On Learning

Last month, I wrote a post for the One Year Adventure Novel blog entitled The Hidden Connection Between Fiction and Academic Writing. The post was specifically geared towards that community, so it discussed how writers can use the OYAN curriculum to improve their academic writing – but it also briefly discussed the idea of creativity in academia as a whole. In this blog post, I’m not going to get into everything I discussed there, but I do want to use it as a way of introducing some of what I want to say here. If you want to read the whole thing, go for it!

(Before proceeding, be warned: this is not going to be a polished, well-edited article. This is a stream of consciousness blog post, without editing – basically just my raw thoughts)

So in that OYAN blog post, I mentioned how most academic writers have a lot to learn from creative writers. Many skills learned in creative writing are directly transferable to scholarly writing and vice-versa, despite the widely held belief that they are two entirely different activities. (On that point, I’d make the argument that literally every skill and experience you have is transferable to everything else you do in some way, but that’s another blog post for another time)

While some ideas expressed in that previous post are related to what I want to discuss here, I now want to talk more broadly – about something I see as a problem in today’s education system as a whole: which is that it seems we have forgotten the whole point of learning. What do I mean by this? Let me begin with a quick scenario, using writing as an example:

A current undergraduate student is taking a general education “English 101” course – and so he has to write several academic essays on various topics that he cares nothing about and will never research again in his life. As a result, this student learns to hate research, to hate academic writing, and maybe even to hate education itself. Obviously, the professor’s goal for assigning these papers was for her students to become better writers and more adept researchers – but by structuring her assignments in the way she did, she completely missed the potential to allow her students to also learn more about personally interesting topics – and thus to enjoy learning.

Writing and finding quality information are both core 21st Century skills which are directly relevant to everyday life – so learning these skills is obviously important (I teach college-level information literacy myself, so I’m a big proponent of that) – but if students are being taught to write about subjects they care nothing about and to find information they will never use beyond their classes, then the entire purpose of learning has been forgotten. I believe much of this problem stems from the fact that today’s culture has tried to separate learning from enjoyment and make them into their own separate categories. This distinction informs how we separate knowledge from art, work from hobbies, and yes – scholarly writing from creative.

Looking at writing specifically: I do enjoy writing academic papers, but I enjoy writing them because I see them as an incredible opportunity to share things I am actually excited about with other people who are also excited about them. I enjoy academic writing because it presents the challenge of creatively crafting my ideas into the “academic structure” – which is really just the best format for those people to be able to access, read, and fully understand what I’m trying to say. I write academic papers for the same reason I post in ALL CAPS on Facebook after I find out who’s going to be the next Doctor on Doctor Who  – because I just learned something new, and I am really excited to share it with other people.  The academic structure does not exist just so that students and scholars have to adhere to it – it exists because it is one of the best ways for those people to easily process that information and those ideas. The entire academic system of articles, and journals, and databases is built to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between real people who are excited about what they are learning – but students and teachers alike seem to forget that.

Curiosity is a part of being human – we are all designed to want to learn things. We are also designed to communicate, and to create. Writing is a means by which to do both of those things – and different avenues of writing (fiction, scholarly articles, blog posts, etc.) are all just different ways to create for and communicate to different audiences. You may not ever need to write scholarly articles, if you are not writing for researchers and academics – but for me, academic writing is a wonderful way to creatively express my thoughts, ideas, and research with other people who will learn from and appreciate them. And then I can also read what those people are excited about and what they are learning. By writing for each other, we are not just learning in isolation – we are learning collaboratively – and I believe that is how we are meant to learn, because knowledge is meant to be shared.

So… why do we learn? What is the real point? We of course learn so that we know how to do things – like learning to drive a car, studying to get a degree, or memorizing a song so that we can sing it. In these situations, it’s often not the learning itself that drives us – it’s the goal that we really want, and learning is just how we get there. This is a good, healthy way to learn, because it teaches us the value of learning. But we also learn things simply because they are exciting to us. I don’t read a million articles about the musical Hamilton because I’m going to write a paper about its Broadway success (though that’d be fun), I read them simply because learning more about the musical excites and interests me. I don’t learn about Irish fairy-tales, or Disney movies, or penguins for any reason other than because I sincerely enjoy it.

