The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #2)

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You know you are in for trouble when the back cover synopsis lists “diversity” as a strength of the book. The character team in this novel is an angsty teenage Seattleite social-justice warrior’s dream, featuring a homeless runaway lead who has been misunderstood and rejected; a metrosexual black dwarf who wants to run a fashion line rather than craft weapons and is misunderstood and rejected; a deaf emo elf who with a tragic backstory and a sadistic father who was misunderstood and rejected; a devout Muslim Valkyrie who is in an arranged betrothal (presented very sympathetically) who is also misunderstood and rejected; and a shapeshifting, “gender-fluid” homeless youth who is also, you guessed it, misunderstood and rejected.

Let’s be honest, Riordan’s strength has never been in character development. His most consistent qualities are his snappy, fast paced writing, and his trademark snarky one liners. His books are all fun, light, quick reads, even if they tend to run a little repetitive. When he draws on the depth and power of his source material, i.e. the mythology of the nations that built western civilization, instead of mocking it, he does even better. He does have the capability to go deeper, as he demonstrated in his original Percy Jackson series. His adaptation of the curse of Achilles and the premise of Hestia as “The Last Olympian”, consciously or unconsciously brought greatness into the story. The development of the character Nico as a homosexual was rather well done in “The House of Hades,” and in fact allowed Riordan to introduce a truly profound thought about homosexuality. He pointed out that to the ancients the relationship between man and woman was a representation of the balance in the entire universe. Then he has the character wonder, “Where does that leave me.” However, he fails to live up to this question, and instead simply ignores it and has Nico begin an implied relationship with one of the other boys at camp in the next book.

His treatment of Alex Fiero in the Magnus Chase series was even more ludicrous. She remains at best a token character, despite being one of the leads, mostly because the dialogue he crafts for her reads like a gender theory manifesto. He attempts none of the hard questions that are raised by the existence of people like Alex, either for them or for the people who care about them, and simply trots out an unconvincing but politically correct storyline.

His treatment of the Norse Pantheon was far less sympathetic than was his treatment of the Greek and Roman pantheons, or the Egyptian in the Kane Chronicles. I am not here using the term “sympathetic” to mean approving, but rather to mean that he does not enter into the Norse viewpoint. The Norse gods, even more than with the others, are treated as ridiculous, inept, stupid and absurd. There is not even an attempt to tell the Norse stories in the spirit in which they were handed down, i.e. that of a cosmically tragic story of a short-lived, beautiful and precious moment of order and peace flowering up from a primordial state of chaos, but doomed to be destroyed by those forces of chaos in the end, and the courage and valor of those who chose to live on the side of the gods, knowing their ultimate destiny was to be utterly destroyed.

Instead, nearly every interaction between the protagonists and the gods in this trilogy results in Magnus Chase and his team mocking, shaking their heads, and outwitting them, often using the very powers that were given to them by their immortal parents to do their job better than they could. The obvious inference is that a diverse group of 21st century teenagers will always be smarter and wiser than the thousands of years of culture which brought them into being.

Enjoy Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus. Don’t bother with Magnus Chase.

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** spoiler alert ** What to say about this book? What can I compare it with? I will start voyage-to-alpha-centauri-97460xlby saying that even having read “Father Elijah” (by the same author, Michael D. O’Brien.) I was not prepared for the emotional impact of “Voyage to Alpha Centauri.” It starts out as the memoir of a cowboy physicist with a ceremonial ticket on the first human trip to the nearest habitable planet, Alpha Centauri. His ruminations about the voyage, his place on it, and the rest of his fellow passengers, are snarky, curmudgeonly, and highly amusing. The characters are well drawn, lively and full of rough edges and very human quirks. It is all together entertaining and enjoyable.

However, rather like a lighthearted comedian whose humor conceals a darker side, this book and it’s main character and narrator, gradually begin to travel in darker and more cynical territory. By the end of the middle third of the book, I was convinced that there was no height of human joy or depth of human sadness evil and stupidity that it had not plumbed. As it turned out I underestimated the author. Or perhaps I underestimated his all too human characters.

