A Year of Reading Lewis

There are writers who challenge you, confound you, entertain you, puzzle you, encourage you, or teach you, and then there is C.S. Lewis, who can manage to do all of those things in one piece of writing.

This musty Oxford don, whose academic speciality was Medieval and Renaissance Literature, was, according to Wikipedia, a “novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist.”

When I first took my steps into faith, by happy accident (no accident at all, of course), one of the first books I read was Mere Christianity. This book, with its robust defence of the Christian faith using philosophy and reason, gave short shift to any idea I might have had that the Christian faith is only for simpletons or naive people who simply accepted their view of the world as “faith” which could not be questioned.

I have since read most of Lewis’ works, both fiction and non-fiction, and I have to say he is very much one of my top three of my all-time favourite writers.

But it has been a while since I have read much of his works, so I thought I would dive back into his writings this year, and share with you some of the delights I find along the way.

I will not be reading all of Narnia, however, it would probably take me all year to read through all of the series. But I might dip into one of the books, because you can’t cover Lewis without venturing into Narnia at least once.

I’m going to start with his other speculative fiction books, his Space Trilogy, consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Throughout the course of the year I will also read through some of his non-fiction as well as some of his little-known short stories.

I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Lewis; in so many ways he feels like an old friend. I hope you enjoy my visits with him, too, and if I can encourage any of you to read some of his books as well, I will be very delighted.

Meet me here on the last Friday of the month, and we’ll talk Lewis together.

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you,  you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

                                         – C.S. Lewis

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What about you? Have you read any C.S. Lewis? What is your favourite book? Which ones would you like to see me cover? Anyone want to read along with me? First up: Out of the Silent Planet.

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Movie review: The Hobbit, Part Three: Battle of the Five Armies

Over the Christmas holidays the family and I took in Peter Jackson’s final take on The Lord of the Rings saga.

Just to give you some background, let me state that I have been a fan of Tolkein’s LOTR since I first picked up the books in high school. I have read those three books, as well as The Hobbit, many times. Like many other fantasy authors, Tolkein’s work had a huge influence on me both in terms of subject matter and inspiration to write a tale of my own. I suffered through previous attempts to being these movies to the big screen, so when I saw the first LOTR movie it was an absolute delight. It was astounding to see Middle Earth brought to life in a credible way by someone who obviously loved the books as well. So, hats off, Peter Jackson!

But this post is about The Hobbit, pt 3. I have to confess that when I went to the first Hobbit movie, I actually hadn’t clued in to the fact that it was going to be a trilogy (not sure how I missed that). When I got to the end I thought…what? How on earth is he going to stretch the story out for three movies?

And we saw how….padding, background stories for some of the LOTR characters, and more padding. I enjoyed the first two movies, but…well….I have to say I found Pt. 3 a bit tedious. Not a lot of story, and a whole of sturm and drang, as they say.

The parts I enjoyed the most were any scenes with Bilbo (Martin Freeman, how I love you!) and any scenes with Smaug (“Magnificent” special effects, just, wow). Unfortunately there weren’t many of either of those. The rest of it seemed like a series of attempts to make one exciting video game sequence after another.

But I can’t diss it too badly. I have great respect for what Jackson has done in bringing these beloved tales to life. I just wish he hadn’t lingered so long on The Hobbit, it felt like a bit of a money grab rather than an attempt to tell the story faithfully to the original.

Please, Mr. Jackson, get to work on those Temeraire stories! I can’t wait to see what you do with a whole movie (or mini-series!) about dragons…..

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My rating for this movie: 3 stars. What do you think? Did you like it? How many stars would you give it?

Thin Places

Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the Thin Places that distance is even smaller – Celtic proverb.

The ancient Celts had a concept of Thin Places, where the veil between the worlds was easily crossed. The Celtic Christians, whose practice of the faith was a delightful mixture of earthy and mystical, eagerly co-opted this idea of their pagan forefathers into one of their own. The Thin Places, in their reckoning, were places where earth and heaven were particularly close together, where the sacred and the mundane were juxtaposed, where one could as likely encounter the King of Heaven striding across a misty dew-soaked field as a roe deer.

