Category Archives: Writing

The Lord of the Hallows

I love Interlibrary Loan.  It’s such a fine way to read books that my own Library doesn’t have, including obscure, scarce, or expensive titles and ones that for other reasons I’m just not in a position to buy.  Today I’m returning an Inter-Library Loan that I enjoyed very much – The Lord of the Hallows by Denise Roper (Denver:  Outskirts Press 2009.) It’s a compact  and insightful summation of the Christian symbolism in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  That the series is loaded with  Christian symbolism was blazingly obvious by the climax of the seventh book .  Roper places the Harry Potter books  in the tradition of  Christian fantastic novels that includes Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia.   Recommended!

old India cookbook

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I ran across a new edition of a classic cookbook written for British housewives in 19th-century India. Remarkable book.  It covers cooking, housekeeping, gardening, animal husbandry, and relations with native servants.  It throws light (some of it glaring in retrospect)  on the relationship between colonial England and colonized India.  There is solid practical advice, such as the recommendation to English wives to spend the hottest months in the hills rather than stick it out on the plains and end up so debilitated that it then becomes necessary to spend several years recuperating in England.  There’s a chapter on the special challenges of running a missionary household or living in a camp.  And there are recipes for making English food in India, and descriptions of Indian foods and ingredients.  The book is:

The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook by Flora Annie Steel & Grace Gardiner, ed. Ralph Crane and Anna Johnston, Oxford University Press 2010.


Sniper at 12 O’Clock!

Last weekend I flew a glider for the first time in a long time.  (In 2007 I  had to go inactive in the Soaring Club of Houston and hadn’t flown for a while even before that.  It was a long hiatus due to having a novel published, writing two more novels, having a parent diagnosed with Alzheimers and then relocating out of an apartment complex being sold to developers.  Life happens.)

So I went up with a glider flight instructor and did better than I thought I would.  I flew two flights from tow to full stop,  without the instructor having to take the controls except when I forgot to plant the tail wheel after the first landing.  They say it’s like riding a bicycle – you get rusty but you probably won’t crash into a tree if you haven’t ridden a bike in forever.  Likewise flying skills stay with you even though finesse definitely does not.

The instructor gave me some memorable landing advice.   He reminded me to pick a landing spot to aim for, then once in ground effect – a wing length or so above the ground – to look at the end of the runway.  Like a lot of other things, landing an aircraft is done best when your attention is not overly immediate.  You need to be taking in the whole view of the runway;  it’s vital.  The instructor said, “Pretend there’s a Nazi sniper in the trees at the end of the field and look for him!”

Pretend there’s a sniper in the trees at the end of the runway. I won’t forget that.  It’s the best kind of flight instruction admonition:  pithy and funny enough to stick in a busy brain and be recalled when it’s needed most.

A couple of days ago I discovered the origin of the word sniper. It was in a recent re-edition from Oxford University Press of a classic cookbook written for British housewives in 19th-century India. (!)  Snipe entered in as wild game that might end up on the dinner table.  They are wary marsh birds.  A sniper is a hunter skilled enough to shoot a snipe.

OK, that makes a memorable lesson and a half.  Look for the sniper in the trees to make sure your eyes are where they’ll do you the most good in the last moments of a landing.  And practice toward a snipe-hunting level of accuracy!

Scribal Errors

Proofreading is harder than it looks.  For one thing, anyone who writes a piece ends up too close to it to see all of  the glitches.  For another thing, even the most diligent proofreader can miss something, when you have to check grammar, composition, spelling, sense, sound, and facts.  Written materials are imperfect and always have been.  When I took Old and New Testament courses  in graduate school, the professors made many references to scribal error in the composition and copying of ancient manuscripts. Modern technology has not only not eliminated scribal error but added new kinds:  spellcheck error, cut-and-paste error, find-and-replace error, we-don’t-do-typesetting-anymore-and-can’t-afford-proofreaders-so-it’s-up-to-the-writer-error….

Readers are offended by egregious errors in reputably published books, periodicals and other written material.  Fortunately there’s a balance point just this side of impossibly perfect.  I’m one of several volunteers who proofread for a classical music  performance organization. Our newly minted publicity brochure was found to have a one-letter error in the title of a work to be performed next season – “B Minor”  instead of  “D Minor.” Our fearless leader, Jan (who has a PhD in English from Rice University and is a professor of composition and grammar and superb writer) had a wonderfully sensible reaction.   “I’ll check the web to make sure it’s correct there,” she e-mailed.  “I’m sorry about the error, but it’s not devastating–will give a couple of sharp-eyed people joy to discover it, and most will never notice.”

The Death of Music

Kevin Winn is a professional potter, ceramics teacher, and artist in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here’s the work of art he named Death of Music. He created the  skeleton out of old piano keys and other derelict pieces of musical instruments.