We were made with the ability to learn. Learning is a beautiful gift that God gave us when He created us – and in the same way that we enjoy the sounds He created for us to listen to, and the color He created for us to see, and the food He created for us to taste, we are meant to sincerely enjoy the ability He gave us to learn.

By fully appreciating God’s gift of learning, and by using that gift to give back to others in our own creation, communication, and collaboration, we are also glorifying Him.

TL;DR: Learning is an awesome, wonderful gift from God – and we are meant to enjoy it!

 

 

 

A Penguin Post

I’m going to resume my library posts soon (probably this weekend), but before I do, I want to write a special post about something very dear to me…

As the title has already spoiled, that something is PENGUINS.

Before I continue, I will note that contrary to popular belief, penguins are NOT my favorite thing in the world (le gasp!). I actually prefer a vast number of things to penguins – such as C. S. Lewis, musicals, England, music, libraries… the list goes on. Penguins *are*, however, my favorite ANIMAL. And thus, they do deserve at least one blog post dedicated to their objective awesomeness.

If you are a neophyte penguin enthusiast, you may think of a certain species of penguins when you think “penguin”. The most popular, undoubtedly, is the majestic Emperor Penguin, pictured below:


As you can see here, penguins can be both majestic (adult Emperors) and adorable (baby Emperor).

However, in addition to the popular Emperor, there are also Rockhoppers, Macaronis, Chinstraps, Gentoos, Galapogos, Kings, Royals, Little Blues, my personal favorite the Adelie, and more – adding up to a grand total of 18 different species of penguins, as depicted below:

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Each type is beautiful in its own unique ways.

You probably know at least the basics about penguins from documentaries, zoos, and the like – and so in this post, I am going to share with you some specific penguin facts that I find interesting – and also a few important penguin GIFs.

Penguin Fun Facts:

  1. The first published account of penguins originates with Antonio Pigafetta. Pigafetta was aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the earth in 1520 when he saw and wrote about penguins – though he originally thought them to be geese.
  2. The fastest species of penguin is the Gentoo Penguin – it can reach swimming speeds of up to 22 mph.
  3. The Linux mascot, Tux, is a penguin. Penguins are cool. Thus: Linux is cool.
  4. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species of penguin, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest species of penguin is the Little Blue, which is only about 16 inches.
  5. Pittsburgh’s hockey team name is “the Penguins” – and thus, I support them and collect Pittsburgh Penguins merchandise.
  6. While most people associate penguins with Antarctica, they are actually much more widespread. In addition to Antarctica, Penguin populations can be found in South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and many small islands in the southern Pacific Ocean.
  7. The name “penguin” comes from Welsh terms –  ‘pen’, meaning head, and ‘gwyn’, meaning white.

Quality Resources to Learn More About Penguins

Here are some excellent books to read if you want to learn more about penguins. I own several of these, and I have read all of them (except the coloring book… but I included that here just for fun. I do want one).

  1. Penguins: The Ultimate Guide
  2. Penguinpedia
  3. The Penguin Lessons
  4. Penguin Coloring Book For Adults
  5. Penguins of the World

Notable Penguins in Fiction

Clearly, penguins need more representation in literature, film, and other mediums. Maybe I’ll write my own penguin story someday. But for now, here are three of my very favorite penguins in fiction:

  1. Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel, and Kevin, 3-2-1 Penguins
  2. Captain Cook and Greta, Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  3. Frobisher, Doctor Who Big Finish audio dramas

My Top 5 Favorite Penguin GIFs:

And finally, here are five essential penguin GIFs. Enjoy.

  1. Penguin GIF 1
  2. Penguin GIF 2
  3. Penguin GIF 3
  4. Penguin GIF 4
  5. Penguin GIF 5

In summary: Penguins are fascinating animals, for many reasons. While I have numerous interests that far surpass that of penguins, they are still easily my favorite animal.

Penguins are decidedly cool – and not just because many of them live in Antarctica.

Response to “Why We Need Flawed Characters”

I read this article posted by Relevant Magazine early today entitled “Why We Need Flawed Characters”… and it triggered some thoughts of my own. This post is not meant to demean the writer of this article, and it is not meant as an argument against anyone who agrees with this article. These are just my personal thoughts on the subject, which I realized deserved a blog post as I tried unsuccessfully to limit my words for an acceptably long Facebook response.

To start, I will state that I do think there are some excellent points in this article. It’s important to have characters we can relate to. Often, characters who come across as overly perfect and self righteous are unbearably annoying to me – especially when they are poorly written and seem to have no flaws.  However, I overall disagree with the primary arguments of this article – because while I do believe that relatable characters are important, I also believe that heroes should be virtuous.

When I read and watch fiction, the characters that truly inspire me are the ones who are good, noble, selfless, and just. Of course these characters still make mistakes, but their virtuous natures inspire me and make me want to be like them. Honestly, I care a lot more about Captain America and Superman than I do about Deadpool, Wolverine, Star Lord, Arrow, or Batman. Superman’s optimism and selflessness inspire me, because I value those traits and strive after those traits in my own life. While the others may have noble intentions, and while it’s true that I can relate to them at times, I never want to be like them. Yes, they are interesting characters – but they are not true heroes to me.

From what I have seen of Marvel’s Daredevil, I do very much like the protagonist, and I do view him as a hero. But it’s not his flaws that make him admirable or inspiring to me. I love his pursuit of justice, his selflessness, his love for people – and I love him for his resilience. Yes, he stumbles and he makes mistakes, but every time he gets back up again and strives to do better. If Daredevil did what this article suggests we do – simply embrace our messed up natures – I would not admire him in the same way.

“The heroes adored by modern society are not beacons of moral self-righteousness who stand on unattainable peaks of principles and practices.”

I think the article is on point here. But I think that this says more about modern society than it says about the types of characters we should see as heroes. I do not believe that the values and principles of characters like Superman should be seen as unattainable. I believe that we should be striving to emulate an even higher standard of righteousness – that of Jesus. It’s true that we will never achieve that perfection on our own – and yet, He does instruct us to be like Him.
“Superman was a beacon of light. He represented a world in which right and wrong were simple, straightforward concepts. There were no gray areas.”

As Christians, isn’t this exactly what we believe? That right and wrong are simple, straightforward concepts and that there are no gray areas? God has told us in his Word what is right and what is wrong. It’s clearcut. This does not mean it is easy to choose right over wrong, but it does mean that “gray areas” have nothing to do with our failure to follow Him. When we sin, it is because we have made the choice to do so. When we choose to reject Christ, it is because we have decided that it is, as C. S. Lewis puts it, “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (The Great Divorce). We know the difference between right and wrong, and we know the consequences of rejecting Christ.

“We continue to focus on keeping the rules, despite the fact that Jesus stood against ritualistic rule-keeping. We see the same trends throughout the history. Priests set themselves apart through rituals and practices too complex and time-consuming to be kept by anyone else. We make up similar rules today.”

I understand what the author is trying to say here, and I agree to an extent. Jesus focused on relationship, not on rules. And yet, He has given us rules and commandments, which He expects us to follow. He has every right and authority to give us those rules – and we have every reason to obey the One who is wholly good and sacrificed everything for us. Jesus emphasized the importance of relationships over rules, but he also says that we are supposed to be in the world and not of the world. We are meant to be holy (set apart) as He is holy – and while I do agree with the author that this primarily means loving people (the first commandment), it does also mean following God’s other commandments. Which means that we do have to acknowledge that “worldly behavior” is not okay – even if this alienates us from the world and makes us unpopular. Jesus had no trouble proclaiming good as good and evil as evil – no matter how unpopular that made Him – and neither should we.

“We don’t want leaders to order us around. We want leaders we can relate to.”

Again, this is true to an extant. A good leader does not merely give orders and expect people to follow him. A good leader serves, sacrifices for, and loves those he leads. But a good leader also has the responsibility to be an example to his followers – and this does mean living according to higher standards. I don’t look to flawed leaders who are like me to be my guides. I look to leaders I admire, respect, and want to be like – even if I am not yet.

The ending of the article is my favorite part:

“We don’t have to put on the mask anymore. We don’t have to pretend to be perfect, like we don’t have problems, like things don’t hurt us, like we always know the right answer. We aren’t Superman. We aren’t bulletproof or sin-proof.”

This is all true. We are not Superman. We are not perfect, but Jesus is – and when I choose my heroes, I do so by recognizing Jesus in them. I am sinful, I am flawed, and I have problems – but I desperately want to be more like Christ. And so it is His ideals – goodness, truth, and righteousness – that make me see someone as a leader and a hero.

