PETE: Your conversion story is incredible. Your book Race with the Devil details your time in the National Front in England an organization based on racial hatred. How difficult was it for you to break your ties with them after spending so much time within their ranks?
JOSEPH PEARCE: It was very difficult because I had been involved with the National Front since I was fifteen-years-old. All my life up to that point had been invested in it, and all my friends were party activists. Making the break meant physically leaving London, my home city, and breaking with all my friends, and all my past. I moved to Norwich, a small city in East Anglia and started life anew.
PETE: You have recorded Catholic Courses talks on The Lord of the Rings and you have written a few books on The Lord of the Rings as well. Additionally you have also authored other volumes on GK Chesterton and a book on converts to name a few. It’s hard to believe that you led the life you did as a young man. Did you find these same thoughts running through your mind as you wrote this book?
JOSEPH PEARCE: Yes, I believe that my conversion to Catholicism and the miraculous gifts poured forth to me in the following years are an outpouring of God’s super-abundant love for a miserable sinner. Looking back at my life, and all the gifts I’ve received in the twenty-four years since my conversion, I find it hard to fathom and difficult to believe that my life has been continually blessed in the way that it has. This sense of astonishment, unworthiness and gratitude was on my mind in a particularly intensive way during the writing of Race with the Devil.
PETE: You did not have to share this story with the general populace, you could have kept this to yourself and close friends. What inspired you to put your story to paper?
JOSEPH PEARCE: I’ve always been aware that my story, which involved two prison sentences for inciting racial hatred, was unusual and potentially powerful as a witness to the ineffable potency of God’s love for sinners. Whenever I’ve given talks about my conversion, I’ve been aware of the real impact that it has on people. On many occasions people have told me that I needed to write about it. It was always my intention to do so but for many years I felt unequal to the task. I needed to be able to tell the story without succumbing to either self-loathing or self-justification. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I believed myself equal to the task of being honest with myself and, therefore, honest to my readers.
PETE: Obviously during your youth you had some outside influences that shaped your thought process on racial tension. Do you have any advice for parents reading this book?
JOSEPH PEARCE: In Race with the Devil I have tried to be honest about the powerful influence that my parents had upon me, for better or worse. Although I retain many good things that I received from my parents, I also inherited and imbibed their political and racial prejudices. I think that the overarching lesson for parents reading my book is that they are the most powerful influence upon the lives of their children. It is, therefore, important that parents pour out their love self-sacrificially for their children, which includes practicing what they preach, i.e. living in the love of Christ and seeking to emulate His example in their daily lives. Love is the greatest preacher and the greatest teacher.
PETE: As I alluded to earlier you have done some projects based on The Lord of the Rings and author JRR Tolkien. Would you like to take a moment to discuss what interests you most about the Lord of the Rings?
JOSEPH PEARCE: The Lord of the Rings is the most popular book of the past century and one of the most popular and influential books of all time. It is also, in the words of its author, “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. I have sought, therefore, in my books Tolkien: Man & Myth and Bilbo’s Journey, to show the ways in which The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are profoundly Catholic in their deepest meaning and how they reflect the faith of J. R. R. Tolkien who was a devout and lifelong practicing Catholic.
JOSEPH PEARCE: I am particularly excited about my next book, published by St. Augustine’s Press. Its title is Beauteous Truth: Faith, Reason, Literature and Culture. I’m especially honoured that His Eminence, Cardinal Raymond Burke, has written the foreword to it. I’ve also been commissioned to write a sequel to my book, Bilbo’s Journey. It will be called Frodo’s Journey and will look at the Catholic meaning of The Lord of the Rings.
PETE: Time for my signature ending question. This is a blog about books. What is currently on your bookshelf to read?
JOSEPH PEARCE: I’m in the midst of reading Kristin Lavransdatter, a supeb novel set in mediaeval Norway by Sigrid Undset, the Catholic convert and Nobel prize-winner, and great admirer of G. K. Chesterton. It reminds me of a Jane Austen novel set in Rohan!
Joseph Pearce is the author of numerous acclaimed biographies of major Catholic literary figures.
He is writer in residence and Visiting Fellow at Thomas More College in New Hampshire (www.thomasmorecollege.edu), instructor at Homeschool Connections (http://www.homeschoolconnections.com/), executive director of Catholic Courses (www.catholiccourses.com), series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions (www.ignatiuscriticaleditions.com) and co-editor of the St. Austin Review (http://www.staustinreview.com)./a
Other titles by this author: