Puddleglum is a Scottish Presbyterian

“Why the dickens couldn’t you have held her feet?” said Eustace.

“I don’t know, Scrubb,” groaned Puddleglum. “Born to be a misfit, I shouldn’t wonder. Fated. Fated to be Pole’s death, just as I was fated to eat Talking Stag at Harfang. Not that it isn’t my own fault as well, of course.”

The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, chapter 15

Book Review: The Brides of Maracoor

This book was a pleasure to read.

This review was originally posted by me on Goodreads and has been edited for clarity. The book is by Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, and is part of the same universe. It is the first book by Maguire that I have read. I gave it four stars.

The prose is almost like poetry, but not purple. Not hard to plough through; it draws you through. The psychology is amazing. So is the portrayal of a sort of ancient-Greece-based world. I picked up this book for the brides, who are sort of like pagan nuns (Vestal Virgins?) living all alone on a remote island, performing bloodletting and weaving rituals in order to guard a sacred artifact.

Every morning, the “brides,” who range in age from ten to about eighty, troop down to the seaside where they use sawgrass to cut crosshatched lines into the soles of their feet. Then they sit with their injured feet in the salt water and tie seaweed into a net. This ritual supposedly “weaves time” so that the world can go on. The brides are almost entirely self-sufficient, keeping gardens, goats, chickens, and an orchard. None of them have ever seen the mainland. They are brought to their island, called Maracoor Spot, as babies. There are always seven brides, so whenever one dies, a baby is brought to replace her.

The way Maguire introduces all this information is magical, as if he were weaving a spell. There are lyrical (but not sappy) descriptions of the island’s weather, the sea, the rain, the clouds, interspersed with descriptions of the brides’ suffering at their morning ritual. This slowly expands to show us their names, ages, personalities, and daily routines. They sleep in the outer part of a small marble temple, the inner room of which houses the terrifying artifact.

By the time Maguire was finished showing us the brides and their way of life, I was hooked. I knew I was going to finish this book.

The moral lessons, at least to which the story seemed to be heading, weren’t ones I could completely get on board with, however. So now let’s to spoiler town (though I should add that there are vast swathes of this book I haven’t addressed, so this is not a complete spoiler).

Rain, who seems to be the character we are most supposed to identify with considering that she is the one who comes from a beloved earlier series, makes the argument that Acaciana (“Cossy”) can’t be tried for murder because she is a 10-year-old child who has been raised in the very restricted environment as a Bride of Maracoor, not having a natural family, not having been given any chance to develop a conscience. She argues that the whole setup with the brides living on an island and ritually mutilating themselves every day, in service of the country’s religion, is inherently unjust and oppressive, and thus Cossy can’t be expected to know right from wrong.

It’s true that there are some troubling things about the “brides,” who are brought to the island as foundling babies and know no other life, being deprived of the chance to marry and have families and live in normal society. However, I can’t tell if this is a critique of ancient pagan customs such as the Vestal Virgins, or of there being traditions or religion at all. Obviously some religious customs are more oppressive than others. The brides are better off on Maracoor than if they had been made into temple prostitutes, for example.

It’s also not entirely true that Cossy was raised without any family at all. Cossy had a grandmother figure in Helia, who did some significant parenting, both good and bad. She had a sister in Scyrilla, and aunts in the other brides. Though there are only seven of them, the brides form a definite human society, with all the benefits and problems that come with that.

This raises the other point that Rain overlooks: no one gets to choose what family, society, or social station they are born into. The brides’ life might be more restricted than most people’s, but no one’s life is completely unrestricted. No one has infinite choices, and everyone has obligations placed upon them that they didn’t choose and don’t at first fully understand. These can be just or unjust, and we can argue that on the merits. But we should remember that they are not unjust simply because they are restrictions, obligations, and unchosen. Since the brides are all foundlings, we can assume that if they had not been brought to the island of Maracoor Spot, they would have either died of exposure (the fate of so many unwanted Greek and Roman babies), or been raised in some kind of institutional environment like an orphanage, where their lives would have been just as restricted, but without any sacred purpose.