We should constantly be striving to be pure, noble, honest, selfless, and good. We cannot be any of those things on our own – but we can through Jesus Christ. Jesus is all of those things, and perfectly so. He is my ultimate role-model, my ultimate leader, and my ultimate hero. And while other people and fictional characters I look up to are of course nowhere near Him in terms of perfection, it is ultimately because I see His goodness, love, and purity in them that I admire them and want to be like them in the first place.

We are all flawed. But it’s not a hero’s flaws that make me admire and respect him and want to be like him – rather, it’s the reflection of Christ’s goodness in him. As Christians, we have Christ living within us – and it is only because of this that we can be servant leaders and ordinary heroes in Him. Perhaps our modern society only embraces heroes who are flawed, broken, troubled, and tortured – but in all honesty, I still see purity, truth, selflessness, and righteousness as the qualities of a true hero. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned.

 

On G. K. Chesterton

Lately I have been reading a good deal of Chesterton in my spare time, and so I decided this morning that I would enjoy writing a short summary of why I love and appreciate his writings and worldview to the extent that I do. There is much more I could say on the subject of Chesterton and his writings, and perhaps I will in future posts. However, for now, here is a simple summary of why he has this year become one of my ultimate favorite authors, and also a petition to read his writings for yourself if you have yet to make that worthy plunge.

Gilbert_Chesterton.jpg

Introduction to G. K. Chesterton:

Chesterton is an author that is understandably hard for neophytes to get into. Not only do his writings require an extensive amount of thought to fully grasp all of the truth they contain, they also tend to be fairly wordy – sometimes to the extent that they are overly abstruse. However, I would contend that the bounty of beauty and truth that permeates Chesterton’s writings is utterly worth any potential effort on the part of the reader.

G. K. Chesterton wrote widely and originally on a vast array of subjects, and he held opinionated beliefs on politics, philosophy, faith, economics, government, etc. He also wrote a variety of literary genres – from poetry, to literary criticism, to essays, to theology, to history, to comedy, to detective fiction. What is perhaps most remarkable is how Chesterton triumphed in every one of these endeavors – proving that he is not simply a skilled writer in one area, but rather that he is as protean as he is accomplished.

My personal knowledge and understanding of Chesterton and his works still leaves much to be desired. While I have read a myriad of his essays and many of his essential works of fiction and non-fiction multiple times each, his writings are bursting with enough wisdom and wit to keep me learning and studying for many years to come. However, now that I have made known that I am in my own mind far from an expert on Chesterton and his work, I am going to do my best to summarize Chesterton’s writings and briefly touch on what I deem to be a few of the most profound themes and ideas that permeate his life and works:

The Reason and Sense of Fairy-Tales

“I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since,” ~ G. K. Chesterton

While I am not going to go into depth on the many reason why I consider fairy-tales to be important and relevant to life (I have already written my treatise on fairy-tales in the form of my undergraduate senior honors thesis – though if you desire the short version, you can simply read the two-part series I wrote for the One Year Adventure Novel blog), I do definitely want to bring up the fact that Chesterton displayed an immense regard for fairy-tales in his writings. Chesterton believed that fairy-tales are intimately real and that viewing the real world as a magical one is the most reasonable perspective possible.

This theme comes up time and time again in Chesterton’s writing – perhaps the most notable being “The Ethics of Elfland”, within his book Orthodoxy. The theme is also directly addressed in several of his essays and more subtly explored in his novels, The Man Who Was Thursday and Manalive.

The Mystery of Creation

“Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.  The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.  He has permitted the twilight.  He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland,” ~ G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton viewed life as a great and true mystery. This does not mean that Chesterton believed life to be ambiguous – on the contrary, he believed firmly in absolute truth and the purposeful nature of life, as he was a devout Catholic and follower of Christ.

However,  according to Chesterton, we were never meant to be able to rationalize the world  – for reality is meant to be mysterious. Everything, in Chesterton’s eyes, is full of mystery – from commonplace events, to the birth of Christ. Life is abounding with magic, and wonder, and mystery – and while we will never fully understand it until the end of time, we can delight in that fact – because in the end, all that is wrong will be made right, and all sorrows will be overcome by the perfect joy of Christ.

