Writing about the afterlife is tricky. It does not always go well.
Bookstooge recently reviewed a book that was set entirely in the afterlife, and it failed (at least, based on his review, it failed) because writing about the afterlife immediately brings out the limitations of the author’s understanding of: God, eternity, human nature, human embodiment, space, time, etc.
Some of these limitations on our understanding can be fixed with better theology. (For example, the TV show The Good Place could have benefitted from an understanding that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and who can know it?). Others of these limitations can’t be fixed because they are a consequence of our inability to imagine an existence that transcends space and time. New Age accounts of “out of the body” experiences immediately lose me when they describe things like “a cord coming out from between my shoulder blades that connected me to my body.” (Pro tip: if you are out of the body, you do not have shoulder blades.)
But despite these pitfalls, I find it irresistibly attractive to follow my characters just a step or two beyond death. Perhaps it’s because the moment of death is so poignant in a story, or because there is an opportunity to address unfinished business. “Wrong will be right/when Aslan comes in sight.” We are all longing for that wrong will be right moment.
The 11-minute song below is a ballad that successfully (I think) follows a character slightly past death. I find it very moving. I hope you do as well.
For the comments: when an author attempts to write about the afterlife, do you start rolling your eyes or do you go with it? What are some of your favorite post-death scenes in books or movies?
Up till now I’ve tried to make posts that don’t mention you know what, because I figure that readers come to Out of Babel for fun and weirdness, not for more mentions of you know what. But, I saw this super fun tag over in the book nook of The Orangutan Librarian. I hope by trying it I’m not letting you down. As you can see, I’ve spun it a little, imagining how the characters would handle coronavirus in their own worlds.
Take 5 or more of your favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world.
You can have them be in their own squad if you want, or working on their own.
The Pevensie kids, of course, would not even be here …
For some reason I imagine Edmund and Lucy quarantining with their cousin Eustace and his parents rather than being with their parents (who got stuck in Greece) or with Peter and Susan (who got stuck at their respective universities). Eustace, though less of a know-it-all since his first trip to Narnia, is still extremely well-informed about epidemiology, government policy, and all the latest economic and medical updates. His mother, Alberta, insists that everyone wear masks and gloves even inside the house.
Middle Earth Quarantine
Gandalf the Grey would have caught the coronavirus early (because he travels a lot), come down with complications (because it hits old people the hardest), died, and been resurrected.
Sam Gamgee, humble, hardworking, and patient, would be the perfect person to quarantine with. He’s also a very resourceful cook.
Faramir and Eowyn would be climbing the walls, holed up in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.
Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter are immune to human ills and they also take a long view of the death of much of the rest of the world.
Gimli would rather risk death than give up smoking.
Tony Hillerman Quarantine
Sadly, in real life, the coronavirus has hit the Navajo nation really hard. Tony Hillerman’s Navajo cop characters, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, would be reacting very differently. Leaphorn, who is older and more of a homebody, would be happily hanging out with his wife Emma at his home in Window Rock. Chee, who is young and restless, would be running around the reservation trying to help everyone he could. He would go to be with an older relative who is dying of the virus, making sure that the person is moved outside as per tradition and that they have someone with them. Though young and healthy, he would unexpectedly develop a bad case himself and would be found recovering in the hospital at the very end of the book, being visited by his girlfriend Janet or Bernie, depending upon where we are in the series.
Junie and Mike of the Emberverse have already been through a society-destroying event that resulted in most people dying. Junie heads up a neo-pagan community near Corvallis, Oregon, and Mike runs a more specialized, military one just northwest of Salem. Since the Change destroyed all modern technology, the inhabitants of the Emberverse would probably barely notice the coronavirus. Fewer people develop the diseases of civilization (heart disease, diabetes) in their medieval-style world, living conditions are less crowded, and there are no nursing homes or hospitals. Probably all they would notice was a particularly bad seasonal flu endangering the few remaining old people. They’d be grateful that this sickness, unlike many, was not threatening little children. Junie would be using her herbology and caretaking skills to help as many of her subjects as possible. Because Junie and Mike both grew up in the modern world, before “the Change” happened, they are aware of germ theory and this would help them enforce hygiene on their people.
Agatha Christie Quarantine
Miss Marple has lived through two world wars. She would gamely go along with whatever deprivations and regulations the quarantine brought. She’s been through worse. If anyone complained, she would smile sweetly while silently judging you and simply say, “So many things are difficult.”
