Avoiding Gadzookeries

gadzookeryWriting quality historical fiction is challenging. This is especially true if one wishes to avoid the common crutch that a talented writer of the last century first labeled “gadzookery.”

And just what is this faux pas we should avoid when writing about the past? Well, it relates most directly to the dialog placed on the lips of historical figures. The offensive technique involves the overuse of archaic expressions or phrases. (Some would argue it includes any use of any archaisms.)

If the word gadzookery sounds a tad, how shall I put it, “goofy” to you, you may prefer using another word that means the same thing: “tushery.” Tushery was coined by Robert Louis Stevenson. Way back in the nineteenth century.

Gadzookery is a newer version, insulting the same lazy writing technique. I believe it may have been coined by Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992). Sutcliff’s historical influence has exerted a literary influence on my life second only to C.S. Lewis.*

The article about Sutcliff in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature praises her work, saying, “She carefully creates dialogue in her novels that recollects the speech of a bygone era without falling into what she termed ‘gadzookery.’”

Having tested the waters of historical fiction myself, I know this to be far more difficult that it may sound.

Sutcliff had several things in common with C.S. Lewis. Both wrote for adults and for children. (It was her young adult series about the decline of Roman influence in Britain that sparked my own lifelong interest in Rome.)

Both authors also received the Carnegie Medal for their work. When Lewis was awarded his, he received a congratulatory letter from Pauline Baynes, who had illustrated several of his books. He responded quite graciously.

Dear Miss Baynes, Very nice to hear from you again, and thanks for sending on the book, which I have returned to Lane. Thanks for your congratulations on the Carnegie, but is it not rather ‘our’ Medal? I’m sure the illustrations were taken into consideration as well as the text. I am well, and as happy as a man can be whose wife is desperately ill.

Although C.S. Lewis had married, quite late in life, the two authors were alike in spending most of their life single. Sutcliff, in fact, lived with her parents during most of her life, having suffered crippling arthritis as a child. She did not resent remaining unmarried. In a 1992 interview she said,

Beatrix Potter wrote all her gorgeous stories when she was very lonely and not very happy—after she married, she never wrote another thing. Nothing worth reading, anyway.

Another similarity between the two was that they both fell under the powerful sway of myth during their childhoods. They used their familiarity with its rich echoes to imbue their own work with themes that flowed far beyond the familiar channels travelled by other writers.

Each of them took their readers seriously, and refused to speak down to them. That is why they share one more quality I wish to mention in closing—their high standards. Neither Lewis nor Sutcliff could tolerate poor writing. And their finely tuned skills meant neither ever needed to resort to gadzookery.

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* Excepting, of course, the Bible itself, which is literature of an entirely different sort. I don’t consider it fair to compare mortal writers, no matter how inspired, to a volume I regard as God’s written word.

Misnaming Kids

baby namesWhy do they do it? I’m sure they considered it witty. They may have laughed as they inscribed his name on the birth certificate of their newborn son. (I doubt he shared the humor of the moment.)

Let’s think about this for just a moment. If your family name was Lemon, a totally respectable and not uncommon name, would you give your child a first name that is also a citrus?

That’s what I encountered as I completed the current issue of the military chaplaincy journal that I edit. One of the American Civil War chaplains I mentioned in the current issue of Curtana: Sword of Mercy bore the striking name “Orange V. Lemon.”

Really? Yes, really.

It reminded me of a quaint Canadian television series that my dad used to enjoy, The Red Green Show. His parents should have known that one color in a person’s name is sufficient.

Still, the temptation to be silly is irresistible to some people. Years ago I knew an attorney whose last name was Cain. Her parents had named her Candy, of course. Peculiar names are so common today, of course, that there are myriads of internet repositories for them.

Names are more important than many of us realize. I’ve written in the past about how my wife and I followed the biblical example of choosing our children’s names based on their meanings.

