Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chris Mitchell tributes

I've now written a slightly more formal tribute to Chris Mitchell, which has just been posted at the Wheaton College site. Here's the link. The entries are arranged alphabetically (after the first two, by Wheaton College's president and by Chris's predecessor as Director of the Wade, Lyle Dorsett), so just scroll down to find my contribution.


Having read through these, I'm struck with how many of them make the same points: a good indicator that Chris was the same with people he met and fell into conversation with, not different men in different contexts.  Oddly enough, I think it was Warnie Lewis, as quoted by Diana Pavlac Glyer, who really captured the moment. Writing about the sudden death of Charles Williams, Warnie put it like this:

“Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles” one says
 — and you have in fact though you don't know it, 
said goodbye forever. He passes up the lamplit street, 
and passes out of your life forever. And so vanishes 
one of the best and nicest men it has ever been 
my good fortune to meet. May God receive him 
into His everlasting happiness.’

--John R.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Story Identified (Davidman's SMOKE)

So, having posted a query to see if anyone out there might recognize a science fiction story Joy Davidman uses, in synopsized form, as a chapter-opener in her SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN [1954/55], I was surprised to have the answer the very next day. Many thanks to Doug Anderson for reposting my query to folks who were able to identify the story in question, and to John Boston for being the font of knowledge that held this particular piece of information and was generously willing to share same.

It turns out Davidman is retelling, probably from memory, a story that had been published in ASTOUNDING back in March 1940: "THE DWINDLING SPHERE" by one Wm. Hawkins. I've never heard of Hawkins before, but a subsequent posting provided a link to the entire story online:


Interestingly enough, this story seems not to have been reprinted or anthologized between its original publication and the date of Davidman's book.* Also, it's clear from reading the story itself that it differs a good deal from Davidman's version, which is thus probably being retold from memory (which might explain why she fails to name the author) or only known to her at second-hand, in a version told her by someone who remembered the gist of the story but not any detail. The most significant departure is that Davidman provides an ending for the story (a brief glimpse of the last human, floating dead in space, after the world has been completely used up by its inhabitants): an ending entirely appropriate and indeed rather better than the one the original author provided, but definitely not taken from the 1940 publications.

And this offers up some interesting possibilities. Did Davidman read this story when it first came out, when she was in her mid-twenties? If so, that wd suggest she was more deeply involved in science fiction than is our general impression of her. Or was the story told to her at a later date, which wd suggest she was plugged in to the science fiction community (fans and writers) more than published accounts have let on. Now that we know her husband knew Heinlein, and Fletcher Pratt, et al, and that Davidman knew Clarke and John Christopher, maybe it's time for someone to research and write up a piece on "Joy Davidman and Science Fiction".

--John R.
current reading: INTO THE WILD by Krakauer  (just finished), FRANZY AND ZOOEY by Salinger (still painfully slogging through), TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF (re-started)

*rpt in MASTER'S CHOICE, ed. Laurence M. Janifer [1966]; THE GREAT SF STORIES 2 (1940), ed Asimov & Greenberg (DAW, 1979); ISAAC ASIMOV PRESENTS THE GOLDEN YEARS OF SCIENCE FICTION, ed Asimov & Grrenberg (1983).  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

This Week in God

So, Monday was Weird News Day so far as organized religion went.

First off there was the interview in which the pope lamented that 2% of all Catholic priests are pedophiles. Given that there are over 400,000 priests worldwide, that works out to about EIGHT THOUSAND PEOPLE.


And when the story was published the Vatican denied,  not the main revelation of EIGHT THOUSAND PEDOPHILE PRIESTS,  but that anyone currently serving as Cardinal was included.

That's right. "currently serving". Not, say, recent or retired.

Great Googly Moogly.

Does this man not know how to lie?

I'm beginning to think that if anyone can save the church, it'll be this pope.

And then, as if that weren't enough, the Anglicans met in their General Synod and finally voted to allow women to serve as bishops. This is something that had been a long time coming, and bitterly fought every step of the way, until (v. like gay marriage) the opposition suddenly melted away. Just to see how lopsided the victory, the women-as-bishops measure got a 'yes' vote from

37 out of 40 bishops,
162 of 191 clergy, &
152 of 200 lay members



The first of these two links gives the numbers and puts things in a larger context (e.g., how it brings the English church more in line with the Episcopals). The second has a fascinating passage that almost slipped by without comment:

The conservative evangelical block, which holds that men must never be taught by women, was not entirely pacified by the promise that a male bishop would be appointed who shared their view that the "headship" of the church must be male. Their lay members voted consistently against, as they had done two years ago.
Although the influential conservative evangelical Philip Giddings announced early in the debate that he would vote in favour of the new legislation – there had been moves to unseat him from his post as chairman of the House of Laity after he voted against in 2012 – a number of speakers from his faction, many of them women, announced their continuing opposition and complained that they were marginalised for their convictions.

