Archive for the 'Literature' Category

07
Feb
17

Tolkien, Lewis, WWI

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte, is one of several books I’ve read over the past couple of years about WWI, its origins and its ongoing effects.

 

What it says about the spiritual conditions leading into (and through) the First World War seems disturbingly familiar. The specifics may have changed, but the general spirit of those conditions is unmistakably in the world again today; disguised to a degree – but with a flimsy mask.

“The alliance of church and state allowed the secular goals of government to get mixed up with the spiritual goals of Christianity.”
“Add to this the rise of the most potent political ideology of the hour: nationalism. The nation-state was replacing religion as a powerful source of meaning and identity in people’s lives…

…For devoted nationalists, their patriotic faith was equivalent to membership in an alternative church. For religious believers, nationalism offered a grandiose political outlet for their faith commitments. The result was the birth of Christian nationalism, the near sanctification of the modern state.”

That hybrid of nationalism and religion may have worked well at first for the recruitment of willing soldiers (“for God, King and country”) but it later had a detrimental impact on the faith of many. Christianity and God had been portrayed as being aligned with the cultural, political and philosophical systems of the age leading up to WWI, so:

Since Christianity was considered integral to Europe’s political and economic system, the perceived failure of that system was a spiritual failure as well.

…the Great War had defamed the values of the Old World, along with the religious doctrines that helped underwrite them.

Loconte writes about the despair and disbelief affecting the generation that lived through the War, and how it was reflected in post-war literary expression.

Postwar writers seemed to have no mental category for the nature of the conflict, no set of beliefs to understand it.

However he observes a difference in the work of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis who “rejected the sense of futility and agnosticism that infected so much [literary] output of their era”.

The dark horrors of their experience such as the scale of death and destruction informed their writings”

Central to their experience was an encounter with the presence of evil: the deep corruption of the human heart that makes it capable of hunting down and destroying millions of lives in a remorseless war of attrition.
A conviction emerged in both of these authors, however, that the problem of evil was not explainable only in natural terms. Rather, evil existed as a darkness in the soul of every human being and as a tangible spiritual force in the world.

But they also drew on aspects of “light”, things like the strong and often sacrificial relationships that sustained men through their time in the trenches. That close interdependent bond is the strength that, despite setbacks, ultimately leads the authors’ characters through the obstacles they face, looking ahead for the hope and promise of victory. But that hope wasn’t based on mere, vague wishfullness.

After returning to England from the front, Tolkien and Lewis might easily have joined the ranks of the rootless and disbelieving. Instead they became convinced there was only one truth, one singular event that could help the weary and the broken hearted find their way home: the Return of the King

xa-hobbit-a-wardrobe-and-a-great-war_jpg_pagespeed_ic_-ws7jyhfp8

…the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess 4)

[All quotations, apart from the last are from A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

25
May
16

Ambition

I can only remember having two ambitions when I was growing up. The first was to become a Beatle.
The group’s early hit “She Loves You” was a big favourite of mine as a six year old.

The second was to be a script writer.
In the latter years of primary school I regularly wrote short scripts to be acted in class, most of which were rewritings of TV shows or films I’d recently seen. Thanks to a visiting student teacher, some of them even made it the “stage” in front of the class.

Neither of those career ambitions was fulfilled.

Sadly John, Paul George and Ringo split up before they could add me as a fifth member of their group, and my writing ambition got lost somewhere on the road of practicality.
I suppose my upbringing didn’t prepare me to take the risks that would have been needed to become a writer. I could only see a similar path as the one taken by my parents: get a secure job, get married, have a family. A writing career wouldn’t easily fit into that scenario, and more importantly, I was never disciplined enough to make it fit.

From my early 20s onwards, another complication came into my life: committed church involvement.
I even gave up a Personnel Management course at college because it clashed with mid-week church meetings
That effectively killed a career direction I could have had, but sparked a desire to be a professional minister.

While I knew I didn’t have the temperament to be a pastor, the idea of being a “professional” preacher was very appealing. Despite a long standing fear of public speaking, I loved having occasional opportunities to preach and for the first time I felt comfortable speaking to a large group.

Thankfully God pulled the rug from under my misplaced feet, with the resulting shakeup eventually leading me to recognise the gulf between my experience within the church system and a biblically compatible life of discipleship.