Even if that approach doesn’t appeal to a parents, there are an almost unlimited number of options that would not subject their children to unwanted attention.

Fortunately, when we get older, we have some control over what we are called. I was “Robbie” in my childhood, and graduated to “Rob” as soon as I could. “Robert’s” always been fine with me, since it’s my given name and what I expect someone I’ve never met to call me. “Bob,” however, is not okay. There’s nothing wrong with “Bob,” except that I’ve never been one. And when someone greets me as such it projects a very false familiarity.

Curiously, I recall reading in the Oxford dictionary of names that more primitive nicknames for Robert included Hob, Dob and Nob. So I suppose I should count my blessings when addressed as Bob.

C.S. Lewis chose his own name. Many people are surprised when they learn that he went by the name of Jack. How, they wonder, could one get “Jack” out of “Clive Staples?” Good question.

Lewis was not enamored with the name Clive. When he was only four, he decided to use the name of a pet dog that had been killed by an early motorist. The pet’s name was a human-friend designation, “Jacksie.” His brother Warren relates the event thusly, in his 1966 collection of Lewis’ letters.

Then, in the course of one holiday, my brother made the momentous decision to change his name. Disliking “Clive”, and feeling his various baby-names to be beneath his dignity, he marched up to my mother, put a forefinger on his chest, and announced “He is Jacksie.” He stuck to this next day and thereafter, refusing to answer to any other name: Jacksie it had to be, a name contracted to Jacks and then to Jack. So to his family and his intimate friends, he was Jack for life: and Jack he will be for the rest of this book.

It’s fascinating that Lewis’ family acquiesced to his demand, but it took. One small consequence, of course, is that this gifted writer is known today as “C.S.” rather than by his full names.

As for faithful Orange, I don’t know if he adopted any other name during his lifetime. He may have been quite content. It certainly did not prevent him from enjoying a meaningful life. He became a Methodist pastor and served as chaplain with the 36th Indiana Infantry.

Any Name But That

jesus nameThis week I read one of the clearest descriptions of the gospel I have ever heard. It appeared in an article written by the most (how do I put this mildly?) daunting professor I have encountered in my Doctor of Ministry studies. “Intimidating” would also work . . .

But his brilliance and rapid fire delivery of thought-provoking concepts is not the reason for me mentioning him here. It is his ability to cut through the confusion, and express simply the essence of the good news, the Christian hope, the gospel.

I’m not pandering to him, mind you, because my grade for his systematics course was filed long ago. It is simply that Joel Biermann said extremely succinctly, something that I have always attempted to emphasize in my own ministry.

The Gospel is the good news, but it is not just any good news. The Gospel is a word of liberation and encouragement, but it is not just any word of liberation and encouragement. The Gospel is a wonderful event and a joyful experience, but it is not just any wonderful event and joyful experience.

In other words, when it comes to defining the Gospel, it is vitally important that we move past vague ideas or general notions and grab hold of the central thing. The central thing is Jesus.

This is a truth too many fail to understand. Sadly, this is true for some “inside” the Church as well as outside of its doors.

Goodness is good. Generosity is wonderful. Encouragement is precious. Courage is noble. Love is (almost) divine.

Yet none of these are the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus. In him the world discovers every good thing from the hand of God the Father, our Creator.

Jesus is indispensable. Without his holy name, the “faith” would simply be a praiseworthy “religion.” Without Jesus, it could instruct how to live, but it could not redeem.

It is precisely this point—the name of Jesus—that makes the Gospel objectionable to some. “Care for the sick,” some say, “just don’t mention that name.” On other lips we hear “The Church does lots of things that benefit the community, but please don’t mention that name that offends people.”

They arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life. . . .”

And someone came and told [the High Priest], “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people. . . .”

And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts of the Apostles, chapter five).

C.S. Lewis knew quite well that Christianity is all about Jesus. Without him, the person Jesus the Christ, whatever passes for the “Church” would merely be a noisy gong. Lots of “religious” talk would remain . . . but the Gospel would be absent.

