An Inklings Walking Tour

David Russell Mosley

 

lewis-inklings-featured

Lent
10 March 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

On Tuesday, 15 March 2016, at approximately 8pm EST, five members of the Inklings are going on a walking tour throughout the English countryside. This was a common enough occurrence when the Inklings were alive, but now the dearly departed will be live-tweeting the even (pun intended). Make sure you follow the following accounts on twitter:

C. S. Lewis: @PilgrimInNarnia
J. R. R. Tolkien: @TolkienElfland (written by yours truly)
Charles Williams: @OddestInkling
Owen Barfield: @BarfieldDiction
Hugo Dyson: @hugo_dyson

Also, be sure to follow the hashtag #inkwalk. This should be an awful lot of fun and will include many quotations or paraphrases from the workers of these authors. To get a sense of what this will be like, I recommend checking out the night Charles Williams was drunk-texting on a road trip with C.S. Lewis.

Sincerely,
David

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On the Passing of Alan Rickman and the Adaptation of Books to Film

David Russell Mosley

 

alan-rickman-as-the-sheriff-of-nottingham

Epiphanytide
14 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you have already heard or read, Alan Rickman, an excellent actor, has died. Rickman has always been one of my favorite actors. My first introduction to him was in the simultaneously wonderful and terrible “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” While Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood leaves much to be desired (including hair), Rickman’s Sheriff was a revelation. The line, “I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!” will never leave me, for better or for worse. In addition to being the evil sheriff, Rickman will remain for the epitome of Colonel Brandon, the once jilted lover who has now fallen for the emotional and opinionated Marianne Dashwood. His gravitas in that role made me believe that he not only loved the young girl, but himself suffered heartache from a lost love. For many, however, especially of those younger than me, Rickman will forever be remembered for, in some ways a similar role, his adaptation of Professor Severus Snape. Rickman, of course, has played many roles over his career, but I focus on these for two reasons. First, they are those most well-known to me. They come from some of my favorite films. Second, they are characters whose origins are in books.

Christopher Tolkien, youngest son and second youngest child of J. R. R. Tolkien, is famous for his opinion that Peter Jackson’s adaptations of his father’s work have no value. They have evacuated any sense of beauty or theology that underpinned them. Or so Christopher Tolkien believes. He, however, misses something and this returns me to Rickman’s career as an actor who played literary characters. Any adaptation of a book, however good or bad, tends to do one very good thing: it inspires the viewers who have never read the book to do so. This isn’t always the case, but I believe it often is. Many have turned from Jackson’s films to Tolkien’s books for the first time, precisely because they saw the films. In Rickman’s case, this was how I came to read Sense and Sensibility. I watched Ang Lee’s adaptation and loved it and so turned to the book. Similarly was I turned to various Robin Hood stories thanks in large part to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Many have likely begun to read the excellent Harry Potter series because of the film adaptations (some of which are quite good and others of which are really not). Rickman, often playing the villain, therefore serves as a conduit from film to book for many. I for one can no longer read the lines of Colonel Brandon or Severus Snape without doing so in Rickman’s voice. He has helped shape my imagination concerning those characters.

Rickman was an excellent actor and he will be missed. However, we still have his body of work and I hope and believe that those portions of it which are adaptations of books will continue to help shape the imaginations of new readers and help them discover new books that might not have read had they not seen the film first.

I leave you with this spectacular video of Rickman making an epic cup of tea:

Sincerely,
David

What I’m Reading: December 2015 Edition

David Russell Mosley

Advent
16 December 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve written these sporadically, but I’m going to try to write them a bit more regularly, at least once a month.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria

15106299This is one of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. If you’ve never read it, or if you’ve never read a book by an ancient Christian, then I recommend it, especially this translation. The Popular Patristics Series (patristic means relating to the early Christian theologians, often called the Church Fathers) by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press is a great series for getting translations of ancient texts in understandable English. However, it’s also a great series for the scholars out there. If you are a scholar or are interested in getting into the original languages then I’d recommend picking up this edition which has the Greek on page and English on the other. This book has been formative for me as a theologian. It’s one of the foundational pieces for understanding deification and it helps situate the Incarnation as the central cosmic event. It’s a must read for me every Advent to help prepare me for the coming of our Lord.