Now isn’t THAT is an ambition we should all have?
To live a biblically compatible life of discipleship!

When I look at what that REALLY means, it seems like the Beatles and scriptwriter paths might have been easier options – but then I need to remind myself that it’s not an ambition I, or any of us, need to face alone.
HE works WITH us.

“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.”

(We work out and He will work in).

31
Oct
15

How Fictional can “Christian Fiction” Be (while remaining “Christian”)?

Continuing on from my three “Stories what I wrote” articles, this was originally posted in February 2013.

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[subtitle: Can a Christian Write Non-Christian or Even Antichristian fiction?]

I’ve been writing about my early writing ambitions, the study I did and the stories I wrote. Those ambitions never came to fruition but I haven’t given up on them. However things have changed significantly since those University days. Back then there were few restraints on what I wrote – I could tackle any topic, any style and any genre without too much concern. But now I see things differently.

At that time I was going through a spiritual crisis, battling with the beliefs I’d held throughout the previous decade or more. It was a time of questioning and the pushing of boundaries, trying to come to terms with what I did or did not believe and what I SHOULD believe.

My spiritual condition could be summed up in this (paraphrased from memory) description of a character in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children: “he could not worship a God in whom he could not wholly disbelieve”. To me this describes someone caught between two camps. On the one hand not certain enough of the reality of God to fully devote his life to God; on the other hand not certain enough of God’s non-existence to cast aside all restraint to live a totally God-less life.

It was several years afterwards that I emerged from that crisis with a renewed faith, a development that has consequences for any writing ambitions that I’ve retained. I feel there ARE now restraints on what I write and how I write. There are responsibilities that twenty years ago I didn’t feel were relevant. There are types of writing that wouldn’t be appropriate for me to tackle, to state the obvious: pornography.

But the “restraints” go further than personal moral convictions and extend to the type of spiritual reality that a story portrays. A good friend of mine suggested that there are serious problems with any story that leaves God and the gospel of Jesus out of the equation. To my mind this doesn’t mean that every story a Christian writes (or reads) should contain specific references to these important spiritual realities, it just means that a Christian’s fictional world should remain consistent with the foundational spiritual truths they claim to embrace. The framework of a fictional world created by a Christian writer needs to have Christian realities at its core – even if that core is not specifically mentioned.

I became even more convinced of this yesterday when I read the following on the blog of a Christian author where he describes a major plot-point of his first published novel:
“…a man who’d been used by God to raise someone from the dead was sacrificed to a pagan deity. His soul was effectively imprisoned and the Land was cursed. That curse was maintained by each successive generation. One of my protagonist’s goals becomes to “free” this healer and return his soul to God.

Several reviewers pointed out that, in the real world, this was impossible.
And I pretty much agree.”

Further into his article he decries what he labels “the Theology Police” (a term he “wield[s] with lotsa snark”) who would criticise his story’s premise.

I have a very serious problem with the attitude the author is conveying. He seems to suggest there is absolutely no responsibility on Christian authors to remain true to even the most basic of the spiritual truths their alleged faith upholds. As if they can cast aside foundational truths to portray an alternative spiritual worldview all for the sake of story. As if the story takes priority over truth.

I’m sure many will agree with him and disagree with me – pointing out that he is an author writing fiction, that there are no limits on what he should be able to write in his own created fictional world.

Of course any fiction writer can create whatever reality they think suits their story – but whether that fiction writer can still legitimately refer to themselves as a Christian writer, or by the more flexible label of “writer who is a Christian” is debatable. For the writer (and reader) with no strong religious conviction all of this wouldn’t be an issue. But to someone believing in a genuine spiritual battle in which there are personal eternal consequences the situation ought to be entirely different.

In the case mentioned above, the author himself recognises the problem with the scenario his novel presents: as if the “soul” of a Godly many could be imprisoned after death and need to be freed to return to God.
What kind of spiritual “reality” and God is that portraying? And does it really matter as long as it’s entertaining?
I’d say it is a false reality and a false God, and YES it does matter.

Personally I’d prefer to read a well written secular novel by a non-believing author than one written by a Christian that protrays a counterfeit spirituality and a false God.

At least with the non-Christian author I have no false expectations about what I’d be reading.

