Aslan Did Not Say That (Lewis misquoted again)

[UPDATE below]

Literary Lewisians – that is, those who view his written texts and his recorded readings as the only things that qualify as Lewis quotes (as opposed to cinematic adapted one-liners and outlandish self-empowering slogans) – likely expend too much energy seething about the ever-growing corpus of non-Lewis quotes cluttering (even polluting) the digital universe.

I do, anyway.

And perhaps I should stop caring. Or stop blathering about it. Or stop calling it out.

But I think it matters immensely, far beyond anything that has to do with being a devoted Lewisian, medievalist, literarian, or would-be-Narnian. (For these reasons and these. Also these and these. And so many more.)

This is not merely about misquotes. It’s about being thoughtful, careful, precise, clear. Truthful, even.

But I am once again disheartened and confounded by the most recent misquote because it is in printin a bookabout Lewisthat perhaps many people will read, and so there’s very little chance of retracting this particular absolutely-not-a-quote (just like there is very little chance of properly recovering the correct order of the Chronicles of Narnia, yet another reason literary Lewisians gnash their teeth).

The newly released book Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis (by Patti Callahan; Thomas Nelson, 2018) ushers readers into Part I with this page:

Anyone who has read Lewis will recognize this “quote” of Aslan’s as not possibly having been written by Lewis, ever. It drips with modern self-actualization that appears nowhere in Lewis’s writings (who was thoroughly unmodern and utterly I-am-lost-without-my-Lord).

I suppose the cinematic-adapted CGI-leo might have uttered these words. But if so, the above quote should indicate such by 1) deleting C. S. Lewis as the intimated author and 2) clearly noting the cinematic-adapted-and-ravaged version as the actual source.

That seems only fair. And accurate. And clear. And precise. And factual.

I assume this “quote” comes from the cinematic-adapted scene wherein the Dawn Treader (“such a very Narnian ship”) enters the Darkness – a very real and very terrifying place of evil. A place wherein Aslan would never advise someone to defeat the darkness in oneself (which isn’t to say he denied inner darkness, or didn’t think it should be defeated). Those who know Aslan (and his earthly incarnated human-divine reality but please remember the Chronicles ARE NOT ALLEGORIES) know that when any of his children find themselves in the midst of evil danger – quivering hands, overwhelming despair, paralyzing fear – if that child has only enough strength to whisper, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now,” – well, even if that child would forget to say please or pretty please or by your mane – Aslan would never respond with: “Well, hmmm, okay. But first you must defeat the darkness in yourself.”

Never. Absolutely and unequivocally never.

Instead, after pleading hopeful words in the midst of palpable despair, something would begin to change inside the child, and inside all the other children on whose behalf she also whispered.

First, a tiny speck of light would appear up ahead.

And then a broad beam of light would fall upon the ship, even while it was still surrounded by darkness.

And then along the beam, the children (some young, some grown) would see what looked like a cross, then like an aeroplane, and then like a kite before finally arriving in a whirling rush of wings. It would be an albatross. It would circle around the mast three times before perching for just an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. And then it would spread its wings, rise, and begin to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little starboard, leading the whole shipload of children folk out into the warm and welcoming sunshine.

And the one who’d whispered for help back in the evil dark – rather than being chided for not first defeating her own inner darkness (blather) – would have heard these words from Aslan-as-albatross while still in the darkness:

 Courage, dear heart.

And as she heard the voice, she would also have felt a delicious smell breathe in her face – the breath of love, the breath of joy, the breath of presence, the breath of spirit, the breath of undeserved rescue.

And when finally out of the darkness, without knowing exactly when or how it happened, everyone would realize there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.

That is what Aslan would have done and said – because that is what he did and said in Chapter 12 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

So, yes – misquotes matter.

Because though both Aslan and our Lord are in the business of forming humility and love and grace in their children while also helping them die-to-self each and every day, neither Aslan nor our Lord are in the business of self-help nonsense-babble that only leads to disappointment, despair, and emptiness. (And maybe also poisonous self-inflation.)

Words matter. Because behind the words are ideas, meaning, stories, and truth. At least that’s the hope.

[UPDATE: 9 Oct 2018]

Turns out this is not just a misquote: it is a misattribution of a misquote. Aslan-of-the-screen did not say these words. Rather, Coriakin-of-the-screen did, per the Confirming C. S. Lewis Quotes page (CCSLQ) of the meticulously researched Essential C. S. Lewis site. I highly recommend it.

I don’t know if this makes things any better. Or worse. To misattribute a misquote is two too many missteps. To misattribute to a false Aslan something said by a false Coriakin is beyond reckoning. It’s Dufflepud-ish, if you will. It’s as difficult to imagine Coriakin saying these things as it is to imagine Aslan saying them.

Coriakin is, by his own estimation, the least of Aslan’s magicians. He oversees the Duffers, who would drive anyone mad. But he never once lays on them platitudes about overcoming inner darkness, pride, or stupidity. Nor does he presume to deliver supposed Aslan-esque platitudes to them regarding their petty and outlandish stubbornness, not even to the Chief Duffer, who would drive anyone sky-high-batty after just five minutes. Coriakin’s ethos and discourse runs more like this:

Lucy followed the great Lion out into the passage and at once she saw coming towards them an old man, barefoot, dressed in a red robe. His white hair was crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, his beard fell to his girdle, and he supported himself with a curiously carved staff. When he saw Aslan he bowed low and said,

“Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses.”

“Do  you grow weary, Coriakin, of ruling such foolish subjects as I have given you here?”

“No,” said the Magician, “they are very stupid but there is no real harm in them. I begin to grow rather fond of the creatures. Sometimes, perhaps I am a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.”

“All in good time, Coriakin,” said Aslan.

“Yes, all in very good time, Sir,” was the answer. (Chapter 11, VDT)

Actual-Lewis’s actual-Coriakin is surely not someone who would blather about defeating inner darkness in order to defeat outer darkness. He knew better. Much better. The Chief Duffer, on the other hand…

 

“Behold, I am of no account” – Job’s shocking solace

galaxy

Job is often read as a book about suffering, patience, providence, righteousness, and faithfulness.

Certainly Job discusses all of those things.

But it is not primarily about those things.

It is primarily a book about someone coming face-to-face with this stunning and silencing truth:

Behold, I am of no account. (ESV)

I am nothing. (NLT)

We just finished reading Job in my Bible as Literature class. We plowed through its dialogues and discourses, its philosophical wonderings, and its theological thunder.

Job, like all of scripture, is richer, deeper, wider, and wiser than anyone can possibly understand in a single lifetime. Its narrative structure and poetic beauty are hallmarks of ancient literary genius.

In his introduction to Job, G. K. Chesterton – with typical brilliance, wit, and British pithiness – notes that God’s ultimate discourse (chapters 38-41) upends our expectations in four ways:

  1. Rather than offering answers to all the questions posed of him, God offers questions of his own – richer, deeper, wider, and wiser questions than any yet presented. “In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting, to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wider things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself.”
  2. Though God offers deeper, darker, and more desolate riddling questions than Job has yet encountered, Job is strangely comforted by the Lord’s words. “[Job] has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”
  3. As God unrolls a panorama of his mighty creation, he seems to “insist on the positive and palpable unreason of things” and to declare that the world’s inexplicableness is one of its finest truths. “Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, [God] insists that it is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was.”
  4. In a stunning use of imagery, and sacred language – and “without once relaxing the rigid impenetrability” of divine power – God drops here and there “the metaphors, sudden and splendid suggestions that the secret of God is a bright and not a sad one…like light seen for an instant through the cracks of a closed door.”

Indeed, oh yes indeed he does.

  • God robes his earth in brilliant colors.
  • He guides the Bear and her cubs across the heavens.
  • He tilts the waterskins of heaven to satisfy the parched ground.
  • He creates the cosmos to the celebratory accompaniment of singing stars and shouting angels.

The secrets of God are indeed bright. The inexplicability of God and his creation is indeed a comfort. The impenetrability of divine power is indeed a reassurance.

To be small, to be of no account, and to be nothing – this is in fact that most spacious truth within which to exist.

It is to be deeply content with my identity as a child of God (as opposed to believing I am a god myself).

It is to be thoroughly assured of my role in the universe as merely one of trillions (but one who is nevertheless fully and undeservedly loved).