It's that final sentence that's the kicker: women who believe men ought not to listen to women complained bitterly that no one was listening to them.

The human mind is truly a fascinating thing.

And then finally there's the Presbyterians. I posted a few weeks back about the General Assembly's decision to allow gay marriages to be performed by pastors who wish to do so and also to divest from Israel. Now my mother has forwarded to me a little informational slip that was handed out to all church members in good standing letting them know the high points of what the Assembly decided at their big meeting. My friend Jeff loved the opening line ("Here we stand, so to speak"), which does have something quintessentially Presbyterian about it (what, did they not want to offend any of our sitting brothers and sister in the church?).

The divestment issue is treated in a paragraph: they make the odd distinction that although the Presbyterians are going to divest, we're explicitly NOT joining the Divestment or B.D.S. ('Boycott, Divest, & Sanctions') movement. That's a bit too fine a point for me.

The gay-marriage ruling has an interesting rider: a proposal to officially change the definition of marriage as between "a man and a woman" to instead "two people, traditionally a man and a woman". That part still needs to be ratified, by 87 out of 172 presbyteries. Be interesting to see how that plays out.

There were other issues as well: rejection of an anti-zionist pamphlet, an appeal for all Presbyterians 'to work to reduce gun violence by advocating for stricter background checks and a ban on semi-automatic weapons', a criticism regarding secrecy in drone strikes, rejection of a proposal to 'trim back references to Israel in liturgical materials' (???), and a rather sad note that 350 congregations had gone walkabout since the last General Assembly, most over the gay marriage thing, and with the new vote now 'more departures are expected' -- possibly including 17 of 54 affiliated overseas churches. They considered but rejected divestment from fossil fuels, 'choosing instead to explore relatd issues that might lead to action by a future assembly'

All in all, an interesting set of developments. And it's only mid-week . , , 

--John R.
current reading: THE MASK OF CIRCLE (Henry Kuttner, 1948)
J. D. SALINGER: A LIFE (by Paul Alexander, 1999)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What Story Is This?

So, at the start of one chapter in her SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN, Joy Davidman provides the following synopsis of a science fiction story to make a point. She does not, however, give the title or identify the author.* Does the following seem familiar to anybody?

In a finite world, continually increasing conumption is just not possible. Some modern fabulist once put this very neatly; he wrote of a wonderful atomic converter which took common earth and stone and turned out whatever goods you wanted. Men rejoiced at the end of all poverty and laughed at the few reactionaries who feared that the world might get used up. Five thousand years later, astronomers were disproving with mathematics the popular legend that the earth had once been much bigger than the moon. Ten thousand years later the story ended-with one starving ancient, perched on his converter, adrift in empty space.


*assuming, of course, that such a story actually existed and she didn't just make it up to make a point.

Davidman's SMOKE

So, having inadvertently helped spark a testy string of posts and counterposts over on the MythSoc list as an indirect result of my post here about Wm Lindsey Gresham, I thought one poster had a good point when she asked if other posters had read Davidman herself. So I decided now wd be a good time to read Joy Davidman's most famous work, SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN, her book of apologetics, a la Lewis,  on the Ten Commandments (one chapter per Commandment, plus another on Christ's Love Thy Neighbor).

The physical book turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find -- no copies anywhere in the King County Library System, which was unexpected, nor in the University Library. However, I found the entire text available online, in the helpful format of each chapter being accessible through its own link on the T.o.C.  Here's the link to the book as a whole:


Reading the book a few chapters per night, I found it a v. strange experience, because I kept hearing Lewis's voice, literally. I have several audiorecordings of Lewis reading aloud various essays, relics of old on-air broadcasts, and as I was reading Davidman's sentences I found Lewis's voice in my ear. Maybe it'd be different if I knew what Davidman's voice sounds like (if any recordings of her survive, I don't know about them); all I know is that Lewis intruded himself like a ghostly presence; v. odd.   I don't think it was the vocabulary but, I suspect, the cadences: it'd kick in for a few sentences, then fade out, then start up again, coming in and out of focus. Which I suppose is one way of saying that Davidman successfully produced a Lewis pastiche here. Oddly enough, the introduction by Lewis was the one part that DIDN'T sound like CSL: stiff and formal and maybe a little ill-at-ease.

