Archives for December 2014

2015 Hogwarts Professor Resolutions: Reading 75 Books?

I’m a sucker for New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve heard at least as often as you have that very few people keep the vows they make at the end of December — as few as 12% have success according to one study (that’s an almost 90% fail rate, of course!) and I’m betting it’s lower than that, really. Who wants to admit failure to a pollster or researcher, especially when more than half of the original participants said they were confident they would be successful? Not me. (For the study and advice about increasing your chances of making 2015 resolutions that work, check out Quirkology.com’s New Years Resolutions page).

What are my 2015 Resolutions? Michael Hyatt and Steven Covey say I’m not supposed to share them ‘indiscriminately’ and typing them into HogwartsProfessor is about as indiscriminate as I could get! Not to mention the sad truth that my track record for following through on public commitments here is something to lament rather than a point I wish to make even worse.

Here, though, are three things I have done successfully in the past as New Year’s Resolutions — and three goals I am already working on for 2015:

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Christopher Mitchell, Stratford Caldecott: Requiescat In Pace

2014 was a year that I will remember in large part because of the sudden death of two men, Christopher Mitchell, longtime director of Wheaton College’s Wade Center who had moved to Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute, and Stratford Caldecott, a Research Fellow at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford, the editor of the Humanum Review, and co-editor of Second Spring. Prof Mitchell, age 62, died suddenly 10 July of a heart attack on a fishing trip; Dr Caldecott struggled with cancer for several years before his death 17 July at 60 years.

I was not close to either man. Both changed my life significantly, however, by their work and their kindness, Stratford through his correspondence, Chris Mitchell in his example, encouragement, and in his suggestions in person and email for my studies.

I ‘met’ Stratford Caldecott soon after Hidden Key to Harry Potter was published in 2003. The Potter Panic was at its height and he and his wife, Leonie, were the Catholic voice of sobriety and sanity in the UK. Stratford read my book, which, mirabile dictu, was available in London, and he dropped me a ‘thank you,’ which, given his standing in the traditional Christian world and among Tolkien scholars, was no small thing to me. I have always suspected that it was through him that Fr Fleetwood in the Vatican received a copy of Hidden Key that year.

Three typical exchanges with Dr Caldecott:

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LOTR Iconographic Illustrations from Sergey Yuhimov

It’s that time of year when you wait for your spouse as s/he shops for diced tomatoes or umeboshi paste by hanging out at the illustrated calendar rack and flipping through the pictures. Sadly, unless you’re a cat lover, a goner for anything to do with covered bridges, or someone who still dreams of a trip to Tibet’s high steppe Buddhist monasteries, there’s very little of excitement for you to peruse.

This wasn’t always the case. Throughout the years of the Harry Potter book publications and movie releases, Hogwarts calendars could be found everywhere. Now they can be had online — check out the 2015 variety at Amazon.com — but they, along with illustrations from Tolkien and Lewis and Dickens collected works, are much harder to find, especially ones not just stills from movie adaptations.

Back when I was a lad and dinosaurs walked the marshes of northern New Jersey, though, every year featured at least one new calendar, usually several, which featured heroic works of art derived from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. My favorites? The ones by the Brothers Hildebrand. Check out their 1978 set for Ballantine books at The Compleat Gyde to Tolkien Calendars. The pictures are a cross between Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell and I loved ’em all.

A friend recently sent me a link to the Russian illustrator Sergey Yuhimov’s work based on Tolkien’s magnum opus. I confess to being enthralled. The pictures on this post are all his work and there are many more (see them here, here, and here). The blend of Orthodox Christian iconographic scale and symmetry with western medieval elements adapted from the Bayeaux tapestry and illuminated manuscripts is such an apt choice for representing the otherworldly qualities of Rings.

If you know anyone out there who makes calendars for a living, please urge them to pursue the rights to Yuhimov’s Middle Earth works. Happy New Year to you all!

Guest Post: An ‘On Fairy Stories’ for Ghost Stories and Horror? Conservative Russell Kirk and the Mythopoeia of Horror Fiction

“All important literature has some ethical end; and the tale of the preternatural…can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order.”

Russell Kirk is justly renowned for his revival of Burkean conservatism in politics. What is not as well known is his love of great literature and his accomplishments as a writer of ghost stories and horror himself. Chris Calderon has written this brief introduction to the man and his work to encourage HogwartsProfessor readers to read Kirk’s ‘Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale,’ what some believe is the horror-able equivalent to Tolkien’s ‘On Fairy Stories.’ I highly recommend it.

The only reason I have for giving a brief intro to the thought of someone else is very simple: the great majority of both readers and non-readers don’t know who Russell Kirk is, and the great majority will go to the grave never even knowing the self-styled “Sage of Mecosta” once walked about the place (and for all any of us know, probably still does).

Briefly, Kirk was, to a very small coterie of critics, writers, pundits and politicians something of a hero, I guess.  At least he was regarded as what’s known as a genuine Man of Letters.  He was a critic and writer on the interrelated subjects of political history, theology, and literary criticism. His The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot and A Conservative Reader are staples of the modern conservative movement (Kirk helped found the political journal, National Review, of which, with William Buckley, he is a patron saint). In other words, he was what nowadays probably be called a social pundit, though it’s the designation of critic that probably sums him up best (though in today’s narrowly compacted public square he’d most likely be labeled a Catholic apologist).

