A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War

23647114

” ‘ The Inklings have already agreed that their victory celebration, if they are spared to have one, will be to take a whole inn in the country for at least a week, and spend it enitrely in beer and talk, without any reference to a clock!'”  – from a letter by J. R. R. Tolkien as quoted by Joseph Loconte.

Joseph Loconte’s short volume A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918  focuses on what influenced Tolkien, Lewis and their writings during the wake of the First World War. In addition, Loconte delves into why the works of these two authors may have differed in theme and tone from many of the other authors of the time. While everyone seemed to suffer from the disillusionment caused by The Great War, Tolkien and Lewis maintained a persistent hope while their contemporaries (such as Ernest Hemingway) may not have.

The influence that resonated with me the most was the friendship itself between the two writers. More detailed biographies that I’ve read don’t hide the fact that the friendship had its share of bumps and strains. Loconte’s book doesn’t dismiss this fact but it emphasizes the lasting aspect of the relationship.

midnight in paris

When it comes to the writings of Lewis and Tolkien or the writings of some of my favorite “Lost Generation” writers, I’m not going to pick which ones I like better. All of them have had their impact on me. If I had the opportunity to go back in time to 1920’s Paris to hang out with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald like Owen Wilson did in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, of course I would jump at the chance. But if I had to choose between which group of authors I would want to hang out with over the course of thirty or forty years, I think I would choose Tolkien, Lewis and their crowd.

 

Advertisements

A Classics Club Rewind

Back in March of 2014, The Classics Club used a question I submitted for their monthly meme and last month they used it again as a Classics Club Rewind:

What is your favorite “classic” literary period and why?

Here is my original post regarding this question but I thought I would try to add something to it. My favorite literary period is still early Twentieth Century. This year I read the book The Fellowship about The Inklings, a group of Oxford authors which included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Writing in the early Twentieth Century, they were confronted with the post-World War I disillusionment that much of the world was facing. The authors of The Fellowship come to the conclusion that Lewis and Tolkien and the others commited the “heresy of the happy ending”. So much of their fiction contains good ultimately triumphing over evil.

23526522

On the other hand, the writers on the US side of the Atlantic like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were redefining style and providing social commentary that still stands up today. These authors were not quite as keen on the happy ending. I can’t say I have a preference over a happy ending or an unhappy ending. If the story works, it works. In early Twentieth Century novels, the unhappy endings are as cathartic as the happy endings are hopeful.

25897804

While I’m on this topic, a new book about Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises came out in 2016 called Everybody Behaves Badly by Lesley M. M. Blume. It’s on my list to read at the beginning of 2017, but I think I’ll reread The Sun Also Rises first.

Speaking of the early Twentieth Century, I’m currently reading Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz. Even thought it wasn’t written in the early Twentieth Century, it’s set during the Harlem Renessiance of the 1920’s. I’m about half way through and I highly recommend it.

37398

 

 

 

The Fellowship

After reading The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings – J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski, I can’t help but imagine a little corner of heaven with an Oxford pub where a bunch of old British guys are still drinking beer, talking about literature, theology and philosophy, laughing and arguing and, at least from my perspective, having a good time.

23526522

The authors in the title all belonged to a literary circle known as the Inklings and met together once a week for the better part of several decades. In the 21st century, Tolkien is probably the most well-known due to Peter Jackson’s film version of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. 

Coming out of World War I, they all dealt with the disillusionment so much of the world felt, though they dealt with it differently than some of my favorite American authors. They are primarily known for writing fantasy and, in their writing, they never completely lost hope:

 

Yet underlying his pessimism about humanity was an indomitable hope, born, as surely as his pessimism, from his Catholic faith. Belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, logos over chaos, bestowed upon all the oppositions in his life – scholarship and art, male friendship and marriage, high spirits and despair – a final and satisfying unity, a deep and abiding joy. When Tolkien said of himself that “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size),” he spoke the truth, not only about his material likes (trees, farms, tobacco, mushrooms, plain English food) and dislikes (cars, French cooking, early rising) but also about the disposition of his soul. He, like a hobbit, was at home in his shire; he like a hobbit, trusted the cosmos – but not necessarily the powers that held sway on earth.

While I still love the way so many American authors poured all of their disillusionment into their writing, I personally have difficulty “staying there”. I enjoy Tolkien and Lewis (I haven’t read Barfield or Williams) for the fact that they are “guilty of the heresy of the happy ending” as the Zaleskis put it.

This book was a complete joy to read for someone who has read Tolkien and Lewis since they were twelve; however, if one is not all that inclined to read about literary analysis, theology or philosophy, one might struggle through parts of the book but there’s still plenty of fascinating history and biography.

The Final TBR Triple Dog Dare Update

TBR Final Dare

The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books and here’s my final update. The Dare requires participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March.