Hercule Poirot is already a bit of a germophobe. He would take enthusiastically to masks and hand sanitizer, but would become peevish when unable to procure the foods that he’s used to. Whenever Hastings began to panic about the many unknowns, Hercule Poirot would calm his fears through the use of the Little Grey Cells.
P.G. Wodehouse Quarantine
Airheaded bachelor Bertie could not stand not going to his club. He would beg Jeeves to come up with a way that Bertie could skirt the rules to get out and about. Jeeves would do so, knowing that within hours, Bertie would be back home with a horrible hangover that he would need to sleep off and then drink one of Jeeves’s miraculous restoratives. Jeeves knows that the coronavirus mostly endangers older people, so even if Bertie should become a carrier, there is little danger that he would infect anyone because even in normal circumstances he cannot be induced to visit his Aunt Agatha.
And … I can’t resist … Quarantine with my own characters!
Nirri is, essentially, already in quarantine all the time. He broke his spine in a fall from the Tower of Babel, becoming paraplegic, and is now being reluctantly cared for by people with whom he does not share a language. He is the nightmare person to be quarantined with: arrogant, demanding, unable to communicate or be reasoned with. Though 130 years old, he is healthy as a horse and there is no way he is dying from this. On the bright side, he is an accomplished musician. Give him a lute and he will entertain you all evening, even if you don’t understand the words to his songs.
Zillah is a born caretaker and the tribe’s resident medical expert. It was she who insisted they rescue Nirri. Though young and even middle-aged people don’t usually show symptoms of the virus, in a tribe their size there might be one or two who do. Zillah would spend herself caring for them, and then get sick herself (she is the tribe’s second oldest person, after Nirri). She would survive, cared for by her daughter Ninna, and the weeks when she was sick would be the loneliest of Nirri’s life.
You Sure You Wanna Do This?
If you do, I tag …
Jyvurentropy, who has been posting so much that I can’t keep up with her
[Some textbook writers] see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda — they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental — and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, p. 24, pub. 1947 (!)
[We] must ask [ourselves] how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything. To admit that we can retain our interest in learning under the shadow of these eternal issues, but not under the shadow of a European war, would be to admit that our ears are closed to the voice of reason and very wide open to the voice of our nerves and our mass emotions.
I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.
The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on the scaffold, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.
C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-time,” a speech given in Oxford in autumn of 1939
By the way. The Seven Deadly Sins are easy to remember, in groups of two, three, and two. There’s The World (Envy, Greed); The Flesh (Lust, Gluttony, Sloth); and The Devil (Anger … and the granddaddy, Pride). The seven virtues are the flip side of these.
Once when I was at university, the theme of our homecoming week was the extremely creative “We’ve Got Pride.” I will always love my fellow English majors who named their contribution to the parade “Beyond pride: the seven deadly sins.” They wanted to show that “[our university] also gots Envy, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, and Anger.” And of course it was true.
CHASTITY: Which author/book/series you wish you had never read?
Hmm. It’s rare that I go on wishing I had never read a book. Usually if it stuns me with some horror, I hate it at the time, but as my mind assimilates the idea, I’m glad to have encountered it in a book so that I can grapple with that aspect of the world.
A good example is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. A major part of the plot is a sexual assault. It’s described graphically. The creepy lead-up and the lengthy aftermath include scenes from the point of view of both the victim and rapist. When I read this, it was the first time I’d read a rape described in detail (or, at least, the first time I understood what I was reading). It was very traumatic, and it led to lots of crying and praying for women who were real-life victims. So, as you can see, it bore some good fruit almost immediately.
Later I read another book by Ken Follett in a completely different genre, and it also featured a serial stalker and rapist, with many scenes written from his point of view. At that point I decided that I would not read any more books by Ken Follett, nor would I ever get on an elevator with the man.
TEMPERANCE: Which book/series did you find so good, that you didn’t want to read it all at once, and you read it in doses just to make the pleasure last longer?
I don’t usually show temperance when it comes to serious, emotional reads. … OK, I actually don’t have much temperance at all. I once stayed up all night finishing Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.
However, with comic series, I find that if you binge on them they can become wearing, whereas if you read one every once in a while, they are refreshing. For example, P.G. Wodehouse’e Bertie Wooster books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.