Actually, I happen to agree that Cossy isn’t entirely responsible for the murder she committed, but it’s not because she was raised in an odd, isolated environment. It’s because Helia, her beloved grandmother figure, implicitly encouraged her to do it, told her exactly how to do it, and almost physically walked her through the steps. Helia is morally responsible, not only for the death, but also for taking an impressionable ten-year-old girl who is curious about death and making her into a murderer … and then throwing her under the bus. I don’t blame “the system,” I blame Helia.

That said, you can’t argue that Cossy absolutely did not know right from wrong or that she was in no way responsible. Witness how she falls apart after the death. She knows that she has done a terrible thing from which there is no going back. If she herself had not really committed murder, thus really changing her own character, then what Helia did to her would not have been such a terrible thing.

This book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. There are lots of unanswered questions, such as the nature and fate of the Hammer of Mara, whether Maracoor is going to continue sliding into paranormal chaos, and whether Rain is going to get back to Oz. For me, there are also unanswered questions about Rain’s back story, though I suppose those answers are already known to faithful readers of Maguire’s previous books.

Honor’s Reserve by Michael La Ronn: A Book Review

I’m sorry. This just did not hold my attention.

More than a year ago, I read Phantom Planet, which is the second book in the Galaxy Mavericks series but came out before the first one. Near the end of that, Grayson, the main character in Honor’s Reserve, shows up to rescue Keltie (he’s in the space equivalent of the Coast Guard). At the time, the vibes I got were definitely eyebrow-raise-what-have-we-here-man-in-uniform-potential-romantic-interest-alert. So it’s disappointing to find that Grayson’s back story is, so far, more boring than Keltie’s.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that this space opera takes liberties with science. In fact, the author includes a hilarious disclaimer at the beginning announcing that he is planning to do just that. Some other Goodreads reviewers actually DNF’d this book because of perceived inaccuracies with hyperspace travel and the like. I would just like to remind my fellow science-fiction readers that hyperspace travel, no matter how convincingly it is “explained,” is FICTION. Travel that even approaches the speed of light probably physically destroys the object traveling. All hyperspace travel is fiction. So is evolution. And boy, is there some fictional evolution in Honor’s Reserve!

Scientists think that the nanocraft [carrying a selection of DNA from humans and various animals] collided with an asteroid that had some kind of molecular life on it, and that that asteroid crashed onto an Earthlike planet that supported carbon life. The two life forms mixed, rapidly evolved, and Arguses were born.

Honor’s Reserve, p. 36

Arguses are aliens that basically have human bodies and the heads of pigs. And this entire, intelligent species evolved in … how long? “Nine hundred and fifty years.” Actually less, if you count the transit time for the nanocraft. Wow, that really gives a new meaning to “rapidly evolved.” But frankly, if you look into molecular biology, an intelligent species evolving from bacteria at all is just as unlikely as it evolving in 950 years. So, why not? Remember, this is science FICTION.

I also don’t mind the things in this series that might be considered anachronisms. The year might be in the 3000s, but human nature remains the same. So, Grayson and his fellow crewmembers getting onto a private spacecraft and giving it a bureaucratic-style safety inspection seems refreshingly realistic. I’m sure bureaucracy is not going to decrease with the advance of technology. And, perhaps my favorite moment in the book is when the heroes are trying to jump into hyperspace to escape the villains, and the computer keeps asking them, “Are you sure you want to jump into hyperspace?” and making them click a bunch of permissions, causing them to get caught by the people chasing them.