Should I call this a sad book? Should I call it a hopeful book? Should I call it a joyful book? During its reading I did all three. I wept, I hoped, and I rejoiced. The joy, hope and beauty of the wedding juxtaposed with the absurdity and wasted life of the catastrophe are only too familiar from my study of history and my experiences in life in general. This, I suppose, is the mark of a truly great author of fiction, That he is able to show humanity as it is, gloriously beautiful and tragically flawed. In this sense, everything about the novel rings true. I will say however, that it is heavy going in places and I had more than a few bad dreams from it. I highly recommend it, but I do not lightly recommend it.

Paradise Lot PicI just finished reading this book, “Paradise Lot: Two plant geeks, one-tenth of an acre and the making of an edible garden oasis in the city” and I enjoyed it a good deal. The author, Eric Toensmeier and his roommate Jonathan Bates, tell the story of their purchase of a tenth of an acre with a duplex in Holyoke MA, and their 5+ year process to turn it into a self-sustaining, edible ecosystem. At times getting really into the weeds (hee hee hee!) about their choices of what to plant, where, when and why, they show how a knowledgeable and creative approach, respectful of the natural order of things, can successfully guide an ecosystem to be healthy, beautiful and productive. Within 5 years of planting they were growing and harvesting pawpaws, berries, apples, grapes, peanuts, groundnuts, “yamberries” and raising chickens all on one-tenth acre which had previously been hard-scrabble urban fill and compacted clay.

Another quality of the book I appreciate is Toensmeier’s ability to remain, on the whole, politically neutral and to concentrate on the inner workings of the garden itself. Bates, in his contributions, waxes a bit more and rhapsodic, but altogether they focus on encouraging community and small scale oriented changes rather than wasting their time on the more typical environmentalist spiels about mega-systems and international orders and corporations and such.

Finally, what most sticks with me are these two excerpts from one of the last chapters:

“As a budding ecologist in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I learned that the best we can possibly do as environmentalists is to minimize our impact on nature. The ideal footprint would be no footprint at all. That doesn’t really give us a lot of room to breathe, and with that as its model it’s easy to see why the environmental movement has not won wider acceptance. The most profound thing I have learned from indigenous land management traditions is that human impact can be positive – even necessary – for the environment. Indeed it seems to me that the goal of an environmental community should not be to reduce our impact on the landscape but to maximize our impact and make it a positive one, or at the very least to optimize our effect on the landscape and acknowledge that we can have a positive role to play….”

“I’m all for hammocks and fruit, but I’m learning to embrace the idea of gardens that need us not to toil against weeds and bugs but rather as part of the ecosystem, to hold the rudder and help steer nature in a direction of delightful abundance and elegant complexity.”

Especially that last paragraph seems to me to embody a truly Catholic ideal of both the nature and dignity of human work and its relation to the environment.

Take as a whole the book also highlights why so much of our agricultural practice is destructive and ultimately exploitative not just of the environment but, which is much more important, of other people. The approach described in this book requires a deep knowledge and love of their little miniature ecosystem, and of all the plants that made it up, informed by a love of the community they were building and a desire to share the abundance that they knew the earth was capable of with others. It requires work, understanding, patience, and trust. It is much simpler and easier to strip the ground bare, plant it with all one kind of seed, spray it with chemicals to kill all other kinds of plants, spray it with more chemicals to kill all the insects (good and bad), to harvest by machine or underpaid labor, and then to sell it on the hope of breaking even with enough left over to put food on the table and pay the mortgage.