Adventure vs. Inconvenience

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered,” ~ G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton viewed matters that might normally be considered troublesome inconveniences to actually be opportunities for joy and adventure.

One example (drawn from “On Running After One’s Hat), is as follows: The wind blows away my hat. I could choose to see this as an inconvenience, because now I have to go chase after my hat (or conversely, let it fly away); or, I could choose to see this as an adventure – I now get to embark on an exciting quest to retrieve my truant hat. This viewpoint, according to Chesterton is a much more worthy and useful viewpoint than the first – and I am inclined to agree with him.

Here is a additional example – this one as an entire quote (because it is too wonderful not to quote):

“Most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences—things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains. I myself am of little boys’ habit in this matter,”

~ G. K. Chesterton “On Running After Ones Hat”

Conclusions:

“Well, that’s that then – you’ve convinced me!” you may be thinking, “I’ll read Chesterton! But where should I begin?”

I am so delighted you asked. I would highly recommend you begin with The Man Who Was Thursday – a novel that traverses from a political detective story to a tale that deals with the mystery of creation and the very nature of God. It is full of delightful surprises, remarkable descriptions, brilliant wit and humor, and an overlying theme that transcends the novel itself and initiates contemplative thoughts that warrant at least one or two re-reads.

After you finish The Man Who Was Thursday (whether for the first or fifth time), I recommend you make a foray into Chesterton’s non-fiction; his essays are a marvelous place to begin. While my personal favorites in this genre include “On Running After One’s Hat”, “The Advantages of Having One Leg”, “On Lying in Bed”, and “The Dragon’s Grandmother”, every one of his essays deserves at least one reading – and certainly different readers will emerge with different favorites. The entire collections of Tremendous Trifles and In Defense of Sanity are splendid places to start. Finally, I would recommend a reading of what is widely considered Chesterton’s most essential volume – his Christian apologetics book, Orthodoxy. While the previous recommendations are fairly tame (relatively speaking), this volume, if taken in one dose, may render you overwhelmed by its verbal and intellectual complexity – however, when read in smaller increments (a chapter a day may suffice splendidly), it makes for a highly enjoyable and enlightening read.

Hopefully this short summary of G.K. Chesterton and his work has been somewhat helpful and informative – and even more hopefully, perhaps it has inspired you to embark on your own intrepid adventure into his writings. For further study into the life and works of Chesterton (beyond simply reading them), I highly recommend you peruse The American Chesterton Society website, which contains a wealth of information and insight on the subject (http://www.chesterton.org).

Musings from OYAN Week

This isn’t going to be long or incredibly profound, but I just had a rare experience that I thought would be worthy of sharing here.

So this week I am at the 2016 OYAN Winter Workshop – Scribes of the Round Table – and in the mornings, I always get up about 7:30 to make coffee and spend some time alone with God.

Well, this morning, I got up at 7:00, because I awoke with an unexplainable urge to get up. At first I considered ignoring it and getting another much needed half hour of sleep (I was still plenty tired and could have fallen back asleep immediately), but I decided to listen to the strange call to get up anyway. So I showered, put on my shoes, and prepared to go to the main meeting lodge to make some coffee. But when I went outside, I was surprised to find a beautiful brown bareback horse standing in the field opposite me. It was bending over and eating remains of green grass from where the snow had melted.

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After taking a few pictures, I walked up to it – slowly at first, but then when I realized it wasn’t going anywhere, I went up right next to it and began to pet it. I did this for just a few moments before the horse turned and began trotting away.

I looked around. Nobody else was in sight, and so I followed it.

I followed the horse past the cafeteria building. Two people (I’m guessing employees of Heartland Center) came out and asked if that was my horse. I assured them it wasn’t, which led them to assume it was a Heartland horse that had escaped. They said they would attempt to call its owners, and I said I would follow it so that it didn’t wander too far or into the street.

And so I did. On and on the horse trotted, and I walked with it, right at its side. Whenever I stopped, the horse kept moving but kind of looked back at me as if to see why I wasn’t keeping up. If I walked ahead, the horse began to walk faster. And so we went on this way for some time, until both the horse and I had walked for quite awhile and to the far end of the campsite.

At this point, my legs and face were quite numb, and my wet hair was beginning to freeze – as I had not been expecting a winter excursion when I went out to make coffee, and so had not dressed accordingly. However, I did not want to leave the horse alone, and at this point I was also quite curious, and so I continued to follow it.