I have to say that, so far as the book itself goes, as a work of apologetics, I didn't get anything much out of it other than one good line. At one point Davidman offers her own, inspired, variant of Samuel Johnson's famous dictum: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel". But in Davidman's version, this becomes

 The Old Testament is the last refuge of a scoundrel

I know what she means, having grown increasingly distressed over self-proclaimed Xians who seem to take all their doctrine from the worst parts of the Old Testament. And if they do quote from the New Testament, it's almost always from Paul and not the Gospels. So the book was worth reading for that one good line -- but if I'd have known that one good line ahead of time, maybe not.

So: not as good as Lewis's better books of apologetics (THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, THE GREAT DIVORCE, THE PROBLEM OF PAIN), but better than the worse among them (MERE XIANITY, THE ABOLITION OF MAN, MIRACLES).

--John R.
just finished: THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, by L. Frank Baum (1902)
just started: THE MASK OF CIRCE, by Henry Kuttner (1948)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chris Mitchell

So, Friday brought the unexpected sad news that Chris Mitchell, former head of the Wade, had died suddenly the night before. He'd been out enjoying a hiking and fishing trip with friends when he suddenly collapsed; apparently it was all over within minutes. Which isn't a bad way to go -- no long lingering illness -- but hard on those left behind, who thought they'd be able to enjoy his friendship for years to come (he was just sixty-two). And I'm sure it's very hard on his family to cope with the sudden loss.

I got to know Chris when he came to the Wade Center, replacing Lyle Dorsett (also a scholar and a gentleman) who wanted to get back into teaching. Chris was an excellent Director, making scholars from around the world feel welcome, healing old rifts, and expanding the collection in a lot of interesting ways (for example, by acquiring the papers of scholars who'd worked on Lewis or other Wade authors). I didn't get to see him that often -- usually once or twice a year -- but I always enjoyed our get-togethers when I did. About a year or so ago he left Wheaton in order to be able to spend more time teaching and in scholarship: his current big project was a close look at C. S. Lewis's THE ABOLITION OF MAN. It's a good indicator of Chris's talents that while I think this one of CSL's worst books, I was looking forward to seeing what Chris had to say about it, to see if I cd appreciate any virtues it might have through Chris's eyes.  

For those who weren't lucky enough to know him in person, luckily there are a number of pieces of him online -- such as a lecture he gave at Seattle Pacific University ("C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Scholars and Friends") available through i-Tunes, and some videotaped lectures at the Biola College site via the following link:

I also have a four-dvd set of Chris presenting a series of lectures on MERE CHRISTIANITY (another work I rank relatively low among CSL's books, and hence am looking forward to hearing what in it Chris found so appealing). This is something I picked up at Wheaton; from the packaging it seems to be  part of something called THE C. S. LEWIS STUDY PROGRAM sponsored by a group called 'The C. S. Lewis Institute' I hadn't gotten around to watching it, but I think working my way through it now would be a good way to celebrate Chris's life and work.

Here' a link to a Biola University site* telling of Chris's sudden death

And here's what Wheaton College has to say at its own site:


Beyond that, I don't really know what to say. Since I only saw Chris once or twice a year, the reality of his absence won't be felt at first, until those meetings fail to happen, and then keep on failing to happen, from now on.

He was a good man, a scholar and a gentleman. Rest in Peace.

--John R.

*thanks to Carl, who was the first from whom I heard the news, for the link

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Cat Report (W. 7/9-14)

What a change just a week makes!

With the home-ing of Miss Blackberry (who I miss terribly but am so glad she's in a home of her own*), we were briefly down to seven cats. 

But then the arrival of Mr. TeeMan (who I keep thinking of as Mr. TeaTime), we're back to eight and a pretty full room, considering that they're not the most sociable eight.

I arrived late (9.30) and stayed late (till almost 1) to make up for it, with most of the cats out of their cages most of that time. I started with giving TAWNY a walk. I noticed last week that her fur was beginning to look like she wasn't taking care of it, so decided to treat her like Edna Jane (for those of you who remember her): pluck her out of her cage first thing in the morning, while all the other cats are still in their cages, putting the leash on, and taking her for a walk around the store, putting her down from time to time to sniff and explore a little. Mostly she wanted to explore the spaces behind or under the shelves, but still it got her out of that cage and out of that room and I think did her some good. I combed through her fur with my fingers and it came off in great masses: I was all over cat the rest of the day. But that's that much more fur that won't be giving her a hairball, so it's all good. I also cleaned the sleep out of her eyes, which was getting pretty bad on one side. Once back in the room she went into the short cat-stand on the bench (Phoenix's favorite place) and stayed there the rest of the morning.

