In this issue Is Teaching Worldview Enough?
The Enduring Niche of 8th Day Books
On the Importance Of Classroom Ethos
Tolkien, Faeries, and Creation
Book Review: Beauty Will Save the World
Book Review: On the Shoulders of Hobbits
This magalog is published by the CiRCE Institute. Copyright CiRCE Institute 2013. Publisher: Andrew Kern Editor: David Kern Design: Blackwood Media Group
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Is Teaching Worldview enough? BY Dr. PETER VANDE BRAKE
Christian parents and teachers have a problem.
until years later—if they return at all. This problem inevitably begs the question, “What can we do about it?”
Much of the research done on the last decade’s worth of college students has not been very encouraging. Many young people who identify themselves as “Christian” do not behave any differently than their non-Christian college-age peers. Most of these “Christian” young people grew up in Christian homes, went to church regularly, or attended Christian schools. Yet studies show very little difference between Christian and non-Christian young people in the areas of sexual activity, alcohol abuse, and drug use. One study found that most young people (approximately 80%) leave the church during their college years and do not return
Some have answered that we need to emphasize worldview training and apologetics to combat this tide of promiscuity, bacchanalia, and church desertion. We need to offer the cognitive tools and vocabulary to enable kids to work through these problems in a sensible way. We need to teach young people how to think properly about these things so that they will respond differently to the temptations inevitably placed in their path when they get to college.
The underlying assumption of this proposed
solution is that if we teach people what is right, then they will do the right thing. This approach presupposes that human beings are basically thinking beings; that is, that thinking is the most basic and important part of what it is to be human. If this is true, then it would make sense to deal with human beings primarily on an intellectual level. Thus, if we wanted to cultivate the affections of our students or to produce virtue in human beings, as we classical educators do, then we would teach them what is true and right and therefore produce virtuous people. The problem is that this approach does not yield the desired result as often as we would like.
provide practices that aim their loves in the right direction. As David Hicks wrote in his book Norms and Nobility, “The noble intention of [the great teacher’s] teaching, like that of all great literature and art, is the antithesis of pornography: to move his students to will a moral act, as opposed to an immoral one”. So how do we do this? How can we move a student to will a moral act? There are no guarantees, but if we are going to make any headway in this direction, then we must cultivate the affections of our young people. We can do this by means of liturgy, love, and example.
If we try to solve this quandary through intellectual tools and worldview training alone we are essentially telling a person who is sick and hungry to be well and satisfied without actually providing medical care or food. These are not primarily intellectual problems. They are appetite problems, heart problems. All too often we underestimate the role of the body and the significance of our desires when we attempt to instill virtue.
Liturgy is a word laden with religious connotations, but recently James K. A. Smith has used it in a much broader way to describe the desire-shaping daily rituals, or habits, both sacred and secular, in which we partake. He has posited that we human beings are basically lovers, not knowledge receptacles. We are more apt to act on our affections than on our knowledge. Therefore, the various “cultural liturgies” in which we regularly take part shape our desires.
“Merely teaching people how to think about living virtuously does not necessarily result in people who act in a virtuous manner.”
To make this point in his book, Desiring the Kingdom, Smith describes mall-shopping in religious language, as a form of “cultural liturgy” in which many of us partake from time to time. He affirms the power of these kinds of liturgies in the following way:
Merely teaching people how to think about living virtuously does not necessarily result in people who act in a virtuous manner. We are much more likely to be directed by our longings than our thoughts. We are not so much constituted by our intellectual life as we are by our loves. What we love is what defines us and leads us to act virtuously or dishonorably. The question is not whether we love, but what we love and how we pursue those desires.
“Liturgies—whether “sacred” or “secular”— shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love. They do this because we are the sorts of animals whose orientation to the world is shaped from the body up more than from the head down. Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies. . . . In short, every liturgy constitutes a pedagogy that teaches us, in all sorts of precognitive ways, to be a certain kind of person. Hence every liturgy is an education, and embedded in
If we want young people to live virtuously, then we must teach them to think about how to live virtuously, but that is not enough. We have to train their wills also. Therefore, we must offer more than intellectual learning; we
every liturgy is an implicit worldview or “understanding” of the world”.