This leads to my final point about this book which is that the authors do not recommend that everyone cease their agriculture practices, burn down the agri-business and return to an urban-hipster-perma-agrarian way of life. They are practical and sensible in realizing the costs, risks and possible outcome of a permaculture system. They are aware that only the fact of an established and intricate economic network enables them to have the time to devote to their hobby and to make it as successful as they were able to make it. Their self-proclaimed goal is to build a foundation of mistakes and lessons learned from them in the hopes that in 20-years their successes will be regarded as obvious and simply take for granted, while other interested people can build on their knowledge and experience to build communities and networks of communities growing more food in a more sustainable way.

Altogether, I enjoyed it, it has given me a lot to think about it, and as my family plans an eventual move to some land of our own, we will be giving a permaculture approach a hard look and some serious thought.

Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian DoctrineLetters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection of sharp witted and sharp tongued essays from the brilliant 20th century poet, playwright and social commentator Is Dorothy Sayers at her best. Each essay is a concise, perceptive and incisive examination of the topic at hand. The collection begins with a number of essays addressing the inherent power, beauty, and interest that is the Christian story. She traces this power and beauty not merely to the story itself, as might be the case with any world mythology, but rather to the person of Jesus Christ himself. She contrasts that power and beauty with the dilution of dogma which was even in the mid 20th century wreaking havoc on the church of England. “If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; where is the sense of there being offended at something that is not Christ and there’s nothing like him? We do him singularly little Hunter by watering down his personality tell it could not of found the fly. Surely it is not the business of the church to adapt Christ to man, but to adopt meant to Christ.”

Later in the book several essays are included on the value of work, particularly seen through the lens of the enforced privations of the second World War. Her insights into the economic roots of the war, and the social and spiritual forces that conspired to bring back economic situation to pass, are very germane to our own time. Also included is an essay on the nature of God as a creator and implications for human artists in the addressing of human problems. This essay is incisive and worth reading in its own right, but is better read along with her further thinking on the relation between human creation and the inner life of the Trinity, in her other collection, “The Mind of the Maker.” Various other essays cover topics such as literary criticism of allegory, and the treatment of the devil has a character in literature.

This book represents a tour de force of Dorothy Sayers social thought, as well as her wit and knack for creative explanation. Covering, as it does, so many areas of potent interest, this book is a must read for any thinker.

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Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the ChurchPromise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the Church by Editor Mary Rice Hasson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most balanced and intellectually stimulating collection of thoughts on the topic of feminism in the Church I have ever read. The women who penned these essays provide deep insights and cogent explanations of the issues surrounding the place of women in the Church and of the Church in the world. Some points that were especially thought provoking to me:

– The concept of integral complementarity, contrasted with fractional complementarity. Fractional complementarity is the notion that men and women are made for each other, and that each is half of a whole that is the image and likeness of God (1/2 + 1/2 = 1). The implication of this is that each is only half of their true potential without the other. Integral complementarity is the idea that both men and women are true and complete images of God, and that when they come together the result is greater than the sum of both alone (1 + 1 = 3).

– The “richer Theology of Woman” presupposes and necessitates a “Theology of Man.”

– The inequality between the genders in society has its basis in the biological fact of inherent sexual asymmetry. That is, women are more intimately and deeply implicated in the process of procreation. This is the vulnerability that the second wave feminists fought against (i.e. with contraception and abortion) rather than the masculine abuse of that vulnerability targeted by the early feminists.

– The presence of any particular woman in any particular avocation should not have to be a conflict with her deeper and more critical vocation to her husband and children. Indeed, the great failure of feminism today is that it has not lived up to the hope that it would bring about a greater empathy, personalism and other orientedness (in a word, a level of feminization) to the world of business. Rather, the effect of drawing women out of the home and into business has largely been the greater and almost pathological masculinization of the home. Women have not made business more caring. Business has made women less caring.

– The Catholic Church has not, by and large, led the charge in making its workplaces more friendly to working mothers. (The authors did not speculate on why this is the case, but having seen something of the inner working of parish finances in our area, I suspect in most cases parishes and dioceses are hampered by a lack of funds, and that the responsibility for that lack can be traced directly to the lack of generosity of the lay people in the pew every Sunday).