CHARITY: Which book/series/author do you tirelessly push to others, telling them about it or even giving away spare copies bought for that reason?
Well this question will contain no surprises to anyone who knows me or has followed my blog for any length of time.
The Emberverse series by S.M Stirling: I recommend this often because it encompasses a wide range of interests. The first few books are post-apocalyptic, and then it becomes more of a fantasy series. I’ve recommended it to people because it’s set in the Northwest (Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, northern California). Recently I recommended it to someone who is interested in retro martial arts such as sword fighting and archery, because there is a ton of that in these books, including descriptions of how the weapons are made and gripping battle scenes. The research on these books is both wide and deep, from ecology to botany to anthropology to martial arts to Celtic mythology.
‘Til We Have Faces: A searing, emotional novel about friendship, identity, divided loyalty, and religion. One of C.S. Lewis’s less famous works.
The Everlasting Man (non-fiction): G.K. Chesterton discusses paganism and why it expresses important things about being human … with the cheery paradoxes that only he can bring.
The Divine Conspiracy(non-fiction): With wit and wisdom, Dallas Willard applies the Gospels in a fresh way (which we all need frequently). This is so well-written that it’s a pleasure to read, and you just sail through it even though it’s quite thick.
Now, go forth and read these!
DILIGENCE: Which series/author you follow no matter what happens and how long you have to wait?
Agatha Christie. She has such a large corpus of work that even though I think I’ve read all her novels, I’m never sure.
Also, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.
Also anything by Tony Hillerman or Dick Francis.
It looks like formula mysteries are my genre for this.
PATIENCE: Is there an author/book/series you’ve read that improved with time the most, starting out unpromising, but ultimately proving rewarding?
Watership Down. It is gripping from the first, don’t get me wrong, but it is so long. Then when you get to the end, you discover that the author is doing things with it that only a really long book can do.
KINDNESS: Which fictitious character would you consider your role-model in the hassle of everyday life?
Any strong, quiet, capable character who consistently takes care of others. Durnik in the Belgariad; Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies series; Bardia in ‘Til We Have Faces; Sam Gamgee, Aragorn, Gandalf, Aslan. And, of course, Zillah from my own books.
Unfortunately my gifts and personality are almost opposite from all these characters. But I’ve always wanted to be strong, quiet, calm, and capable.
HUMILITY: Which book/series/author do you find most under-rated?
This is a hard one to answer because I don’t always have a real great idea of what other people are reading. How can I know that the gem I’ve “discovered” hasn’t also been discovered by a bunch of others?
Apparently Thomas Sowell has a bunch of great books about economics and society that have helped the people who’ve read them greatly … but I have not read them, only watched videos of him speaking. There are many such examples.
I hesitate to tag people because it seems to freak them out. But if you get inspired by any of the questions in this tag, please answer them either at your own blog or in the comments.
n.b. “Perfect,” as I will use it below, doesn’t always mean perfect but rather perfect in its context or else merely “really terrific.” Especially when used of actual, historical people. As we all know, perfection isn’t perfect, right?
The Perfect Genre
“Pick a book that perfectly represents its genre.”
The Rise and Fall of Ben Gizzard is the perfect Western.
“Ben Gizzard would die on the day he saw a white mountain upside down and a black bird talked to him, but not before. An old Indian he cheated out of some furs told him this.
“This was good news to a man as mean and crafty as Ben Gizzard. He settled in treeless, birdless Depression Gulch and cheated, robbed, and killed his way to riches. How his life seemed charmed in that place where there were neither mountains nor birds!
“But one day a young artist arrived in town with a large black bird sitting on his shoulder. Oh, Ben Gizzard!
“Our slithering villain comes to his end when he least expects it, and the world is a better place without him, and a better place for the telling of his story, which is both funny and awesome.”
The Perfect Setting
“Pick a book that takes place in a perfect place.”
Gosh, there are so many books that I love for their setting. There is Pearl Buck’s Pavilion of Women (an aristocratic household in pre-Mao China), Susan Cooper’s The Grey King (Wales, with magic), and Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series (modern-day Botswana).
But my top pick would have to be Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John. It takes place in a beautiful, sensuously described version of Switzerland (example: the children picking fresh strawberries and eating them with cream for lunch) and, of course, the fact that everything is so mountainous is crucial to the plot.
