Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Flying Inn and Walt Whitman

Every yer I set various reading goals. One of my goals this year was to read a G.K. Chesterton novel I had not read before.

I met that goal yesterday by finishing The Flying Inn.

The book is typical Chesterton fiction, a mixture of fancy and fantasy with a social subtext. In the case of this book, he is celebrating the victory of the common man and common pleasures over government control and elitist hypocrisy.

Oh, and he is also celebrating rum and cheese.

As I read the book and its praise of the common man, I thought of some recent comments I'd seen about Chesterton and Walt Whitman. Indeed, I had seen some suggestions that Chesterton praised Whitman.

On the surface Chesterton would seem to have little in common with Whitman. Indeed, Whitman's religious and lifestyle would appear to be in conflict with Chesterton's. But they shared a common love of the common man and common things, and a celebration of life.

This particularly hit home in the section on Crooke's shop where a plasterer, a clock mender, a clerk, and assorted others came in seeking a drink. Common men seeking a common thing. And I thought of Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" with its mechanics, carpenter, mason, and more all singing their strong melodious songs. And, of course, Chesterton's book is full of songs.

This Chesterton/Whitman connection - and their differences - are explored in an interesting 2017 article by Scott Hubbard in Transpositions, "The Orthodoxy Of Leaves Of Grass: The Imaginative Visions Of G.K. Chesterton And Walt Whitman In Dialogue."

The article begins: 

"Walt Whitman is not likely to appear on anyone’s list of great Christian poets. And with reason. From the first publication of Leaves of Grass in 1855, to his death in 1892, the good gray poet had cosied with Emersonian Neoplatonism, drafted plans for ‘The Great Construction of the New Bible’ and even accorded the figure of Satan a place within the Holy Quaternity of God. He is large and contains multitudes, but Chalcedonian orthodoxy is not one of them. The problem is that Whitman’s personal heterodoxies may keep his name from appearing on any list of great poets written by a Christian. However, one Christian who in his own lifetime offered hearty dissent to this rule was none other than renowned essayist G.K. Chesterton.

When Chesterton compiled his 1905 essay series Heretics to expose the philosophical inadequacies of the literati of the past half-century, not only did he spare Whitman from his critical scythe, but the American poet received accolade as a type of noble pagan. Indeed, for a pre-conversion Chesterton, Whitman was ’one of the greatest men of the nineteenth century’. And while this is certainly a tendentious claim from England’s Catholic Colossus, it is not one that his later work shows any trace of recanting. In fact, the English apologist and the American bard had imaginative visions that greatly overlap in scope and focus. ..."

The essay is well worth a read - as was The Flying Inn.


Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Man Who IS Thursday


There used to be a team of writers contributing to this blog. I was not one of the original team members, but I was invited in 2006 to join them. Each of us was supposed tor try to contribute something on an assigned day. My day was Thursday. I liked that: I was The Man Who Was Thursday.

I have to admit that I was not always consistent about posting on Thursdays, but I did contribute regularly.

Over the years as blogs became less popular various team members gradually stopped contributing. I continued to post, but not as regularly as I had been. Indeed, since 2014 I have been the only person contributing to this blog. And for a while I only posted a couple of times a year

In 2021 I considered quitting too. But then I decided to continue the blog, and to contribute more. I did so, though I have not been as regular as I should have been. Last year I only posted 28 times. This is just the 10th post for this year.

Me culpa.

Two weeks ago my pastor approached me after daily Mass (I am a daily Mass attendee). He explained that the woman who lectored every Thursday was facing health issues, and asked me to become the Thursday lector in her place. I agreed.

So I'm back to being Thursday!

I will continue to post here, and I will try to be more regular. I might even try to post on some Thursdays.

But, of course, I am posting this on a Tuesday.


Monday, July 01, 2024

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy IS Catholic!

On social media some folks have been engaging in a debate over whether The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is Christian/Catholic. Some argue that is is just a fantasy and set in a pagan world. 