Theo-Poetics: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Risk of Art and Being by Anne Michelle Carpenter

25434467This is the other theological book I’m reading right now. I picked up at the recent AAR/SBL and have become acquaintances with the author. Now, my reading of Hans Urs von Balthasar has been fairly limited, but that’s not an issue with Carpenter’s book. She explains Balthasar’s thought very clearly so that you get a sense of what he’s saying without having read all the books and essays Carpenter has. That said, this is a definitely an important book in Balthasarian scholarship. Carpenter, so far anyway, is doing an excellent job explaining the importance of art and poetics to Balthasar’s theology. While she uses the word theo-poetics differently than I do in my thesis, her use is, I think still connected. For Carpenter, theo-poetics is about a poetic theology, poetic logic and images that help undergird and connect theological reflections (whereas my own use is to connect it directly theopoiesis or deification). So far the only glaring problem with this book is that it is making me want to buy more Balthasar books than I can presently afford.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

593985This is another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. Tolkien, that wonderful sub-creator, began writing his children letters from Father Christmas in 1920 when his eldest son, John, was three years old. From that first simple letter comes many more with more and more characters and events each year for the next 26 years (he stopped when his daughter Priscilla was 17). These letters are full of wonderful stories, as you can well imagine, but also wonderful pictures. Tolkien was a rather good artist in his own way and the pictures as well as samples of the handwritten letters that adorn this book are wonderful in the truest sense of the word.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

5175x9z9v8LYet another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is really a book everyone should read, full stop. In this book both the meanness, the grotesque, the worst of human nature and the best are on display. Dickens perhaps knew people, and possibly even humanity in general, better than almost any other author (Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tolkien, and a few others would perhaps also vie for this honor). In this book we get a glimpse into dark recesses of fallen human nature and even a reminder that we cannot crawl out of those recesses completely on our own. The story has, it’s true, become perhaps a bit too familiar to us with umpteen different versions of it in existence on the big and small screen. Still, if you can, try to read the story with fresh eyes and I will be much surprised if you don’t come away having been changed by the story.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

27402335For the last few years when I decided I wanted to read through the Sherlock Holmes stories, I would pull out a single-volume edition of the complete stories that I have (it’s a facsimile edition from the originals in the Strand Magazine) and attempt to read them. I say attempt because the book is massive and the pages fragile. So, this year, after reading half of A Study in Scarlet in this format I decided enough was enough, popped over to the library, and picked up several smaller volumes in order to read all the stories without the pain of using my beautiful, but unwieldy single-volume edition. If you’ve never read Holmes, I highly recommend it. These stories are witty, interesting, full of life. I will give a warning however, the majority of the second half of A Study in Scarlet is generally uncharacteristic for the rest of the Holmes stories, taking place in America and having nothing directly to do with the primary protagonists, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson.

On the Back Burner

Advent is a funny time of year for me when it comes to reading. I usually have, as you’ve seen above, several books that I like to read during Advent and Christmas time. In fact, all the books listed above as Advent/Christmas reads, are really books I’d prefer to read during Christmastide (from roughly Christmas Eve to Epiphany eve). But I’m also usually finishing books during this time and don’t like to wait before picking up a new book. But then I have to try and find books that I can actually read during Advent so that I’m done with them before Christmas, but not too much before so that I’m not just waiting around bookless for Christmas to come. For that reason, and others that make even less sense. I also have two other books that I’ve begun in the recent past but not finished and may not get back to until after Christmas.

543164The first of those books is The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. This is the first in a series of books that are collections of fairy-tales and folk stories from around the world. When I first started writing my novel 8 years ago, it was to this series of books that I turned reading every story about dwarves, goblins, elves, brownies, and more to try and ground my characters and creatures in the stories we have told ourselves about them.

1063075The second book on the back burner is The Shaping of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is the fourth book in the History of Middle-earth Series put out by Christopher Tolkien. This particular volume takes through the stories as things begin to shift from Book of Lost Tales version of them to The Silmarillion version. This isn’t a great book (nor are any in the series) to serve as your “fiction read” if you divide up your reading like I do. That said, the stories in them are always fascinating, as is the insight we’re given into how Tolkien wrote and how his stories developed over time.

