Dedications and the Real Narnian

Right before the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one finds this short letter that C.S. Lewis as the volume’s dedication:

My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too dear to hear and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C.S. LEWIS

Lucy_barfield

Lucy Barfield

Little did C.S. “Jack” Lewis know that his Goddaughter, Lucy Barfield (1935-2003), hardly saw herself as “too old” for fairy tales. Much to the contrary, this simple and elegant dedication (as well as having the main character in the book, Lucy Pevensie , named after her) would impact Lucy for the rest of her life. She cherished being Lucy of Narnia.

Lucy was the adopted daughter of Owen Barfield, one of C.S. Lewis’ closest friends, and Maud Barfield. Owen had been vital in his spiritual development from an avowed atheist to one of the most influential and greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Lucy was four years old when Lewis began the book, 13 years old when the manuscript arrived to her and her family, and 15 when it was published.

According to Walter Hooper, Lewis’s secretary at the end of his life, Owen Barfield had this to say about his daughter:

Lucy was a very lively and happy child – apt for instance to be seen turning somersault wheels in the garden immediately after a meal. From an early age she showed marked musical taste and ability. After a short-lived ambition to become a ballet dancer, she eventually qualified as a professional teacher of music and was employed for a year or two as such by a well-known Kentish school for girls (C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide,  p.758).

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True Friendship in a Facebook World—Children’s Lit Corner

My son has been playing a texting game with his girlfriend called “Would you rather . . .” This is how it goes: they take turns asking each other hard philosophical questions, or silly questions, or questions involving difficult moral conundrums, all beginning with those words “Would you rather . . .” The other day I was driving with my son up in the mountains and his little text notification kept chiming at him. Because he and I were having some wonderful conversations together, I felt a little sad that the texting would probably prevent us from going as deeply into philosophy as we had been delving. But then he turned to me and involved me in his game. “Mom,” he asked, “would you rather live in a little house with a big garden or live in a big house with a very little garden?” Continue reading

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YA Corner: Books About Couples

The blush pink roses and white anemones are hanging upside down. No longer intoxicatingly fragrant, yet they retain their perfect form. Tempting packages of Lemon Crinkles, Old Fashioned Molasses Snaps and Dark Chocolate Truffles snuggle side by side — a happy surplus! Gracious exclamations and looping words of love are pinned to the wall. Towers of towels on the piano, piles of Pyrex and pillows, a small mountain of measuring cups, spoons, kitchenware and appliances sit, sorted in splendor. The vintage lace-covered gown hangs from a stair railing, looking nearly animated. Bright with hope and promise, the newly formed family of two sit together laughing, telling stories of just-made memories. We, the older family, bask in their warmth and laugh with them.

It took a gargantuan effort to pull everything together, but the wedding was everything we dreamed of, wildly chaotic and punctuated with unexpected pleasures. Thankful, we are oh-so-thankful for family and friends who gave their best to help us. The forward momentum of wedding focus is still ingrained in my mind, though I know it’s over and finished. I continue to have little relapses, like hearing a great jazz tune and thinking to myself “Wow, that would be perfect for the background music playlist. Wait, I don’t have to do that anymore.” The energy will return, I think, for everyday sorts of living and I will feel sad.

In honor of the first wedding to take place among my children, and in honor of that happy couple, here is a short list of recently read, notable Young Adult books about couples. Continue reading

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In Tents #40 He is Risen, and Other Texts That Don’t Behave as Textual Critics Think They Do

First a story, then a question.

He was born David King, Jr., the son of David King in Jerusalem’s Lot, a small town in Maine that had known vampire troubles a century or so earlier in the time of the Romanian vampire troubles, and some said the vampires had come to town after their expulsion from Romania, and others that they were Roma vampires and their descendants had been responsible for an outbreak of thinness, people getting thinner and thinner who hardly wanted to lose the flesh that tied their bones to solid earth.

He wondered what an anorexic vampire would be like. Would they spit back the blood they had sucked? And what if the one they bit were on a blood thinner? Would it deprive the vampires of needed nourishment from thickened blood? And would the thinner blood prove incapable of holding the vampire virus and letting it bond? Did Coumadin have the same salutary effects as garlic?

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Random Bits: Hugo Nominations, The Expanse TV Series, “Whaliens”

Hugo Nominations

The Hugo Award nominations came out a couple of weeks ago, and Andrew Hall has already listed the LDS nominees.  But I’d like to give a bit more context to some of the controversies.

The Hugos are nominated and voted upon by members of WorldCon, and anybody who’s willing to pay for a supporting membership (currently £25, around $42) can do so.  Larry Correia encouraged his fans to buy memberships and recommended several potential nominees, most of which made it onto the ballot, including several by LDS authors: Larry Correia’s Warbound (the third book in his Grimnoir Chronicles, which I reviewed here), Dan Wells’s The Butcher of Khardov, Brad Torgerson’s “The Chaplain’s Legacy” and “The Exchange Officers”, and Steve Diamond’s Elitist Book Reviews.

