Sunday, August 30, 2015
Friday, August 28, 2015
"I’m sick of Flannery O’Connor. I’m also sick of Walker Percy, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dostoevsky. Actually, I’m sick of hearing about them from religiously minded readers. These tend to be the only authors that come up when I ask them what they read for literature."
This is the shocking opening to an article in First Things by Randy Boyagoda dated August 2013. Nash sent this to me after our last meeting when we finished our, somewhat unsatisfying, reading of Chesterton's The Man Who was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. This is a blog for a particular group's cherishing of all things C.S. Lewis - A C.S. Lewis Society, so reading that sentence had my defenses up immediately. A few posts ago I mentioned a book extolling the value in the writings of Dead White Guys. Lewis would agree with the extolling. I would also say that if you are anything like me, the classics of Western literature were not taught in school, so going back to them as an adult does take time and disciple (especially for slow readers like myself). A slow reader, trying to catch up, this does not leave much time to explore the latest books in print. I am very happy re-reading Flannery and Tolkien. I have read some Percy and Chesterton (so there is more to discover here), the poets - not my cup of tea, and Dostoevsky, well, The Brothers are on my shelf looking at me.
A new book, published by a living author? If it has to be fiction I suppose I am not very active in this marketplace. My last fiction book from a living author was John Updike's Terrorist, and that was sometime ago, and now he is a Dead White Guy as well. In terms of Christian literature or writers whose faith plays a part in the stories they are telling, I am at a loss. I recently went to Barnes and Noble and went to the Christian/Inspirational shelves and they do have a fiction section and just about all the covers featured an Amish lady. The Amish fiction must be a money maker.
Use this post to comment on who you would recommend as a living fiction author worthy of our time.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Monday, August 24, 2015
I am not sure if I will make it to this event in DC, but I am considering it. Tuesday, August 25th at 6:30pm:
Politics & Prose at Busboys and Poets, 14th & V, presents Matthew Burriesci as he discusses his new book Dead White Guys: A Father, His Daughter and the Great Books of the Western World.
For Burriesci, a novelist, former executive director of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, as well as a father, the question of the literary canon is of immediate and pressing interest. Should classic works be elbowed aside to let in more diverse contemporary voices? Framed as twenty-six letters to his daughter, the book examines touchstones of Western culture by Aristotle, Marx, and Shakespeare while also showing how these and other readings have influenced Burriesci’s own life.
Burriesci will be in conversation with Emma Snyder, current Executive Director of PEN/Faulkner
I post this as a last minute FYI in case you are in DC and have nothing to do Tuesday night. Also, this is something that interests me and most C.S. Lewis fans. A few years ago our group read and discussed Lewis's essay "On the Reading of Old Books" - now found in God in the Dock, originally published as an introduction to a 1944 translation of On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius.
Here is a passage from the essay:
"We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."
Sunday, August 23, 2015
When we are talking about Narnia, we should not neglect the role food plays in the stories. The very first encounter between a Narnian and a daughter of Eve is followed by a small meal featuring tea and sardines on toast. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we also watch over a wonderful meal with the beavers and Turkish Delight has become a treat Americans know of because of Edmund.
In The Horse and His Boy food makes a few appearances. Regarding the controversial issues from the last few posts it is worth noting that Lewis as narrator is not fond of garlic and onions.
When journeying through Tashbaan the narrator comments that:
"What you would chiefly have noticed if you had been there was the smells, which came from unwashed people, unwashed dogs, scent, garlic, onions, and the piles of refuse which lay everywhere."