In not too much time at all, we made it to a sign that pointed to “stables” – which the horse followed. I was now quite certain that this was a very clever horse, and that after somehow escaping its stables, it had wandered off in search of someone who could let it back in. And so I followed the horse right to the stables and opened the latch. It whinnied a mighty whinny and trotted in.

On my walk back to the other side of the retreat center, I pondered the happenings of a moment ago. For some reason I had woken up early enough to see the horse in the field. There’s no guarantee that it would have been there if I had slept even a half hour more. And so, with the the theme of this workshop being of the Round Table, I couldn’t help but feel I was destined to meet that clever horse and help him in his quest to return home.

Perhaps this wasn’t a grand, perilous quest – but it was still a quest, and I was content in that. The horse was safe, and I had had an adventure. All was well.

This “quest” also led me to ponder the importance of curiosity, as spoken about my Mark Wilson the previous day in his talk on the knight Percival. I could have said no to my curiosity, and let the horse wander off on its own – but then where would it be? Either still wandering the campsite, or worse, lost in the streets. However, because I surrendered to my childlike curiosity, I was able to follow the horse to the stables and ensure its safety – while also having an adventure of my own.

And thus, I suppose my overall conclusions from this Quest are twofold:

First, adventures – which can happen anytime, when they are least expected, and hardly convenient – should be embarked upon when they are offered, for the same chance of adventure may never be offered ever again. If I wouldn’t have gotten up when prompted, I would never have seen the horse. If I wouldn’t have followed it, I never would have led it home. It’s only because I accepted the adventure disguised as inconvenience (not being able to sleep) and happenstance (a random horse in a field) that I was able to learn from it and also help someone else through it.

And second, innocent childlike curiosity is important and should not be discounted. Our eagerness to discover new things can not only lead us to learn more ourselves, but also lead us into opportunities to help others – like Percival could have restored the Fisher King’s kingdom if he had surrendered to his curiosity about the Holy Grail.

And thus concludes these morning musings from the OYAN Winter Workshop. Now I will see about making that coffee.photo 2 (7).JPG

Music is Magic

Lately (this past semester), I’ve been back to playing, practicing, and performing on my upright bass regularly again – and it is the most beautiful thing. Solo playing, playing in my orchestra, playing with friends… all of it.

At the height of my undergraduate career (once I switched my major to English Literature), I convinced myself that I didn’t have time to spend hours playing music, since there was always a constant list of homework, research papers, readings, meetings, etc. to accomplish. But now I’m working on my graduate degree, while also working a job, and I definitely don’t have any more free time then I did then… and yet, I am still managing to fit music into my schedule. I have remembered how much I adore playing music – and that even though playing music isn’t graded or required for me right now, it is still such an important and necessary part of my life.

Music is magic. When I’m playing my upright bass, that is exactly what it feels like… creating magic. Somehow, I am able to move my fingers and my bow in a way that creates the right sounds and songs, and it really is magical. I’m not going to describe this any further, because I don’t know how. But yes. I am playing lots of music again, and I am so, so happy about it!  Here are a couple rough videos I recorded today (even with bad recording equipment) of me playing upright bass, if you want to watch.

“Prelude” from Cello Suite. No. 1 in G Major, by J.S. Bach

“Concerto in G Major”, by E. Nanny (attributed to Dragonetti)

On “Till We Have Faces”

Till_We_Have_Faces(C.S_Lewis_book)_1st_edition_cover

“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
~ C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, (294)

Two days ago, I decided to start re-reading Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis for the second time. I had not read it since high school. Now, two days later, I have finished my re-read, and I can definitively say that this story means far more to me now then it did the first time (though I loved it even then).

Till We Have Faces is a very different story from some of Lewis’s other writings, such as The Chronicles of Narnia. While in Narnia, it is easy to spot analogy and truth with Aslan and the vivid fight against darkness, in Faces, the meaning is perhaps more veiled. However, once unmasked and understood, I believe the truth within this story is just as great – and potentially, even greater.

I should also say, before looking in more detail at Till We Have Faces, that Lewis is my favorite writer, and if I had to choose one author who has solely impacted my life more than any other, it would certainly be him. It is, then, quite the compliment for me to say that this may be my favorite out of all his writings (and I have read them all, at least once).  So, In this post, I will endeavor to explain why Till We Have Faces means so much to me – though of course, I highly recommend you also read it for yourself.