30
Oct
15

Stories What I Wrote III

I tried a few different genres of writing but found I was getting the best response with “horror” stories – or at least those that leaned towards horror. These were especially successful when I read them at monthly “poetry readings”. I still recall the squirming, uncomfortable laughter of one of my lecturers when he realised where the story was heading. Seeing that honest response in person was far more satisfying at the time than reading a few complimentary comments he’d written on some of my assignments.

I don’t want to go into the sordid details of the story. It’s not something I’d write today, but I will say something about the inspiration that led to it. It came from a Stephen King short story I’d been reading. I thought I could see where the story was heading but found I was wrong. His conclusion was totally different from the one I’d anticipated, so I took the ending that I’d assumed would happen and worked backwards to create a completely different story from the one King had written.

To conclude this little trilogy of articles I want to mention two of what I considered my best stories of that time. The first came out of a suggestion by a fellow student. He said when he was stumped for ideas he’d look to bible stories for a spark of inspiration. He’d do that with no more religious intent than anyone doing the same thing by referring to Shakespeare for an idea.

I thought of the story of David and Bathsheba, how David’s sight of her bathing led to all kinds of trouble. My story started with the protagonist seeing his new neighbour lying beside her swimming pool. I read the first draft to the class and found myself under attack from the group’s feminists who objected to a story beginning with a man’s lustful gaze. Maybe referring to the bible for story inspiration backfired.

After revisions and editing I had a story I was happy with – a kind of obsessive love story that included references to my interest in film-making and my experience with animation. It has no happy ending. The romance comes to a sudden end when the woman discovers her feelings for the man may have been manipulated through “supernatural means” and she turns the tables on him.

The other story came from a memory of my grandad. When I was a young child he was often very sick and spent a lot of time bedridden, sometimes becoming very confused about where he was and WHEN he was. At times he thought it was still the time of WWII.

During one of these confused episodes he held a conversation with the faces he could see in the rose pattern of the wallpaper. And that was the initial inspiration of my story of a bed-bound man being nursed by his wife. But his experience goes far beyond conversations with imagined faces. He finds himself taken into a world contained within the wallpaper pattern. There he meets a seductive but dangerous woman with thorn like claws. He wakes and realises it’s all a dream, until he finds some physical evidence that the woman might not be a mere product of his sleep induced imagination… or maybe something else is going on. Could his wife be tormenting him, fuelling his imagination with drugs? Is it really prescribed medication she is giving him or something else?

That’s the end of this little exploration of my past fictional writings. It might be something I come back to at another time. I could write about the plans I had to write stories (and even a novel) based on my experiences in church, but those ideas are something I am more likely to put to use in the future and I don’t want to give away too many of my ideas before I have the opportunity to write those stories.

The other things, those that I’ve written about in these three articles are well and truly in the past. The actual stories are dead and buried with no hope of resuscitation.

29
Oct
15

Stories What I Wrote II

Acceptance into the Creative Writing course was the easy part. Presenting a portfolio of writing fragments (written over a long period) helped me get in – but from that point I needed to do something I’d not done since leaving High School more than a decade earlier. Write completed stories, regularly, to deadlines.

And something entirely new: write things of substantial length. No more one page essays and half page “short stories”. No more token, last minute scribbles to get homework in on time. I was doing the course out of choice, and living on a tiny income for at least three years, so I couldn’t afford to settle for the easy way through it all. What would be the point of doing that?

The first story I remember from the first semester is one I wrote about the birth of a young couple’s first child. Most of it was quickly handwritten between lectures, and then edited and polished as I typed it on my computer. It is still the only time I’ve handwritten a story since High School. For me making changes on a written page is a messy and confusing business. I wouldn’t get anywhere without the simplicity and neatness of cut and paste.

That story became the first in a very loose trilogy. The second part was written the following year and the couple’s relationship had taken a turn for the worst, the only thing holding the fragments together was their young child.
Neither of the above stories was anything special. I was trying to find my feet in a strange world struggling with books I wouldn’t normally read and writing essays full of ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to me in “real life”. But eventually I settled into this foreign routine, enjoying the exercise my flabby brain was now getting, and my story writing started to improve.