I do not necessarily agree unqualifiedly with all of the authors’ ideas, but they were all thought provoking and have broadened my understanding of the debates surrounding the place of women in the Church and in the World.

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The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy LandThe Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t think I have ever described a history book as an emotional rollercoaster before, but there is always a first time. The first for me is Thomas Asbridge’s “The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land.” This book spans the climactic years of 1095 – 1291 A.D. from the launching of the First Crusade to the final fall of the Crusader states. Despite knowing how the story ends, so to speak, I was on the edge of my seat the entire book, following the events with a mixture of admiration, horror and exasperation.

Asbridge begins his exhaustively researched account by going back in time to the latter days of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Catholic Middle Ages to explore the origins of the strange notion of “Holy War,” and describes the military, economic, cultural and political environment in which that notion arose. He takes (almost) equal care to examine the related Islamic concept of Jihad. During the two-century crusading period he takes care to alternate point of view between Christian and Muslim forces, although for some reason the bulk of the storytelling is done from the Christian perspective. I am not sure what the reason for this is. I suspect it has more to do with the relative availability of access to the primary sources that he builds his narrative upon.

He also makes strong efforts to tease out what life in the Holy Land was actually like during the crusading period, and comes down strongly against the notion that it was one long bloodbath of barbaric ferocity and unmitigated atrocity. Examining taxation records, economic legislation, personal letters and journals, he reconstructs an image of a world of shifting allegiance, borders and interests in which economic activity and temporary political alliances were as important as warfare. Skirmishes and battles were common, but these often left the face of the land and the common people untouched.

He documents the chronic in-fighting, greed and ambition that plagued and hampered both sides and ultimately led to the downfall of the Crusader States, without a doubt the most frustrating part of the story. When he judges the actions or decisions of the very characters he takes care to do so based only upon what they most likely knew at the time, rather than judging them based on hindsight.

Finally, he addresses the burning question of whether and to what extent the Crusades were merely examples of a perennial and inevitable clash of civilizations that continues into our present day. He makes a strong argument that the term “Crusade” has fluctuated meanings drastically in its long history, (Jihad less so) and that it is a misappropriation of history to regard the current struggles in the Middle East as successors or continuation of the Crusades. He ends the book on a cautiously hopeful note, but with a realistic view of the dangers of the popular image of the Crusades, divorced from the real, complex history of the period.

While I think he somewhat downplays the consistency of conflict between Islam and the West, and the consistency of conflict in the Middle East, his point about misappropriation of history is well-taken. This book is a great primer on a fascinating and influential period of history. Available as a brilliantly performed audio book from Audible.