By such modeling and through the work of the Holy Spirit the conscience is formed.
Thus, our affections and desires are trained by our schedules and rituals. Liturgies are “love aiming practices.” A perception also affirmed by Hicks in Norms and Nobility when he says that “the purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows”. Education is not merely the vehicle for training the mind, but also the way in which we bridle the heart. Training our young people to be virtuous involves habituation.
Intellectual training is important for the formation of virtue in a young person, but alone it is inadequate. The competition for the hearts of our children is too strong for a solution that merely captures their ideas; it has to be more all-encompassing than that. It has to move their hearts and take over their desires. Christianity is not merely intellectual assent to a set of carefully chosen propositions. To be a Christian is to give up your whole life, not just the intellectual part of it. Faith without works is dead. Or as Hicks put it, “The idea without the deed simply demonstrates an absence of faith— no sainthood in that”.
We can’t merely think about virtue. To make it stick, we have to do virtue. We have to be diligent to present virtue in such a way that we get at the true attractiveness and desirability of virtuous living. We are competing with secular liturgies which are already attractive to young people because they fulfill physical appetites and natural desires.
We need “worldview plus.” We need to help young people connect their faith to their lives in ways that have integrity and authenticity. The call of the world’s liturgies is strong because it is an invitation to the appetites. Secular cultural liturgies often appeal to our most basic needs or desires—affluence, power, sex, intoxication, and acceptance into the group. The rewards of a life of faith are stronger— peace, joy, grace, life, and acceptance by God— but they have to be experienced to have any sway in the lives of our young people. They will never know the power of the gospel for the transformation of their lives if they have not been encouraged to apply what they know about their faith to their lives. We help our young people to make this application through liturgy, love, and example as the Spirit works through us.
We can also cultivate the affections of our young people by loving them in tangible ways, through a personal and genuine concern for their well-being and for the proper formation of their hearts. This means that we must take an interest in their lives. We should talk to them about their challenges and their victories, about issues of faith; and we should help them to apply what they know and believe to the way they live their lives. We must provide accountability and limits as well as grace and freedom. We must help them to look beyond themselves and their own needs to the needs of those around them. Ultimately, we must become someone they can trust.
Dr. Peter Vande Brake is a CiRCE leadership consultant and board member.
Finally, we can teach our young people to be virtuous through our own example. As Hicks notes, if we profess to teach the kind of knowledge that makes a person virtuous and wise, then our lives must illuminate our teaching. After all, our children learn more from our actions than our words. Cultivating the affections of a young person by living as a virtuous example is propagating virtue in that child. It is teaching - by imitation - a child to will a moral choice instead of an immoral one.
The Enduring Niche of 8 th Day Books BY DAVID KERN IN DECEMBER 1998, Warner Brothers and director Nora Ephron produced a wildly successful romantic comedy in which a spunky independent book seller takes on the owner of a Barnes and Noble-esque book chain, only to fall in love with him over the then infant internet. Of course, I’m referring to You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and others. And while Ephron’s film was primarily an overly saccharine sweet story about the sometimes unexpected nature of falling in love, the film’s most interesting subplot concerned the cutthroat business of retail book selling.
Books (of Berekely), Printer’s Inc Bookstore (in Palo Alto), Midnight Special (in Los Angeles), and the aptly named A Clean Well-lighted Place for Books (in San Francisco) all closed their doors for good. Kepler’s, among the most beloved, infamous bookstores in America, closed their doors in 2005, only to reopen them thanks to the efforts of the local community. Idaho’s A Novel Adventure and Maine’s Port in Storm closed their doors, while a report in The Guardian noted that independent bookshops in the UK closed at a rate of two per week during 2009 and the beginning of 2010. Meanwhile, the New England Independent Booksellers Association reported that 10% of independent bookstores in that book-saturated region closed in 2009. Grim numbers indeed for readers who appreciate the earthy smell of books nestled on shelves, new or used, each with their own story and history.