It is to be wholly at rest in the arms of one I cannot condense, comprehend, deconstruct, or delimit (but one who I can surely know – personally and intimately).

Only when I believe of myself, “I am of no account. I am nothing,” will I be positioned to finally be all that God has made me to be.

Only when I accept the paradox of being fully loved while being nothing and being fully redeemed while being of no account will I finally understand the price and purity of God’s love for me.

Only when I embrace my very finite smallness will I be able to rejoice assuredly in the frightening magnitude of my Lord.

“Behold, I am of no account.” Yes and amen. Thus can I live and love with a full and free heart.

[Quotes taken from “Introduction to the Book of Job, by G. K. Chesterton (originally published 1916), available at chesterton.org]

 

What Lewis almost said: some thoughts on quoting carefully

lewis-hamlet-quote
Detail of page 99, _Selected Literary Essays_, C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper. (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

I’ve ranted in the past about C. S. Lewis misquotes. So has the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Essential C. S. Lewis,  and a host of other Lewisians.

I’ve often wondered why I care about this so much, why it rankles me so deeply when someone tosses around a quote offhandedly – or heavy-handedly, as the case may be – and then takes special care to note that it is from none other than C. S. Lewis, implying that it (the quote) is nearly scriptural and therefore they (the quoters) are entirely trustworthy and authoritative.

Does it really matter?

I think so (for reasons mentioned here). I think it speaks to something about how we use language, words, and ideas, how we view authority, and how we tend to accept (often blindly) what we are offered by Those-Who-Know, whether in virtual conversations, printed text, or spoken word.

We often let others do our thinking for us. But to make it look like we’ve done our own thinking, we buttress it with a quote by Someone Really Important and Smart, like C. S. Lewis, or countless other dead people whose words have been dissected into convenient sound-bites that make us look good.

Sometimes the quote is nearly-right, as in the case of this popular one:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live among those who are.

This quotes gets almost 3 millions hits in a Google search. Bravo for Clive on being viral, a thousand times over.

Unlike many of Lewis’s other misattributed quotes (including: “Humility is not thinking of yourself less: it’s thinking less of yourself,” and, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream,” and, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”), this one is almost spot on. What Lewis actually wrote was:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are: that good fortune I have enjoyed for nearly twenty years. (C. S. Lewis, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?”)

If the misquoters knew that the original included “in a circle of” as opposed to “among,” I suspect they would love it even more. We are all about circles these days – circles of friends, circles of life, circles of prayer, circles of circles.

[“Circle” is a very strange word if you look at or say it over and over and over again.]

The problem with this quote being used as it so often is – i. e. to say that if one’s friends have common sense and real-world wisdom, then so will you – is that Lewis wasn’t talking about that at all (which isn’t to say he wouldn’t agree).

This quote is from one of Lewis’s literary essays, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?” You can find it in at least three places: Proceedings of the British Academy (Vol. 28, 1942), They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses (Geoffrey Bles, 1962) and Selected Literary Essays (ed. Walter Hooper, Cambridge University Press, 1969). It appears rather unexpectedly about two-thirds of the way into Lewis’s argument that Hamlet is best enjoyed for its poetic power and prowess rather than being critiqued along various theoretical and critical lines. He tips his hat to Owen Barfield, not for being a friend who helped Lewis navigate the difficulties of daily decision making (though perhaps he did do that) or for being a friend whose mere presence deepened and expanded Lewis’s own daily wisdom (though perhaps that did happen).

Instead, he tips his hat to Owen Barfield specifically and his other literary friends generally for being the kind of people who kept Lewis grounded as a reader and critic, for being people of deep intellect and smart ideas who challenged Lewis as a reader and critic, for being people who thought carefully and thoroughly and creatively before spouting off about nothing in particular.

For those who are interested, Lewis tends toward a reading style that embraces the poetry, the lyricism, the words, the essence, the donegality, and the visceral responses rather than a reading style that hacks and dismembers texts into lifeless blobs of intellectual blubber. Lewis believed that the many critics who had examined Hamlet’s character through every lens from every angle had missed something important. He warns that our own reading of Hamlet (should you choose to read it, which he would strongly recommend) will also miss something important if we approach it in the same clinically sterile way.

