Archives for 2008

Lewis on novels on Johnson on marriage

Marriage is not commonly unhappy, otherwise than as life is unhappy.

— Samuel Johnson

I can’t say that would be a whole novel with the moderns because the whole novel would not get as far as that.

— C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis on ‘Kelsie’

Excerpt of a letter from C.S. Lewis to his brother Warnie, 1 July 1921, as printed in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. I, p. 561:

Saturday evening . . . I dined alone with Kelsie. She always had her on days and her off days: and for many years now there have been times when I found têtes a têtes with her longer by mental measurement than the clock would vouch for. But on this occasion, honestly it was so boring that there was an air of insanity about it all: connected perhaps with the terrible heat and with that crowded tiny dining room at the Mitre. She never paused. Stories that I have heard from those same lips so often before followed one another: somebody was engaged and somebody else had broken off an engagement: the inevitable discussion of the Greeves’s: had I heard about so and so: did I remember what Willie Jaffé had done on such and such an occasion?

When we went up to the private room again, I could do no more. Wrapping my gown round her head to stifle her cries, I seized our cousin by the left ankle and precipitated her from the window. She flew out over the High in a great arc: the strolling butties and undergraduates looked up and shouted. But to my horror, just as she descended on one of the pinnacles of St. Mary’s spires, her dress developed a certain balloon like quality: instead of breaking into a thousand pieces she rose up on the giddy ledge and, just as I lost consciousness, I could hear her proclaim distinctly to the whole town ‘I once saw an awfully funny thing happen to a girl at Aldershot — .’ I can’t quite swear to all this having happened exactly as it is here set down: but something like it must have taken place, since the undoubted fact remains that I did get away.

Wendy Delmater explains admirably where Lewis went wrong:

He had no idea that seizing the offending drone by the left ankle always has that unfortunate effect. However, should one seize a bore by the right ankle and dangle him or her while making suitable threats, one might walk away with a pair of tickets to the theater. Even if one is forced to take the bore to the theater, good manners will suffice to keep the person quiet (except for intermission).

Do not ask me how I came by this clandestine knowledge. It is sufficient that I know.

G. K. C. on greatness in art

In the fin de siècle atmosphere every one was crying out that literature should be free from all causes and all ethical creeds. Art was to produce only exquisite workmanship, and it was especially the note of those days to demand brilliant plays and brilliant short stories. And when they got them, they got them from a couple of moralists. The best short stories were written by a man trying to preach Imperialism. The best plays were written by a man trying to preach Socialism. All the art of all the artists looked tiny and tedious beside the art which was a byproduct of propaganda. [Read more…]

Ideas and hand-me-downs

So this morning, in a flash of inspiration or gas, I came up with what is seriously the best idea for an SF novel ev-ar.

The plot is trivial, bordering on asinine, but as with all truly Great SF, it’s the concept that sells it, and the concept is this:

The Iliad and the Odyssey turn out to be modern fakes. The hoax was perpetrated [Read more…]

The taste for magic

Why do we hanker for magic? That is a question that the large-C Catholic fantasy writer must squarely face, and the small-c catholic reader ought at any rate to find interesting. The practice of magic as such, whether effective or not, is explicitly forbidden by scripture and canon law, and even too strong a theoretical interest is rather frowned upon. The Catholic attitude towards magic in fiction is more ambiguous. I was absurdly surprised to find, when I myself was converted, that every sort and condition of Christian, practising or pinchbeck, that you can find in the innumerable denominations of Protestantism, can be found in the Catholic Church. We, too, have our would-be book-burners, our crusaders against Harry Potter, our excessive literalists and excessive metaphorists; we even have churchgoers who look like 17th-century Puritans and loudly say ay-men after a prayer, though everyone else in the room is saying ah-men. It is a sufficiently odd mixture.

What I mean is that the same problem faces every fantasy writer in a more or less Christian or post-Christian society, regardless of denomination; it is only that Catholic writers, if they take either their writing or their religion seriously, have less room to shirk the issue. J. R. R. Tolkien wrestled with the question in a nocturnal agony of the spirit. In ‘On Fairy-Stories’ and ‘Leaf by Niggle’ he tries to show that fantasy as such is a thoroughly Christian, even a salvific, activity; but Smith of Wootton Major is a cry from the heart of a man who has lost his confidence, and some of Tolkien’s last writings on Middle-earth almost amount to a confession of heresy. He wasted endless hours trying to uproot the Two Trees of Valinor from The Silmarillion, because he could not reconcile his beautiful and moving myth of the Sun and Moon with post-Copernican astronomy, and (which was for him the salient point) because he could not pretend that the God who made the Elves would allow them to believe a legend so obviously contrary to scientific fact. Yet that legend was the heart of the whole work. For similar reasons he worked and re-worked the story of Galadriel, thinking to make her perfect with emery and holystone, but in truth only reducing her to a plaster saint. The legendarium that he meant as a profound expression of his faith fell to pieces at the rude touch of his theology. [Read more…]

Interview with the Oldest Member

This passed on by Sherwood Smith in one of her Bittercon posts:

Elves are glamorous. They’re tall, cooler than people, dress well, have great taste in music, and are all-round athletes, as well as being immortals with magical powers. And they’re in tune with nature, too. But are they really? Most elvish societies are intensely hierarchical with a few uberelfen at the top and many more peons at the bottom. And there’s no way for a peon to work his way up, since the master race is genetic. Tolkien’s Elves were fairly benign, but the elves in many of the derivative fantasies that followed on don’t look all that different from what we could imagine finding in a world a thousand years after a Nazi victory: the horrors at the start are long forgotten, but now there is a master race. Unfair?

Certainly unfair, if the elves are not permitted to respond on their own behalf. To remedy the obvious injustice of allowing mortals to sit in judgement upon the Fair Folk by gossiping among themselves — and consulting, moreover, those who have never known or even seen an elf — it seemed natural to me to find an elf, an old and notorious one, and if possible one of the ‘Uberelfen’, and put him on the witness stand.

Since it is Tolkien’s elves who are the principal corpora vilia in this debate, that gave me a clearer idea where I had to look. After some difficult negotiation, I was able to procure an interview with a particularly senior and ‘uber’ one of his Eldar, the results of which I now humbly offer in aid of justice.

[Read more…]

Liar’s lexicon

Manifesto, n. The act of walking down the street waving a baton in the expectation that a parade will spontaneously form up behind you.

Christopher Johnson on truth

Christopher Johnson explains Postmodernist ‘thought’ with unusual frankness and lucidity:

There’s a considerable difference between real and factual. Just because something is true doesn’t mean that it’s actually the case. And vice versa. Any educated person knows that.