As the owner of an independent bookstore dedicated to children’s literature, Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, is pushed to the precipice of extinction by the ruthless Joe Fox (Hanks) – with whom she unwittingly falls in love – and his giant Fox Books, clearly an allusion to bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble who, in the late 1990’s, were at the height of their success. But, like anyone faced with the possibility of losing a business they love, Kelly fights to keep her niche alive, to maintain the small business her family started and its place within the fabric of the local community. Unfortunately, that she ultimately fails is of little consequence to the film. After all, she fell in love and this is a love story, not a docu-drama on the difficulties of running a niche bookstore in a market dominated by mega-chains.
Yet all is not lost, especially for readers concerned with finding the best in religion, philosophy, history, and literature, who want to read books that last, and especially for readers who would prefer that Orthodoxy and the Church Fathers be brought to the “table of the cultural conversation.” Eighth Day Books, based in Wichita Kansas, is just such a place and while they haven’t been without their own share of struggles, they have managed to stay afloat, due in part to a successful mail order business and the ability to adapt to the continually changing marketplace.
But such struggles are real and recent events render You’ve Got Mail almost prophetic. Even as the large chains begin to falter, themselves unable to adapt to today’s changing marketplace, hundreds of the country’s best independent bookstores have gone under, according to some estimates 50% of them, in fact. In Seattle, the nation’s so-called “most intellectual” city, stores like Baily/Coy and Couth Buzzard have gone under. In New York, the famous Gotham Book Mart and Coliseum Books closed their doors, while in California Cody’s
“I have always loved to read. I have always loved the sense of entering a completely new world yet finding points of contact with my own. I have always felt the relentless pull of whatever might be on the next page of a book. I have often lived through my imagination.” Eighth Day owner Warren Farha in Image Issue #46
HOUSED in three levels of a “quasi-Dutch barn house,” not counting an attic, Eighth Day Books carries over 26,000 titles, or 42,000 volumes, 60% of which are new books (compared to a Barnes and Noble which typically stocks closer to two hundred thousand titles). But each of these titles is chosen not for their sell-ability but because they conform to a vision.
and a brick walkway that leads up to double doors. It’s a beautiful, unique building, absurdly midwestern and abundantly appropriate for its purpose. But, of course, as the book market changed, Eighth Day Books was forced to change with it. As the need for brick and mortar buildings dwindled and book buyers began to purchase via online outlets such as Amazon and other internet bookstores, thereby forgoing the many of pleasures of in-store browsing, Farha and company were forced to adapt. So that the store could remain viable and its vision be fulfilled, they developed their own website which now makes available their entire catalogue and they “increased [their] presence at theological and literary conferences – a sweaty, time and labor intensive (though rewarding) task that neither the internet nor chains can easily duplicate… a bookseller can’t wait for customers to come to them.” Eighth Day is a fixture at such events as Image’s Glen Workshop, Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing, Baylor’s Symposium on Faith and Culture, and The CiRCE Institute’s annual conference on classical education.
Eighth Day Books is the product of a belief that, as founder/owner Warren Farha puts it, “all things good and true and excellent and beautiful belong together.” He wrote in Image, issue #46, that he would “live and die for Father Alexander Schmemann’s insistence that you can’t compartmentalize reality – you can’t separate the religious from the secular. I believe that doing so is a denial of God’s good creation.” So Farha and his staff began to build a catalogue of titles that reflected those beliefs and a place wherein ideas such as these could be discussed and contemplated in the spirit of true camaraderie. They house a large collection of titles by C.S. Lewis and his contemporaries and an impressive assortment of works on the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, including books about Patristics and the Desert Tradition. This in addition to classics, modern or otherwise, in literature, poetry, drama, and criticism, especially a rather robust collection of titles by Wendell Berry. Indeed, Eighth Day is the rare bookstore in which each major stream of Christian thought and faith is considered with equal sincerity and seriousness, with a spirit of humility and a deep desire to learn, to discuss true and beautiful things.
“There came a time when I knew that I could not not do this thing. Whether or not I sold a single book, I knew that this was the thing that I had to do.” Warren Farha in Image Issue #46 FARHA’S vision is a grand one, and therefore the store’s mission is grand as well. Maintaining a standard in a messy marketplace is no easy task, and to do so one must stick to one’s proverbial guns. But as he has written, “classics are endlessly fertile; as other writers engage with them down through the centuries, they tend to beget excellence in turn.”