But Tolkien himself  said it is Catholic. In a letter to Father Robert Murray, SJ, he wrote: The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."

Yes, the world is "pagan" one, but it is seen through a theological lens. Tolkien included such theological elements as: The battle between good and evil, the victory of humility over pride, and the activity of grace (such as seen in Frodo's pity toward Gollum. It includes such themes as death and immortality, mercy and pity, resurrection, salvation, repentance, self-sacrifice, free will, justice, fellowship, authority and healing.

Frodo's struggle with the ring and it's malevolent influence reminds one of the line from The Lord's Prayer: "And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Tolkien also noted, "Of course God is in The Lord of the Rings. The period was pre-Christian, but it was a monotheistic world." And the God of Middle Earth, he said, is our God. "The book is about the world that God created – the actual world of this planet."  

(I recently added a copy Tolkien's Faith: A Spiritual Biography by Holly Ordway to my "to-be-read" shelf!)

Friday, May 24, 2024

Joseph Pearce's Poetry List


Joseph Pearce shows up in the strangest places.

I used to teach at a classical education school. Although I'm now retired, I still get catalogs from companies from which I ordered classical materials. One of those companies is Memoria Press, which puts out a publication called The Classical Teacher.

Amid the lists of catechetical materials in the most recent edition of that publication there are several articles, including one by Joseph Pearce: "Poems Everyone Should Know."

He lists the poems in three categories: Epics, Verse Drama, and Lyric Poetry.


The Iliad - Homer
The Odyssey - Homer
The Aeneid - Virgil 
The Divine Comedy - Dante

He gives an honorable mention to The Lord of the Rings, which he describes an a prose epic, not a novel, but since is is not a poem, it does not make the official list.

Verse Drama:

Oedipus Rex
Oedipus at Colonus
King Lear

Lyric poetry

"Upon the Image of Death" - Saint Robert Southwell
"Hymn Before Sunrise" - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"The Wreck of The Deutschland" - Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Wasteland - T. S. Eliot
"Tarantella" - Hilaire Belloc

Interesting list. I take pride in that I've read all but one them, having somehow missed encountering "Hymn Before Sunrise." 

Guess I have to find that lyric just to say I've read them all next time I run into Pearce.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Books Have Arrived!

Okay, as if it didn't already have too many books (Too many books? Is there such a thing?) two more waiting at my front door this morning.

In the latest Saint Austen Review (StAR) I read a review of of Holly Ordway's Tolkien's Faith: A Spiritual Biography. The review sparked my interest, so noticing it was put out by Bishop Barron's Word on Fire I went to the WoF website to order it. While searching for the title in the online catalog I spotted The Golden Key And Other Fairy Tales by George MacDonald. So naturally I had to order that one too!

Add them to my "To Read" pile.


The latest Saint Austin Review: Chesterton!


The always delightful Saint Austen Review (StAR) has come out with an issue dedicated to G. K. Chesterton and Fulton Sheen: Defenders of the Faith. 

In addition to the Joseph Pearce editorial focusing on that subject, the May/June 2024 edition features such articles as:

"On Considering a Present-Day Chesterton" by Lindsay Schlegal
"Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown: From Logic to Metaphysics" by Robert Lazu Kmita
"A Beautiful Failure Called G. K.'s Weekly" by Luca Fumagalli
"Friends in the Faith: Chesterton and Sheen" by James M. Patterson
"Literary Influences on Fulton J. Sheen" by Joseph Tuttle (one of them being Chesterton)

And more on Sheen, plus articles about Mozart, Steve McQueen, modern technology, art, and of course, some poetry and book reviews.

If you don't already subscribe, consider doing so! 


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

St. Robert Southwell Clerihew


Saint Robert Southwell
sat musing for a spell,
then softly said, "It does seem a shame,
Americans don't properly pronounce my name."

(While we colonials tend to pronounce his name "South-well," according to Joseph Pearce, the traditional pronunciation for the name of this great priest./martyr/poet is "Suh-thell.")