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Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. JakiScience Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki by Stacy Trasancos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is a certain irony in the fact that I am reviewing and commenting on this book, since it is itself a review and commentary of the corpus of work of Fr. Stanley Jaki. However, Stacy Trasancos’ book fills a very necessary and unique niche, which I will try to explain.
Fr. Jaki was a Benedictine priest, theologian, physicist and historical researcher, world famous lecturer and honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences. He decades researching, studying, writing and lecturing on the philosophy and history of science, and specifically the nature and origins of science in history. The upshot of this lifetime of study was a pair of startling claims.
The first was a definition of science as “the quantitative study of quantitative aspects of objects in motion.” This claim is startling because it seems somewhat reductionist at first glance, too simple. It excludes all of what we now call “scientism,” i.e. the belief that science can explore and solve all human problems, by insisting that science is and can be concerned only with:
1. Material reality (i.e. objects in motion)
2. States of those objects that can be observed (“quantitative aspects”)
3. And measured and expressed in an exact numerical fashion (“quantitative study”)
All other realms of study fall under what Fr. Jaki terms “reasoned discourse.” This, of course, limits the “science” under discussion to quantities amenable to experimentation and measurement. So, for instance, physics is the only true, exact science. Chemistry takes on the nature of an exact science as we bring it down to the molecular level and study the interactions of subatomic particles. Biology and medicine are even less exact, although as study of their molecular basics advances the claims about those atomic interactions may become simultaneously more limited in scope and more scientific, in the Jakian sense.
It is also important to understand that Jaki speaks of the historical origins of this science he is speaking of the development of a self-perpetuating culture of quantifiable study and discovery leading to further study and discovery in a “system of systems.”
This brings us to the second startling claim, this the much more controversial one. This is the claim that science was born of Christianity. In short form, Jaki claims that the culture of systematic, ongoing quantitative study of nature arose within, and only within, the theological, philosophical and psychological milieu of Christian medieval Europe, and that it arose because of that milieu. Jaki describes seven other ancient cultures, predating Christian medieval Europe by centuries to millennia, and covers their scientific and technological advances in some detail before returning to the historical fact that these real advances and discoveries, and the scholastic cultures and institutions that they developed within, never coalesced into a systematic, self-perpetuation culture of quantitative study of nature. He traces these failures (referred to as “stillbirths”) to the philosophical and theological pre-suppositions of the cultures, including cyclic views of history (Platonism and Aristotelian cosmology), pantheism, animism, impersonal deism or extreme transcendent deism (i.e. the Muslim conception of Allah as so completely utter that he cannot be bound by any human law, including the laws of reason.)
What these worldviews had in common was the assumption that the world was ultimately a futile place, either because whatever happened was based solely upon the whims of the gods, or the fates, or the magical spirits inherent in the celestial bodies, or that life was simply an endlessly repeating cycle from which there was no escape, or escape only by detachment from nature and the body. These philosophical underpinnings were not conducive to the hope of a rational, discoverable universe.
Jaki contrasts these worldviews with the theology of Catholic Christianity, which saw the universe as a separate creation of a personal God who, though transcendent was nevertheless rational. This led to the belief that He had created the universe to run by its own set of laws rather than by mere divine whim, and as such it was predictable, rational and discoverable. Jaki points to this belief as setting the necessary cultural and psychological groundwork in which a system of physics could arise and flourish.
I understand that this claim will seem controversial. I myself am fully convinced of its plausibility, although this book does not go into sufficient detail to establish its factuality. I do not think that was Dr. Trasancos’ intent. This book is intended to introduce readers to the concepts, and to provide a reference to Dr. Jaki’s work in a brief, accessible outline form. I can pay it no higher compliment than to say that it made me wish I had time to read Dr. Jaki’s work myself, but that since I do not have that time, I am grateful that someone else has done the laborious work of reading and summarizing it for me. It was done with sufficient care and detail that I confidently accept the thesis as the most plausible working theory, pending further research.
The book’s format is concise and logical, beginning with a chapter establishing definitions, and then describing in turn the stillbirths of science in other cultures, the rise of Christian culture and what set it apart from previous and co-existing cultures, and finally a brief overview of some of the scholars who contributed to the process of developing the scientific worldview as an explicit component of their theological and philosophical beliefs and study. She then follows up with a chapter briefly addressing some of Jaki’s critics, and a chapter containing her own reflections on the role of Christianity in science going forward, and of the role of Jaki’s thesis in ecumenical and evangelical efforts.
Overall this book is a very strong review, remarkable for its concise coverage of such vast material. It could have benefited from a more careful proofread in the grammar and punctuation department, but while distracting, the few typographical errors did not materially detract from the content. While most of it is an expose’ of the work of other people, Dr. Trasancos’ own thoughts on the role of Christianity in science were interesting and valuable. More so, her insight into the metaphor of stillbirth vs. birth and the analogy of the Church as the “mother” of Science was beautiful and suggestive of far greater realities, coming as it does from a woman who is not only a scientist, but also herself a mother who has experienced the visceral reality of both live and still births in her own life.
I highly recommend this book, and look forward to reading more from Dr. Trasancos.

