s brother, Warren Hamilton Lewis.

The section entitled “Essays on the Faithful Imagination” is where the content begins to veer away from the academic and toward discussions of Christian creativity and imagination; it is no less rigorous but might be of less interest to any reader who is not engaged with Christian literature. Laura Smit, for example, discusses “Mary, Martha, and the Faithful Imagination” in the New Testament with the help of an essay by Sayers, and Richard G. Smith explores the book of Job in the Old Testament as a work about the faithful imagination. Abby Palmisano explores redemptive storytelling in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and George MacDonald’s novel Adela Cathcart, and Jim S. Spiegel discusses the central Christian moral guideline, the Golden Rule, in Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism. 

Ricke, Professor of English at Taylor University and Director of the Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis and Friends, and Chu, University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Taylor, have managed to compile an anthology that is at once a thorough and rigorous study of the work of the Inklings and related authors and a keepsake-worthy record of creativity, imagination, and the Christian faith that will encourage future scholars to attend this unique biennial conference.

Reviewed by Allison McBain Hudson, Dublin City University. Allison is a first-year PhD candidate at Dublin City University in Ireland, researching objects and material culture in children’s literature, specifically the novels of L.M. Montgomery. Her other interests include the works of the Inklings, Canadian studies, and anything to do with trees, books, chocolate, coffee, and conversation.

Posted in Guest Blogs, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Free Event Today: A Sehnsucht Digital Tea at the C. S. Lewis and Friends Center

This summer, my punk rockstar teen and I were planning to go to an epic concert–perhaps one of the biggest of our lives–in the Northeast US. We just got word that the entire tour is postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. We have future hopes, but there are so many disappointments. I had four conferences, including six talks, cancelled or postponed this year–as well as a research trip to the Marion E. Wade Inklings archive in Chicagoland. These are hardly the world’s greatest woes at the moment, but it has been a difficult year for me to hang my shingle, to launch my career in scholarship following my PhD last fall.

And I am with so many parents giving their kids sad news.

One of the conferences I will truly miss (which I describe here and here) is the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium at Taylor University in Uplands, IN. I was slated to present a paper where I work with Monika Hilder’s trilogy of books on Lewis and gender, and to chair a panel on archival research discoveries. I was also going to volunteer at the Young Inklings pre-conference day, immediately following two papers at the Canadian Congress for the humanities and social sciences in Ontario.

As a reminder, the Colloquium is postponed to next year. The Colloquium is hosted by Taylor University and its C.S. Lewis and Friends centre, which is headed by Joe Ricke. They usually have a Friday afternoon tea on campus, and during COVID-19 they have popped this online in a Zoom fashion. I have been to three of these Friday afternoon teas, with great enjoyment.

On Friday, May 22nd at 4pm EDT, Joe is opening up the Digital Tea Time for a conversation based on the research and poetry that was published earlier this year in Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal. You can get a peek at this issue here, and a number of the authors and poets will be there on Friday.

I will be presenting with Charlie Starr on our piece, “The Archangel Fragment and C.S. Lewis’s World-building Project.” Charlie and I will reveal an archival discovery that we believe is C.S. Lewis’ attempt to answer The Screwtape Letters by providing the angelic point of you. I think fans and scholars alike will enjoy!

The details are below and I hope I can see you there!

Event Announcement
Join us Friday at 4 p.m. (EDT) for an in-depth look at the remarkable latest issue of Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal.

Dr. Joe Ricke, Director of Taylor University’s Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis & Friends will host Bruce Johnson (editor), Crystal Hurd (book review editor), and Charlie Starr, Brenton Dickieson, Joel Heck, and Lauren Spohn (authors) to talk about their new and exciting discoveries in Lewis scholarship. Guests will be invited to join the discussion in the second hour.

If you would like to join in on this future “digital teas,” get on their mailing list by emailing:

Due to the current circumstances, this will be a Zoom session. Arrive early because the group is limited to 100.

Posted in Fictional Worlds, News & Links, Original Research | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The World as a “Vale of Soul-Making”: A Brief Note on John Keats, C.S. Lewis, and L.M. Montgomery

There is a stunning moment in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valley that continues to itch at my mind. I know that Anne of Green Gables is so filled with life and light that it is hard to ignore, and that Montgomery‘s Emily of New Moon is a new level of artistry and invention. But for substance and thoughtfulness, I continue to find myself returning to Montgomery’s WWI-haunted Four Winds trilogy, Anne’s House of Dreams (1917), Rainbow Valley (1919), and Rilla of Ingleside (1920).