Perhaps I should rather say that it would miss as much if our behaviors when we are actually reading were not wiser than our criticism in cold blood. (“Hamlet: The Prince of the Poem?” in They Asked for a Paper, pp. 68-69; Selected Literary Essays, p. 103)

Lewis’s famous quote about wise friends is assuredly about wise friends – but not in the sense that most people use it.

And perhaps that’s not a very big deal at all. Perhaps if the quote is powerful and good and true, it has limitless applications.

But maybe it is a big deal. Maybe we need to be very careful about what we write and say and quote. Maybe knowing the context is as important as knowing the words.

If a writer doesn’t know absolutely certain where a quote is from (which includes almost every wildly popular [uncited] internet quote) but the words are good enough to stand on their own without the weight of Someone Really Important and Smart behind them, then simply say so. “As someone once said: … ”

Don’t claim the words as your own if they aren’t. At the same time, don’t attribute them to someone else if you have not checked and confirmed their source. Language is too important and powerful, too beautiful and poetic to be flung about lightly and carelessly.

 

Naughty teens, pernicious literature, and scare quotes: a glimpse at 1884

Youth's Golden Cycle

132 years ago – when (according to some) people slipped seamlessly from childhood into adulthood – John Fraser (Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, University of Chicago) published a 439-page-thick doorstop book titled:

Youth’s Golden Cycle: or, Round the Globe in Sixty Chapters: Showing How to Get on in the World, with Hints on Success in Life; Examples of Successful Men; The Blessings of Loving Mothers, Careful Housewives, Clean, Cozy Homes; What and How to Eat and Drink: What to Read and How to Write; the Structure and Uses of the Most Important Members of the Body; How to Be and Keep Strong; The Wonders of Creation, Science and Art; Little Things-their Importance; Entertaining Stories of Animals; Animals-their Language and Habits; (etc.)

Back in 1884, titles were often as cumbersome as the books themselves.

This book was written for adolescent readers in response to “the rapid increase of the evils that result from the reading of pernicious literature,” “immoral fiction,” “bad books,” and other things being written by “vile writers” and being marketed by “worse publishers.”

Shocker: the market has been targeting teens for quite a while now. And adults have been afraid about the commercialized culture for as long as the market has been targeting teens. As the author says in his introduction:

“Every hour, the havoc wrought by the perusal of immoral fiction by our school-boys is assuming graver aspects. Almost daily we read of bands of youthful desperadoes, just entering their teens, being broken up by the police, and nearly always it is found that the organizations so broken up were directly suggested by dime novels…”

In other words, young teens and the media marketed to them have been viewed with alarmist fear for – well, for quite awhile now, even long before 1884. Cell phone apps and music videos may be new; the fears surrounding them are not. Nor are our lofty attempts to replace the offending filth with something nobler.

This particular book attempted to do just that: “Now the express object of this book is to counteract the evil influence of this vicious literature, and to furnish youth with reading that will be as exciting as any novel, and at the same time instructive, wholesome, manly, and fresh. Nor will it be of the ‘goody-goody’ order, to which so much of our Sunday-school literature belongs.”

Ouch. Genuine scare quotes in 1884. “Goody-goody” used pejoratively in 1884. Sunday-school taking it on the chin in 1884.

In some ways, things haven’t changed at all.

 

 

For when it’s time to dump the butterfly narrative

 (Photo: CKirgiss)
(Photo: CKirgiss)

I am a firm believer in the power of stories to not only bring joy and pleasure (and oh, they surely do) but also to re-right things that have become slightly upended in my obstinate struggle against the fog of everyday living.

Of course there is only one Story – both historical reality and eternal truth – that redeems and transforms. But there are many stories that pull back oppressively heavy curtains and push open stubbornly creaky doors so that a sliver of light smacks us in the face and says, “You there – wake up, would you? Listen and see and taste again what you once did so deeply and fully. Best for you to exit the fog, young one. The days are sweet and many, if you would have them.”

“Trees think we humans are mostly little, flashy creatures, rather the way we think of butterflies.”*

Er. Um. Well. Oh no. Bloody bother.

Thus did a single line in a 300-page story wrestle with my curtains and doors today, curtains and doors that be heavy-hung and tight-locked for any number of days now.

