Tolkien’s new story & the impact of Finland

One of J. R. R. Tolkien’s earliest writings has been published this week in England.  (It will be released in the U.S.A. in April.)  It’s called The Story of Kullervo, a retelling of a dark episode from the Finnish national epic the Kalevala.  Hannah Sander of the BBC tells about the influence of this epic and of the Finnish language and mythology on Tolkien’s imagination.  In addition to direct parallels, Tolkien’s descriptions of Middle Earth owe much to the Finnish landscape and the Finnish language seems to have been a model for Elvish. [Read more...]

Why you shouldn’t get disillusioned over Atticus Finch

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved novels in American literature, so its legions of fans were overjoyed to hear that its author, Harper Lee, was going to publish Go Set a Watchman, another novel featuring the same main characters.  But now that the new book has been released, many readers are disillusioned.  In Mockingbird, Atticus Finch comes across as an ideal father, as well as the idealistic lawyer who strikes a blow against racism in defending a falsely-accused black man in the segregated South.  But in Watchman, told from the point of view of his daughter Scout as an adult, we see her conflicts with her father, who is full of flaws, including racial prejudice.

But readers whose admiration for Atticus has been spoiled and who wish they never read the new book need not be dismayed.  According to the iron laws of literary scholarship, the author’s final intention is what counts.  Watchman gives us an earlier version of the story and of the characters.  Mockingbird is the later version, and the good Atticus represents Harper Lee’s final intention.  Let me, a literary scholar though recently retired, explain after the jump. [Read more...]

Why reading is good for you

Reading a lot, for pleasure, is associated with all kinds of physical and psychological benefits.  Details after the jump. [Read more...]

Yeats saw it coming

The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post both have pieces on W. B. Yeats’ great poem The Second Coming.

One of the defining poems of the 20th century, Yeats wrote it back in 1919, but it seems to predict the rise of Nazi Germany, the growth of Communism, and now postmodernism, the rise of radical Islam, current political trends in Europe, and–for columnist E. J. Dionne–Donald Trump!

The poem, famous for its lines “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”and “The center cannot hold,” is built both on Yeats’ theories of history and his take on the Christian notion that Christ will be followed by Antichrist.  After the jump, read an excellent unpacking of the poem by David Lehmann, and then see what Dionne does in applying it to today’s political situation. [Read more...]

A book that teaches kids about church

My daughter, Dcs. Mary Moerbe, has published another children’s book:  Whisper, Whisper:  Learning about Church.  It teaches children, aged 4 and younger, what is going on in the worship service (with special reference to the liturgy) and helps them participate in it.

The book uses a rhyming text for the children and wonderful art by Martha Aviles, but it also has commentary and sidebars giving tips for parents.   You can “look inside” the book at the Amazon link.  More details after the jump.

This is a quite brilliant and helpful work, and I say that not just because it’s written by my daughter.  The tendency is often to kick children out of church–whether in a nursery or some kind of “children’s church”–and then we wonder why they don’t attend when they are older.  Our children are children of God, and they can learn to worship Him at a very young age, building habits and behaviors that will be a foundation for the rest of their lives. [Read more...]

Why governments cannot make utopias

The Library of America, known for its excellent editions of American literary classics, has added a theologian to its list, Reinhold Niebuhr, whose “Christian realism” taught his fellow mainline Protestants about the reality of sin, which must temper the promises of every “social gospel.”

After the jump, an excerpt from Barton Swaim’s Wall Street Journal review of his Major Works in Religion and Politics, giving Niebuhr’s reasoning and quotations from his writing, showing why utopias can’t happen and why governments must be limited.

[Read more...]