In my first peer-reviewed paper on this trilogy, “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven,” I include this pivotal scene of the book. The motherless children of Rev. John Meredith have been wandering around Glen St. Mary, creating scandal and suppressed laughter among the adults. Though the “Manse children” are well-meaning–even all their lusty songs, personal punishments, and handsprings in the Methodist cemetery–their father, bereaved and lost in dreamland, is in danger of being so heavenly bound that he is no earthly good. Besides shenanigans, this results in a good deal of childhood theology worked out by the Manse children.

While some of the Rainbow Valley theology is speculative–such as the question of whether heaven can be as grand as the streets of Charlottetown–there is stunning truth and fresh thought that tumbles out of the mouths of these babes. One of the moments at the centre of the vision that L.M. Montgomery is inviting is into, I believe, is when the aptly named Manse child, Faith, hocks a dour widow on the church porch by declaring that the

“world isn’t a vale of tears, Mrs. Taylor. It’s a world of laughter” (Rainbow Valley, 22).

I love that Montgomery privileges the child’s point of view in her work. A “vale of tears” is a much different view of life than a “world of laughter”–though there are still tears.

What I have never known, though, is whether Montgomery saw life also, in Keats’ words, as a “vale of soul-making.” I have gone some distance in suggesting that her writing invites this perspective, but I don’t know if Montgomery was able to let this worldview penetrate her own reality.

Keats’ idea of the world as a soul-making valley came to me by C.S. Lewis in his Problem of Pain (1940).

“If the world is indeed a ‘vale of soul making’ it seems on the whole to be doing it’s work” (The Problem of Pain, ch. 5).

Again, what a succinct truth–this time from the pen of an Oxford don and public intellectual rather than a Canadian novelist and minister’s wife. Not long before Lewis wrote this first work of Christian thought, he used the phrase in a letter to a friend, Leo Baker, during a period of his suffering. This 24 Jun 1936 letter is a miniature primer to The Problem of Pain, including an encouragement to endure the current suffering. In a 23 Apr 1942 letter to Martyn Skinner, Lewis suggests that his theodicy can only ever take the reader to the point of seeing life as space for soul-making–and thus give people an opportunity to respond to pain and suffering, more than to defend it before other people.

There is a kind of honesty to the vale-of-tears idea. “In hac lacrimarum valle” has a ring of truth to it, as we see in Psalm 85. Lewis’ first pseudonym for A Grief Observed, the memoir of the loss of his dear love, Joy Davidman, was Dimidius, a man cut in half. Lewis’ optimism about the soul-shaping frame of suffering is tempered in his memoir, though the potential remains the same–as does the realism of life’s difficulties. But Lewis’ fiction, like Montgomery’s, encourages us to stand against a “vale of tears” spirituality even in the struggles of life.

What of John Keats? While I don’t know of many better lyric poets than Keats, and I am richly blessed and elevated by his work, I cannot speak to his theology of life. In an 1819 letter to his siblings, where the quote originates, Keats reacts to vale-of-tears spirituality with some energy. You can see the full  letter on Arend Smilde’s blog, but here is the relevant bit:

In how lamentable a case do we see the great body of the people (…) The whole appears to resolve into this – that man is originally “a poor forked creature” subject to the same mischances as the beasts of the forest, destined to hardships and disquietude of some kind or other. (…) The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is “a vale of tears” from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven – What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you please “the vale of soul-making”. Then you will find out the use of the world (see Smilde’s selection here, from The Letters of John Keats, 1814-1821, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, vol. 2, 101-103).

I like that these three poets and writers use their pen to resist tear-valley theologies. And yet, we only begin to have a sense of what life as a “vale of soul-making” might be. I think that’s the adventure, the road that we set our foot upon.

You can find my L.M. Montgomery WWI-era Timeline here. I have talked about Arend Smilde’s project before, but his annotations at are helpful to my reading.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Naturally Holy: Some Thoughts on Till We Have Faces, A Guest Post by Katie Stevenson

C.S. Lewis is well known to revere nature in his writings, including vivid pictures in The Narnia series, Perelandra (from his space trilogy), and The Great Divorce. His imagery of purity and wonderful holiness often takes hold of his characters’ hearts when they gaze upon the natural world. He gives us images of city children exploring the magical forest of Narnia, an academic philologist dropped onto an unfallen world of beautiful and bountiful islands, and the departed who have made the journey from grey limbo to the vivid borderlands of Heaven, turning their own forms into a comparably pale vapour who can’t bear to stand on the heavenly grass.