The skeleton’s lair is an antique, sin-ugly bass violin case.  It was found in the storage shed when Kevin and Valerie bought their house in SLC’s old Sugar House neighborhood.

The Death of Music
photo by Alexis Glynn Latner
Kevin and The Death of Music

Valerie’s sister is my writer friend Bev Hale.  I met the creepy bass violin case a couple of summers ago, when Bev and I went and stayed with Valerie and Kevin for a few days after the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver.   I wrote the bass violin case into a dark western fantasy short story.   The short story became the first chapter of a novel that I’m revising now.   I think Death of Music will make a guest appearance in the book’s climax when demons assail Salt Lake City in 1880!

 

Jesus and Christ

Philip Pullman – author of the fabulously written, famously antireligious Dark Materials fantasy trilogy – is at it again.  According to an NPR interview, his latest novel was inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him where Jesus fit into the Dark Materials world. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ posits Jesus of Nazareth having a psychologically disturbed twin brother named Christ.  The storyline plays on the inconsistencies of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.

It sounds a bit silly to me.  Progressive Christian theology distinguishes between Jesus and Christ with the phrase “Jesus the Christ.”  Jesus was a human being, the Christ is the salvific, revelatory presence of God unveiled by a human life.  Progressive Christians tend to be comfortable with the idea of more than one Christ in history, in the world, and most certainly in art and fiction.  Woman Christ?  Oh yes, see the feminist sculpture Christa by Edwina Sandya, or  read Elizabeth Moon’s fantasy novel Deed of Paksenarrion. Wizard Christ?! Harry Potter.  Google “Christ Figure” in Wikipedia and check the notes under Literature for a fascinating remark: that generally in literature (many examples listed), Christ figures stop at being martyred and don’t get as far as resurrection.   Paksenarrion and Harry do get resurrected.  So does the extraterrestrial Christ, E.T. in the movie.  Offhand I’d say that convincingly resurrecting a Christ figure is, in terms of storycraft, quite a challenge.

In Pullman’s new book the resurrection is a fraud perpetrated by the twin brother, Christ.

Well, intellectually honest theologians, intelligent believers, and Christian agnostics (of whom there are many, and some of them write novels) have grappled for a long, long time with the original incredibleness of the Gospel, the devastating imperfection of the Church, the inconsistency of the Bible, and the darkness of the human unconscious.   One of the first theologians to recognize the deep waters below the conscious mind was Martin Luther in the 1500’s. WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!! is hardly a newsflash.

On the other hand, Philip Pullman does what he’s doing very well, and faith is well served by brilliant honest skepticism.  It can clear out mindless weediness and rank undergrowth.  One of the most amazing anti-religious tales ever written is Olaf Stapleton’s classic Star Maker. That novel alone, taken with the seriousness it deserves,  destroys the credibility of  God the Supreme Being in our day.

Theologian Paul Tillich’s God Beyond God and God the Ground of Being held up to the 20th Century a lot better than orthodoxy’s  Supreme Being or the Watchmaker of Deism.  Process Theology has held up too.  Liberation Theology brewed in the 20th Century, proclaiming God’s “preferential option for the poor” and stirring the pot of the Roman Catholic Church.  One thing critics like Pullman may miss – understandably, if they decamped from organized religion at an early age – is the extend of the prophetic, i.e., critical and reformational, tradition, in religion.  And the mystical undercurrents.  Christian mystics across the centuries called God  shining darkness, mystery that terrifies and fascinates, lover of souls,  cloud of unknowing, and on and on, images and stories that didn’t square with Church doctrine and sometimes got the mystics into trouble.

My copy of the Dark Materials trilogy was a gift from a Roman Catholic priest who valued its message against the worst perversions of organized religion. This priest – since deceased and celebrated by a funeral Mass that drew in all sorts of friends and clergy – knew well that Church and Christ are not coextensive.   He also knew how mystical and prophetic movements always bubble up in organized religion and are never welcome there.

The mystics experienced God in ways that doctrine made little or  no allowance for.  Reformation happened because Luther saw the Church in dire need of reforming from the top down.  And then there was the real Jesus of Nazareth.  Believe me, many intellectually honest theologians, seminary professors, and Biblical scholars and historians have studied the words and works of Jesus to learn what he really said and meant.  Much of the best scholarship points to this:  with his parables and his paradoxical sayings wasn’t spelling out what people should think about God.  He was dislodging God from the mental and cultural boxes in which the idea of God was contained.  And he was freeing people from mind-bending, heart-breaking condictions imposed by religious authorities.  Which is, to say the least, work that forever needs doing.

Brave New Word

This in today’s Houston Chronicle.  WASHINGTON – Hollywood’s glitterati mingled with Washington Twitterati at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner….

OK, first there were literati, then glitterati, and now the meaning has been cantilevered out to Twitterati!