So then, why did this book keep losing my interest and why did I nearly DNF it at about 40%? Maybe it’s something about the writing. Although I am willing to put up with unrealistically easy jumping into and out of hyperspace, I do like the logistics of my action scenes to be nice and clear, and in Honor’s Reserve, they often weren’t. For example, it was sometimes not clear to me that a character had put their helmet back on (or never taken it off) before, say, the airlock was depressurized. That seems kind of important. There’s a scene near the beginning where Grayson is holding on to the outside of a space ship (or the edge of the airlock door, which is open? Not sure?) where the logistics were just not clear. The scene moved too fast. Show, don’t tell is great, but sometimes with sci-fi we need a little telling, or the scene actually loses drama.

Speaking of losing drama, there was definitely some untapped potential for character development here. I am speaking of Rina, the female villain of the story. [spoilers ahead] She is found to be human trafficking: helping the odious Arguses to kidnap people so they can enslave them. Then we find out that she is doing this in exchange for a promise from the Arguses to protect her and her family. She was at first enslaved, and she has the burn marks to prove it. Well, even if it’s not ultimately excusable, this seems like a pretty understandable motivation. It might bear looking into a little further. Rina has evidently been through some pretty heavy trauma recently and is in a desperate situation. We might want to examine that, no?

No. Rina is consistently portrayed as a sociopath. “You can’t trust anything she says.” She even comes right out and says, “It didn’t really bother me to enslave a bunch of other people, as long as it wasn’t me.” So Rina is thoroughly bad and we can safely hate her and turn her over to the Arguses.

Even this character arc might have been OK if it had been written with a little more complexity: if, say, Grayson had been tempted to feel sorry for Rina when he heard her tragic back story, had tried to turn her, and had then been double-crossed and we find her doubling down on her evil. But that’s not how it goes down. It’s as if Rina is barely a character at all.

To sum up: a bland, one-dimensional villain (and consequently, hero); aliens that don’t seem spooky, just like grosser, evil-er people; and action scenes that sometimes felt rushed and inadequately explained are all the reasons that I found the author’s notes at the end, about his philosophy of space operas, much more interesting than the book itself, and the reasons I am sadly giving this book two stars.

I will say that Phantom Planet, while it had some of these same problems on a smaller scale, was better than Honor’s Reserve. It had some spooky, unexplained things that promised more terror later in the series. I might give this series one more book before I give up on it.

Reminder: The Great Snake goes on sale Next Week

Pre-order your copy on Amazon or Barnes & Noble for a summer beach read.

Here is the book in its natural environment.

As you can see, we are going for more of a subtropical vibe here, with succulents and a mini gator’s head from Florida.

Here’s the back cover copy:

As a child, Klee crossed the Land Bridge with her tribe, and she grew to womanhood in ancient North America. Once a teenager, she makes the shattering discovery that she isn’t who she thought she was. The people who raised her are not her real parents, and her birth father, a charismatic, maimed man, wants her to go with him to found a city dedicated to his snake god. After what she has just discovered, how can Klee know whom to trust?

The Great Snake takes up the epic journey that began in The Long Guest, continued through The Strange Land and now wends its way to the evocative and shocking conclusion of the Scattering Trilogy.

Let’s Learn World Building with Thomas Sowell

This is a brief review of the book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, by Thomas Sowell. Full disclosure: I am writing the review before I’m finished with the book. But given that it’s a series of historical essays rather than a novel, I doubt there’s going to be a twist at the end.

Contrary to what you might expect, not the entire book is about Black Rednecks and White Liberals. The book consists of five essays:

  • Black Rednecks and White Liberals
  • Are Jews Generic?
  • The Real History of Slavery
  • Germans and History
  • Black Education: Achievements, Myths and Tragedies
  • History versus Visions

As you can see from the titles, Sowell pokes directly at the eyes of all the sacred cows he can find. Like every Sowell book I’ve read so far, the essays in this book destroy popular misconceptions with facts and logic. But by “facts and logic” I don’t just mean bon mots and statistics from the last ten years. These essays offer detailed history lessons that cover social phenomena from around the world. As someone with an interest in anthropology, I am finding them fascinating. Sowell has drawn from the literature (he has 63 pages of endnotes), but he had also done some research in person. At one point, he mentions in passing something someone said to him “When I was traveling to research the economic conditions of different ethnic groups around the world.”