Introduction and History:

Although the plot races through a powerful drama based on the pagan myth of Cupid and Psyche, readers must keep pace with difficult spiritual questions as the narrator navigates painful memories and grave soul-searching. Lewis thus takes a bold and unfiltered look at some of humanity’s darkest struggles: pride; doubt; anger against God; the problem of suffering; and the mysterious battle between love and selfishness in the human heart.” (Mann, 1)

 To begin, I will provide a brief introduction to Till We Have Faces, as well as some of the history of its origins. This is Lewis’s final novel, published in 1956 – and it is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Pysche – from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (or The Golden Ass), which was written in the 2nd century AD.  This was a story that Lewis wanted to write ever since he was an undergraduate and studied the original myth.

Lewis said that Till We Have Faces was his favorite novel he wrote, and what he considered to be his best – and many critics agree. Not only did Lewis write an unforgettable adaptation of the tale of Cupid and Pysche, he incorporated deep philosophical and theological truths, as well as reflections from his own life. In many ways, the struggles of the character Orual reflect the struggles of Lewis himself as described in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy.

Myth to Fairy-tale

Something remarkable to me, is Lewis’s ability to transform this classical Greek myth into a story abounding with such wonder and truth. Lewis’s story, while based on the original myth and still consistent with that tone and style, becomes what I would consider more of a fairy-tale. Part of this is due to Lewis’s decision to tell the story from the perspective of Orual – Psyche’s sister, and a much more “ordinary” protagonist. As readers, we can understand Orual’s dilemmas and struggles, as she is tempted by doubt and pride, has questions about dreams and love, and hides herself under lies and veils. Lewis’s choice to use such a narrator enables us to see the story through her misconceptions and self-deceptions – what she believes to be an accurate account of her life.

Some would call the original story of Cupid and Pysche a fairy-tale as well, and it may be. I am basing my classification simply on my own definition of fairy-tale, which is informed by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis himself. For more on my classification of “fairy-tale” read my post What Makes a Fairy Tale a Fairy Tale, which I wrote for the One Year Adventure Novel blog (http://oneyearnovel.com/blog/what-makes-a-fairy-tale-a-fairy-tale/). Alternatively, feel free to email me and I will send you a related excerpt from my undergraduate honors thesis, which I wrote on what I call “modern fairy-tales”.

Now that I’ve given you a bit of an introduction, I will get into the important part – here are some of the reason why I love Till We Have Faces as much as I do, expressed in what I consider to be three of the primary themes of the story:

Dreams, Reason, and Reality:

“Of the things that followed I cannot at all say whether they were what men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream. But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water-spouts of truth from the very depth of truth.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (277)

Till We Have Faces is full of dreams and visions, and they are used to illustrate specific points. Throughout the novel, Orual demonstrates her lack of belief in the reality of Psyche’s situation. Orual attempts to use reason to explain everything away, and she is unwilling to believe or accept her dreams or the dreams of others as true – even though in the end, her visions and dreams are shown to be more real than her previous reality and reasonable perceptions. It is Orual’s view of her life that is the “frigid personification” and “flat outline” of the truth – and the gods’ view that is true and infinite (The Problem of Pain, 45).

Reason versus imagination is a theme that permeates Till We Have Faces. The character of Fox is a representation of reason, reminiscent of the Greek philosophers, like Plato, who believed that dreams were not revealing and simply dependent on the psyche. However, Lewis depicts dreams as bearers of truth, and he shows that faith trumps reason.

Self-Knowledge, Self Deception, and Self Sacrifice

“The lesson is whether we can discern life and the divine when our hearts are impure, when our faces are blurred with our own desires. Orual discovers that until we find sincerity and clarity—until we have faces—we will never know the truth.” (Straza, 1)

From the beginning, Orual constantly deceives herself – for instance, when she uses reason to determine that Psyche must either be insane or a liar, even though she knows inwardly that she is neither of those things. Orual’s self deception continues, as she loses her true self and instead becomes the Queen. Orual’s knowledge of herself is distorted – just as her love for Psyche is distorted – by her own self deception.