The Perfect Main Character
“Pick the perfect main character.”
I’m gonna have to go with Bilbo Baggins here. His combination of humility and spunk cannot be beat.
The Perfect Best Friend
“Loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever.”
Sam Gamgee would be an obvious choice, but there are class issues there, so instead, let me name Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Reason: Tumnus just met Lucy an hour or two ago and she has not done anything special for him … and yet he’s ready to put his own life on the line to protect her from the Witch’s secret police. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”
The Perfect Love Interest
“Pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner.”
Charles Ingalls from the Little House series.
On the down side, he will drag you and your children across the American frontier, where you will almost lose your lives in every. single. chapter.
But on the plus side! The man can build a livable house, single-handed, in a few weeks. He can dig a well, provide food, and make friends with the Indians. He’s never met a stranger. He is gentle and kind with Caroline and his daughters, and he is unflaggingly cheerful, even when starving. (Read The Long Winter and watch him effusively praise the dehydrated cod gravy that Caroline breaks out to put some variety in the family’s totally inadequate diet.) And he can fiddle, sing, and dance! What more could you ask for?
This guy is a ball of energy and good cheer. There would be no better person to have by your side in the hairy situations that he will surely get you into.
The Perfect Villain
“Pick a character with the most sinister mind.”
“Amazing Amy” from Gone Girl. I don’t think it will be too much of a spoiler, by now, to tell you that she fakes her own death and frames her husband for it, then fantasizes about “him getting butt-raped in jail.” It’s never clear what Nick did to deserve such a fate, other than fail to think she is sufficiently amazing. And that trick she pulls at the end of the book … well …!
The Perfect Family
“Pick a perfect bookish family.”
Since I was a little hard on the Dutch on Friday, let me rehabilitate them a bit. My “perfect bookish family” is a Dutch family, and they actually lived: the ten Boom family of Haarlem, circa 1935.
Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place describes how the family took in Jews during the occupation until they were turned in and went to concentration camps themselves. Even though the book is about the Holocaust, it is heartwarming and includes many laugh-out-loud moments. The heartwarming part is Corrie’s description of the family’s life in their tiny, ramshackle house/watch shop. The laughing out loud comes mostly from the personality of her father, Casper ten Boom, a true character and an amazing man of God whom I look forward to meeting some day. Corrie’s mom was also amazing, and I think it was her warm personality (and Casper’s) that offset the natural sternness of the Dutch of that time, making the ten Booms … the perfect bookish family.
The Perfect Animal or Pet
“Pick a pet or fantastic animal that you need to see on a book.”
The humble chicken.
There are a few books with a chicken protagonist. The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr., is one. There is also a Russian fairy tale where a rooster saves two poor children:
“I, the cock, have a crimson comb / And the wicked czar has nothing like it! / He took away their fortune / from two poor little orphans / And he dines in style / while they go hungry!”
The Perfect Plot Twist
“Pick a book with the best plot twist.”
Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert.
(Yes … it’s about lobstermen.)
Though it takes place on a tiny island in Maine, this book features a Jane Austen-worthy plot twist near the end.
The Perfect Trope
“Pick a trope that you would add to your own book without thinking.”
Spiritual transformation of a main character.
Not only would I add this without thinking, I actually wouldn’t think of writing a novel where it did not happen. To me, spiritual transformation is a critical part of a novel.
(Not that I don’t enjoy books where this trope doesn’t take place. Mystery series, particularly, do well if the detective MCs are fairly static.)
There are a few novels where the transformation is almost the only thing that happens. I give you The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, and all the Church of England novels by Susan Howatch. But much more commonly, the MC’s spiritual transformation happens as a result of a lot of other action in the plot, as in The Hobbit (fantasy), Identity Man by Andrew Klavan (crime thriller), and many, many others.
The Perfect Cover
“Pick the cover that you would easily put on your own book.”
My book is not St. George and the Dragon, but this is the artist I would have wanted to do my covers: Trina Schart Hyman. She’s gone now, but her art lives on. I have been trying my whole life to draw and paint like she did. I’ll bet she would have made the ruined Tower of Babel look amazing.
The Perfect Ending
“Pick a book that has the perfect ending.”
A Christmas Carol.