Lewis himself often expressed his spiritual and intellectual dependence on nature. From sitting in his garden to roaming the country lanes, some of his best mind-clearing and praying happened in the fresh air.

These scenarios, I have always thought, accomplish the difficult feat of showing the wonder of God’s creation while impressing on the reader (who is granted the experience alongside the character) God’s general bigness. This bigness is a powerful exhibition when a smaller being, aka us, comes face to face with it and realizes our own…er… smallness.

In the things God has created we draw near to him, naturally.

So what happens when humanity tries to replicate this effect, when we crave something visual or tangible to mark something as divine or Holy? 

In Till We Have Faces, Lewis creates Glome, whose cultural understanding of holiness is actually quite dreadful and dark. In the temple of Ungit, the smell of blood, the painted faces, and the haunting music were all immediately recognized as “holy”, and would prick the senses of Orual and cause her to shudder. Each time she encountered something pertaining to the goddess Unguit she identified two things: holy and unpleasant.

The smell of blood is, of course, a fairly standard idea in a temple. Many gods throughout mythology demanded blood sacrifice, even in the Hebrew Old Testament animal sacrifices were the way to cleanse sins. 

It’s the painted faces of the temple girls that I specifically find interesting. Again, like animal sacrifice, temple prostitutes are not unique to this story. But Lewis’s vision of the painted faces caught my attention. Was it to dehumanize these girls because of their purpose? Were the extreme colours a human attempt to impersonate the vastness of the gods, a weak imitation with human hands? When the character Psyche reflects on having her face painted (and being drugged) she recalls that she didn’t fully feel like herself anymore, that the painted mask on her skin created someone different upon her. 

I wonder, did all the temple girls forget themselves? Did they ever start to believe they actually were some sort of divine being? Did they feel trapped and desolate, or elevated and holy?

Queen Orual puts her culture into an easy question when she asks: “Why must holiness be so dark?”

Yet, even after a lifetime with this brand of “holiness,” the moment when she seeks her sister in the wilderness and comes to the valley of Psyche’s husband, she immediately realizes it is the land of the gods. She identifies this, even though there is no sign of what she has been raised to view as holy. As far as we know it didn’t smell like blood, there were no drugged painted girls, there were no old men with bird masks or frightening music haunting her ears. 

Without these trained triggers, she still identified true holiness without being taught. 

Rather, she was experiencing beauty and holiness away from the temple and palace and in the natural world. Her glimpse of the god himself along with the sound of his voice shocked her entire being, though awful and powerful he was also beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Likewise, when Orual encounters the counsel of the dead, Psyche and the god of the mountain, she is overcome with their greatness. She never describes them as dark and unpleasant, but is actually overwhelmed by their wholeness. This parallels in my mind to Moses (a person raised as royalty in a polytheistic culture similar to Orual) glimpsing only the back of God through a crack in the mountain, and being so overcome his own face shines in a reflection of God’s glory.

I guess this begs the question: did Lewis see this man-made bungled sense of holiness in our world? What things do I associate with Godliness that are not even close? Since we are imago dei, I do believe the things we create using our gifts can reflect God’s holiness. After all, God gives gifts of certain skills and provides inspiration for all sorts of things: architecture, paintings, music, the written word, and more. All things that can reflect God’s holiness. Perhaps the key is dependant upon who is being reflected. Pointing to our creator? Or grotesquely painting the face of hypocrisy and calling it righteous?

Katie Stevenson: Art and Bible College graduate, graphic and web designer. Wife and mama currently living in southwest Nova Scotia. I love music, reading and travelling. In the guestbook at our wedding a close friend wrote “do more than read and drink tea” and I’ve continued to disregard that advice! One life highlight was assisting Brenton with transcribing Charles Williams’s Chapel of the Thorn at the Wade Centre in Chicago (and seeing the wardrobe!).

Posted in Guest Blogs | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: Initial Explorations into L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality in Fiction

Dear Friends, I am excited to announce the release of my paper, “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: Initial Explorations into L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality in Fiction” in the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies. This is a peer-reviewed, scholarly article in the free open-source journal for the L.M. Montgomery Institute. The paper grew out of my paper at the 2018 conference in Charlottetown, PE and weaves in a bit of playfulness in the writing and my approach.