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story. The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, “This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,” but He says, “I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.” He says, “No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved. . . .”

“Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth, I am Life.” (1950 essay, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?”).

In the same way as the apostles, C.S. Lewis, my seminary professor, and all of those who have entrusted themselves to the grace of God in Christ, know the name of Jesus is not optional. In fact, it is all about the name.

For it is Jesus, and him alone, who is the alpha, omega and the whole of the Gospel.

Emphasizing Italics

italicsSermons do not make great books. Sorry, but that’s the opinion of this pastor who has to compel himself to read the sermons of preachers.

Yes, some of them sell decently (when the author has a national “pulpit”). But I suspect many copies of those books are purchased out of support of their broader ministry. I imagine most purchasers try to wade through a few of the homilies, but decide after a while they prefer listening to the sermon “preached.”

As a lifelong student of communication, I continue to be intrigued by the different ways in which aural and printed word can be used to communicate the good news. The subject promises to be a major part of my dissertation research.

Sermons are meant to be delivered orally. Transposing them to the page, without making various accommodations, is (in my personal opinion) a mistake.

C.S. Lewis apparently agreed with me on that—before he came to disagree with the effort.

Ever since the rise of the keyboard, I have celebrated the ability to use italics for emphasis. I consider the availability of italics especially important when we translate spoken messages into text.

C.S. Lewis discussed this process in his preface to Mere Christianity. His focus was on how best to transpose words prepared for oral delivery to a written medium, while still maintaining their original voice.

The contents of this book were first given on the air, and then published in three separate parts as Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943) and Beyond Personality (1944).

In the printed versions I made a few additions to what I had said at the microphone, but otherwise left the text much as it had been. A “talk” on the radio should, I think, be as like real talk as possible, and should not sound like an essay being read aloud. In my talks I had therefore used all the contractions and colloquialisms I ordinarily use in conversation.

In the printed version I reproduced this, putting don’t and we’ve for do not and we have. And wherever, in the talks, I had made the importance of a word clear by the emphasis of my voice, I printed it in italics.

I am now inclined to think that this was a mistake—an undesirable hybrid between the art of speaking and the art of writing.

A talker ought to use variations of voice for emphasis because his medium naturally lends itself to that method: but a writer ought not to use italics for the same purpose. He has his own, different, means of bringing out the key words and ought to use them.

In this edition I have expanded the contractions and replaced most of the italics by a recasting of the sentences in which they occurred: but without altering, I hope, the “popular” or “familiar” tone which I had all along intended. I have also added and deleted where I thought I understood any part of my subject better now than ten years ago or where I knew that the original version had been misunderstood by others.

When one’s mentor advises something, it demands thoughtful consideration. Lewis’ opinion that the use of italics for emphasis is not ideal forced me to seriously consider the practice, which I obviously favor.

I agree with Lewis on expanding contractions. I learned that lesson when I wrote a paper during seminary studies and the professor instructed me to make that change.

However, I disagree about the use of italics. They need to be properly applied, of course. And I recognize that the most gifted of writers may be able to consistently avoid using them. (Or “leaning on them” as an anti-italics anarchist would probably say.)

In the end, I guess it is time to ponder again Lewis’ pronouncement that writers have their “own, different, means of bringing out the key words and ought to use them.”

Until I receive a divine mandate, C.S. Lewis notwithstanding, you should continue to expect to occasionally see italics here at Mere Inkling.

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The cartoon at the top of the page comes from an interesting site. You can find the original source for the image here. Just for the record, I hate ALL CAPS, and I absolutely despise underlining.

Introducing Anatole France

papeThere’s always a new author to meet. Some are more worth meeting than others.