It’s the ultimate happy ending. We feel Scrooge’s childlike joy when he realizes he is being given another chance at life. Also, Tiny Tim is not dead after all and Scrooge has a chance to save him. “The spirits did it all in one night!” There is a strong sense of death and re-birth, not just of Scrooge but of his entire world.
I realize that everyone knows how the book ends and you might think of it as a cliche at this point, but really, if you read the entire book, hanging in there through Scrooge’s sad childhood, slow hardening, the horrific descriptions of poverty, etc., and then you get to the end and it doesn’t move you, well, I don’t know what to do for you, really.
So, the Sunshine Blogger award is given to bloggers by other bloggers who believe that the recipients spread sunshine. Imagine how surprised and thrilled I was to be given this award by Rachael Corbin at The Crooked Pen. Thanks, Rachael!
The Sunshine Blogger award is also a tag. If you get tagged, you must …
Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
Answer the questions.
Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
List the rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.
So, Numbers 1 and 5 down, 2 through 4 to go.
Here were Rachael’s questions:
What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?
I am going to leave out those times when I’m reading some
passage in the Bible and all of a sudden something jumps out and punches me in
the gut. Or when it crawls into my head and
becomes lembas that I feed on
throughout the day. Some of you readers will know what I mean.
Other than that, my most transformative reading experience has been ‘Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I read it in college. The tortured friendship between Orual and Psyche in the book closely mirrored a relationship that had been toturing me through the previous several years … though of course with a much more tragic yet satisfying ending. Anway, it helped me see that some of the problems we were having were not purely my fault nor purely hers, but built into the nature of reality. Also, Faces is just packed with insights and it’s set in an ancient pagan culture, which I love. C.S. Lewis is under-appreciated for his ability to write horror, and there is plenty of that in this book.
2. What is a book you wish someone would write?
be honest, it’s probably already been written.
a sucker for well-researched fiction set in ancient cultures. So I would love to read a book set in the
heyday of the Anasazi … or Carthage during the
Punic Wars … or a Noble Savage book where the noble savage is one of the Gauls
during Caesar’s Gallic Wars … or What Was Really Going with Stonehenge.
have seen people take a stab at some of these, but never as thoroughly as I’d
like. But, again, they are probably out
there. I just haven’t discovered them
For example, Bjorn Andreas-Bull Hansen has written some novels about Vikings. I think these are exactly the Viking novels I’ve always wanted to read … but they don’t exist in a language that I know! Aargh! (By the way, go to his site. Sign the petition to get his books translated into English.)
But I have, in my possession, waiting to be read, Pompeii by Robert Harris and People of the Silence (about the Anasazi) by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and Michael W. Gear. I have high hopes for both these books.
3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?
would be shorter to list places that don’t
match that description.
I guess my current #1 place would be Mongolia. I had to research it for my first book, and it looks so beautiful. It also resembles my home state a bit in the sense of being vast, treeless, high-altitude, and far inland. And I love the herding culture. The food is gross though. (Follow that link and scroll down to the heading “Exotic Nomad Foods.”) Also, my kids are extremely interested in the Mongolian Death Worm.
4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?
1984. I know, I know, the ending is integral to the book itself, but … still. I would like to see Winston hold firm at the end. Or find out that Julia had.
5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?
1984 and The Great Gatsby. (Or, I guess people love these?)
6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?
Mongolian Death Worm.
Just kidding. I don’t know. Maybe Grendel so I could find out whether he was really a T-Rex.
7. Where is your ideal reading spot?
When I am reading, any spot becomes ideal. (Car, bus seat, middle of a party …) But I prefer to be comfy (plushy chair or sofa) with a view of the outdoors and some place to set my coffee.
8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?
I am going to pick on one particular book here, but it’s representative of a
whole category of disappointing books.
The Sign by Raymond Khoury, 2009. This book was disappointing for many different reasons (see my full review of it here). But the main reason was this: it promised mystical adventures but delivered only international intrigue.
It is not the only book that has this problem. It’s just the only one that I happen to be able to remember the title of.
9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
Ancient mysteries/historical fiction set in ancient cultures. But I don’t read a lot of this genre for two reasons. Firstly, it’s kind of hard to find. Too often, purported “ancient mysteries” books end up being modern thrillers. (See above.) And when I do find a book that scratches this itch, I have to be careful. If I’m writing my own version of this genre at the time, I don’t necessarily want to be pulled into another world until my own has gelled.