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This Week in Mormon Literature, April 28, 2014

A busy two weeks, with a new anthology to benefit Robison Wells, the LDStorymakers Writing Conference and the announcement of the Whitney Awards, and Hugo nominations. Also, I spoke with The Good Word podcast about Mormon literature, so take a listen! Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Awards, blogs posts, and other news

Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells have organized a science fiction/fantasy anthology called Altered Perceptions, to benefit author Robison Wells, one of the main creators of the Whitney Awards, who is facing high medical bills because of his mental illnesses. Continue reading

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in verse #40 : owed to Keats

Have you ever wanted to correct a classic of literature? One that makes an egregious error, but that can be easily corrected? Like, say, this:

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like Balboa when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Where is the error? Well, as most of you well know, Continue reading

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Heather B. Moore’s Ruby’s Secret

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I’ve long wanted to read Moore’s Book of Mormon-themed fiction, but she’s written them faster than I could get around to reading them, which I find paralyzing (I’m a terrible consumer of series). Which is a great thing about reading for the Whitneys because it gets me to consume books before the zeitgeist sweeps past. This year I only had time to read one category and perhaps I should have chosen Historical rather than General because Moore is nominated for tackling perhaps my favorite story in scripture—Esther. And I would have preferred my first read of her work to be what she is most revered for.

Which isn’t to say her contemporary work doesn’t have an audience (I understand it’s rather large, in fact) just that I hear less praise for it.

Ruby’s Secret is part of the Newport Ladies Book Club series written in alternating volumes with three other writers, each starring a different member of the book club (the final volume will feature all the characters and be cowritten by the entire stable).

Let’s start our discussion of Ruby’s Secret with the intertextuality that comes from the series’s characters orbiting a sequence of books. The books they read in these pages are The HelpThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe War of Art, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which make for a nice variety of reading for the ladies. The success of these various volumes in tying into the events of Ruby’s Secret varies (The Help and Henrietta Lacks seem to have very little life outside the book-club meetings while The War of Art becomes practically a spiritual guide for our protagonist), but I appreciated the effort to add layers to what is, overall, rather simple storytelling. Continue reading

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Moving Culture

At this year’s Association for Mormon Letters conference I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on teaching Mormon literature with Margaret Blair Young, Shelah Miner, and Boyd Petersen. Among the items we discussed at length was the challenge of finding an audience for Mormon literature—particularly among actual living, breathing Latter-day Saints. I don’t remember every point we raised during the discussion, but the idea that has remained with me is that we need to do a better job of moving culture.

Currently, Mormon culture—at least in the United States—is not a great incubator for readers of the kind of Mormon literature I usually write about (i.e. “literary” Mormon literature, “realistic” Mormon literature, “serious” Mormon literature, “fringe” Mormon literature, etc.). Generally, a few Mormons will read what Deseret and Cedar Fort publish, but far fewer will pick up something by Zarahemla and Signature Books. We can debate reasons for why this is the case, but I think it probably comes down to the fact that most Mormons a) don’t have access to these books and b) would probably be put off by their realistic (or surrealistic) portrayals of flawed Mormons anyway.

This is where the idea of “moving culture” comes in. For the Mormon literature audience to grow, we need to be able to move culture physically to the potential reader and move the culture (that is, change it) in a way that helps potential readers better contextualize and appreciate what they see on the page.

Obviously, both types of moving will take monumental effort and probably centuries of dedicated service. In the meantime, here are three things I think we can start doing today:

Be Open

Talk about Mormon literature online. Share your experiences with good works of Mormon literature. Link to free works of Mormon literature online. Don’t shy away from endorsing good Mormon literature because you worry that its content might offend your Mormon friends and family. Lend out your Mormon literature and even (gasp!) make some of it available for free online.

Change the Conversation

Too often, the first thing we talk about when we talk about art and media in the church is “questionable” content: bad words, sex scenes, decapitations, etc. Unfortunately, doing so often distracts from the weightier matters of these works—and establishes critical standards that can prove spiritually harmful if applied to fallible Church leaders, incidents in Church history, and people and situations in general. (If it is unfair to judge people by the cockroach rule, why should we judge media by that standard?) I think doing what we can to shift the conversation from content to context will help move culture to a place more open to varieties of Mormon literature. I also think it will make us a more charitable people.

Embrace the Radical Middle

Cultural movers should not expect change overnight. Indeed, if Mormon history has taught us anything, it is that Mormons take change sluggishly and do not wear extremism well. As we talk about and write Mormon literature, let’s eschew the usual extreme approaches and radically shoot for the center, inviting our extremist friends and neighbors to meet us in the middle. Besides, as several people pointed out during the conference, the Church at present seems interested in moving the culture away from past extremisms, yet it continues to move slowly on this interest because of the apparent reluctance of many members to move with it. Perhaps our current cultural moment needs a new Home Literature that works in tandem with those messages from the Church that encourage a more open-minded, thoughtful, and charitable membership.

Thoughts? What else can be done to move culture?

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2013 AML Awards

Glenn Gordon and Margaret Blair Young posted these award citations on the AML Facebook page, I am copying them here.

The Association for Mormon Letters presents an award
In creative non-fiction to

Melissa Dalton-Bradford
For her memoir
Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family

Melissa Dalton-Bradford takes her reader on journeys to humor and heartbreak, across borders of multiple countries, beyond unthinkable edges of grief, and into several languages. The reader is rewarded by a new sense of the world and of humanity, as well as by Dalton-Bradford’s poetic word crafting. Her book is a gift to all who read it. Continue reading

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