Some see this as a pointer to Lewis's racism and I am sure we all know people who dismiss foreign food as they also dismiss foreigners. In my own family history garlic was an additive unknown to my grandmother, who was a great country cook. When I was young garlic was not prominent, but as the years went by garlic started making its way into my house. Today my kitchen actually has a garlic crock (see picture above). Coincidentally next to the garlic is the butter dish, and we all know butter is a Narnian food. In terms of the narrator, and reading his words as Lewis's own opinion, one might have an issue with how he lumps garlic and onions in with "piles of refuse", and I would say the narrator gives a half-hearted review of the meal Shasta receives while in Tashbaan with the Narnians, a Calormene meal. When Shasta has a Full Narnian breakfast the narrator is very positive and comments that he hopes his readers have experienced this morning treat - the eggs, mushrooms, bacon, toast with butter, coffee, etc. Is this a clue to a racist author? Lewis and food is best summed by his brother Warnie. In his Memoir of C.S. Lewis (found in Letters of C.S. Lewis) he states:
". . . in that matter his requirements were simple but strongly-felt. Plain domestic cookery was what he wanted, with the proviso that if the food was hot the plates should be hot as well. What he really disliked was “messed-up food”, by which he meant any sort of elaborately dressed dish: he could never be persuaded to experiment with new foods."
One might simply argue that Lewis was a man of his times, like my grandparents, and he lived an almost cloistered life regarding food, eating at home (he had domestic help who cooked) and meals in college (most likely very traditional), and his eating-out was mostly with friends in pubs. During my trip to England I was taken to Lewis Pubs and had my fill of fish and chips and meat pies (all good, except for that steak and kidney pie in Snowshill. Yuck!)
Yet, in the late 1950's Lewis recorded a series of lectures on love and in 1960 published them as a book - The Four Loves, and one will find Lewis saying the following:
"Every good marriage, even every courtship, makes for its eros, so to speak, a nest of storge, like the nest of rice you build for your helping of curry." (this metaphor is only found in the recorded lecture and seems to have been cut from the book, at least I am unable to find it in the book, even my E-Book with a search)
Lewis does not say he likes curry, but his metaphor is a positive one. Maybe his New Yorker Wife introduced him to the foreign food? In my life curry is a new dish discovered over the last 15 years, but I am born and breed in Frederick, MD. I have already mentioned my grandparents, my parents actually remember the time a restaurant opened that had pizza. While curry is somewhat new to me, as a child I remember our family's first trip to a Chinese restaurant. Back to Lewis and his curry, this brief article detailing the history of curry in England may shed some light on Lewis's familiarity with the dish. The best curry I have ever had was in England.
All of this to say, in my opinion, Lewis does show cultural insensitivity in his garlic and onion comments (besides The Horse and His Boy he also makes a comment in The Last Battle). And I am glad to deviate from following Lewis in this regard.
This ends my posts discussing The Horse and His Boy and my summer read.
Saturday, August 22, 2015
I have attempted to show that the Calormene are not Lewis's attempt to demonize Islam. Some may agree with my reading, others may not. Outside of Narnia we may find some clues to how Lewis viewed Islam. In the essay "What are We to Make of Jesus Christ?" we find this:
"On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men. There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him: ‘Are you the son of Bramah?’ he would have said, ‘My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.’ If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, ‘Are you Allah?’ he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, ‘Are you Heaven?’ I think he would have probably replied, ‘Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.’ The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion, which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are not looking for a piece of toast to suit you you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval."
As found in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics
The most interesting sentence is Lewis's view that if one were to confuse Mohammed with God as Christians claim Jesus is, in a Trinitarian reality, he would react with violence, in fact a beheading. No particular culture has cornered the market on decapitation - the Old Testament has some, the New Testament has a famous one - St John the Baptist. It is said St. Paul was as well. The French perfected it and the list could go on and on. I have made some cursory internet searches for beheading in Islam and depending on the translation it is understood by some that such violence is permissible. I wish I could write that Lewis is a religious bigot who is demonizing Islam and that would be the end of it, or at the least I could just say he was a product of his time. However, terrorist groups who identify themselves as Islamic use the tactic of beheading and making the act public through video only strengthens the view Lewis has expressed. We can have discussions about a true understanding of Islam, but until terror groups stop using violence in this manner the truth will be far from us. This is an Islamic problem and you can bring in economic and political issues that exasperate the problem, but the violence still remains with proclamations connected to the teachings of Muhammad. The Church is not immune and has culpability in Her past to violence. Right now, however, the problem is most clearly seen in the news and, again, Lewis's sentence has resonance.