So what I end up reading a lot is mysteries, especially mysteries with an anthropological bent like those by the wonderful Tony Hillerman.
As for why the “ancient mysteries” genre is my favorite (also why I like my mysteries to be anthropological), I can do no better than to quote the following poem from C.S. Lewis, titled, “To Certain Writers of Science Fiction”:
Why did you lead us on like this
Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,
Building, as if we cared for size,
Empires that covered galaxies,
If at the journey’s end we find
The same old stuff we left behind …
Well-worth Tellurian stories of
Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love,
Whose setting might as well have been
The Bronx, Montmarte, or Bethnal Green?
Why should I leave this green-floored cell,
Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,
Unless, beyond its guarded gates,
Long, long desired, the unearthly waits:
Strangeness that moves us more than fear,
Beauty that stabs with tingling spear,
Or wonder, laying on the heart
That fingertip at which we start
As if some thought too swift and shy
For reason’s grasp had just gone by?
10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. I almost listed this one as my transformative book because it set me free to love paganism while still remaining a Christian. I think everyone should read it because there is a ton of misunderstanding out there about the pagan roots of all cultures, and this book clears that up in such a beautiful, lyrically written way even though it’s nonfiction.
major qualifier. Chesterton frequently
lapses into anti-Semitism and it’s really jarring, not to mention inconsistent
with his usual generous way of viewing the world. (TEM
was published in 1925, before the Holocaust.) Also, as this book was written almost 100
years ago, Chesterton can come off as overly focused on the West and a bit
insensitive and ignorant about non-Western cultures. Nevertheless, his insights about paganism can
be fruitfully applied to any traditional culture, and I think they ought to be.
Other than that, I heartily recommend this book. I am thinking about doing a Hallowe’en post that relies heavily upon it.
11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)
so at first I was going to name the Dawn Treader from Voyage of the Dawn Treader because I don’t read a lot of sea
those who aren’t up on fan fiction terminology (as I barely am), a ship is when
you imagine two characters from a book or books getting together as
couple. (Short for “relationship.”) Non-canonical ships are pairings that didn’t
happen in the original book or series. “Crack”
ships are pairings that you would have to be on crack to even think of.
I am not a big noncanonical shipper. I just enjoy the ships as they show up in the books. But, I did always think that rather than going off to live with the dwarfs and eventually get kissed by the Prince, Snow White ought to have run off with the huntsman.
Now, here are my questions for you …
What kinds of non-fiction are you most likely to read?
What is your culture crush? If you are a book blogger, you must have at least one. But please feel free to list more than one.
What one currently living writer would you most like to have lunch, a beer, or coffee with? (Pastors count if they have written a good book or two. Bonus points if it’s a pastor you could have a beer with.)
What genre do you think is not your favorite, but find yourself picking up again and again?
Sex scenes: poetic, explicit, or none at all?
Favorite animal protagonist from a book or series?
Have you ever stopped identifying with the point-of-view character in a novel, and what caused it?
Did you then finish the book, or put it down?
Dream vehicle from real life or fiction.
If you currently have a Work in Progress (or are pitching a recently finished one out), give us your one-sentence hook for it.
Post a favorite poem or fragment of poetry. If you don’t read poetry, then song lyrics count.
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When Hillary Clinton says this, it means your children actually belong to the State, and the State has a right to intervene if they don’t think you’re doing it right (which, trust me, you’re not). When normal people say it, it means only that in order to grow into healthy, functional adults, kids need more than just a mom and a dad. They need a whole community around them.
In the past, I’ve blogged about how living in a small, isolated community consisting mostly of extended family limits the options when a family must deal with abuse. That is still true. But it’s also true that living in a close-knit community can provide some benefits for children whose own parents are lacking in some way. They can receive re-parenting, or supplemental parenting, from aunts, uncles, grandparents, older cousins, and others.
Re-parenting in Harry Potter
Re-parenting occurs in Harry
Potter. Harry, as we all know, does not
have a proper family and lives as the unloved stepchild of his aunt and
uncle. When he meets his best friend,
Ron Weasley, he is introduced to Ron’s family.
From Ron’s point of view, the
Weasley family is not all that great a place to be. It’s a large family, Ron is the youngest of
many brothers, and he often feels overlooked.
Also, the Weasleys are poor, not in the sense of starving but in the
sense of wearing hand-me-downs and being subject to taunting from snobbier
From Harry’s point of view, Ron’s
family is paradise. It’s an intact
family with a loving father and mother.