The Hill of Tara in Ireland, Glastonbury Tor in England, and St. David’s in Wales are some of those places, sacred to the ancient Celts and ones which became holy to the Celtic Christians as well. All were known as Thin Places before the advent of Christianity in Britain, and after.

What is it about these places that the Celts found compelling? Natural beauty, to be sure, was a factor, but there seems to have been something else that set them apart. Something  that awakened the longing  that C.S. Lewis described so well many centuries later:

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from – my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” (Till We Have Faces).

To the Celtic Christians that longing seemed especially poignant in the Thin Places. The lay of the hills or the misty seascape lodged in their hearts like an arrow, piercing through their everyday concerns and bringing them face to face with Heaven.

I knew I had to have some Thin Places for my characters to stumble across in my historical fantasy trilogy, which is set in Northumbria, 642 AD.  It was fun to imagine what function they might have in the books, how my characters would react to them. After all, how does it feel to stumble across one of these places? And would it feel different to a 7th century monk as opposed to a 21st century man?

It’s tempting to think of these places in a pagan sense, as the ancient Celts did, to imagine that the landscape itself is what is eliciting the transcendent effect. In the Christian teachings, though, the Creation is a signpost to the Creator. The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). The Celtic Christians saw the Thin Places as ones where that glory was particularly accessible. As St. Columbanus (6th century Irish monk) said, “Understand created things if you want to understand the Creator.”

I have tried to infuse this understanding of the Thin Places into my books, which has challenged me to have eyes that see, to look for the evidence of God in all the natural beauty of the Creation. Is there something of God that I can learn from a tree? The breaking waves on the shore? When I start to slow down and notice, I can see that even the steadfast devotion of my dog carries hints of that greater love that never fails us.

This whole idea of Thin Places is just one of those fascinating details that make historical fiction so much fun to read, and to write. I love discovering these little treasures that not only enrich my story world, but my own as well.

photo credit: “Here Sleep Deer” by Stuart Williams, CC via Flickr

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Your thoughts? Have you ever encountered a Thin Place? If so, why do you think so? Is there any place for this concept in our understanding of the world today?

 

 

In the Beginning….

Hi!   Thanks for stopping by this space and taking a look!

But I’ll ask for forgiveness up front. This first blog post is more potential than polish, as most of our beginnings are, from learning to walk to writing our first story.

There is a lot of advice out there for writers on building audiences, developing a brand, collecting a tribe. Sometimes it makes me feel like giving up before I even start. No matter what, there are people out there who are doing all of that way better than me, so why bother, right?

But I do see the value in being able to connect with a writer whose work you enjoy, after all, I follow the blogs/twitter feeds/Facebook pages of a few other writers myself. And as I step out onto the path of publication for The Traveller’s Path, my historical fantasy, I can see the value of having a place where I can connect with my potential readers.

The thing is, I don’t consider myself an expert on anything, really, but I do have some experiences that might be useful to others who are on the writing journey, or some insights into my own writing process that people might find interesting. I certainly can tell you a lot about my book that I am writing; about Northumbria in 642 A.D., about monasteries and kings and thegns and coerls and oh, elves and the Black Death and ergot poisoning. Some of which feature prominently in my book, some of which were fascinating rabbit trails discovered along the way.

I can also wax poetic about tea, about faith, about social justice and books I have read, and about people who inspire me and about places I’ve been. About my family and my slightly silly Labrador Retriever.   I suspect many of these things will show up in this space, at one time or another. It will be a place for me to share some bonus short stories, just for fun. And to point you to other places where you can find more of my work, if you like.

Bear with me, dear reader, and if you would be so kind, help me out a time or two with a comment here and there. Let me know what you like and what you don’t like (which is often more useful, in the end).

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I’m opening out the door and stepping on the road. I hope you’ll come with me.

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What do you think? Have you started something new lately? What do you want to see in this space?