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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Time to have a little fun with a Star Trek motif. We note in passing that Captain Picard has exquisite taste.

PICARD’S PERENNIALLY PERFECT POTABLE

Some people swear by coffee
As loud as loud can be;
But for the truly civilized,
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

Some long for port or cognac,
White wine or vin rose`;
But far more elegant than these:
A small sip of Earl Grey.

Some swear by Coke or Pepsi,
The Uncola or RC;
But those who really want the best
Request some Earl Grey tea.

And some must have their Perrier;
Some could have had V-8.
But those whose taste is most refined
All think Early Grey is great.

The captain of the Enterprise,
He sails a starry sea;
He asks the Replicator for
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

 

The captain of the Enterprise,
When first he rises up,
He wants the status of the ship
And Earl Grey in his cup.

The captain of the Enterprise
Will always end his day
With a page or two of Shakespeare
And a cup of hot Earl Grey.

The captain of the Enterprise,
He drinks it by the pot.
Unto the Replicator,
He says, “Tea—Earl Grey—hot!”

While too much Saurian Brandy
Or too much Romulan Ale
Can give you trouble, you can drink
Your Earl Grey by the pail.

Yes, some folks swear by coffee
As loud as loud can be.
But for the truly civilized:
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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REVIEW: LAST JEDI

REVIEW LAST JEDI (generic spoilers only):
Best Star Wars film since the original trilogy, but marred by PoMo cynicism. In the original trilogy, you could celebrate the defeat of the Dark Side unironically, shout “Harelukiah!” with the Ewoks with unmixed joy after the destruction of the Death Star. Now we have to question whether there is any real difference between Jedi and Sith, whether it really matters who wins. In one way, this is an improvement, because the original’s unironic battle between Good and Evil (as if they were ultimately really different) was inconsistent with the metaphysics of the Star Wars Universe, where Light and Dark are merely two sides of the same “Force.” The latest installment is more consistent with its own premises than the original–but less consistent with the moral order of the real universe. There are positive aspects to the new perspective: It is good for a Jedi to question his own hubris–but not to the point where he questions whether there is a real difference between Good and Evil.
 
Contrast Tolkien, who is no Pollyanna. He has good people being corrupted (Theoden almost, Saruman and Denethor finally). But he does not have Gandalf ever wonder if the battle against Sauron is worth fighting or leave the readers wondering if there is really any difference between Gandalf and Sauron. That kind of moral clarity is only possible in a universe with the biblical foundations of Middle Earth. Star Wars can only get there by cheating with its own metaphysical foundations. In the 21st Century, it remains to be seen in episode 9 whether it can get there at all.

Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College.  His most recent books include Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Broadman, 2006), Stars through the Clouds (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), his collected poetry, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., revised and expanded, and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

Order Stars through the Clouds ($15.00), Inklings of Reality, or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

 Also, check out Dr. Williams’s latest book:  Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, 2016)!

No Cheap Answers

ANONYMOUS CORRESPONDENT:  My faith seems very impractical and fanciful, as though it exists in one reality and my life in another. What I experience day in and day out seems to be empty of anything but the temporal, and I am only talking myself into believing in the eternal as there is really no proof for it besides half-guesses. Most Christians use Christianity for their own purposes, particularly myself. I find myself thinking things like, “This is all based on authority with no proof of anything.  I could believe it if it actually worked in someone’s life; but it doesn’t. Instead, I’m supposed to bank everything on another, invisible world that I may get to some day, at which point everything will then be okay.”

I find this hard to share with many people because it would make them uncomfortable. Any books I get my hands on seem to not get close to touching this part of me that feels like it is dying.

A lot of it has to do with de-toxing from six terrible years in _____ with a lot of people who were very mean and ugly to one another.  I find myself asking, “All my life I’ve built everything around this belief . . . and it really hasn’t gotten me anywhere.  In fact, in some ways I’m just more hurt from believing it.” I find myself living practically like an agnostic. God doesn’t speak to people; God doesn’t make everything okay; we don’t really know if we’re eternal beings; and yet this God demands we limp through each day believing anyway.  I’m not sure I have the energy to do that; in fact, trying to do it actually makes me a much gloomier, more short-tempered person.

Then I look at the person of Jesus and think, how lovely!  Everything He said is so true of how we should treat one another, of how life should look.  He spoke like no one else . . . and I find it hard to believe a bunch of guys just sat around and made that stuff up and organized themselves and were martyred for it just to fool everybody. And I find myself caught in the middle once again.