Mrs. Weasley is a great cook, and Harry’s wizarding gifts are accepted
as a normal part of life instead of being hated, feared, and suppressed. Even the large number of siblings makes the
household a fun place to be. Harry stays
with Weasleys many times and eventually ends up marrying into their family.
Imperfect Parenting and Re-parenting
Over the course of the series,
Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, also provides a father figure to
Harry. However, it takes Harry some time
to realize that this is happening because he has been conditioned to mistrust
Harry is also re-parented by his father’s childhood friend Sirius Black. This brings out the point that all of us need re-parenting from a variety of people, not just one person or one family. Neither Dumbledore nor Black is perfect (Mr. Weasley might be perfect though!), but between the three of them they give Harry a decent composite father figure. That’s why we say “it takes a village,” not “it takes one perfect person other than your parents.”
Ironically, sometimes someone who is a flawed parent themselves can be an ideal supplemental parent. This is true of Dumbledore, who is a wonderful mentor to Harry even though he let his own family down in significant ways. We also see it in how Ron experiences his family as a place of being second-best, whereas Harry has a great experience in the same family. In some ways it’s easier to be a good parent to your child’s friends than to your own child. Thus, the need for re-parenting is not necessarily proof that our own parents failed us completely or were more than usually flawed. It takes a village is an expression that, properly understood, simply takes into account the fact that everyone is badly flawed. It’s like the interpersonal version of the need for checks and balances in government.
Re-parenting in Voyage of theDawn Treader
In C.S. Lewis’s classic sea story, Eustace Clarence Scrubb has parents who are neither neglectful nor directly abusive, but they have raised him with an inadequate set of values that is rapidly forming him into a sluggard, a coward, and a snob. Eustace, when he is whisked into Narnia, is re-parented not by any one adult per se but by the total experience of being in Narnia. And ultimately, of course, by Aslan Himself.
In Eustace’s case, getting re-parented is painful. At every turn, he is asked to work harder, put up with more hardship, and complain less than ever in his life before. Then things get really intense when he turns into a dragon and, to cure him, Aslan literally rips away his dragon skin. Eustace’s experience shows that re-parenting is not just about lots of love, hugs, and healing emotional wounds (though of course it can include that). It’s also a process of re-training, being challenged and held to higher standards. We see this in Dumbledore’s relationship with Harry in the later Harry Potter books, where Dumbledore starts giving Harry difficult assignments and holding him accountable whenever he doesn’t get on them.
Re-parenting in The Strange Land
Ikash, the teenaged protagonist of
my novel The Strange Land, has an
abusive father and a mother who because of her circumstances is barely
functional. Early in the book, before Ikash ever notices
his crush, he “falls in love” with her parents, who have an imperfect but warm
and loving home. They demonstrate to him
that there is another way to have a marriage besides the one his mother and
father have. It takes a village.
His crush’s father doesn’t
immediately accept Ikash, seeing him for the at-risk teen that he is and a
potential danger to his daughters. Ikash
is re-trained and challenged when he sees that Hur does not trust him, and is
motivated to become worthy of that trust.
The relationship grows through a series of tragedies and setbacks, and
by the end of the book, the way those two re-parent him is really a sight to
Ikash also finds father figures in
his paternal uncle and in his older cousin Ki-Ki. In both cases, it takes him some time to
trust them because of his previous bad experiences with authority. I didn’t consciously copy this dynamic from Harry Potter. It’s just a natural dynamic that often
repeats itself because of human psychology being what it is.
“Found Families” versus Re-parenting
Once or twice while reading book blogs, I have seen the term “found families.” I take this to mean stories where a character is orphaned or rejected for whatever reason and goes on to find or create a “family” for themselves from friends they meet along the way.
Clearly this is related to what I’ve been saying about re-parenting. I am not sure that it’s exactly the same thing because I don’t know the details of what people mean when they say a “found family.” My sense is that found families might more often consist of peers, whereas when I say re-parenting I am thinking more of a character being brought under the wing of a mentor (or, ideally, a couple) who are older and wiser. Also, re-parenting can happen without the characters really being considered a family, as in the case of Eustace.
In the comments, please tell me
what you know about the term “found families” and also what you love and/or
hate about found families and re-parenting in fiction.