The third part of my “trilogy” came out of a writing exercise. The class had to compile a list of the characteristics of ghost stories. Creaking doors, rattling chains, sudden mists, deserted and ruined houses, bumps in the night – and all of the other clichés we could think of. After compiling the list we had to take several of those elements and incorporate them into a non-ghost story.

My story centred on the husband/father from the two stories mentioned above. His relationship has ended and he has taken off alone to stay in a friend’s isolated lakeside cottage, drowning his sorrows with Irish whiskey. His intended time alone is disrupted. He is woken from a drunken sleep by the unexpected appearance of a young mysterious woman whose presence has an unwanted effect on him and his attempt to escape his problems.

The end of the story took an unpleasant turn with an attempted rape and an act of arson and if I remember correctly the man’s (possible) suicide. Optimistically I submitted it to a literary magazine. They rejected it, saying it became too melodramatic after a promising start.

(coming later “Stories What I Wrote III)

_______________________________________________
(I’m assuming that most won’t understand the reason for the bad grammar in the title of this series of posts. As a child one of my favourite TV shows was a comedy variety programme starring an English comedy duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Each week in this series Ernie Wise presented his “play what I wrote”, in which respected guests starred – routinely becoming the butt of Eric and Ernie’s jokes in a mock drama. I recall at least one High School writing assignment in which I unashamedly ripped off and adapted a Morecambe and Wise routine. With this title I give a nostalgic nod to that teenage act of plagiarism.)

27
Oct
15

Stories What I Wrote.

The next few blog posts are articles I posted earlier, about two and a half years ago.
They are reminiscences related to my University days between 1990 and 1993.

Could more than 20 years have passed so quickly since then? And what happened to the ambitions that led me to leave the paid workforce (after 13 years) to risk three years of fulltime study?

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Stories What I Wrote.

Bachelor of Creative Arts. That’s the course I started mid-1990. But within a week I’d applied for a transfer to a plain, ordinary Bachelor of Arts degree.
My intended major was Creative Writing, but as a BCA student I was required to do other Arts related subjects that I wasn’t keen to study at that time. Things I thought were irrelevant to my reasons for being at University. So I added Literature to my major and increased my reading obligations by a ridiculous amount. By the time I graduated my love of reading had been undermined (but that’s another story).

To be accepted for the BCA I had to submit a portfolio of work to assess whether I was a suitable candidate for the school. Whatever I submitted must have shown potential because I was accepted. I no longer have any of those old pieces of writing. They were thrown out many years ago.

My memory of that portfolio is hazy, but I’m sure it contained a few fragmentary stories very loosely based on nostalgic memories of my teens. Actual experiences were spiced up and combined with a lot of “what ifs” – “What if I’d done this instead of that?”… I also had my characters doing some of the things my friends and I WOULD have done, if only we’d been less restrained by thoughts of consequences.

The only complete stories I recall from around that time were two fantasy/science fiction short stories.
One involved the crew of a space station who one by one were being killed, until the last man standing, realising he must be the killer (though he can’t recall any of the murders) is suddenly confronted by the truth. The story touched upon the subliminal effects of advertising. And considering no one will ever get to read the story which no longer exists – I’ll spoil the ending: the cat did it.

I’m not sure why a cat would be included in the crew of a space station. Maybe that’s a question the writers of Alien can answer.

In space no one can hear you meow!

In space no one can hear you meow!

The other story started off with the discovery of an unconscious woman on the beach. I no longer remember details, apart from the contrived “twist” at the end where she it is revealed she is a mermaid. Clearly her rescuer wasn’t the brightest “knight in shining armour”, not noticing that the woman he was carrying to safety had a tail instead of legs.
So my first fully formed stories weren’t works of literary art, but I had enough naïve hope at the time to keep discouragement at bay.

(to be continued…)

20
Feb
13

Books, Reading and Writing Blog

Since my previous post I’ve taken the step of creating a new blog:

http://outshadows.wordpress.com/

The first few posts will be relevant articles copied from here and from my earlier “literary” blog. They will be posted over the next few days. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I write some new material for it, but at the moment I’m still trying to figure out WordPress so I can create the look and include the features I want.

The new blog will be entirely focused on “literature” in its various forms, taking into account my personal faith in Jesus and other less important interests.

I’ll still be posting here about non-literary things.




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