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Heaven Starts Now: Becoming a Saint Day by DayHeaven Starts Now: Becoming a Saint Day by Day by Fr John C Riccardo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book by Fr. John Riccardo of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Archdiocese of Detroit, is a printing of a series of 8 lectures that he gave at a 10-week course in his parish. The subject of this series is becoming a saint in day-to-day life, a topic which he approaches with cheerfulness and optimism, but above all with total seriousness. He really intends to convince people to undertake the task of becoming Saints.
There is, of course, nothing really groundbreaking or revolutionary in that call. That is a good thing. Revolutionary and groundbreaking spiritual writing is usually heresy. This book is a distillation and rephrasing of the perennial message of Christ through His Church, and in keeping with the call of Vatican II to a “new evangelization” and the “universal call to holiness.” Where it seems revolutionary that is only because it is re-presenting the essentially revolutionary nature of Christianity.
He begins by exhorting the reader to sit down and make a detailed plan of how you intend to achieve sainthood, (you can check mine out on this site if you like). He then takes the reader through a few of the fundamental obstacles to holiness that the beginner can expect to run into and those with more experience will readily recognize. These include “Forgiveness,” “Fear and Anxiety” and “Suffering.” He concludes with a chapter on the Primacy of Love.
It was this final chapter that I thought most relevant and necessary (it stands on the other chapters, however, so don’t just skip to the end). In it Fr. Riccardo sums up his foregoing advice under the title of “accumulation of virtues.” I especially love that phrase because it so perfectly illustrates my default (and problematic) approach to holiness. That is, I habitually pursue the accumulation of virtue in a check-the-list fashion. (“Now for a limited time only, pursuit of virtue! Collect all seven!”)
Fr. Riccardo provides the necessary corrective to that attitude by pointing out that the end goal is not perfection. That is an impossible goal. Instead the goal is intimacy with Jesus, perfection being the inevitable but utterly gratuitous result of that intimacy. That is, we are trying to open ourselves to the love of Jesus, and letting that love be manifest in our obedience to Him and in our treatment of our neighbors. Virtue is a means of exercising that love, and also the result of being possessed by that love.
Again, there is nothing new in this book (or under the heavens either, accord to Ecclesiastes). If you have done any catholic spiritual reading at all, or have ever read the Bible you have heard it all before in much greater depth. It is, however, a great reminder, easy to read but challenging to live up to. As long as we live I don’t think we shall ever grow out of our need for repeated exhortation, and this is what Fr. Riccardo provides admirably.

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Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned from Porn to PurityDelivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned from Porn to Purity by Matt Fradd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a sobering read, at times heartbreaking and infuriating, at times humbling and hopeful. It includes the stories of four men (one includes a joint interview with his wife) and four women who endured addiction to pornography and eventually struggled their way to freedom by God’s grace. This book pulls no punches in showing the soul-killing and love-killing effects of this addiction. Nor does it sugar coat the terrible grip it has on those who are trapped in it, or the pain and confusion it can inflict upon their families. It does not lie and give you an easy, step-by-step guaranteed process for breaking free. Rather, it tells the stories of people who did break free, along with the real costs of that struggle. It provides hope, without empty promises, and ultimately reminds us that freedom can only be found in surrender to God. Without that utter dependence, no process and no amount of effort can ever be successful.

A word about who should read this book. Obviously anyone who uses pornography, or who has a loved one who does, could benefit. However, I would take the perhaps controversial step of recommending this for teenagers. I can understand if parents are reluctant to share this book with their thirteen or fourteen year old children, for fear of exposing them to something so ugly and destructive. I understand and respect that instinct. However, if your children are in their teens and they are in public school, the odds are they have already been exposed to the real thing. The earlier they hear the truth about how ugly, perverse and destructive this vice is, the better. This book may not be the instrument parents decide to use to try to inoculate their children, but all parents do need to make that decision and do need to use something. This book could well be a valuable weapon in the fight for the souls and sanity of our children.