I was introduced to Anatole France (1844-1924) when I saw him listed on the “must read” list of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I’m not a big Fitzgerald fan, but as an amateur literary historian, I was curious about how this particular list was recovered. Apparently, he had dictated it to one of his nurses, several years before his death. However, the list only turned up last year, having lain unnoticed in the nurse’s effects.

The France title that Fitzgerald deemed essential was The Revolt of the Angels. Its importance to him is highlighted by the fact that this relatively short list only included twenty-two titles. And one of that mere score of selections was The Revolt of the Angels.

The angelic dimension of the work is what intrigued me. Angels, of course, are real beings. They’re distinct from people (contrary to the pervasive contemporary notion that when people die they “become” angels).

There actually was an angelic revolt, and there are several references to it in the Scriptures. “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!” (Isaiah 14:12).

I was curious whether France was writing about this ancient event. I was also intrigued by Fitzgerald’s interest in the volume, given its subject.

I was disappointed.

It turns out that, like Mark Twain, France was sympathetic to the Devil. I’m sure he thought himself quite the wit when he wrote, in reference to the Bible, “We have never heard the devil’s side of the story, God wrote the whole book.”

I don’t have time to read texts like this—when there is more than enough good literature to keep me occupied for several lifetimes. However, it appears to be based on Gnostic concepts with God (the Creator of this world) viewed as an imperfect demiurge. His incompetence, it seems, justifies the heavenly revolt.

Suffice it to say, the book is commended for reading by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That sort of endorsement speaks volumes.

Here, however, is a random paragraph. It may be illustrative of the tone of the work, even though pulled from its context. The speaker is, I believe, one of the positive characters in the book. While France himself was an atheist, his sympathetic character summarizes a pagan cosmology quite elegantly.

Young Maurice’s guardian angel [said] “I argue, like you, in the language of human beings. And what is human language but the cry of the beasts of the forests or the mountains, complicated and corrupted by arrogant anthropoids. How then . . . can one be expected to argue well with a collection of angry or plaintive sounds like that?

Angels do not reason at all; men, being superior to the angels, reason imperfectly. I will not mention the professors who think to define the absolute with the aid of cries that they have inherited from the pithecanthropoid monkeys, marsupials, and reptiles, their ancestors! It is a colossal joke! How it would amuse the demiurge, if he had any brains!”

That is actually a rather provocative quote, and I’m sure it may lead some to explore the text even further. I certainly don’t object to that, and would be curious to hear back from anyone familiar with the book. I would especially like to see the reaction of Christians to The Revolt of the Angels.

If you are interested in a more creative fictional treatment of fallen angels, be sure to read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. While the presentation is truly groundbreaking, Lewis’ take on the motives and nature of these defeated beings is actually based on reality. Cast from the heavens they are consumed with rage and hatred of God.

A positive note about Anatole France

Whatever I think about the writer’s theology, I did read several wise quotations attributed to him. I’d like to close with these, as they may be more edifying than our discussion of Gnostic cosmology.

“Nine tenths of education is encouragement.”

“Some succeed because they are destined to; most succeed because they are determined to.”

“If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

“When a thing has been said and well said, have no scruple; take it and copy it.”

And my favorite:

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

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The illustration above is the work of Frank C. Papé (1874-1972) an English book illustrator. It comes from another of France’s “religious” works.

Volcano Hurricane

volcanoVolcano hurricane. An epic disaster film! No sharks, but copious amounts of lava flung by gale force winds across the globe. And all from the mind of a six year old boy.

Imaginations are great. They are one of the most precious gifts of God (which makes it all the more tragic when the human imagination is diverted towards carnal ends).

The minds of young boys, thankfully, have yet to turn to such lamentable matters. Their innocence shields them from the worst of human corruption. They, instead, are consumed with thoughts of spiders and other things that creep out girls . . . and especially their moms.

Our almost-seven-year-old grandson was here for the weekend with his family. We had a wonderful time. We had actually found the ideal book to include as part of his birthday celebration: How to Convince Your Parents You Can Care for a Pet Tarantula. Perfect.