Montgomery was a writer of realistic fiction, and yet she has fantastic elements of romance and fairytale all throughout her work. In following Montgomery as she exercises her “Passport to the Geography of Fairyland,” I think we see something of what she believed to be good, true, and beautiful. With a method of sorts set out, I then do a close reading of Rainbow Valley, a book that has surprising themes and dialogues about heaven. Whatever Montgomery might or might not be saying about a doctrine of heaven in Rainbow Valley, a close reading of the text shows that the character of Rainbow Valley as an imaginative fairyland is such that it invites a transformational understanding of spiritual life.

And this is my primary scholarly interest in Montgomery: an adventure of reading to understand how she imagines healthy spirituality in her fiction. With the same kind of interest in mind, last year I published a paper called “C.S. Lewis’s Theory of Sehnsucht as a Tool for Theorizing L.M. Montgomery’s Experience of ‘The Flash’” in The Faithful Imagination, edited by Joe Ricke and Ashley Chu. That paper is a tighter and more substantial version of my presentation at the 2018 Francis White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis & Friends at Taylor University.

While the Lewis-Montgomery paper on mystical, numinous joy is a relatively standard study of a theme, “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven” is an experiment. There, I attempt to turn from the study of religion or theology as a systematic, doctrinal approach to the study of spirituality–how the authors invite us to imagine living fully and well, as Eugene Peterson describes it in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. It is also my first foray into Montgomery’s WWI-haunted Four Winds trilogy, Anne’s House of Dreams (1917), Rainbow Valley (1919), and Rilla of Ingleside (1920). Ultimately, I envision a trilogy of papers, with the second piece on Anne’s House of Dreams accepted for the 2020 L.M. Montgomery Institute conference. Though the conference is cancelled, I will still work on the piece–“Making Friends with the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Popular Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams”–for one of the upcoming digital conference events (see here).

I hope you enjoy the paper, share with friends, and provide any feedback you think would be helpful.

Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: Initial Explorations into L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality in Fiction by Brenton D.G. Dickieson

Abstract: Intriguingly, L.M. Montgomery’s generally realistic fiction is filled with fantastic elements. This article argues that by following Montgomery into the heavenly fairyland of Rainbow Valley, readers can discern a joyful, creative, imaginative, and integrated image of spiritual life in the conversations, the characters, and the magic valley itself.

Here are the powerpoint slides I used at each of my Montgomery talks in 2018:

Sehnsucht and the Flash

In Her Own Tongue-LMM & Spirituality-LMMI2018

Posted in L.M. Montgomery | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

George Macdonald’s “The Princess and the Goblin”: The Animated Movie with a Note by ChrisC

C.S. Lewis once observed that with

“every tick of the clock, in every inhabited part of the world, an unimaginable richness and variety of ‘history’ falls off the world into total oblivion.”

It’s a somewhat cruel fate that’s familiar to anyone who likes old books, and the authors who made them.  If the process Lewis described is something close to a norm, then the fact that any piece of old literature is able not just to survive, but stay alive on some level of public awareness, however small, is something of a minor miracle in its own right.

Take the case of George Macdonald.  Neither the name nor face is familiar to pop-culture at large.  He doesn’t even turn up in a search of Google Trends on his own merits.  That’s a pretty good indicator that his reputation at the moment is less than a blip on the radar.  By all measurable standards of cultural awareness, Macdonald is the type author who should have been consigned to the same crack of oblivion described above.  That makes it something of an unaccountable paradox that hundreds of C.S. Lewis fans the world over should still carry something like a memory of the writer around with them.  The sole reason Macdonald still has for being around seems to stem largely from the efforts of Lewis, and maybe even Tolkien, to keep his name circulating as a kind underground phenomenon in Inkling fandom.

This whole state of awareness on the margins of pop-culture creates a strange situation.  If you try to introduce a thoroughgoing postmodernist individual to a work by someone like Macdonald, the result, from what I’ve observed is something very much like a form of culture shock.  It’s not just a question of having to wrap your mind around the language.  It’s more like what would happen if one human being began to perceive another standing right beside him as he were an alien from a whole other planet.  It’s a question of the way people think and how many gulfs can exist between Macdonald’s thought and what is considered the norm of our own day (at least until it’s not).