But Eighth Day was also born in the wake of great tragedy. Farha admitted in the aforementioned issue of Image that when, in 1987, his wife and unborn child passed away due to the recklessness of a drunk driver, he “felt that [his] life had… ended in certain deep ways, and that [he] had to start [his] life over… With only a BA in religion and Classical Studies and not much desire to teach… the thing that [he] could look forward to was opening a bookstore.”
There are too few places left where the classics are taken seriously as tools that allow for the “integration of faith and imagination.” Our universities read them too often purely for the abstractions they present, or even as abstractions themselves – or to deconstruct them. And our high schools take them seriously only inasmuch as they can and do improve test scores. But Eighth Day Books carries the classics in hope that we will be nourished by them, that we will be able to live, like Farha, through our imaginations, imaginations enlightened by Faith and Truth and Grace.
So, building upon years of working in his family’s grocery store and his passionate love of good books, he set out to build a new life, a new kind of life altogether, a new career in a market entering a new, challenging phase in its history. Eighth Day Books first opened in September of 1988 in a rented space of only about fifteen hundred square feet with “a few lovingly-chosen books, staffed by the owner and one part-time employee.” Since then the staff has expanded to three full-time employees, not including Farha himself, one part-time employee, and a husband-wife duo who help with the website and inventory software. For the first thirteen years of its existence, Eighth Day Books – named for the day of the week upon which the resurrection took place, that is, the day after the seventh day – leased a space in Wichita. But in 2002 they moved into their current location – that old three thousand square foot “quasi-Dutch” house, painted white and trimmed in blue, with large picture windows that reveal many of the store’s titles as any store front window should, and surrounded by large Bradford Pear trees, healthy shrubs,
According to Farha’s article in Image, one customer referred to Eighth Day Books as an umbilical cord. That sounds about right. Or, perhaps, we should think of it as a well. When one is thirsty one goes to the well. Without the well, the water is less easily accessible. In the same way, Eighth Day Books makes accessible the water that is good books, true and beautiful and excellent books. Books that nourish the soul. That’s an enduring niche if ever there was one. For more on Eighth Day Books please visit www.eighthdaybooks.com.
On the Importance Of Classroom Ethos
BY DR. BRIAN PHILLIPS
“Ethos is the inarticulate expression of what the community values. It includes the quality of relationships within the school, the traditions, the professional comportment, the approach to classroom management, the out-of-class decorum, the aesthetic personality of the school reflected in the student and faculty dress codes, the visual and auditory imagery, and the physical plant itself…Ethos is the way in which the school expresses (or doesn’t) truth, goodness, and beauty through the experiences of every person who enters our halls.” From Wisdom and Eloquence by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans and I felt better already.
I vividly remember entering St. Michael’s chapel for the first time – the equilateral arch, the faint echo of the stone narthex, the coldness of the holy water. We were greeted by beautifully colored windows portraying various scenes from the Gospels. It was the first Friday Mass for our Kindergarten class at Catholic school and I cannot imagine the courage it took for Mrs. Crowley to take 15-20 five-year-olds to church every week.
From the clash of locker doors to the loud click of the automatically-locking classrooms, the place seemed encased in metal. To reduce violence and aggression, we were made inmates. To provide safety, were made afraid. Perhaps one could argue that comparing the aesthetics of a Catholic grammar school to those of a public high school is unfair. After all, the public high school could not have a chapel on the grounds. But such an objection misses the point. When I entered the fenced, penitentiary-like campus, I was entering a chapel, one that vividly demonstrated the religion of modernity: utility over beauty, function over goodness, fear over reverence, and power over awe.
Yet, I remember most clearly what was missing. My teacher, the woman who (according to the 5-year-old me) made her living telling us to be quiet, never said a word. She directed us to our pews, but never had to silence us. We were, for the moment, overwhelmed with beauty, awe, and the “differentness” of the place. Across the parking lot, our kindergarten classroom was worlds away, and we knew it. Pass over a few chapters, roughly ten years worth, to my first day of high school in a building which stood just one mile from St. Michael’s. After walking past the barbed-wire fence and through the metal detectors and past the armed resource officers, I entered the cameramonitored hallways in search of my locker. This school was dedicated to keeping students safe. My first day
These two extremes demonstrate the more significant point - that aesthetics matter. The atmosphere, feel, and beauty of a place shape those who dwell therein.
