A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War

The trailer above is to a five part documentary film series that the movie makers hope to sell to Netflix or Amazon. It is the adaptation for the small screen of Joseph Laconte’s history, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918. Judging from the participants in this trailer, most notably Malcolm Guite and Michael Ward, and from the quality of the recreations shown, it looks to be a series well worth watching.

I have learned, though, that the film-makers need money to finish off Part One and to make the sale to the streaming movie platform owners. If you wish to contribute or just to learn more about the project, check out the on-line pitch here.

If you’d prefer to hear the author speak on the topic of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and how their experiences as soldiers in WWI shaped their lives and their friendship, not to mention the Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, you can just watch the talk below. Enjoy!

Puns, Prophecy, and Pizza

On Puns, Considered in Shakespeare According to Hermetic Principles

“Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man,” a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is, in my opinion, the epitome of everything a good pun should be (and yes, there is such a thing as a good pun).  And in the spirit of good analysis and not-so-great humor, I will now explain precisely how this joke works and why.

The context is important here. The speaker, Mercutio, lies dying, having been mortally wounded by Tybalt. Mercutio is precisely the sort of character who takes very little seriously. Here, even as he is about to die, he makes a pun. Whatever he is, he is not “grave” in the sense of being serious. However, he is about to die and thus will find himself in a “grave”, namely the place where one buries dead bodies. That said, the only time he could ever be “grave” (sense 1) is if he is in a grave (sense 2). Thus the full sense of “you shall find me a grave man” is “you’ll take away my sense of humor over my dead body, which it presently will be”, which we may label “grave” (sense 3).

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‘Full Circle’ Thoughts on the Narniad: LWW’s Ring Composition and Alchemy

I gave a series of seven talks at Oklahoma City’s Full Circle Bookstore on the subject of the artistry and meaning of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Recordings are available as an ‘extra’ to anyone signing up for my Wizard Reading Formula course online (about which, ‘stay tuned’). To the delight of my inner Gilderoy last night, I found a review of the first class that was written by a student taking a public speaking course at a local college.

If C. S. Lewis or talks by the Hogwarts Professor in person are of any interest to you, that evaluation of my class content and delivery are after the jump. Feel free to let me know what you think of this student’s judgment and of the content he describes!

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Inklings Novels

Pillar Post Place Holder for Sidebar Listing

7 Reasons Rowling Deserves Nobel Prize (2) CSL’s Poeima: Genre and Influence

Vladimir Nabokov, the writer Rowling says “I really love,” was a native-born Russian and a formalist obviously influenced by Russian formalists. In yesterday’s first point of formalist criticism in explanation of why Rowling merits a Nobel Prize, I shared the formalist distinction of syuzhet and fabula, artistic narrative versus basic story or plot, and its relevance in appreciating Rowling’s ouevre. Nabokov made the same formalist distinction in English about the subject of literary study, syuzhet, with an emphasis on “structure and style” as the beginning and end of a serious reader’s work.

M. H. Abrams wrote that the “focus on the formal patterns and technical devices of literature to the exclusion of its subject matter and social values”  is why the Formalists were labelled as such by their critical opponents (Glossary of Literary Terms, p 107). Nabokov lectured on literature at Cornell University and his talks there as well as the interviews he gave and the books he wrote all speak to his having shared this Formalist view.

He described his course, Literature 311-312, Masters of European Fiction, for example as “among other things, a kind of detective investigation of the mystery of literary structures” (Lectures on Literature, p xxx). He notes as he begins his discussion of Dickens’ Bleak House that form equates to subject matter in the best writing.

What do we mean when we speak of the form of a story? One thing is its structure, which means the development of a given story, why this or that line is followed; the choice of characters, the use that the author makes of his characters; their interplay, their various themes, the thematic lines and their intersection; the various moves of the story introduced by the author to produce this or that direct or indirect effect; the preparation of effects and impressions. In a word, we mean the planned pattern of a work of art. This is structure.

Another aspect of form is style, which means how does the structure work; it means the manner of the author, his mannerisms, various special tricks; and if his style is vivid what kind of imagery, of description, does he use, how does he proceed; and if he uses comparisons, how does he employ and vary the rhetorical devices of metaphor and simile and their combinations. The effect of style is the key to literature, a magic key to Dickens, Gogol, Flaubert, Tolstoy, to all great masters.

Form (structure and style) = Subject Matter: the why and the how = the what. (Lectures, p 113; emphasis added)

A student in Nabokov’s last class at Cornell, John Updike’s wife, remembers his “central dogma” was “Style and structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash” (Lectures, p xxiii). Our principal pleasure in reading the best fiction, Nabokov declared, is the fruit of our ability in re-reading to “keenly enjoy – passionately enjoy, enjoy with tears and shivers – the inner weave of a given masterpiece” (Lectures, p 4). In our seven point apologia for taking Rowling seriously as a writer we wil be returning again and again to just this focus on the syuzhet “inner weave” of structure and style in its various forms.

Today I want to discuss a point that C. S. Lewis makes in his critical work as formalist about poeima, his Greek equivalent I think for the Russian syuzhet

A work of literary art… both means and is. It is both Logos (something said) and Poeima (something made). As Logos it tells a story, or expresses an emotion, or exhorts or pleads or describes or rebukes or excites laughter. As Poeima, by its aural beauties and also by the balance and contrast and the unified multiplicity of its successive parts, it is an objet d’art, a thing shaped so as to give great satisfaction. (Experiment in Criticism, p 132; cited by Schakel, The Longing for a Form, p xv).

This “shaping” is largely a consequence of Forma or Form, usually capitalized by Lewis, which Schakel defines as “literary ‘kind,’ almost ‘genre’.” Lewis in his Preface to Paradise Lost wrote:

Every poem has two parents — its mother being the mass of experience, thought, and the like, inside the poet, and its father the pre-existing Form (epic, tragedy, the novel, or what not) which he meets in the public world. By studying only the mother, criticism becomes one-sided. It is easy to forget that the man who writes a good love sonnet needs not only to be enamored of a woman, but also to be enamored of the Sonnet (Preface, p 3; cited by Schakel, p xi).

Literary artistry, in other words, is largely an author’s appreciation for and command of the the particular forms of literature, the genre rules, standards, and commonplaces. Rather than restricting the expression of a poet, novelist, or playwright, the form focuses and reveals the inspiration, the materia of any work; the form is the essential complement to the matter of the story.

It would, in my opinion, be the greatest error to suppose that this fertilization of the poet’s internal matter by the pre-existing Form impairs his originality…. Materia appetit forman ut virum femina. The matter insides the poet wants the Form: in submitting to the Form  it becomes really original, really the origin of great work. The attempt to be oneself often brings out not only the more conscious and superficial parts of a man’s mind; working to produce a given kind of poem which will present a given theme as justly, delightedly, and lucidly as possible, he is more likely to bring out all that was really in him, and much of which he himself had no suspicion (Lewis, Preface, p 3; Schakel, p xii).

To understand why Rowling deserves a Nobel Prize, especially from a Formalist’s perspective, necessitates discussion of her relationship with genre and the specific forms of story with which she engages and within which her stories are told. Here are three quick points that demonstrate Rowling’s creative genius and syuzhet with respect to story-types she loves and adapts to her purposes.

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