Lewis uses the rest of the story to show Orual’s transformation as she discovers her true self. In the end, Oural is not only shown who she truly is, but she is shown that she can only become her true self by giving herself up. It is in the self-giving and renouncing of herself, now recognized, that she becomes herself and finds true joy. It is only when Orual confronts her true self – by removing her veil – that she is able to encounter God face to face. And it is only at this point, that Orual is able to form a true relationship with God, herself, and others.

“I become my own only when I give myself to Another” ~ C.S. Lewis, Letters Vol III (348)

Transformation of Love

Finally, one of the primary themes of Till We Have Faces is the transformation of love – from a false, possessive love to a true, selfless love. The story contrasts a love which takes with one that gives – one which is only seeking personal happiness versus one which is desiring the other person’s happiness.

Orual’s love throughout the story – to Psyche, to the Fox, to Bardia – is a possessive and a selfish love. Orual speaks many times of how Psyche was hers, and of what she wants from her and others – it is never about Psyche’s own happiness. Psyche even remarks to Orual:

“You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know. It is like looking into a deep pit. I am not sure whether I like your kind of love better than hatred. Oh, Orual – to take my love for you… and
then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy and mastery, an
instrument of torture – I begin to think I never knew you” (165).

Originally, before his salvation, Lewis planned to write this story with Orual in the right and the gods in the wrong. Even in this finished story, it is easy to see how justified false love can seem – even to the point where it feels noble and right. It is only when Orual finally experiences true love that she realizes how utterly short her own attempts at love – her selfish love – actually were.

Finally, at the end of the story and after she experiences selfless love, Orual bows down at Psyche’s feet and says, “never again will I call you mine, but all there is of me shall be yours (305).” And thus, Orual is transformed.

Conclusion

In the end, Orual sees her life from the perspective of the gods – and she realizes how wrong she was in her limited vision and perspective. She realizes that her misfortunes were not the fault of the gods, but of her own fault.

Until we accept the face God has made for us all along, we do not have one. When we try to make a face for ourselves, it will only result in torment, self-deception, and false love. The only way to become who we are meant to be is to first see ourselves clearly, in all of our inadequacy, imperfections, and ugliness. It is only then that God gives us a new face – our true face – and thus we become what we were always meant to be: Truly beautiful, fully loved, and wholly His.

“I ended my first book with the words no answer.  I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.  You are yourself the answer.  Before your face questions die away.  What other answer would suffice?  Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words” (308).

Finally, here is a link to a PDF of Tell We Have Faces, for anyone who wants to read it but might not have a copy or a library handy. This link also includes an additional note by Lewis which gives more detail on the original story of Cupid and Psyche:
(http://www.basicincome.com/bp/files/Till_We_Have_Faces.pdf)

If you do choose to read it, I hope you enjoy, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! Few things make me happier than discussing my favorite stories – especially stories of this depth – with friends.

Works Cited:

  1.  Enright, Nancy, (2011). C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faves and the Transformation of Love, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought &Culture, 14(4), 92-115.
  2. Jebb, Sharon, (2011). I Lived and Knew Myself: Self-Knowledge in Till We Have Faces, Renascence, 63.2, 111-129.
  3. Lewis, C. S. (1960). The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co.
  4. Lewis, C. S. (2001). The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: HarperOne.
  5. Lewis, C.S., (1956). Till We Have Faces. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co.
  6. Lucchi, Addison, (2015). What Makes a Fairy-Tale a Fairy-Tale?, One Year Adventure Novel Blog. Retrieved from: http://oneyearnovel.com/blog/what-makes-a-fairy-tale-a-fairy-tale/
  7. Mann, Lauren Enk, (2015). Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. Retrieved from: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/till-we-have-faces-by-c-s-lewis
  8. Schakel, Peter, (2003). Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, The Literary Encyclopedia, 1-3.
  9. Smith, Constance Babington (1964), Letters to a Sister from Rose Macaulay, 261.
  10. Straza, Erin, (2013). Celebrating C.S. Lewis: ‘Till We Have Faces’, Christ and Popculture. Accessed from: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2013/11/celebrating-c-s-lewis-till-we-have-faces
  11. Wagner, Erin K (2014). Divine Surgeons at Work: the Presence and Purpose of the Dream Vision in Till We Have Faces, Mythlore, 32(2), 15-31.