In his book Beauty Will Save the World, Gregory Wolfe argues that creativity is an invitation to virtue, noting that human beings, in creating, “continue the divine
act of creation through their own actions.” He goes on to claim that he “would argue that the truest, most unsentimental thing we can say about creativity is that it is a constant invitation to virtue, that if we step back and look for the deeper meanings of the creative urge, and the lessons of the creative process, we will discover myriad opportunities to develop our inner lives, whether we are makers ourselves or are simply responding to the creativity of others.” This invitation to virtue, Wolfe clarifies, is not always taken, but the invitation exists nonetheless.
DO-ABLE Ideas for aesthetic improvement 1. Colors – Remember that colors help determine and create atmosphere. Paint can go a long way in changing the feel of a room and is a quick, generally inexpensive improvement. Ask your students’ what colors make for a more aesthetically pleasing learning environment and let them help paint. Let them take some ownership over their environment. 2. Artwork – When decorating a classroom, try to display genuine artwork, not just posters. Surround students with greatness, from art prints and framed reproductions, to portraits of great men and women. The impact will be far greater than mass-produced inspirational posters.
Through creativity - and the enjoyment of creativity man follows in his Creator’s steps. What impact, then, is made upon those who, though made in God’s image, are unable to act creatively or to enjoy beauty? The invitation to virtue goes undelivered, leaving few to pursue it. Further, since we become what we behold, to remove beauty and creativity (and the enjoyment of it) is not to create some kind of vacuum; it is to create a culture of ugliness.
3. Arrangement – Entire campuses can be transformed by trees, bushes, and courtyards. Such additions recognize the human element and make places inviting. Let students plant and build. Organize classrooms so conversation occurs more naturally: in circles or at angles, rather than facing only the board.
We become what we behold. When we surround our students (and ourselves) with beauty, we feed their souls and train their tastes to love the beautiful. But, the converse is true as well. Schools without barbed wire and brutal lunch room fights are certainly a nice start, but we cannot content ourselves by stepping over the lowest bar.
community and saw ugliness.” While it is true that school ethos, properly understood, includes far more than aesthetics – extending to personal relationships, traditions, and even classroom management – it may well be that aesthetics is the classical movement’s greatest need and most glaring neglect.
How we adorn our campuses, hallways, classrooms, lunch rooms, and sitting areas matters. The music we play during study times and sing during assemblies and “chapel” forms tastes. The color of our walls (or lack thereof), the desks or tables we select, and the way we arrange them says volumes.
We cannot ignore the significant role that beauty and aesthetics play in nurturing the souls of our students. We cannot call them to love that which is true, good, and beautiful when we are content to surround them with ugliness.
In one of his lesser known books, Pollution and the Death of Man, Francis Schaeffer describes a visit to a “hippie community” across a ravine from a Christian school at which he was speaking. Upon meeting the leader of the community, touring the grounds, and walking the site of their Greco-Roman grape stomps, Schaeffer learned that he was the first person ever to visit from “across the ravine.” He writes:
Try this little experiment, either with a literal walk-through or just as a mental exercise. As best you can, pretend you are walking into your school, classroom, or homeschooling area for the first time. What does it feel like? How would you describe the atmosphere or ethos of the place? What matters to the people who put this place together? If you spent dozens of hours per week in this place, how would it affect you, your tastes, and your soul? And, with those answers in mind, what corrections need to be made?
“Having shown me all this, he looked across to the Christian school and said to me, ‘Look at that; isn’t that ugly?’ And it was! I could not deny it. It was an ugly building, without even trees around it. It was then that I realized what a poor situation this was. When I stood on Christian ground and looked at the Bohemian people’s place, it was beautiful. They had even gone to the trouble of running their electric cables under the level of the trees so that they couldn’t be seen. Then I stood on pagan ground and looked at the Christian
Dr. Brian Phillips is Head of Upper School at Covenant Classical School in Concord, NC, and the Director of the CiRCE Online Academy.