This was a lesson brought home when I made two discoveries.  The first was that there exists an actual mid-90s adaptation of Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin.  The second and more surprising find was that some awareness of it existed at a semi-popular level.  It seems modern fandom was paying just enough attention to it for several requests for someone, anyone, to make a video review of it.  The review itself, made by a vlogger named Dominic Noble, can be seen below:

Before getting to my thoughts about the adaptation itself, I kind of want to pause and see if it’s possible to review the reviewer.  The reason for this is because of the way his own conclusions can tell a perceptive viewer a lot about not just the film, but also of the critics own views about art and what he thinks it means or should mean.  The reviewer himself seems to typify the ideal figure or model of a member of modern fan culture.  He likes the popular arts, especially those of the major franchises out there.  I’ve even watched other videos where it’s clear he’s a major Potterphile.  The real info to zero in on, however, is how he thinks about the art he likes, and why is that?  Again, his own artistic views seem to form a perfect model of all that is currently acceptable as the proper outlook for a contemporary fanboy (at least up till the point where these outlooks begins to shift, after that it’s anyone’s guess).

What’s notable about his views is the very nature of their critical aesthetic limits.  This becomes apparent when Macdonald’s own style of thought and writing comes into play.  As Lewis himself was at pains to make clear, Macdonald was, at its most basic, a mythopoeic writer.  That in itself means there is an entire structure of philosophic thought connected to the author’s literary practices.  It’s a fair enough bet that most readers of this site are fans of Lewis, Tolkien, and maybe even Macdonald to the point that we’re all able to go out of our way to try and learn what it was that made each of these authors tick, and where the stories came from.

There’s no denying it can be a rewarding experience. However, what becomes clear on a viewing of Noble’s reactions to both the Macdonald adaptation and its source material is that what we are witnessing is a critic with no grounding in Macdonald’s thought processes.

This is important, because without this essential background information in mind, Noble is unable to properly understand and engage with the material on the meaningful level Macdonald (and the rest of the Inklings, for that matter) had in mind.  I’d like to argue that what the footage above shows is something of a revelation.  We are seeing the limits and parameters of the ability of an audience member to grasp the content of the creative material that is placed before him.  His entire reactions are defined and demarcated by what he doesn’t know, as much as by what he does.  It is this lack of necessary information, what E.D. Hirsch Jr. referred to as cultural literacy, which acts as the main hindrance to his enjoyment of the story.

Macdonald once observed that a person cannot read whatever he wants into any given story, merely whatever he can.  The old author then went on to wonder if maybe this meant the other person’s reading was better than his.  At the risk of sounding disrespectful where no slight was intended, I think Dominic recording his own reactions is just the sort of response that helps us give an answer to a question Macdonald asked two whole centuries ago.  The answer seems to be that sometimes, more often than not, the lack of a necessary amount of cultural literacy does not in fact make someone a better reader.  Sometimes all it does is just serve to close off some of the valuable reading material from those who may, at least on occasion, need it the most.  What we are left with is the important question of how much literacy any given audience member needs in order to be able to understand any given work of art on its own level, the one in which it was meant to be contemplated and enjoyed.

As for the adaptation itself?  On the whole, I’ve got to call it perfectly harmless.  Is it possible to do this material on a Game of Thrones or LOTR style budget?  No doubt.  However I don’t see what that has to do with Macdonald’s story, or how much of a difference it makes.  The dramatic action or artistic gesture remains the same, no matter which angle you choose to view it from.

In that sense, I think the adapters did fine on their own.  They were able to keep all the major plot points, and thanks to this attention to the essential details, the story itself remains intact.  What changes there are seem minor enough to the point where I can’t imagine Macdonald objecting at all when, say, Irene is given a bigger role to play in the story’s main events than she had in the novel.

As for the animation itself, I’m going to commit a bit of blasphemy.  Image and their angles seem to be the major thing everybody is hung up on at the moment.  For some reason, this whole obsession is one that just never managed to catch in my imagination.  It’s really the words and their proper ordering that I always come away concerned about.  Looked at from this perspective, the animation itself is workman-like enough to get the job done, if that’s your thing, but it’s not that important.

The film adaptation is something I’m willing to give a more or less passing grade on.  It’s not the Citizen Kane of fantasy movies or anything.  However it does have this sort of old school retro charm to it that I sort of like.  It’s the kind of film I would have channel surfed across after coming home from school on a weekday afternoon, the type of special feature that gets sandwiched between Wheel of Fortune and a rerun of Cheers.  I just thought I’d turn this stuff over on account of it seemed like just the kind of material for this site.  With any luck, some readers will come away with a new favorite.