Words of wisdom?

Part of the Answer:
Part of the Answer?

ME:  You already hit on the key.  Look at the person of Jesus.  Jesus, exactly.  Jesus, more.  Jesus, not me and (especially) not those folks you’ve been around.   Either He was more than just a martyr or there is no hope. You see the alternatives quite clearly. It’s Jesus or nothing. Pascal’s wager is still the best bet.

I know this sounds pretty empty when what you really need is not intellectual answers but emotional support, and it doesn’t seem like God is giving you any, and why not if He is actually there and all that loving? Do I have it about right?  [I did.]

OK, then, it’s not a question of what is true but of what you are able to feel. I don’t have answers for that. Why we feel the way we do is often very complicated.  You may have cut yourself off from God’s normal means of supplying emotional support by choosing to cast your lot with a group of legalists; it may have been abundantly available but you had made yourself incapable of receiving it (like C. S. Lewis for a time  in A Grief Observed).  I don’t know.  I can only say that lots of saints have had the same struggle at various times (including me). I would just hug you if I could. Cyber hugs aren’t good enough, but it’s all I can give you today. And encourage you to start every day by reading the scene in The Silver Chair where Puddleglum stomps the fire and makes his speech about following Aslan. I don’t know what I would do without dear old Puddleglum. He’s my patronus.

Portrait-Puddleglum1
Puddleglum

And think about this: Could Lewis have written that scene if he, the greatest apologist and Christian intellectual of the 20th century, was not able to relate to where you are coming from? We are in good company, dear sister. Lift up your head!

[This seemed to help my friend.  Will it help you?  Only you can tell.]

For more unconventional apologetics from Dr. Williams, see his book Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy and his other books from Lantern Hollow Press.  To order, go to

https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams' book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO'S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.
If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams’ book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

Bucket List (New Poem)

BUCKET LIST
A poem by Donald Williams

Masefield longed to go down again to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all he asked was a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
But I would like a Treasure Map and a bonny, loyal Crew
Including Flynn the Librarian, Thor, and Doctor Who;
Our vessel the starship Enterprise with the Tardis built into her bridge,
And lots of Earl Grey in the Replicator and plenty of Pie in the fridge,
And dangerous Dragons to seek and slay, and Orc-Heads to cleave with zest,
And Villains sufficient to challenge us, but never derail the Quest.

EnterpriseInOrbit

Susan Pevensie: Always a Queen of Narnia?

This month LHP is highlighting some of our readers’ favorite previous posts from our authors.  We hope you enjoy them!

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Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of Susan that ISN’T Anna Popplewell?

When we think of The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan is not, perhaps, the first character that comes to mind.  She is robust and relatively well developed, but she also seems to be more of a supporting character.  After all, it is Lucy who leads the children into Narnia and seems to form the strongest bond with Aslan.  Edmund is the traitor redeemed, and Peter becomes the High King.  Susan’s most unique aspect is also one of the most controversial points of The Chronicles:  She is the only one of the four Pevensie children to fall away and not make it into Aslan’s country at the end of The Last Battle.  This has upset a couple of generations of readers now, and it has led to charges of sexism against her creator, C. S. Lewis.  For many people, Susan’s fall is one of the worst points of the books; it bothers them enough that they can’t let it go.  Fortunately, there is much more to Susan and her situation than what her critics imply.

As early as Prince Caspian, we see hints of something happening to Su.  When Lucy sees Aslan, Susan knows in her heart of hearts that she is telling the truth.  She refuses to admit it, even to herself, and later feels horribly guilty about it.  At the end of the book, Susan and Peter are returned to our world where they are expected to grow up and apply all of the lessons learned in Narnia.  By the time we meet them again in The Last Battle, their paths have diverged dramatically.

When the group meets inside the stable, in Aslan’s country, Susan is notably absent.  When that fact is brought up, Susan is described as “no longer a friend of Narnia.”  Jill notes that she pays attention to “nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”  Su has even gone so far as to deny Narnia’s very existence:  “Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”  As such, she isn’t on the train when the wreck occurs, and she isn’t granted entrance into Aslan’s country at that point. [1]

This subplot has provoked (and continues to provoke) howls of outrage.  J. K. Rowling made the comment to Time magazine that “There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” [2]  Phillip Pullman, who constructed an atheistic fantasy series that has been described as sort of the “anti-Narnia,” stated that,

In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.[3]