Tolkien, Faeries, and Creation BY
My family has a standing joke about my talks and articles: no matter what the subject, Papa somehow manages to work Tolkien into every one. This is probably an exaggeration but Tolkien’s works have found a privileged place in that central storage of thought known as memory or heart or imagination that spontaneously produces connections. Naturally, then, the theme of last year’s CiRCE Conference, Creation, could not but make me think immediately of Tolkien.
“The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and finding it fair to look on), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faerie is more potent. And that is not surprising: such incantations might indeed be said to be another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythical grammar.”
If the conference had a patron, I can imagine none more fitting than Tolkien, for Creation in all its divine and human manifestations dominated his works.
The power of abstraction frees the imagination and awakens a natural desire to imagine how the world might be, to attempt to make our imaginings reality. Of course, all story-making involves imagining new characters and new situations, (or as Aristotle would say of drama, the “possible” rather than the “actual”) which develop what might lie within the world that has been created by the Creator of all. But this world is only one of an infinite realm of possible worlds that He might have made. Fantasy allows the imagination to enter the extra-natural realm of possibilities, to develop new kinds of beings, new kinds of worlds.
He showed a sensitivity to craftsmen of all kinds that seems unusual in a literary man. Tolkien’s own profound love of making drove him to spend a lifetime making and re-making the world of the Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings and he considered that his literary works of fantasy were made by the same desire as the craftsman’s, though he poured his heart out for greater object – not merely to make something of this world beautiful but, like the Ainur of his mythology, to make an entire cosmos. The story-maker has the power to enchant and draw the mind, heart, and imagination into a world of beauty and terror not possible in the world of the senses.
“When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven and red from blood, we have an enchanter’s power and the desire to wield that power in the world external to the mind awakes….In such “fantasy”, as it called, new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.”
Tolkien expressed this understanding of story in his 1947 essay, “On Fairy Stories”. The essay, along with the companion allegorical story, “Leaf by Niggle”, was published as a small book entitled Tree and Leaf, a sine qua non for those who wish to understand Tolkien’s compelling sub-creations and to gain a God’s-eye view of the creative arts. Having explained that fairy stories are best understood as stories about Faerie, the land of enchantment where elves and dragons are at home and where many men long to be though they do not belong, Tolkien turns to discuss their origin, which he finds fundamentally in Ianguage itself:
To create new form demands more than imagination; it demands thoughtful, powerful, inspired control of the wild imagination, which is achieved through art. But Fantasy, the name Tolkien gives to his own work, encounters no limitations of matter or nature and so is art in its “most nearly pure form”.
“The achievement of the expression, which gives (or
seems to give) “the inner consistency of reality,” is indeed another thing [other than Imagination], or aspect, needing another name: Art, the operative link between Imagination and the final result, Sub-creation….That the images are of things not in the primary world (if that indeed is possible) is a virtue, not a vice. Fantasy (in this sense) is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.”
see that Elves, though more contemplative in their regard for things, love their stories and what inspires them in the same way. Gimli begins to understand the Elves when he experiences Galadriel’s sympathetic understanding for him, and he finds in her an object of loveliness that he cannot make but only enjoy. From then on, he is open to the wonders of Lothlorien, and becomes fast friends with Legolas. Tolkien, who shared the passion of elf and dwarf, of author and maker, no doubt experienced also the central temptation to cling to the product as one’s own. He must have wondered to what extent his passion, so central to his being, was a matter of pride or an inspiration from God. He invented the term, sub-creation, to express the metaphysical connection between the human and divine senses of creation, which the creator must embrace if he is to properly exercise his gift.
To sub-create in this sense, to make a world and creatures which, “in living shapes move from mind to mind,” demands great power. It is not sufficient to produce a “willing suspension of disbelief”, an act of choice to pretend that something matters which really does not. The Fantastic author must enchant his reader into believing that his world and his story matter deeply. He must create an imagined world which is desirable and believable. If the world lacks “inner consistency”, the mind fails to find satisfaction in exploring the creation, and continually distracts the heart from committing itself to the story. Like any creator, the fantasy writer must infuse his creation with unity as well as beauty.
“Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light Through whom is splintered from a single White To many hues, and endlessly combined In living shapes that move from mind to mind.” When the human creator embraces his role, his sub-creations become consolations in the trials of this world and he can dream that they will become vehicles for preparing the mind and heart for the fullest experience of Creation in the next life. “Leaf by Niggle” ends with supernatural “Voices” remarking on the merits of the world that Niggle had spent his life painting.
Tolkien frequently refers to his art as “elvish”, for the elves have the power to enchant, to make stories of such texture that “both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses, while they are inside….”. As we see in Tolkien’s Elves, such as Legolas, the sub-creative desire does not draw those who enjoy it from the real world, for the elves are ever attentive to the deepest natures of the natural world. As Treebeard says, “Ents are more like Elves: less interested in themselves than Men are, and better at getting inside other things….” Rather, since “a good craftsman loves his material, and has a knowledge and feeling for clay, stone, and wood which only the art of making can give,” so the fantasy maker helps us see with fresh eyes what may have become mundane.
“It is proving very useful indeed,” said the Second Voice. “As a holiday, and a refreshment. It is splendid for convalescence; and not only for that, for many it is the best introduction to the Mountains. It works wonders in some cases. I am sending more and more there. They seldom have to come back.” Tolkien knew the redemptive quality of faerie stories and myths personally. The poem cited above was addressed to CS Lewis under the pseudonym, “Misomythus”, which means, “Myth-hater”. Beguiled by the dominant scientific “just the facts, Ma’am,” attitude, Lewis, not yet a Christian, did not at that time (1931) realize how deeply truthful were the myths that he loved. Eventually, Tolkien persuaded Lewis that the beauties that touched his soul so deeply as a young man were akin to the divine and thus he became an instrument in the re-birth of one of the English-speaking world’s greatest evangelists and myth-makers.
This brings us back to the close connection between literary creator and craftsman. Craftsmen and artists share the common drive to imagine the world more beautifully and powerfully alive than we find it and to bring that vision to reality. Perhaps this is best exemplified in the friendship of Legolas and Gimli. The dwarves are craftsman par excellence; they are man’s expression of his desire, his love of making and material and artifact. Deeply moved by the Caves of Aglarond, Gimli expresses the craftsman’s love for his material:
Dr. Seeley is a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College and the Executive Director at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. This article was originally published at our website.
“No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them.” Yet dwarves are temperamentally opposed to story-tellers whose works consist merely in imagination. They do not
Beauty Will Save the World by Gre g o r y Wo l fe Reviewed By
“I have a confession to make: I’ve burnt my draft card to the culture wars. It may sound unpatriotic and irresponsible, but I’ve come to the conclusion that these wars are unjust and illegitimate, and I will not fight in them. If necessary, I will move to Canada.” So writes Gregory Wolfe in an editorial statement for Image entitled “Why I Am a Conscientious Objector in the Culture Wars.” Wolfe’s recent book, Beauty Will Save the World, continues on this theme, beckoning the conservative and Christian community back to the task of “culture-making” and away from culture-warring. Wolfe, the editor of Image and director of the MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, begins his work by telling his own story. From the conservative “mecca” of Hillsdale College to employment with the National Review, he was living the conservative dream. But disillusionment set in as the inconsistency and ideological politicization of that world was revealed. The culture wars in which conservatives were firmly entrenched had become a kind of total warfare, resulting in a conservatism that conserved little and created less. The conservative movement (and Christians in particular) has largely abandoned the pursuit of beauty and the imagination. As Wolfe points out, “There is a large body of believers who have essentially given up on contemporary culture; they may admire a few writers here or there, but they do not really believe that Western culture can produce anything that might inform and deepen their own faith. One might almost say that these individuals have given in to despair about our time. For me, the most depressing trend of all is the extent to which Christians have belittled or ignored the imagination and succumbed to politicized and ideological thinking.” He continues, in another place, by saying: “When conservatives turn to art and literature they generally look to the classics, safely tucked away in museums behind marbleized covers. Ironically, many conservatives don’t seem to have noticed that they no longer have anything to conserve – they have lost the thread of cultural continuity. They have forgotten that the Judeo-Christian concept of stewardship applies not only to the environment and to institutions but also to culture.” Following the tale of Wolfe’s own journey, the book progresses nicely into a discussion of “Christianity, Literature, and Modernity,” ending with case studies of writers, artists, and men of letters who model the Christian Humanism Wolfe himself embodies. Beauty Will Save the World serves as more than yet another critique of the conservative and Christian failure to engage culture. It is a call to hope in beauty and imagination as sources of cultural and personal blessing and inspiration. It is a reminder that, particularly in a postmodern culture that rejects, a priori, the existence of truth, beauty still speaks and deserves a hearing. Truth, goodness, and beauty cannot be separated, whether by progressives or conservatives. Beauty Will Save the World, well overdue and a worthy read, is a much needed work.