Little? Flashy? Me? Oh no. Surely not. That is not the butterfly story I know. I love Jesus, so of course I will be a butterfly – meaning I will be beautiful, bright, born anew from a blunderingly dull ground-crawler devoid of all wonder. It is so very sacred to be a butterfly, yes? To change from the repulsive mundane into the beautifully spectacular? I choose that. That will be my story. (And we shall skip the oozy putrid muck in the cocoon because in my story, the caterpillar will be gently and magically transformed from one thing to another without the disgusting obliteration and grossness that never gets mentioned – too messy and unevangelium.)

Plus: I will be an intelligent butterfly, thank you, and also a deeply profound butterfly who lives faithfully and wisely for many long years instead of a month like butterflies usually do. And also who flies with purpose and grace. Because I want a better story (don’t we all) that stars butterflies-as-I-create-them, and so I will fiddle with levers and buttons and pedals and engines back here behind the tight-locked doors and heavy-hung curtains (hiding out with other Kansas carnival vagrants who also want a better story that is perhaps a bit or a lot more concerned with what others see and perceive than what I actually live and am).

The butterfly narrative is too lovely to give up. I want to keep it, but also remake it into something better, which is so typically foolish and smarty-pants of me.

The butterfly narrative is woven deep into our transformation psyches and theologies. It’s quite lovely to thus imagine oneself. We do not easily surrender our narratives. Nor do we easily surrender our illusions and schemes and dramas.

But today, the line in the story in the book in my hands smacked me right down on the ground and rattled my bones (and maybe also my teeth) and said, “I am a good story, and I thank you for loving me and reading me. But might I remind you that little and flashy is neither your soul nor your calling. Trees, my dear — trees are the thing. Think about that while you finish reading me.”

Trees. Planted by streams of living water. With roots sunk deep deep deep into Almighty love. Growing so slowly that one almost can’t notice it at first. Uncurling green leaves and bearing fruit. Resting seasonally as if life itself depended on it. Drawing life from unseen waters that flow with no end. Made of the same stuff on which Christ was hung  – which is forever my humiliating shame and also my humbling glory.

You there, the one fumbling through the days with no more purpose or direction than a little flashy flitting thing. Yes, you. The flash may be beautiful and impressive, my dear – but it is short-lived, even shorter than you know. Set it aside. Set it forever aside and instead plant yourself. Plant yourself and live.

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Stealing THE HOBBIT from the children (in which I state the crime)

 

 

JRRT - "The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water"
JRRT – “The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water”
JRRT "Rivendell"
JRRT “Rivendell”
JRRT "Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves"
JRRT “Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves”
JRRT "Conversation with Smaug"
JRRT “Conversation with Smaug”
JRRT "Death of Smaug"
JRRT “Death of Smaug”

(All images from The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, 2012)

Two winters ago I (along with millions of others) planted myself in a movie theater to watch the first installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. For several years, I’d included the book on my English syllabus (Purdue University). My students – many of whom had never read the book previously (or even heard of it – how is that possible??) responded to the story in various ways. [Note 1: my rather old-fashioned pedagogy requires students to arrive at class with a comment, question, or discussion starter – based on that day’s reading – written on a 3 x 5 card. In cursive, preferably. Extra points for using a fountain pen.] [Note 2: I’m not big on deconstructing a text to death and then discoursing in a lofty and snooty and philosophical manner about things that are killed by loft and snoot and philosophizing. I’m big on reading – carefully, enthusiastically, intentionally, thoughtfully, and joyfully – and letting a book be what it is, not what I or some dead French philosopher says it should be. But that’s just me.]

Last week, I stumbled across some of those old-fashioned 3×5 cards in an old-fashioned file drawer and enjoyed a few moments of old-fashioned reminiscing.

“I wish Bilbo and gang wouldn’t act so irrationally. Just do as you’re told!”

“I’ve gotten so attached to the dwarves and Bilbo that I may have shed a tear when Bilbo was saying goodbye. Is that normal?? I can’t believe I teared up over dwarves and a hobbit. They’ve changed me.”

“I wish Tolkien could read The Hobbit to me before bed every night.”

“STAY ON THE PATH!!!”