I’m not going to get in to the political and economic implications of these essays. Instead, I’m going to come at this like a fiction author.

I really recommend that anyone who wants to do worldbuilding for a fictional society read some or all of the essays in this book.

For example, the essay “Are Jews Generic?”. Kind of a weird title, but it turns out that what the piece is about, is economic middlemen. Sowell starts out talking about how, in WWII P.O.W. camps, a black market would immediately spring up around goods that people had saved from their Red Cross packages, such as cigarettes, jam, etc. Some people consumed these right away; others didn’t. Some people were nonsmokers. They needed to be able to barter things. And, just as quickly, up sprang economic middlemen. They knew who had what, and they could help the parties communicate and broker trades. And, they took their cut, which led the other prisoners to look on them as parasites who weren’t producing anything of value, even though they were clearly providing a service that was needed.

It turns out that there have been people, and groups, that fill this economic role in many places in the world throughout history. The Milesians in the ancient Levant, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the Lebanese in Sierra Leone, the Igbo in Nigeria, the Chinese in Southeast Asia, Koreans in inner-city America … and the Jews in Eastern Europe.

Middleman groups have a lot in common. They tend to be more enterprising than the population around them; they start small, in businesses that don’t require a lot of initial capital, and work their way up; they make great sacrifices to get their children educated; they tend to be clannish, as they must be in order to maintain the distinctive cultural characteristics that make them so well suited for the middleman role. They also tend to be hated: accused of corruption (often true, especially in countries where one must be corrupt to survive in business) and of extortion and hogging resources (often not true, as usually they started out very poor and rose to middle class). Interestingly, middlemen tend to be most hated in economic situations where their role is most vital. Sometimes they are driven out or genocided, which then causes the local economy to suffer because that vital middleman role is not being filled, or is being filled poorly.

Hence, the title “Are Jews Generic?” asks the question whether Jews are hated because they are Jews, or because they are, in a way, the ultimate example of an economic middleman ethnic group, whose intelligence, diligence, and drive tend to arouse the envy of others.

If all this isn’t useful for worldbuilding, I don’t know what is.

Readers will also benefit from this historical perspective. If a fantasy writer includes an economic middleman character who is clannish, a sharp bargainer, and very frugal, for example, it does not follow that the writer is employing a transparent stereotype of a Jew and that the book or movie is therefore anti-Semitic. There have been characters like this all over the world and all throughout history. It is good for readers and viewers to be aware of this.

As always, Thomas Sowell comes highly recommended.

My Trilogy Wraps Up on May 30th!

The Great Snake is coming out on May 30!

You can preorder it here.

Or, if you are a dedicated book blogger who wants to read and review it, e-mail me your mailing address through the contact button and I will send you an Advance Review Copy.

Here are the back cover and spine, just for fun:

The Long Guest started out in the sunny Fertile Crescent and carried the tribe across Asia to the Pacific coast.

The Strange Land took them across Beringia (the Land Bridge) and ended with the tribe poised to traverse the rapidly melting corridor between glaciers that led into North America.

The Great Snake takes them into warmer climes again, as they pass through the corridor of ice and eventually explore subtropical regions along the Mississippi River.

Of course, that’s just the geography of the trilogy. It doesn’t tell you anything about what happens among the people.

You can read The Great Snake as a stand-alone if you wish, because it is written for people who may or may not have read the previous two books.

Teal Veyre Interviews Me

Teal Veyre is really interesting thinker whose blog I’ve been following for a few years now. (She’s the angry bespectacled cartoon gal on the left.) In this episode of her Viridescent Storms book podcast, she and I talk about dinosaurs, giants, utilitarianism, worldbuilding, and of course, The Lord of the Rings. Many of the topics are ones that faithful Out of Babel-ites will recognize, but with Teal’s unique perspective, it’s all fresh! Plus, you get to hear our voices. The interview with me takes up about the first 30 minutes, and then the Storms offer a tutorial on a program called Notion and how it can be used by indie authors.