Miss PHOENIX herself her usual friendly, well-behaved, calm cat as ever. I sometimes think I overlook her, the one altogether normal cat in the room, because she never causes any trouble and, while welcoming attention, rarely asks for it. Held her in my lap and petted her, and later ran my fingers through her fur and got a fair amount of loose fur off her as well (though it didn't seem like much, her fur being so short and fine). She chose the base of the cat-stands near the door as her spot to hang out. Her calmness had a good effect: at one point I saw Caspar go over and sniff her tail and, getting no response, wandering on off -- if he'd tried that on, say, Molinni or Tawny or one of the bonded pair I think there might have been hissing & so forth. She also spent some time atop the cages

Speaking of CASPAR, he's settling down quite a bit. He still has a tendency to grab and to nibble, but not on the first stroke and not as energetically. He and Mr. Scruffs get along quite well, I've noticed; they hang out together near the door, enjoying the cool breezes. They shared a game of bug-on-a-stick, and it was funny how their different personalities came out. Caspar is all energy and enthusiasm, while MR. SCRUFFS shows experience and cunning. While Caspar pounces, releases, pounces, releases, Scruffs bites down on it and drags it into his lair, like some captured mouse or little bird he intends to messily devour. One of the other cats (Phoenix, I think) also joined in for a while, but it was clearly the two guys' game. Scruffs refused a walk at the end of the morning, and was upset with me for making him go back into his cage afterwards -- think in retrospect that he wanted some time with himself as the only cat out.

MOLINNI was her usual self-possessed self: she came out when she was good and ready, claimed her favorite place (inside the basket on the bench), and didn't budge until I put her back (unwillingly) into her cage at the end of morning. I don't think Molinni likes me v. much, which is too bad, since she's a neat little cat. Does she interact more with the other volunteers?

The sisters, MAEBY and BUXTER, stayed in until I made them move so I could clean their double-wide. Buxter I put atop the cat-stand by the cabinet, which she found entirely to her liking and lorded over for the rest of the morning, gladly accepting attention and petting but warning other cats to stay back. As for Maeby, last week I'd had trouble getting her to come out and then more trouble trying to get her to go back in. This week I tried something new that worked really well: I put her on the shelf inside the cabinet with the cat-blankets. She loved it, and was perfectly happy to be petted and played with while safely hidden up there. She even groomed me a little. It turns out her favorite game is the string-game played with a piece of yarn -- I took away the little bit of yarn I'd brought but will be bringing her her own piece next week.  

And that just leaves the delightful MR. TEATIME ('Tee-Man'), who's a great cat. What a charmer. He loves attention, purrs when petted, enjoys games, and mostly just wants to love and be loved. Think he'll find himself a new home quickly. Hope so anyway. I put him up high, and he went into the box up on the cage-tops, coming out to get attention whenever I was near or when anybody came into the room. Seems to get along fine with other cats too. He loves lap-time. Did notice that he needs a bath: lots of dander on his lower back, near the tail. I wiped him down with a moist cloth, which helped a little, but this kind of dry skin usually needs a full-scale bath to set right.  

I'd noticed a while back that Phoenix has a lump in her tail near the base -- was it broken at one point? Thought of it because Mr. TeaTime has a little kink near the end of his tail. Doesn't seem to bother either of them though.

Lots of visitors, who gave the cats attention that both visitors and cats seemed to enjoy, but no serious prospects so far as I could tell. 

Someone brought a young dog and kept it near the cat-room or an extended period (15-20 minutes); after some initial intense staring on Caspar's and Mr. Scruff's part the cats decided to ignore him. Glad to see they took it so well.

Health concerns: the sneezing seems to have subsided, and the lethargy of last week seems to be receding. The only one I saw sneezing was Caspar, who took his medicine with alacrity. Molinni licked it off her paw; I put some on Tawny's side and think she licked it off. Mr. Scruffs refused his dose altogether. Caspar let me clean his chin some; I also wiped him down with a wet cloth to get some of that loose fur off.

--John R.

*I know we're not supposed to have favorites, but I admit she'd been a favorite of mine.