Saturday, April 20, 2024

H.G. Wells Clerihew

We've been reading Heretics in our Chesterton group.

I got inspired:

H. G. Wells
crafted some literary hells.
When it comes to romance, too,
he created more than a few.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Six Clerihews in Gilbert


Six of my clerihews are in the March/April 2024 issue of Gilbert:

As an actor, Tom Baker
was more of a character than a heart-breaker.
But I think his Doctor is worthy of a clerihew,
even though at the mention of his name some folks just say, “Who?"

The replacement Apostle Matthias
was chosen by lot, not by bias.
Alas, except for his selection.
he's eluded all other historical detection.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
was plagued by vices that proved pesky .
To pay his bills he took a successful gamble
creating characters who were prone to verbally ramble.

When reading Robert Frost
I often find myself getting lost
in thoughts of walls and trees and snow and roads,
but never once of toads.

Inspector Javert
felt an insatiable desire for a chocolate eclair.
But since the bakeries would not open until well after dawn
he obsessed instead about Jean Valjean.

The Brits now have their third Chuck,
and so I wish them lots of luck.
He finally achieved one of his two main goals,
the other, of course, being Mrs. Parker Bowles.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Ten Books with C. S. Lewis


Thomas Salerno has posted a reading list inspired by C. S. Lewis. 

While scrolling through Twitter (I refuse to call it “X”) a few days ago, I came across a very interesting thread posted by the account Coffee with the Classics. Apparently in 1962, C. S. Lewis was asked which books most influenced him as a writer and shaped his philosophy of life. Lewis responded with a list of ten remarkable titles:

Phantastes by George MacDonald
The Aeneid by Virgil
The Temple by George Herbert
The Prelude by William Wordsworth
The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour
Descent into Hell by Charles Williams
The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton

He then goes on to explain his reading plan.

I found his list interesting. I've read a few of the titles - Phantastes, The Aeneid, The Consolation of Philosophy, and, of course, The Everlasting Man. Meanwhile, Descent into Hell is in my pile of books to read. Two of the titles are new to me -  The Idea of the Holy and Theism and Humanism. Not sure I will ever read them. But Herbert, Wordsworth, and Boswell I just might read at some point, once I clear the 20 or so books already in my to-read pile!


Saturday, January 06, 2024

Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth


Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth,  by Bradley J. Birzer in The Imaginative Conservative

Myth, J.R.R. Tolkien thought, can convey the sort of profound truth that is intransigent to description or analysis in terms of facts and figures. But, Tolkien admitted, myth can be dangerous if it remains pagan. Therefore, one must sanctify it.

To enter faerie—that is, a sacramental and liturgical understanding of creation—is to open oneself to the gradual discovery of beauty, truth, and excellence.[1] One arrives in faerie only by invitation and, even then, only at one’s peril. The truths to be found within faerie are greater than those that can be obtained through mere human understanding; and one finds within faerie that even the greatest works of man are as nothing compared with the majesty of creation. To enter faerie is, paradoxically, both a humbling and exhilarating experience. This is what the Oxford don and scholar J.R.R. Tolkien firmly believed.

The last story Tolkien published prior to his death, “Smith of Wootton Major,” follows a normal but charitably inclined man who has been graced with the ability to make extraordinarily beautiful things while metal smithing. Smith, as he is known, discovered the gift of grace on his tenth birthday, when the dawn engulfed him and “passed on like a wave of music into the West, as the sun rose above the rim of the world.”[2] Like the earth at the end of Eliot’s “Wasteland,” Tolkien’s Smith had been baptized, and through this gift he receives an invitation to faerie. While visiting that world, he discovers that in it he is the least of beings. Its beauty, however, entices him, and he spends entire days “looking only at one tree or one flower.”[3] The depth of each thing astounds him. “Wonders and mysteries,” many of them terrifying in their overwhelming beauty and truth, abound in faerie, Smith discovers, and he dwells on such wonders even when he is no longer in faerie.[4] Nevertheless, some encounters terrify him: ... 

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