“I got so upset when they wandered off in the woods that I literally threw the book and didn’t pick it up again for several days. Why, Tolkien, why??”

“These dwarves have taken a terrible beating so far. Between giants, spiders, and being locked in barrels, they deserve a break – and TREASURE!”

“As terrible and disgusting as he is, I always just want to give Gollum a hug.”

“Why do the ponies always have to die??”

Who knew that 3×5 cards could be so enjoyable and that college students could be so endearing? But then, this:

“I really wish that Fili and Kili didn’t have to die. And this is going to be such a sweet movie.”

This, from an A+ student, who really loved the book and really can’t be blamed for having such high cinematic hopes.

But the movie wasn’t “sweet” – regardless of how you define the word – and not because it diverged from the written narrative extensively (which it did) but because in making it, Peter Jackson did that which an adult should never ever do: he stole from a child. From all children, actually.

While sitting in that theater two winters ago, I soon gave up on jotting down all the ways the cinematic experience strayed from the textual (and authoritative) narrative and instead got out my phone (yep – I was that person) and started frantically texting all my Tolkien-loving friends who were planning to take their kids to the movie that night, because, you know, children’s book, duh.

My text: Leave the children at home! Really! Truly! Just do it!

I fumed as I typed because, well, this was not a children’s movie. (And yet people brought their children anyway. What is wrong with people?) And if children couldn’t (or shouldn’t) go to see The Hobbit, then what was the point? (Besides the money, that is.)

Not surprisingly, I skipped installments two and three because, as my students rightly observed, The Hobbit is a story that should be read to children – or by children – at night. And also adults. Of course. Indeed. And though readers of all ages should rightly shudder at the thought of goblins (pony-eating horrors that they are) and Smaug (gentle and tame dragons are a freak of postmodernism) and Wargs (blerrgggh), we should still be able to sleep peacefully because the book is ultimately joyful and entirely eucatastrophic* in a way that honors all readers, and especially the children.

The movie – not so much.

“I hope the movie gives off the same happiness that the book does,” wrote one of my students on his 3×5 card just a month before the release date.

Um, no. It does not. Not in part one. I suspect not in part two. And definitely not in part three where two-plus hours of a large-screen  brutally vivid battle does not do justice to Tolkien’s genius of appropriately describing for children, on just a few pages,** the Battle of Five Armies – “and it was very terrible.” (Chapter XVII) Based on reviews I’ve read, neither does it do justice to Tolkien’s genius of narrative construction, which is just so very sad.

I’m a firm believe that the book – any book – is always better than the movie, just because (which isn’t to say that movies aren’t ever good or wonderful or brilliant or delightful.)

But when the movie exists in its present form only by way of being rudely, violently, and quite childishly wrested away from its intended audience – an audience that gives the story its very essence – then things have gone too far. They have perhaps gone there, but then failed to come back again.

Please, please, please – stop it, stealers. Really. Truly. Just write your own stories.

If you dare.

If you can.

*Read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.” Now. Really. Truly. Just do it.

**I recently read this comment in an online forum: Did Fili and Kili die in the book, too? They are by far the greatest characters in the movie, yet I don’t have the heart to read the book since it is to[sic] long.

Grrrr.

You could read the entire book, cover-to-cover, in less time than it takes to watch the entire movie conglomerate, credit-to-credit. Really. Truly. Just read it, already.

 

Prayer stars

Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)
Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)

At some point, every pray-er — no matter how devout — struggles to pray, sometimes for surprisingly pathetic reasons. One would think that shutting oneself up in a dark and quiet closet in order to listen to the Almighty would be a delightful gift to oneself, especially in a world that is spilling over with glaring and blaring distractions.

But it turns out that sometimes the dark and quiet closet is its own distraction. So much darkness. So much silence. So much closeness. The simplicity and sparseness can be quite overwhelming.

And then instead of praying, we end up thinking in spirals and worrying along rivulets and wandering through mists.

So we pinch our arms, reprimand our souls, nag our chattering minds, and get back to it. Diligently. Mercilessly. Stoically. Because, well, we should; we must; we ought; even though it’s so much work and requires such sternly disciplined singleness of mind. (And by “sternly disciplined singleness of mind” I mean “something that looks quite a bit like joyless self-martyrdom”.)

But – if you are very fortunate and very willing to listen and very emptied of self – something might break through the joyless self-martyrdom. You read a book that helps you understand prayer in a new way. You have an experience that peels back all the false layers of piety. You sense the Spirit gently whispering within the holy breath of life.

Or maybe even this: you receive a box of 8 small folded stars (that are beyond comprehension) and a note that says,

When I prayed for you I made these.

What manner of miraculous friendship is this, that someone not only prays for us but at the same time creates anew (from the old) something that reflects not just us but also the very One who made us?

In that moment – and everyone should have such a moment as this – prayer becomes something much sweeter and larger and more miraculous and divine and beautifully disciplined and creatively focused.

To the star-making pray-er: thank you for making prayer and creativity and friendship even sweeter and more brilliant than they already were.

To the rest of us pray-ers, including myself: what could be more unspeakably amazing than that we are invited to converse with the Almighty Creator (of the individually named and intentionally placed Stars), who is also Abba Father (of the undeserving and helpless flock known as humanity)?

Let us all find our own manner of star-making so that we will joyfully and often enter that sacred space to utter sacred words in the presence of the Sacred itself.

Tiny journals – from old and used to new and useful

I love journals. Unlined journals. Lots and lots of unlined journals. (You can read my relevant confession here.)

Lately, besides loving unlined journals, I’m also loving small journals. Mini journals. Little journals. Tiny journals. Journals that fit in the palm of my hand. Journals that force a person to choose her words very, very carefully because the tiny books neither offer non-essential empty space nor allow non-essential empty verbiage.

Tiny journals force a person to plan out her words. To think carefully about what she will write on the limited pages. To stop and consider what she is doing rather than rushing into a rambling reflection. (And maybe also to wear extra-strength reading glasses.)

Unlined journals are hard to find. Tiny unlined journals are even harder to find. So I must either fall out of love with them or make my own. I don’t know how to fall out of love, so I have no choice but to make my own, and in the process give new life to limp and worn leather goods.

It’s always gratifying to give new life to an old thing. It’s even more gratifying when the new thing is delightful and wondrous and has a purpose. Thus, while making my tiny journals, I glimpse ever so slightly the joy of the Creator when he remakes an old thing (such as me) into as new thing that has a purpose.

Such is the miracle of tiny, remade, repurposed things.

Mini-journal supplies   Mini-journal supplies

Mini-journal   Mini-journals

These book signatures (top left) are 2″ x 2.24″ and 1″ x 1.5″. I decided to punch the sewing holes (read: skewer them) on a princess coloring book (top right) for what I think are obvious cultural reasons. Note my new bookmaking awl (top right). It’s amazing. Splendid. Stunning. You should probably get one. Today. These little books (bottom left and right) are the remade offspring of a purse (orange), a datebook (navy), a wallet (teal), a coin purse (black), a checkbook clutch (brown), and a skirt (fuscia). The larger of the tiny journals are just the right size for copying out Romans 8. I tested it. The smaller of the tiny journals are just the right size for a favorite Psalm or poem or song or fable or alphabet (regular or runic) or note to a special someone, which would require giving up the tiniest of tiny journals, which would require a long pep talk to self about generosity and sharing and friendship and love.

 

 

Treasure Island

I grew up in a typical ’50s ranch. 3 (tiny) bedrooms. 1 (tiny) bathroom. 1 (tiny) dining room. 1 (tiny-to-average) living room. And 1 (tiny) galley kitchen. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. So that a person must walk through it in one direction, then turn left to access the dining room. Or walk through it in the other direction, then turn right-ish to access the living room.

At least it was a through-street galley kitchen. It may have been squished for cooking but it was ideal for running circles around the inner core of the house. In pairs. Going opposite directions.

My first adult-apartment-galley kitchen, not so much. It was one of those architectural wonders tucked into a back corner of nothing. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. To nowhere.

I’m all grown up now and I have a kitchen that still serves as a hallway in some respects. But that doesn’t matter because now I have an island.

That place around which crowds gather.

For a long time.

To talk. And feast. And talk some more.

It is quite possibly the 8th wonder of the modern world.

