You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2010.

Brendan And The Secret Of Kells –

I don’t believe this little jewel got much exposure here in the United States.  Even after it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2009, it still only made it to about 100 screens.  It’s a shame, because it is breathtaking.

What I liked about the film, apart from the brilliant animation, was the seamless interweaving of Brendan’s Christianity and the pagan natural world that surrounds him.  Brendan is the orphaned nephew of an abbot, who continually warns him about the danger of the Wild Woods.  Naturally, Brendan escapes the first chance he gets, and he befriends Aisling, a nature spirit.

He is not afraid of her.

Brendan needs Aisling’s help to subdue a dragon spirit and obtain an eyepiece that will allow him to finish the magnificent Book of Kells.  Despite all the respect paid to pre-Patrician paganism in this film, I noticed that Aisling was terrified of the dragon spirit, and it fell to Brendan, the Christian, to subdue it.

Oh yes, Pangur Ban, the first among all the cats of Eire, plays an important supporting role as well.

From the euphoniously named Lady Sheherazahde’s Blog comes this challenge:

15 Authors (meme)
Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose.

Now, I was not tagged by Lady Sheherezadhe.  Would that I were!  She has a congruence of spirit to mine that would make a fine friend.  Nevertheless, I am going to attempt her challenge;

1) CS Lewis

Lewis is a bottomless pit.  I just finished reading the last book of his to be published in his lifetime; The Discarded Image, and have reread several of the Narnia stories.  I have to admit that some of the bloom is off the tulip when I read him now in my fiftes compared to when I discovered him in my twenties.  He is nowhere near the fantasist that Tolkien is, nowhere near the metaphysician Williams is, and nowhere near as provocative a thinker as Barfield, but his Abolition Of Man is my favorite book ever, and his effortless command of the Western Tradition reminds of how much we have lost.

2) JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien is the King of Faerie.  I discovered him in my fourteenth year and my enthusiasm for him has only grown through the years.  I reread The Lord Of The Rings bi-annually and I can say that it has only grown with me.  The Silmarillon does not do for me what the trilogy does, but surprisingly, Farmer Giles Of Ham and Smith Of Wooten Major contain the same magic. In fact, I consider the latter to be his best work.

3) Charles Williams

I agree with JRR Tolkien about Charles Williams.  He is a witch-doctor, a shaman, and that is what I most appreciate about him.  His thoroughgoing Nicean orthodoxy and his easy familiarity with the hermetic traditions encourage me that there may yet be, if not a reconciliation, at least a cross-pollination, of these two divergent pathways, which would open the door to a more vigorous and spiritually vital Christianity than that so prevalent in these dark times.  One of my life’s goals is to blog a verse-by-verse commentary of his Arthurian poems.

4) Robert E. Howard

The creator of Conan the Barbarian is a much better writer than I expected.  His prose crackles with a physicality and virility that more effete writers would do well to emulate.

5) Mario Vargas Llosa

Now that he’s won the Nobel Literature prize, I’m afraid Vargas LLosa will become a cottage industry in the same way that Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz did.  I’m glad I can read him in his original language, because Lituma en los Andes and Vida de Mayta gave me more goosebumps than anything I’ve read by Steven King or Clive Barker.  Vargas LLosa’s Peru is a dizzying construct; as violent as Barsoom and even more alien.

6) Jorge Luis Borges

Even scarier than Vargas LLosa is this Argentine fabulist.  He’s blind, but he’s also clairvoyant.   Once you really grasp what he’s writing about, you’ll never pass a mirror again without shuddering.

7) Peter DeVries

DeVries is a hometown favorite; a Dutch Calvinist who grew up, as I did, in western Michigan.  He mines the same lodes as John Updike, whom I also adore, but hits closer to home because the protagonists are Midwestern heartlanders rather than Updike’s constipated Yankees.  He borders on the Rabelasian from time to time, but The Blood Of The Lamb remains the best piecce of religious fiction I have ever read.

8 ) Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Even though I haven’t read anything by him in years, Prince Mishkin, Stavrogin, Stepan Trofimovich, and Alyosha Karamazov will always be more real to me than many flesh-and-blood actual people.   I chose him instead of Tolstoy because although I think Tolstoy is a better storyteller, I find Tolstoy a little too preachy and pretentious.  Also, Dostoyevsky is a thoroughly Orthodox writer, and a good medicine for the illnesses of the West.

9) Homer

When I finally got around to reading The Iliad and The Odyssey in the Fitzgerald translations, I was gobsmacked by the richness of the storytelling and the depth of characterization.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear the blind old master himself, perhaps around a campfire, reciting these lines from memory.

10) Neil Gaiman

For me, Gaiman is kind of the anti-Williams.  He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of folklore and a familiarity with the hermetic tradition, but no Nicean orthodoxy (I believe his family is Jewish).  Nevertheless, he shames everyone on this list, except maybe Dostoyevsky, Howard, and Homer, in his ability to spin a yarn.  Mr. Gaiman has riven an artesian shaft deep into the collective subconscious, and his stories bubble forth like cold water.

11) Fritz Leiber

Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser are among the most vivid characters in all of fantastic fiction.  I didn’t think there was anything I hadn’t read in this genre until in my forties I came across the brilliant story “The Snow Women” in a second-hand bookshop.  I didn’t put the book down until I had finished the story.  Since that story was the only one by Leiber in an otherwise lackluster collection, I didn’t purchase it, but it comforts me to know that the majority of this author’s work is still unread by me.