I would argue that Rowling and Pullman have misrepresented Lewis’s point entirely.  In fact, they may well have done so for the simple reason that they “got” it all too well.  Lewis is making a comment so pointed that it has made millions of people uncomfortable, which is something we aren’t used to seeing in Narnia.  It seems to come out of the proverbial blue, and people simply react to it with hostility rather than really trying to understand it. [4]

What the book is trying to say is that sex and the emergence of femininity aren’t sufficient ends in and of themselves.  Su isn’t kept out of Narnia because she discovered sex, she is kept out because she idolized it to the point that all other things–including Aslan and Narnia itself–were placed in subjection to it.  Growing up became not simply a natural process of maturation, but rather a stylized, exclusive state of being that precluded everything else.  Worse, the idealized state of anything has no existence in reality. [5]  Susan was chasing moonshine, when the real world around her could offer her much more. Polly noted this when she remarked,

“Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up!  She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”  [6]

Susan has not, in fact, grown up at all.  What she has done is take on an empty obsession, a false idealization of what being “grown-up” means, and that keeps her from experiencing life as a whole.  That obsession has led her away from Narnia, and not “lipstick” at all.  Lewis’s critics are mistaking a symptom for the disease.

None of this involves a denigration of women or  real, meaningful sex.  In fact, it is a very positive portrayal of a  broader, deeper form of femininity where the value of one’s soul isn’t determined by one’s social circle or sex appeal.  Those things have their places, but cannot be ends in and of themselves.

This is made doubly clear in Lewis’s depiction of Susan in The Horse and His Boy.  While far from perfect, she is shown to be completely confident in her own beauty and sexuality.  During the story, she is even considering marriage–which obviously implies an approval of sex.  So, it is clear that the Susan we see referenced in The Last Battle isn’t an inevitability; she could and in fact had taken another, better path before.

Very well, if I must. Not that she isn’t pretty cute…

Of course, much of that level of nuance is obviously lost on Lewis’s critics.  They simply see a criticism of modern conceptions of sex and maturity.  They assume that Lewis’s criticism must fit into a certain sort of mold and, if it doesn’t, they are determined to forcibly conform it to their strawman assumptions.

I think that is a normal, human reaction, by the way.  We all want to be told that “We’re OK.”  We all want to know that our wants, our desires are indeed good, right, and normal.   What Lewis is getting at is a philosophy that is directly antagonistic to modern definitions of feminism, especially its glorification of sex and female sexuality as an ultimate arbiter of meaning.  When that point is challenged, especially in a way that implies that there is something more, something greater, the reactions are naturally instinctual and visceral.  We don’t want to understand the details because, perhaps, the details may just prove us wrong. I can’t say I would necessarily respond differently were the tables turned on me– “There but for the grace of God go I!”

One final point:  Most of Lewis’s critics assign a finality to Susan’s position that simply isn’t justified.  Susan isn’t turned away at the door of the stable–she simply isn’t there when it was closed on Narnia.   There are other doors into Aslan’s country from many other worlds, including our own.  Susan did not die in the train wreck that sent the others into Aslan’s country.   As Lewis noted, “there is still plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end–in her own way.” [7]

What’s more, since Lewis did not consider Narnia to be his own private domain–he regularly encouraged his younger correspondents to write Narnia stories of their own–perhaps the final word has yet to be written on Susan.  While I doubt the Lewis estate would tolerate the publication of such a story these days, perhaps someone who understands what really happened to Susan should write it nonetheless.  Lewis left the door open to Susan.  It is now up to our own imaginations–not his–to take her through it.

And so, “Further up and further in!”

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, (New York:  Harper-trophy, 2004), 154.
[2] http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1083935,00.html
[3] http://www.crlamppost.org/darkside.htm
[4] Of course, applying Pullman’s own method to his own statements, I might ask why he himself is so biased against “ugly” women that he apparently objects to them “winning” on occasion.  In fact, I am quite disturbed by his use of bigoted visual stereotypes regarding facial structure and arbitrary gravitational measurement, when he should be celebrating the empowerment of a traditionally downtrodden and forgotten underclass.
[5] To illustrate this tendency, just think of Christmas Day (or some other event that you hold dear).  The time we are in never seems to be “as real” or “as perfect” as times past. Worse, our idealized memory often distracts us from our enjoyment of a perfectly good present.
[6] Lewis, The Last Battle, 2004.
[7]  Letter to Martin, 22 January 1957, Letters to Children, (New York:  Touchstone, 1995), 67.

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