As I’ve said in previous updates, the number of books I’ve read during the Dare has not been staggering; however, I’ve read some books that have been on my shelf for a long time and thoroughly enjoyed them:

1.) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (on my shelf)

2.) Voices in the Night: Stories by Steven Millhauser (borrowed from the library prior to the beginning of the Dare)

3.)Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (on my shelf)

4.) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (on my shelf)

I just finished Jane Eyre yesterday so look for a post about Volume the Second in the next couple of days.  In addition, I read the beautiful story “The Turkey Season” for the April edition of The Alice Munro Story of the Month so a post about that will be coming up soon.

Next up is Andy Weir’s The Martian and after that I’ll begin a book I just got in the mail: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings -J. R. R . Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski.

So how did you do with the TBR Triple Dog Dare? And what’s up for you post-Dare?

18007564

23526522

Bad Religion by Ross Douthat

I’ve come to the conclusion that the internet isn’t the best place to have conversations, discussions, debates or even, let’s face it, arguments about religion or politics.  Don’t get me wrong, I have read some very well-articulated and well-thought out opinions on these topics from varying points of view.  I think the perceived anonymity of the internet, though, takes away the ability or at least makes it more difficult to actually have an exchange of ideas on these topics.

12987401

Personally, one of the better places for me to talk about these topics is a pub or coffeehouse similar to how C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the rest of their group (The Inklings) did it.  They talked about literature and religion – I’m sure politics entered into the conversations from time to time.

That brings me to the book I just finished, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat.  In spite of the slightly gruff title, I felt like I was actually sitting at a table with the author discussing his thoughts and ideas.  The premise of his book is to show how the face of much of American Christianity is actually heresy when compared to orthodox (with a small “o”) Christianity.  Douthat is considered a “conservative voice” for the New York Times.  I have a feeling based on his book and knowing his position that he is used to people disagreeing with him.  This seems to have given him good practice in holding his ground on his opinions but also an intelligent understanding of those who disagree with him.  I think both of those abilities shine in his book.

Since I’m not currently at a pub or coffeehouse, I’ll finish with simply saying Douthat’s book is worth discussing with people of all political persuasions.  Just about everyone will find something with which to disagree, but everyone will also find something challenging and worth pondering.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the mysteries of faith and the complexities of politics and how they have intertwined over the last few decades.

Flannery O’Connor: Wise Blood

In Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor takes the reader on a comically spiritual ride through the wreckage and muck of humanity- throwing in a gorilla suit for good measure.   She holds up a sign for American Christianity that says “Welcome to the Freak Show” – or at least it seems that way on the surface.  I sense she has a deeper meaning buried somewhere underneath everything.  A small introduction by the author in my edition reveals a few clues.

16150726

O’Connor’s protagonist, Hazel Motes, reminds me of something C. S. Lewis wrote in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy.  As a young man, Lewis decided that God did not exist and he promptly became angry at God for not existing.  Motes strikes me as just such an angry young man.  He appoints himself preacher of the Church Without Christ and preaches on the hood of his Essex in front of movie theaters that his church has the better way: forget Jesus.  For Motes, Jesus is a “wragged figure swinging from tree to tree” and while Hazel promotes blasphemy as a better life, he can’t seem to shake the idea that he needs to pay some sort of penance – for something.  Guilt just doesn’t flee that easily.

Various secondary characters wander across Motes’ path.  Enoch Emery consistently proved to be my favorite.  An 18 year-old working at a zoo with a circus-like museum, Enoch chases a few women, drinks a few chocolate malts at a few drugstore counters and has a life change half-way through the novel.  While this change doesn’t get fleshed out in great detail, O’Connor manages to convey enough of Enoch’s change through his endeavor to polish his bed frame until he could see the gold.

Motes’ landlady, Mrs. Flood, enters the scene at the end of the story.  An older woman who eventually takes pity on Motes, in spite of her general lack of compassion, gives a running commentary on Motes.  The kind of commentary the reader has yet to encounter.  Pulling Mrs. Flood out of the blue would have ruined or at least bogged down another story but O’Connor pulls it off brilliantly.

I’m finding that Flannery O’Connor’s stories are almost always funny but almost never fun. I’ll be mulling this novel over in my mind for quite a while.  Did I mention the gorilla suit?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Make Me Think

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week’s topic is books that make me think.  In some cases, it’s easier to come up with an author that makes me think as opposed to one book, but here goes in no particular order other than when they popped into my head:

1.  The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

2.  Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

3.  Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

4.  The Stranger by Albert Camus

5.  Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

6.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

7.  The Chosen by Chaim Potok

8.  We Make A Life By What We Give by Richard B. Gunderman

9.  When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

10.  The Sea Wolf by Jack London