Friday, August 21, 2015
|Tash - the chief Calormene god|
The author Imran Ahmad relates a very interesting story of a young Muslim from Pakistan growing up in England in the 60's and 70's and loving the Narnian tales. He states that:
"But there was an aspect of Lewis's world which caused me great discomfort. The enemies of Narnia were from a country called Calormen, and we learned more about them as we progressed through the books -- especially The Horse And His Boy. These people looked unmistakably like Saracens -- medieval Muslims; the Narnians themselves looked like Crusaders. In wanting to identify with the characters, I was torn between a natural desire to be on the side of "good" with the white English children and a feeling that I was condemned to be in the other camp, the Calormenes, the darkies from Calormen (colored men?) with their curved swords and spicy food and unmistakable Islamic cultural symbolism. I knew I wasn't a Calormene, but would my white English friends think of me as one?"
"One specific example troubled me deeply. Whenever Muslims mention the Prophet Muhammad, they are supposed to proclaim "Peace be upon him!" as a sign of respect. Whenever the Calormenes mentioned their leader, they always exclaimed "May he live forever!" in exactly the same tone. It seemed to be a deliberate imitation of the Muslim custom."
The example that troubled Mr Ahmad is based on a misunderstanding, or at least an incomplete understanding on his part. The Calormenes do exclaim "may he live forever" after they mention the Tisroc, their leader. Yet there are other examples of this exclamation that pre-date Islam. In the Jewish scriptures/Old Testament there are occurrences of a similar phrase. In 1 Kings 1:31, Bathsheba says to King David, "May my lord King David live forever!" (Ironic it is mentioned as David is dying and it is in the context of making Solomon the next king). In Nehemiah 2:3, Nehemiah addresses the king with, "May the king live forever!" The same exclamation is used in the book of Daniel five times (2:4; 3:9; 5:10; 6:6). Paul Ford speculates that Lewis "probably derived "Tisroc" from "Nisroch," the Egyptian god in E. Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet (Companion to Narnia, under Tisroc). In addition, "The King (may he live forever!)" is used in Nesbit's story as well when the children explore Babylon.
Lewis also uses the proclamation "May he live forever!" to contrast the fear-based tyranny of Calormen with the freedom of Narnia. In The Horse in His Boy Bree tells Shasta that his owner was going:
"'to Tashbaan itself and the court of the Tisroc --'
'I say,' put in Shasta in rather a shocked voice, 'oughtn't you to say 'May he live forever'?'
'Why?' asked the Horse. 'I'm a free Narnian. And why should I talk slaves' and fools' talk? I don't want him to live forever, and I know that he's not going to live forever whether I want him to or not.'"
Mr Ahmad goes on to say:
"Lewis does seem to demonize Islam, making his Calormenes appear so obviously like Muslims, yet their theology of worshipping and practicing human sacrifice to a hideous idol-god called Tash could not have been more un-Islamic. (Islam is endemically opposed to anything even vaguely resembling idolatry.) He must surely have known this, but most of his readers would not have had enough knowledge about Islam to see this inconsistency."
The answer is that of course Lewis knows that Islam is "endemically opposed to" the many aspects of Calormene religion, he knew this but it was not something that needed to be distinguished because he was not trying to demonize Islam. The religion of Tash is part of a polytheistic religion in Calormen. Aravis mentions making sacrifices to Zardeenah, "Lady of the Night and of Maidens, as is proper and customary for damsels whey they must bid farewell to the service of Zardeenah and prepare themselves for marriage." Aravis also mentions Azaroth, "In the name of Tash and Azaroth and Zareenah, Lady of the Night." These three gods we know about, there are probably others.
Mr Ahmad states that "most of his [Lewis] readers would not have had enough knowledge about Islam to see this inconsistency." I am not sure an author should take the view that their audience has a minimal degree of knowledge and therefore they should not write a story that would require something of the audience. How can someone write like this? Many end notes and appendices? For me, this is part of the joy of reading. You come across something you do not know about and you do a little research. I do not think I am alone in this.
Did Lewis write anything about Islam? That will be the next post.