ON the shoulders of hobbits by Lo ui s M a r ko s Reviewed By
Few authors are as beloved within the Christian classical movement as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Perhaps only Homer and Virgil surpass them in acknowledged value and it’s unlikely that any one is more popular. In the last decade alone dozens of volumes, many of them quite worthwhile, have been published on the remarkable canon of work these men produced. We’ve seen guides to The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia and guides to the movie versions of those books, collections of their correspondence and volumes drawn from their libraries. We’ve seen tomes on their literary, pedagogical, and theological influence and examinations of their role within the wider narrative of twentieth century culture. If you’re a classical educator there’s a good chance your thinking has been deeply influenced by at least one of them. And now another volume, this time from Louis Markos, professor of English at Houston Baptist University, offers a unique and fresh perspective on their value. On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road To Virtue With Tolkien and Lewis is an ideal book for the serious fan of either author. A collection of relatively brief reflections on the way the various virtues - theological and classical alike - manifest themselves in The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, Markos’ book is an apology for the “distinclty Christian humanist vision” Tolkien and Lewis presented in their works. But it’s also an apology for the value of story itself, for the way that stories, in and of themselves, can be agents of profound change, in individuals and cultures alike. Markos writes in his introduction that “Western civilization has lost more than those laws, creeds, and doctrines on which it was built; it has lost as well the sacred drama that gave flesh and bone to those ‘naked’ credal statements. We need the truth, but we also need to know how to live in and through and by that truth. What we need, in short, are stories.” Tolkien and Lewis, Markos argues, offered readers the kind of stories that provide this necessary drama, that guide us toward a truth we can live by, stories that “will beckon us to follow their heroes along the road; that will embody for us the true nature of good and evil, virtue and vice, and then challenge us to engage the struggle between the two; that will open our eyes and ears to that sacramental faerie magic that we so often miss”. On the Shoulders Of Hobbits reveals how these two beloved authors do this by examining specific ways in which The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia (alas nothing on Lewis’ wonderful Space Trilogy) present types - or examples - of the various virtues. Thus in one chapter Markos shows the ways Tolkien and Lewis offered types of temperance in their works, while in another chapter he reveals examples of justice; in one chapter he reveals types of faith, while in still another he celebrates the value they placed on friendship, the virtue that Lewis himself suggested in The Four Loves “seem[s] to raise you to the level of gods or angels”. Thankfully, though, Markos book is no didactic polemic on teaching literature only for the lessons it can teach. Rather he seems to suggest that stories such as the ones Tolkien and Lewis gave us are valuable inasmuch as they inherently plant - and nourish - seeds from which eventually grow the virtues we wish to see instilled in our children. Indeed On the Shoulders of Hobbits is not a step-by-step guide to raising virtuous children, unless it’s a one-step guide that consists solely of this: read. It’s a revealing and wise book about the many ways that good literature can, and does, help our children become Frodos and Aragorns and Caspians and Reepicheeps: brave and discerning and loyal and temperant and steadfast and just. It’s about how the kind of literature Tolkien and Lewis created reminds us of a “vague restlessness, a feeling that... this world is not our home... that we are, finally, pilgrims and sojourners, strangers in a strange land” while also encouraging us to be courageous and faithful and virtuous so that we may “press on, each to [our] appointed end.”