Young male imaginations seem to revolve around things that shock—and also things that gross others out.

Our kids have trained their own children well. For example, they always excuse themselves when they experience flatulence. It’s a natural experience, of course, and as we mature, adults learn to ignore potentially embarrassing moments related to it. That’s part of becoming “civilized.”

Six year olds . . . not so much. Our grandson properly excuses himself, but he typically does so in the midst of enthusiastic laughter. It’s as though he relishes just how uncultured the moment seems.

During this particular visit, he leaped into my lap in a semi-ninja attack. As we wrestled, there was a minor explosion. Not quite volcanic, but close enough. He apologized, amidst great hilarity. “Sorry about my little gas,” he added.

And here’s where I made the mistake. I reinforced his innate boyhood grossness by saying, “little! . . . that sounded like it was a buffalo!”

Not quite the right thing to say, since it simply encouraged the precocious guy. But what I can say . . . time may change a boy into a man, but in most of us . . . somewhere deep in the recesses of our psyches . . . that boyhood irreverence lingers.

Not that I enjoy the crass “body humor” that pervades so much comedy (on tv and film). I steadfastly avoid it. It insults my mind and viewing it constitutes a total waste of time. Still, with my grandson wrapped in my arms, laughing away, it all seemed so genuine and innocently funny.

Of course, I recognize one needed to be there—and probably to also be related by bloodline to the participants—to find any humor in the moment. But it certainly seemed funny to us.

C.S. Lewis and Children

I was thinking about that moment as I sat down to write this post. I intended to focus on the amazing imaginations of children, and my grandson’s current preoccupation with gigantic volcanoes.

But whim or muse redirected the column. In the end, it turns out to be a reflection on the simple pleasure that we adults experience when we interact with kids. Especially when they are children who are precious to us.

I wish that C.S. Lewis had been able to experience that joy. He wasn’t. His awkwardness with children is well known. Most attribute it to the early passing of his mother, and the emotional distance his father maintained from his sons.

In a 1935 letter he wrote to a close friend, “I theoretically hold that one ought to like children, but am shy with them in practice.”

In The Abolition of Man he was even more forthcoming, sharing that, “I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: . . . I recognize this as a defect in myself.”

So, Lewis recognized his discomfort with children as a shortcoming. It was something he wished could be dispelled. Unfortunately, we can’t simply wish (or pray) away our ingrained personality traits. We’re lucky if we can tame them or reshape them.

We work hard to strengthen our positive traits and the wise deny nourishment to their weaker qualities. People often use the analogy of wearing off one’s rough edges, and that’s an apt image.

Lewis’ reticence with children makes his creation of Narnia all the more wondrous. The Chronicles of Narnia have captivated the hearts and imaginations of innumerable children, and adults alike. Certainly Lewis was correct when he wrote the following in “On Stories.”

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.

With his marriage, late in life, Lewis became a step-father. He did the very best he could, but was conscious of just how ill-equipped he was to raise Douglas and David. Both became successful men. Doug shares his parents’ love of Christ, and helps direct the course of various Lewisian projects today.

Allow me to close with another evidence of the greatness of C.S. Lewis. He was able to rise far above his innate uneasiness with children. In fact, his fabled correspondence included many children who had written to him seeking his attention. In 1951 he wrote to one of them, saying:

I am glad you all liked The Lion. A number of mothers, and still more, schoolmistresses, have decided that it is likely to frighten children, so it is not selling very well. But the real children like it, and I am astonished how some very young ones seem to understand it. I think it frightens some adults, but v[ery] few children.

Lewis did not disappoint the many children who wrote to him during those terribly busy years. Nor do his writings disappoint us today. Unlike the transience of youthful volcano hurricanes, Lewis’ legacy will forever remain alive in the imaginations of child and adult alike.