ChrisC is the proprietor of the Scriblerus Club blog site.  It’s a place where the past is dug up, with a different perspective on books and films.

Posted in Guest Blogs, News & Links | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

“Clarity, Care, Connection, and Credibility: Lessons from 15 Years of Online Teaching”: My Talk the UPEI Community Teaching Conference

Recently, the University of Prince Edward Island hosted a Teaching Community Conference–an annual event but one moved online due to COVID-19. My talk was called “Clarity, Care, Connection, and Credibility,” and I highlighted the core principles and simple tips I’ve discovered in teaching online for 15 years. If you happened to miss the live online talk, you can find the video here. You can see my abstract and my slide deck at the bottom of this post, and you can read my teaching philosophy here.

This was the UPEI Teaching Community Conference Live Schedule:

10:35am (ADT) – Reading with Purpose: Increasing engagement, understanding, discussion, and retention using active questioning during reading – Dr. Stacey MacKinnon – 30 min

11:10am (ADT) – Instructor as Dungeon Master: Gamifying a course with Moodle – Dr. Andrew Zinck – 30 min

11:45am (ADT) – Clarity, Care, Connection, and Credibility: Lessons from 15 years of online teaching – Dr. Brenton Dickieson – 30 min

1:00pm (ADT) – What can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic about teaching through systemic disruptions? – Dr. Nino Antadze & Dr. Carolyn Peach Brown – 30 min

1:35pm (ADT) –Leveraging Small Class Size for Experiential Education – Dr. Laurie Brinklow, Shannon Snow, and Students – 45 min

All of these talks are recorded and free online, including the great Keynote by Bonnie and Dave, which you should watch before mine.

My Talk Abstract: “Clarity, Care, Connection, and Credibility: Lessons from 15 Years of Online Teaching” by Dr. Brenton Dickieson

While COVID-19 has launched many classroom teachers into the digital sphere, for some of us, isolation measures have simply provided a new context. In this conversation, I focus upon some of the ways that an online environment can be a natural extension of our classroom teaching. There are no doubt many differences, and the research of online learning experts is important, but I want to argue that the core principles of digital teaching are the same as teaching in other settings. Moreover, this new or expanding teaching space into the digital realm can help us clarify who we are as professors, and what is critical to our teaching philosophy. This session combines various discussion styles and is meant to feel like an online classroom discussion with upper-level students.

PPT Slides: Clarity, Care, Connection, and Credibility-UPEI 2020

Note: You can read about my online work with Regent College and Signum University, including summer courses. Maritime Christian College has been developing online courses for a couple of years, and I recorded my first class this semester. More to come.

And here is a Signum University free session, Teaching Engaging Classes Online: A Tutorial and Discussion, hosted by Dr. Corey Olsen.

Posted in News & Links | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why Did Star Wars Stick? #MayThe4thBeWithYou #StarWarsDay

star wars logoAs much as we wonder about it, it’s a question that is not perfectly easy to answer. Cheesy lines, over-the-top acting, zippers up the back of the monster’s costume–how many films just like it have found their way into the Betamax bins of history?

Yet, Star Wars lives–not only lives, but thrives, growing in popularity as its universe of characters grows. While the Marvel Universe films have become the kings of the opening weekend, Star Wars is still a giant in a land of grasshoppers. Star Wars still beats out Harry Potter, Bond, The Lord of the Rings, and all the other comic book cinematic empires. It’s hard to beat the Japanese for pop culture or children’s entertainment for eager consumers. In total media franchise sales Pokémon and Hello Kitty lead the world, with Winnie-the-Pooh and Micky not far behind. When it comes to total economic impact, Star Wars continues to outpace Harry Potter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe combines (see the infographic below).

Let’s be honest: I still wish I had an ’80s classic Millennium Falcon.

Why did Star Wars stick? If we are to believe the writers of That ’70s Show, it is the keen action and the super-duper special effects. But there is also something more. Watch the first little bit of the famous ’70s Show episode, “A New Hope.”

The entire episode is filled with nostalgia and hilarious throwbacks to the original series. The nostalgia continues to this day, from reproductions of Star Wars lunch boxes to celebrated Goodwill discoveries of Chewy pyjamas and broken light sabres. Though it was almost lost in the incredibly painful second film of the prequel series, Attack of the Clones, the third episode, Revenge of the Sith, begins to recover the things we loved most about the original three.