Late on Wednesday nights, after a crowd of college women depart my house (where they have consumed several loaves of banana bread, many tall glasses of milk, some mugs of coffee, a few cups of tea, and a portion of Scripture) my island is tangly. Busy. Scattered.

Lovely.

Wednesday's treasure island
Wednesday’s treasure island

It’s my favorite night of the week. It’s my favorite view of the island.

Except for those very rare occasions when the power goes out just before dinner on another night. And the only way to eat the 9×13 pan of goulash is by candlelight. Candlelight that evokes Advent. (Or maybe radioactive elbow macaroni.)

Thursday's treasure island
Thursday’s treasure island

What’s more lovely than enjoying a candlelight family dinner around the kitchen island? The glow is joyful. The ambiance is restful. The quiet is soothing. And the goulash is especially splendid.

Of course, the looming question soon becomes this: what, exactly, happens next? After we take our last bite? After this unexpected sweet dinner vigil is over?

Because, well, you know, there’s no power. There’s no way to use anything requiring electrical juice or internet bandwidth.

Panic. (I can’t live without modern conveniences which makes me an immigrant-descendant super-failure.)

Stress. (So are we supposed to just talk all night?)

Sadness. (We used to know how to play board games.)

And then sweet relief. (Oh look – the power’s on. We are saved from our pathetic selves.)

…and then…

Sadness. (It was prettier by candlelight.)

Stress. (We’ve become those people – the ones who are defined by their power adapters.)

Panic. (How can I recover just a tiny little sliver of that peaceful beauty, proving I’m not one of those people?)

With a flip of the power-company master-switch (and the hard work of many devoted employees), my kitchen island went from being an oasis in the dark to being a harsh glare of manufactured light. Which changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.

Sure, we could see better.

But it wasn’t as sweet. Or as peaceful. Or as (dare I say it) holy.

So I acted. With a flip of the electric-customer kitchen-switch (and a few puffs of breath to soften the candlelight even more), my kitchen island went from being drenched in glaring rays to being cloaked in whispered light. And it changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.

Thursday's recovered treasure
Thursday’s recovered treasure

For about 5 minutes. Because powered habits are really hard to break. So the electronics are running full force. Like usual.

I find that sad.

Even so, my kitchen island – whether lit by a satin-nickle triple-globed ceiling fixture, 10 candles, or just 1 – is a treasure, more than adequate for hosting a feast, surviving the darkness, or welcoming the occasional castaway. Or all three.

I think Robert Louis would approve.

Subjunctive – schmunctive

subjunctive

Just to clarify: I am not the grammar police. Not even after 20 years of being a professional writer and 8 years of being an English teacher. It’s too frustrating. And heartbreaking – it’s to show possession, Smith’s to indicate plurality, and their to contract “they are.” There are just no words for it. Though if you were Trumpkin, these might do: Beards and bedsteads! Thimbles and thunderstorms! Cobbles and kettledrums! Weights and water-bottles!

Which brings us to the English verb – 3 simple tenses, 3 past tenses, 6 progressive forms, the emphatic “do” form, and hey, how about that modal trinity of can-must-should – and LUCKY LUCKY US, beside all those tenses, let’s not forget The Many Moods of Verbs (which rather sounds like a title of a 70s soft-listening LP).

“If you were Trumpkin” is a prime example of one such mood: the subjunctive.

Of or pertaining to that mood of the finite verb that is used to express a future contingency, a supposition implying the contrary, a mere supposition with indefinite time, or a wish or desire.

Yeah. That thing.

We’ve all heard it.

If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.”

If I were king of the for-eheheheheheheheheheh-st.”

From these, one might reasonably conclude that the subjunctive mood has more to do with lyrical freestyling and jabberwocky antics than with a verbal mood.

If I was. If I were. Does it really matter?

To some people, yes. They argue that if we were to subjugate our subjunctives so as to use them less subjectively and more submissively (in respect to grammar rules) and more subliminally (in respect to rhetorical flair) our speech would more accurately reflect our progressive civility and refinement (or maybe our panties-scrunched-in-a-bunch-ness) and the world would be a better place. For you. And me. You just wait and see.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But I do know this: if I were a rich woman and also were queen of the forest, I would be able to buy more books and store them in my ever-expanding royal library, which would definitely make the world a better place. For me. For me. You just wait and see.