I notice that so far, the video has only one like, which is of course disgraceful. Get over there and like it and club some sense into those YouTube algorithms!

This is Exactly How I Feel about my Cowboy Hat

“Why did you decide to be a cowboy?” she asked.

“There are no real cowboys anymore, just a lot of pickup drivin’ wanna-be’s.” He shrugged. “Me, I love the wilderness, horses, and saddle leather. They just sorta come together out here.” He removed his hat and stared at it. “This is just functional gear that goes with it all I suppose.”

White Out, by Robert Marcum, p. 24

… by which I mean it is practical for sunny, windy environments. Not that I have horses like he does.

The Unseen Realm by Michael S. Heiser

Photo by sk on Pexels.com

This review will bring a number of threads together, but it won’t give you a comprehensive sense of everything discussed in this book, because it is a long, complex book with lots of things to chew on.

The Unseen Realm is a theological book written at a popular level, but with lots of footnotes. I would say it is for serious lay students of the Bible. It frequently refers to the Septuagint (the Greek Translation of the Old Testament that was in popular use in New Testament Times), and to other different ancient manuscripts of various Bible passages, some of which have slightly different wording that can be key for Heiser’s arguments. The scholarship on the many topics that this book encompasses is voluminous, so much so that there is a companion web site with additional articles for all the things that this book can’t get into in detail.

All of that said, it is not boring, at least not if you are interested in its main idea, which is that of a divine council of “gods” being present not only in other ancient mythologies but throughout the pages of the Bible. I came to this book for my research into future fiction projects that I may or may not be working on (ooo so mysterious!). I found out less detail than I had hoped to about the divine council, but even when we don’t learn something, we learn something. In this case, I learned that the Bible does not give us a lot of detail about this divine council, its members, or how it supposedly operates. We can assume this is on purpose.

The Main Idea: the Divine Council

It was very common in the Ancient Near East to believe that there was a council of gods or divine beings which would meet, typically on a mountain far away, and decide the affairs of men. That’s why you will often hear the title “Most High God.” Heiser’s contention is that the ancient Israelites shared this view, and that in fact the Bible endorses it. It starts very early, with God saying, “Let us make man in our image.” Though some people see this as evidence for the Trinity, Heiser contends that what is being evoked here is that God is addressing a group of beings which have already been made in His image, but are not humans. God then, all by Himself, makes man in His image, with the other beings presumably just watching.

The flagship Bible passages for Heiser’s thesis are Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32:8 – 9. In the latter, it asserts that God “divided up mankind [and] fixed the borders of the peoples according the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is His people, Jacob his inheritance.” The idea is that God assigned each “son of God” (divine being) a nation to rule over, but He took the Israelites as His own nation. Psalm 82 shows God reaming out the gods for not having done a good job ruling over the nations, promising them that “they will die like mere men” and that “all the nations” will become God’s inheritance.

These are the two most obvious passages that indicate this idea, and even they are often translated to so as to hide the fact that the original authors assumed that divine beings existed and ruled over the nations. My NIV, for example, translates Deut. 32:8 as “… according to the number of the sons of Israel.” It also puts scare quotes around the word “gods” in Ps. 82.

Ugarit

Ugaritic is the ancient Semitic language most closely related to Hebrew. In Ugaritic cosmology, the chief deity was El. He had a divine council that met in a lush garden or on a mountain. He had seventy “sons of El” who made up his council, and he had a coruler, Baal (which means “lord”). Much of the imagery, vocabulary, and cosmology of Ugarit is echoed or riffed off of in the Old Testament, always making the point that Yahweh is the true Most High God, the one who sits on a throne over what looks like a sea of glass, that His garden is the true garden and His mountain is the true mountain. The Israelites, though, did not quarrel with the idea that there were seventy lesser divine beings who served God. This seems to have been accepted cosmology, sort of like we accept heliocentrism. The Bible does not come out and say this directly, because it was common background knowledge in the Ancient Near East.