Almost. It is still a painful, painful prequel, but the empire moved on with its own strengths and weaknesses in the sequel trilogy. The Last Jedi was a complex and perhaps failed film, though one I quite loved. The first two parts of the sequel are echoes or mirrors of the original series, and the Rise of Skywalker conclusion brings that saga to a close. Critics are mixed on the way the series concluded, but fans are torn. The trilogy that concludes the Skywalker trilogy is cinematically brilliant but the storylines don’t always land. Some of the characters brighten up and fill out that world, while others fell with a thud.

Personally, I think the Skywalker Saga closes the 2010s–the decade of nostalgia–pretty well. I love these films, even as digital waggery and character fails replace stage acting and zippers on costumes. I am content with what we have, even having loved the standalone Rogue One–you gotta love a director who has the courage to kill almost every character on his payroll. And although Ron Howard is always better with his partner Brian Grazer, Solo, one of the most expensive films ever made, deserved my $15.

I recognize that a lot of this is memory building and nostalgia. But I don’t think that’s a problem. We see this in the tone set by the very first J.J. Abrams episode, The Force Awakens. Predictably, it was filled with nostalgic moments:

“Chewy, we’re home.” Classic.

Über critical fans did not like it, I think. To them, it looked like a commercial grab for the fans of the past blended with a technological capability George Lucas could only have dreamed of. Personally, I loved the new characters and think the visual technologies have finally found their home.

There are problems in the logic of the series and the storylines. Star Wars still fails to answer its own question of providential luck–characters in The Force Awakens find each other across staggering distances or in buildings of infinite complexity–and Rogue One, despite its apocalyptic air, still carries that part of the myth on. But I like how the final trilogy is paced, and although there are huge gaps, and a gaff or two, it fits well into the Star Wars universe. More than nostalgic, The Force Awakens is framed up like a remake of A New Hope.

Imperial-class Star Destroyers wrenched into the sands of an alien world, Darth Vader’s mask from the flames, R2D2, the ping-pwang of laser fire: nostalgia, certainly. The deconstruction of the old series in The Last Jedi only adds to the nostalgia, even as it usurps it. But, nostalgia for what? There has to be something at the core of the series, beyond cheese and lights. Why has Star Wars stuck with us?

I think the answer is hidden in this long lost trailer from 1977.

In the days after Saturday Night Live and Spaceballs and The Simpsons, it’s hard not to imagine going into the theatre in 1977 and expecting a spoof. Perhaps we’ve lost our innocence as a culture these days.

And it is also easy to forget how far the art and science of special effects has come. When you live in a generation where you can use shareware software to stage an at-home light sabre battle for Youtube, 20th-century effects won’t impress us much. Think of Hugo, The Life of Pi, Inception, The Jungle Book, and Harry Potter–an almost random collection of films from this decade from five different genres that have special effects unlike anything imagined by the human race in my childhood.

star wars posterBut it isn’t just effects is it?.

The films that visually impressed me the most growing up–Toy Story, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix, Shrek, and, more recently, Inception–had more to them than technology. 2012 is a good example of a film with no story and a pretty dumb premise but pretty good effects.

No, I think the reason we love Star Wars is that it goes deeper into our cultural consciousness than we can imagine. Look at the stunning statements made by the trailer:

“an adventure unlike anything on your planet”

“the story of a boy, a girl, and a universe”

“a big, sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance”

“it’s a spectacle light years ahead of its time”

“it’s an epic of heroes and villains and aliens from a thousand worlds”

“a billion years in the making: Star Wars”

Then the flash of light.

A_long_time_ago prologueGeorge Lucas is, I think, at the deepest level, a mythmaker. He certainly is a genius SciFi world-builder. He takes the universe-changing work of Larry Niven and Frank Herbert to a new level with his own mythic Empire. But while Ringworld and Dune are set in the future, Star Wars, like The Lord of the Rings, is set in the deep past.

Star Wars isn’t just adventure. Star Wars is mythology.

In this sense, I think that as much as George Lucas relies on the SF masters, he is also a deep reader of the master myth-maker: J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien understood the project of mythopoiea at the most intimate level, shaping Middle Earth out of a worldview that is entirely consistent with itself. Moreover, Tolkien’s project does what myth always does: it tells us about the present world. Myths are never really buried in the past. True myths, the good ones, will resonate again and again through cultures that appear long after the myth-making culture has slipped into legend.