12) Madeleine L’Engel

Miss L’Engel is our own homegrown CS Lewis, but more autumnal and far less aggressive with her Christianity.

13) Shusako Endo

This Japanese Catholic writer knows all about being a stranger in a strange land.  The Samurai, with its descriptions of Tokugawa shogunate Japan and colonial Mexico, is still one of my favorite books.

14) Zoe Oldenberg

Miss Oldenberg’s novels about the Albigensian crusades give a fascinating insight into immediate post-schism Europe when the Papacy was just beginning to extend its powers over the Western Church.  They afford a glimpse into a West that could have been, but wasn’t.

15) Flannery O’Connor

Georgia’s own Euripides.  Her short story “Parker’s Back” cured me of iconoclasm for once and for all.  I think I’ve learned more about Christianity from Miss O’Connor than from all of the sermons I’ve ever heard.

So, there you have them.  I almost added Jack Kerouac, Dante, and Ursula LeGuin, and you can be certain I will be checking out some of Lady Scheherezade’s suggestions as well.

Friends and Friends Of Friends – 15 Authors meme
Macrina Walker
Steve Hayes
Lady Sheherezahde

7. Fantastic Planet (Le Planet Sauvage)  – I recently watched this film again after thirty-plus years.  I was impressed by two things; first by the overwhelming weirdness of the movie.  The animation is not crude or primitive but it owes more to Yellow Submarine and Métal Hurlant than it does to anything from Disney or anything the Japanese were doing at this time.  A lot of things happen that are not explained and leave you scratching your head and wondering what the director had in mind.

Second, this film is an excellent introduction to the world of francophone animation.  The French are great producers and consumers of comic books and graphic novels, as anyone knows who is familiar with Asterix and Obelix the Gauls,  Tintin the world-travelling boy journalist, or the guildpunk space operas of Jean Giraud (Moebius).  It was inevitable that they would make their mark in animation as well.  I decided to update my dusty memories of this film because of my recent enjoyment of The Secret of Kells and The Triplets of Belleville. It requires considerable movement outside the comfort zone to adjust to the lack of Hollywood pyrotechnics or Japanese anime conventions, but French animation rewards the effort.

A small group of friends, Reformed Christians, in the unlikely location of Central Florida, have initiated a small course for high schools and college students.  They teach cultural criticism, classical languages, philosophy, and logic to young people. I would love to participate in their Film Nights, since as a rule they show better films than those playing at the local cineplex.

The Reformed are well-suited to this sort of cultural analysis, since the argument could be made that they created North Atlantic/Anglo-American culture and have  only just had the controls wrested from their grasp in the last few decades by their successors and supplanters the social democrats.

Reviewing their list of offerings I was surprised to see that, although JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis figure prominently in their iconography, and in the lists of favorite books of the faculty, they don’t appear to have a literature course dedicated specifically to the Inklings and their works.   Ruminating on this, I decided to see if I could construct a course outline for their students:


Premodernism and Romanticism in Literature and Theology

I. The Inklings As Romantics and Counter-Revolutionaries It is important to  place Tolkien, Lewis, Williams and Barfield in their milieu.  In these days of blockbuster films based upon their imaginary works, it is hard to imagine how out-of-step the Inklings were in the literary world of wartime and post-war Britain.  Realism and Modernism dominated both the best-seller charts and the academic  departments.  When JRR Tolkien submitted The Lord Of The Rings to Allen & Unwin for publications, they feared they wouldn’t be able to sell 1500 copies.

This portion of the course would focus on predecessors to the Inklings; the great Romantic poets Wordsworth and Byron, George Macdonald, Lord Dunsany, and E.R. Eddison.  readings would include, but not be limited to, CS Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress and The Discarded Image, Owen Barfield’s Romanticism Come Of Age, and Dorothy L. Sayers’s  essay “Dante and Charles Williams”.

II. The Inklings As World-Builders This module would serve as an introduction to mythopoeia and mythopoetic literature.  Now that Narnia and Middle-Earth are household words, it can be productive to study the metaphysics of the invented worlds of Lewis and Tolkien and contrast them with non-Christian or anti-Christian underpinnings of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea, Stephen King’s Mid-World, or China Mieville’s New Crobuzon.

Although these secondary worlds are as richly woven and as thoroughly imagined as Lewis’  or Tolkien’s , they don’t rings as true as either Narnia or Middle Earth, which were constructed as worlds congruent with the worship of the Holy Trinity, explicitly in Narnia’s case and implicitly in the case of Middle-Earth.   Why would some metaphysics, the metaphysics of creation by a Tri-personal God, be superior for the construction of secondary worlds than metaphysics based on Taoism (which explains the obsession with “balance” in modern imaginative works as varied as Star Wars or Avatar: The Last Airbender), or on chance and necessity, or on dialectic?

III. The Inklings as Romantic Theologians It should be obvious that Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams were not systematic theologians.  Their relation of the body of their works to elaborated Christian dogma were informal and even tenuous.  The jury is still out as to whether Owen Barfield is even an orthodox Christian despite his public baptism in his sixties, and Charles Williams’ Christian thought  is impenetrable to most interpreters.

Nevertheless, the Inklings were instrumental in rehabilitating that most human of faculties, the much-maligned imagination, and especially Barfield and Williams made the observation that the failure of the Church in their day was not a failure of faith but a failure of imagination.