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The Personal Heresy: A ControversyThe Personal Heresy: A Controversy by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a debate between two great 20th century scholars of English Literature, C. S. Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard, conducted in the form of a series of essays on the subject of what Lewis dubbed “The Personal Heresy.” Simply put, this is the assertion that literary criticism (and by extension the criticism of other arts, although they are not deeply addressed) should aim at a contact with the personality of the writer (or artist), and that the corpus of a writer’s works, taken as a whole, may be said to be an indication of the writer’s personality. Dr. Tillyard wrote in defense of this proposition, and Mr. Lewis wrote in opposition to it.

Tillyard’s arguments revolved around defining what he meant by personality (“A fixed pattern of mind”) and showing by various examples that this could be observed in poetry. He then argued that the “fixed pattern of mind” of poets and other great personalities, such as artists, statesmen, etc. were demonstrably higher and more worthy than that of most ordinary men, and that the purpose of reading great literature was to spend time in the company of such outlooks and patterns of thought, so that by extension, imitation and perhaps just mere contact, the personalities of common folk might come to resemble those of greater minds.

Lewis’ argued to the contrary that the purpose of a work of literature was that literature itself and had nothing to do with the artist’s biography or pattern of mind. The work of art existed to communicate an idea, usually something ineffable and resistant to ordinary means of communication. The writer, and more specifically the poetic writer, captures this idea, or experience, or emotion by the use of the techniques and skills proper to the craft, so that it may be apprehended and grasped by others. From this he argued two propositions: firstly that it was not the poet or his state of mind that was the object to be communicated, but rather some third thing. Thus, when most nearly approximating the poet’s point of view, the reader is most definitely not looking at the poet, but rather through the poet’s eyes at whatever the poet is looking at, seeing it the way the poet does.But it was the thing looked at, the object of the poem, that was the main thing, and criticism ought to be concerned with how well or ill the poem expressed the thing. He also argued that a poet’s outlook, personality and “pattern of thought” was not a fixed part of his personality, but a technique that the poet used, partly through learning, partly through instinct, and partly through trial and error. It was not some quirk of the poet that was expressed but rather something common to all, some feeling or experience or idea that all or most people have, but which they are usually unable to express. (Lewis did allow for the ability of poets to create a reaction, thought or outlook in the reader de novo, but again as the sharing of some object rather than as a sharing of personality.

After reading the book I agree with some points of both. I agree in the main with Lewis, that art is, or rather ought to be, an act of communication of some third thing with a reader or viewer. Because of this, when we see most clearly what the artist is seeing, we are seeing him least. However, sometimes one of the things that the artist may be looking at is himself. I would argue that this is an inferior sort of art. The higher the art, the higher the object looked at, and the more the self of the artist vanishes in the appreciation, communication or even the adoration (in the case of religious and/or erotic art) of the thing looked at. However, Tillyard’s positions have become a self-fulfilling prophesy in a sense. If critics look for the personality behind the works, that is, look for the artist, and teach the average reader to do the same, then eventually artists begin to think that that is what is proper to art (I am speaking in gross generalizations here) and begin to create art whose purpose is to “express themselves.”

Finally, I agree with Tillyard that one of the main purposes of exposure to fine art is to shape one’s mind and personality by contact with that art. This has been a theme at least since Plato’s Republic. Where I would differ with Tillyard is in identifying the poet per se as the one that we wish to be in contact with rather than with his or her ideas. Thus, one can appreciate the poetry and art of a thoroughgoing rotter, and even be enobled by it, without the least bit of approbation for their misdeeds or mistaken beliefs. The plays of Robert Bolt come to mind as an example of someone whose philosophies might have been mistaken, but whose communication of an object (i.e. St. Thomas More) was so faithful and loving that it is uplifting and ennobling. In this view the artist is reduced (in the logical rather than the pejorative sense) to a vehicle for something greater than himself and it is that something else that we attend to when we read the art, rather than the artist.

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