Along with writers like T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kirk approached the writing and study of literature from a Christian perspective (in his case, American Catholicism).  This conviction shaped everything he did, from a study of the thought of Edmund Burke, to what I still regard as the best biography of the Four Quartets author, Eliot and his Age.  Kirk’s belief about fiction, as he put it, was “All important literature has some ethical end; and the tale of the preternatural…can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order.” This brings us to one other thing Kirk shared in common with the Inklings.  Like them, he was a writer of fantastic fiction.  The difference was that his chosen field of work was the Horror genre. See Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales for a collection of his ghost stories and Old House of Fear for his best known gothic novel.

Ghost stories and the like are not a topic generating much discussion at HogwartsProfessor!  Which just makes Kirk’s beliefs about it all the more novel.  His basic claim for the genre was that it fulfills the same Mythopoeic functions as either Fantasy or Science Fiction.  Does this mean that Kirk would be willing to say certain types of Supernatural tales offer their own bone-chilling form of Escape, Recovery, and Consolation?  While I’ve never seen an essay where he used those words exactly, he was more than familiar with the writings of both Tolkien and Lewis, and his criticism speaks to all these ideas.

In A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale Kirk made a deliberate effort to reveal the mythopeic heart beating in the works of Poe and Hawthorne.  Whether or not he will leave others convinced is something others will have to make up their own minds about.  And with that, I turn the floor over to the esteemed Mr Kirk via this link to his Cautionary Note essay online about this very subjectAnd for those who want more, be sure to check out Jeffrey Dennis Pearce’s webpage devoted to Kirk’s thoughts on the genre, Ghostly Kirk.

A sample from Cautionary note:

Since most modern men have ceased to recognize their own souls, the spectral tale has been out of fashion, especially in America. As Cardinal Manning said, all differences of opinion are theological at bottom; and this fact has its bearing upon literary tastes. Because—even though they may be churchgoers—the majority of Americans do not much hunger after personal immortality, they cannot shiver at someone else’s fictitious spirit.

Perhaps the primary error of the Enlightenment was the notion that dissolving old faiths, creeds, and loyalties would lead to a universal sweet rationalism. But deprive man of St. Salvator, and he will seek, at best, St. Science—even though he understands Darwin, say, no better than he understood Augustine. Similarly, our longing for the invisible springs eternal, merely changing its direction from age to age. So if one takes away from man a belief in spirits, it does not follow that thereafter he will concern himself wholly with Bright Reality; more probably, his fancy will seek some new realm—and perhaps a worse credulity.

Thus stories of the supernatural have been supplanted by “science fiction.” Though the talent of H. G. Wells did in that genrenearly everything worth undertaking, a flood of “scientific” and “futuristic” fantasies continues to deluge America. With few exceptions, these writings are banal and meaningless. My present point, however, is simply that many people today have a faith in “life on other planets” as burning and genuine as belief in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell was among twelfth-century folk, say—but upon authority far inferior. . . . Having demolished, to their own satisfaction, the whole edifice of religious learning, abruptly and unconsciously they experience the need for belief in something not mundane; and so, defying their own inductive and mechanistic premises, they take up the cause of Martians and Jovians. As for angels and devils, let alone bogies—why, Hell, such notions are superstitious!

But if the stubborn fact remains that, although not one well-reputed person claims to have seen the men in the flying saucers, a great many well-reputed persons, over centuries, have claimed to have seen ghosts; or, more strictly speaking, to have perceived certain “psychic phenomena.” From Pliny onward, the literature of our civilization is full of such narrations. Scholars have analyzed soberly such appearances, from Father Noel Taillepied’s Treatise on Ghosts (1588) to Father Herbert Thurston’sGhosts and Poltergeists (1955). The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research has examined painstakingly, for decades, the data of psychic manifestations. Eminent people so different in character as the Wesleys and Lord Castlereagh have been confronted by terrifying apparitions….

Do read the whole thing!

Guest Post: Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Conference Report

A Highlight of 2014 — A Trip I’m Planning in 2015!

The HARRY POTTER CONFERENCE at CHESTNUT HILL COLLEGE in PHILADELPHIA: OCTOBER 17-18, 2014 — a report from Toni Gras

Literary scholars amidst a backdrop of Hogwarts surrounded by Griffins….

This was the atmosphere of the third annual Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill College on Friday, October 17, 2014. The college, located in north Philadelphia, was founded by the Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1924 and is an independent Catholic institution.   The tall gothic spires and medieval architecture of St. Joseph Hall, the center point of the campus and conference, along with the griffin flags and seals around the campus, attested to the fact that the conference organizers thought this a most perfect location for a Harry Potter Conference.

And they were right!

Karen Wendling, PhD Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Patrick McCauley, PhD Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Philosophy organized the concept of the conference 3 years ago through their love and study of the J.K. Rowling Harry Potter book series and inspired by the campus of the college where they teach. The conference has since doubled in size and also served as the inspiration for the Harry Potter Festival that follows the conference that evening and the next day in the quaint old English-style town of Chestnut Hill which sits just one mile down the hill from the campus. [Read more…]