Humanity’s Interstellar Exodus

evoraEarth’s days are numbered. Eventually, all scientist agree, she will die . . . and all life on the planet will perish.

Even if this doesn’t occur due to a catastrophic accident like a massive asteroid impact or an alien invasion, it is inevitable. Inevitable.

If nothing else interferes, scientists tell us earth will die in the death throes of its own star. In about 2.8 billion years, the sun will destroy all life here. Before the sun consumes its nuclear fuels and transforms into a “red giant,” it will have scorched the solar system.

It’s a disturbing thought. At least, it can be to those who place their hope in the future of humanity. Christians, in contrast, look forward to the promise of a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, where even the harmony of the cosmos will be restored.

For those who believe that ultimate meaning can only be found in the continuing evolution of humanity, it is necessary to see an opportunity to continue the race. Until we evolve into pure mind and energy forms (right!) we need to find a place on hospitable worlds where we can survive, prosper and continue to advance.

So, if we assume it’s necessary for humanity to continue to exist, and our days here on earth are numbered, what are we to do?

The answer’s obvious. We must migrate to the stars. Baby steps are already being taken, with planning for our first colonies on Mars and our own moon. Many movies have explored establishing our presence in other solar systems. In fact, it’s become a trope of the scifi genre.

Some writers and directors envision a welcoming universe. Others populate it with hostile environments and competitors.

One of the most disturbing thoughts I have heard in the past few months was voiced by a scientist contemplating this subject. In essence, he said that our observation of nature shows that it is the predators (not their gentle prey) that must become smarter than the rest of the fauna to survive. The presumption being that it is the predator, not the grazer, that would evolve farthest and potentially venture into space.

I grew up influenced by the utopian images of Star Trek. Sure, there were Klingons and other threats out there, but there were also a large number of affable races that were eager to band together and share their knowledge and culture.

Star Trek went a step further. Even our one-time enemies (like the aforementioned Klingons, the Cardassians and the Ferengi) could become our allies. Well, there’s a precedent in that here on Earth (think post-war Germany and Japan). Still, it may be a tad naïve when it comes to interstellar swashbucklers.

Of course, all this presumes that we are no “alone” in the universe. By alone, we mean, the only sentient beings to populate the stars. (That’s figurative language, of course. No one lives on the stars themselves . . . that we know of.)

The prolific writer C.S. Lewis wrote a series of books about humanity’s first encounters with life beyond our planet. The Space Trilogy will be of interest to open-minded fans of science fiction, and to people who enjoy learning more about Lewis’ broad interests.

The first book in the series is called Out of the Silent Planet. In a 1939 letter, he explained to a correspondent one of his reasons for writing the book. [The quotation refers to Professor Weston, who is the novel’s nemesis. One of his goals is to usher in the age of human colonization beyond our own orbit.]

The letter [at the end of Out of the Silent Planet] is pure fiction and the “circumstances which put the book out of date” are merely the way of preparing for a sequel. But the danger of “Westonism” I meant to be real.

What set me about writing the book was the discovery that a pupil of mine took all that dream of interplanetary colonization quite seriously, and the realization that thousands of people in one way and another depend on some hope of perpetuating and improving the human race for the whole meaning of the universe—that a “scientific” hope of defeating death is a real rival to Christianity.

With this, we return to our initial thought. If we are looking to the stars for humanity’s hope, I’m afraid we will ultimately be disappointed.

I don’t know if there is mortal life beyond our planet. If there is, I can’t predict whether it would be friendly, or inimical to us.

Who knows whether we could even communicate? It’s a mystery for now. What isn’t a mystery, is whether or not we need to look beyond this tiny blue globe. After all, it is certain this world’s days are numbered.

_____

Note: The alien at the top of the page is the Regent of the Evora species, a Federation protectorate. I used her image because of the curious marking on the crown of her head. It resembles a tattoo of a cross, but from the lines on the sides of her head I suspect they might all merely be varicose veins.