That’s why I think Star Wars has lasted. Beyond big names and big budgets and super-duper effects, when you watch Star Wars you get the sense that it really is a film “a billion years in the making.” It is a story that tells all our stories, a myth speaks to us today. For all their flaws, I think Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams get the myth in us.

At the centre, then, it is not just about nostalgia–which is no bad thing–but about our deepest realities of being human.  May the 4th be With You always!

star wars box 1979

Plus, this is amazing:s

The Infographic from TitleMax:

Posted in Fictional Worlds, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Regent College’s Summer School Goes Online

I noted a couple of weeks ago that I would share my university connections with online courses for people who want to study more in this time of life. This week I will highlight Regent College, my graduate alma mater. While I risk alienating some great grad schools, I cannot imagine a better place for me to do my degree. I was trying to learn how to integrate a vocation of ministry, teaching, and writing, and Regent College gave me a theologically-rich place to do just that.

Regent College is now an internationally renowned graduate school with a star-studded faculty team, but it began 51 years ago as small, relational, intellectually rich and spiritually dynamic Summer School program. As the graduate school sprouted up around this program on the UBC campus, the Summer School has remained central. I remember as a student there, having the opportunity to work with visiting faculty and the Summer School team, and attending weekly lectures by scholars and practitioners from around the world. You can read more about the Regent Summer School here, and I have included some nice testimonial videos below.

Not long after I graduated in 2005, I began working in Regent’s Distance Ed program, and I now am the instructor for two of Eugene Peterson’s spiritual theology courses, which began as Summer School courses a generation ago (you can find them here and here). As COVID-19 has disrupted international travel, Regent has moved its Summer School online. There are dozens of courses, conferences, and events, and I am tempted to just focus on courses by my mentor Rikk Watts (see Rikk’s two-punch Isaiah-Mark combo here and here) or my favourite OT introduction by Prof. Iain Provan. Instead, though, I will highlight just a handful of courses, and you can see the whole catalogue here:

Darrell Bock, Biblical Theology of Luke-Acts

In this course, world-leading biblical scholar Darrell Bock will help students consider key texts and themes that inform the theology of Luke and Acts—the largest unified block of material in the New Testament. A long-time teacher and writer, Dr. Bock’s commentaries have been helpful, and his groundbreaking A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations is a good companion to the course.

Darrell Johnson, The Whole Gospel and the Whole People of God: Living the Letter to the Ephesians

In his beautifully crafted letter from a prison cell, the apostle Paul lays before us a glorious vision of what the living God has done for us in Jesus Christ. In no other document are we given as grand a scope of the good news. And in no other letter are we then so clearly shown how this good news is lived out in all the people of God in all walks of life. If we in our time could just live this one letter we would… Well, come and see.

Mary McCampbell, The Prophetic Imagination in Popular Culture

Explore popular literature, music, television, and film that grapple with theological questions. Much of the popular art that we will focus on could be called “prophetic” in the way that it critiques the seductive, false notions of “the good life” that are often leading us away from the gospel itself. Although most of the artists that we will study are not Christians, they have an acute moral and spiritual sensibility that leads them to ask questions about meaning, fulfillment, and moral convictions.

Malcolm Guite, Poetic Meditations on the Teachings of Jesus

This course will focus on the sayings of Jesus as recorded in all four Gospels – both the attractive (consider the lilies) and the challenging (sell all you own). Students will approach these sayings through the lenses of both scholarship and poetry, including Malcolm Guite’s current sonnets reflecting on and wrestling with the sayings of Jesus.

Terry LeBlanc, Indigenous Theologies and Methods

Examine Indigenous expressions of Christian faith and life. Compare and contrast Western and Indigenous theological methods with specific application to issues such as our understanding of the Creator God, the work of the Spirit, articulation of the gospel, and images of redemption. Critically examine the interaction of culture and the gospel, with particular emphasis on the implications of Indigenous language, voice, history, interpretation, and values.

Bruce Hindmarsh, The Christian Spirit: A History of Christian Spirituality

For over two millennia, Christians have been praying. We will trace the cultural history of the Christian spiritual life from the beginning and follow the story to the present. Encounter the most vital historical traditions, gain perspective, and learn the dangers and opportunities for the Christian today who wishes to pray well. By the end you’ll be able to sketch a map of Christian spirituality—and with a map, one can enjoy a lifetime of exploration.

Posted in News & Links | 1 Comment