The Table of Nations, in Genesis 10, shows 70 nations branching off from Noah’s three sons. The idea was that subsequent to Babel, each of these nations was assigned to a son of El – a lesser god. The Most High was done with them. He would no longer be their God directly. Of course, some day the lesser gods, who did not do a good job with their people, would be demoted. Yahweh had plans to bring all the nations of the earth back and make them His own people once again.

The Divine Council in the Redemption Story

Heiser spends the rest of the book tracing this idea of the divine council, of Yahweh as the true God, and of the disinheritance and re-gathering of the nations, throughout the Bible, seeing how it plays in to the big redemption story. He gets into discussions about whether idols are nothing at all or whether they represent something more, and whether the word demon (shadim) means just a supernatural being or something evil. He gets to the giants. He gets to Jesus putting the local gods on notice when He starts crashing around Galilee. He visits the miracle of the tongues of fire at Pentecost. It’s all really interesting, really intricate, with a lot of scholarship.

Some of the ideas in this book were truly mind-blowing. For example, I had never before heard the term Monotheistic Binitarianism. (Wild!!!) “The startling reality is that long before Jesus and the New Testament, careful readers of the Old Testament would not have been troubled by the notion of, essentially, two Yahwehs — one invisible and in heaven, the other manifest on earth in a variety of visible forms, including that of a man. In some instances the two Yahweh figures are found together in the same scene. In this and the chapter that follows, we’ll see that the ‘Word’ was just one expression of a visible Yahweh in human form” (page 134). This is a consequence of mysterious Old Testament passages where Yahweh will appear to, say, Abraham in human form … but sometimes there are two or even three human figures, and the passages seem to be intentionally ambiguous about their identity or how many are there at any given time. There are not just a few of these instances either. Heiser says that this idea of “two powers in heaven” was “endorsed within Judaism until the second century A.D.” (135, footnote). It was the background to the famous passage in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning …”

Other ideas, if I may venture, were less mind-blowing than Heiser seemed to expect them to be. Perhaps this is because I have been studying what you might call the weirder aspects of the Old Testament for some time, but even for someone who had never heard this idea, I sometimes got the feeling that Heiser was writing to a straw man. For example, he has a whole chapter about how God’s plan for a Messiah was hidden in the Old Testament, in hints that couldn’t be pieced together beforehand, but only made sense in retrospect, types and shadows. This is pretty standard Christian teaching, at least in the Reformed circles I move in, but Heiser seems to think that his readers have been given the impression that God’s whole plan of salvation was spelled out super clearly in the Old Testament. “Chances are good that you’ve heard the New Testament mistakenly read back into the Old hundreds of times. Therefore you might be surprised to hear me say that the Old Testament profile of the Messiah was deliberately veiled” (241). In the rest of the chapter, he proceeds to read the New Testament back into the Old. “It couldn’t be emblazoned across the Old Testament in transparent statements.” Yes, we know. After Jesus rose, He said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything that is written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. (Luke 24:44 – 45, quoted by Heiser on page 242) Yes, we know. The New Testament Christians could not see the significance of the Old Testament passages until Jesus (and, later the Holy Spirit) opened their eyes to see it. In fact, they spent the rest of their lives making “So that’s what that was about!” discoveries. Perhaps some modern Christians don’t realize this, but I think most people do who have spent years doing Bible study. In fact, many of the doctrines that we take for granted had to be worked out by the church through history.