Well, that’s it, that’s everything I’m reading right now. What are you reading?

Sincerely,
David

Blessed Are They That Mourn: Stratford Caldecott and Tradition

Stratford Caldecott, a man I never had the pleasure of meeting in this life, has had a profound effect on my life, devotion, theology, understanding of education, and more. This excellent post on his final book, Not as the World Gives, written by someone who knew him personally, is a source of both joy and sadness for me. I can only join the ranks of those who mourn, as Stratford himself understood them, Blessed are they that mourn: “that is, those who remember the dead, and who remain faithful to tradition” (Not as the World Gives, 13).

Read this, and be moved, read more Stratford Caldecott, and let him move you to greater devotion for our Holy Lord.

Sancrucensis

Hilaire Belloc calls the dons that taught him at Oxford «The horizon of my memories— / Like large and comfortable trees.» I can apply that expression to the friends of my parents whom I knew as a small child. Since we moved often when I was growing up, there are many who form the horizon of my childhood memories whom I have seen only rarely since. There is something wonderful about meeting those people now (or even just reading their writings), and being able to know them in quite a different way than I did as a child.

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Old Posts for Tolkien Reading Day and the Feast of the Annunciation

David Russell Mosley

Nostalgia

The Feast of the Annunciation
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the day Frodo destroyed the ring, by way of Gollum, and the day we celebrate the archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that God desired her to be with child. In honour of both events, here are some posts I’ve previously written. I hope you enjoy.

Fiat and Doom, Mary and Frodo: Feast of the Annunciation and Destruction of the Ring

The Sacramental Imagination of The Hobbit

The Sacramental Imagination of Smith of Wooton Major

On The Economics of Elfland: In Honour of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Birthday

The Eucharist Is the End of Marriage: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Advice to His Son

Sincerely,
David

The Eucharist Is the End of Marriage: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Advice to His Son

David Russell Mosley

Christmastide
Tolkien’s Birthday
3 January 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the birthday for one of my favourite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien. He was born on this day in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His works have been guiding lights for most of my life. I have done numerous posts about Tolkien and his works on this blog. Today, I want to look at one of his letters to his middle son, Michael. It is Letter 43 in the Collected Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien collected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter.

The letter begins by treating whether men and women can be friends. Ultimately, Tolkien thinks it a rare occurrence, too often coloured by one or the other of them ‘falling in love’. Though he does note that it can and does happen, two people are so made and have the same interests as to become friends and their gender, in relation to their friendship, is purely incidental (it is not accidental, not in the Aristotelian sense, anyway). This leads Tolkien then to talk of one slightly purer relationship between men and women, that chivalric or courtly love so prevalent in the Middle Ages. It puts women and pedestals as guiding stars or divinities for men to follow after. Courtly love engenders fidelity (even if one of the parties involved are not being faithful themselves). But Tolkien reminds his son, ‘The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of the beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God’s way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman…it is not perfectly ‘theocentric” (49).

The only way to fully enjoy this love between men snd women is through marriage. But marriage is not self-evident: ‘Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed’ ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh’ (51). And therefore an asceticism, a self-denial is necessary to attain the fulness of marriage and love. Tolkien writes:

‘However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals…. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial’ (51).

Tolkien goes on to say that even with all of this in place are not exactly as they could or should be. He writes: ‘Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to’ (51). He goes on to write about his own relationship with his wife, how they met, the love they shared, the hardships they endured. Tolkien finishes his picture of domestic bliss and hardship in a rather strange place.

He writes, ‘Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament …. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires (53-54). Perhaps, however, this isn’t so strange. The Eucharist is, after all, the font of all our feasts and celebrations. It blesses every table where food is served, above all perhaps, the family table. If we begin from marriage, we will end in that great Eucharistic wedding feast of the Lamb. If we begin from the Eucharist, we spread out to all tables, the primary of which is the family dinner table. Thus marriage and the Eucharist are wed, inextricably and joyfully tied. This is the picture of marriage Tolkien paints for us, one who’s source and end are found in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sincerely yours,
David