Similarly, Heiser has a whole chapter about why God’s plan included making beings with free will and how this necessitated evil and how He couldn’t just erase everything and start over as soon as we messed up. Heiser is not a fan of Calvinism. Like most Arminian arguments, he seems to have a shallow understanding of what “free will” means and a shallow understanding of Calvinism as a sort of dystopian vision wherein people (and gods) are mere sock puppets directly controlled by God. I am willing to accept that God is sovereign, and that beings other than Him exist in the universe (human and supernatural), which make real choices that are in some sense free. I get that these two things should not go together, but that we have good evidence for both. So it is a paradox. I don’t need to choose between sovereignty or free will to understand the idea of a divine council.

What We’re Not Told

After reading Heiser, I am convinced that it is a biblical idea that there are spiritual “divine” beings that exist in an unseen realm. (Heiser points out that the word for these beings, elohim, is a place-of-residence word. They live in the unseen realm, therefore they are elohim. The word itself says nothing about their moral status.) Their existence plays a role, though I would still say not the major role, in God’s plan of salvation for humankind. In some ways, they are relevant, especially in their role as rogue gods of the nations. In other ways, a lot of what goes on in the unseen realm is none of humankind’s business.

Perhaps this is why the Bible does not tell us — and thus, Heiser does not tell us — the sort of details about the elohim that a researching novelist would naturally want to know. Here are a few unanswered questions:

  • Are there really only seventy of them? What happened when the seventy nations multiplied into many more?
  • There appears to be a hierarchy in the unseen realm, but what is it like? How many levels?
  • Are the beings on the different levels different species/different in appearance (if that question even means anything)? Does the unseen realm have the equivalent of animals?
  • We know some elohim rebelled against God, but how many? When? Was there more than one rebellion? Are all the rebel spirits organized under Satan, or are there rogues and factions?
  • How does or did this divine council even work? In almost all of the glimpses we are given of it, it’s basically just God announcing His intentions and the council members just watching.
  • There is a well-established association between the gods and the stars or constellations, but how does this work? Are they the same or symbolic? Is it a one-to-one correspondence?

This is the kind of thing that a really good novelist would get all nailed down before writing a book like, say, This Present Darkness … but it’s impossible to nail down because we are not told this stuff. Again, this is probably because it is none of our business. So if you are going to write a novel that includes gods, I would recommend you just delve into the mythology of one particular nation (Ugarit, say, or Greece as many authors have done to great success), accepting that you are riffing off of one particular nation’s interpretation of all of this, an interpretation that is based on something real, but is definitely not going to be accurate in all its details.

I’m Reading a Horror Story …

… I sure hope it ends well.

But I don’t think it will.

Because I wrote it.

I recently got the third book in my trilogy, The Great Snake, back from my editor. The next step for me is to go through it, noting all her comments, making all the changes that are called for.

I am having a grand old time. I was really unsure about this book during, and even after, writing it, perhaps because, to paraphrase Jordan Peterson, “The artist should not know exactly what it is that he is doing.” Now, reading through it with fresh eyes after an absence of several months, things are clicking in to place. I feel that what this book has done is right.

I think you all are going to like it.

Meanwhile, we have a brand-new war raging somewhere in the world. Women my age, with children the age of my children, are being forced to flee their homes or hunker down in their basements. Grandmothers are preparing to do first aid. War-fever is sweeping my own country. People are going bananas with demonizing the bad guys, and talking about WWIII.

That doesn’t count the crises we have long been praying about, which still have not abated, notably the Uyghurs being imprisoned in concentration camps, but there are a lot of others too.

Real life is a horror story.

Which raises the question: Do I have any right to enjoy myself reading over my little story of fictional horrors? Do I have any right to post about it, and about paintings and sunsets, or about anything at all except the current crisis?

It is time for me to pull out again C.S. Lewis’s wonderful speech “Learning In War-Time,” which addresses these very questions. I posted a quote from it, and a link to it, almost exactly two years ago. Here they are again:

[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

Read the whole thing here.

Long story short? You bet I have a right to post about art and literature and knitting and all the rest of it. Because when you get right down to it, all my posts are in some sense posts about Jesus. And He is exactly what we need, in this current crisis and in every crisis. He is wonderful. He really is.