As anyone who has ever read The Lord of the Rings knows, reading Tolkien’s masterpiece requires a huge time commitment, one that is, of course, well-rewarded. Horne’s biography, on the other hand can be zipped through in an evening or two, yet I believe it will greatly enhance the reader’s enjoyment of Tolkien’s works. I highly recommend this book.
In the early 90s a friend gave me four paperback volumes of “The Book of the New Sun”. He’d said that he’d never heard of this guy, but he’d made three unsuccessful attempts to start the books and had finally “pushed through” and was impressed by their originality and craftsmanship. When I got to the third volume, my wife remarked that I sure was “spending a lot of time on those books. What are they about?” I told her that I had no idea. “Then why are you reading them?”
“I have to find out how it ends!”
I didn’t know yet that Gene Wolfe stories have no ending. Nor a beginning or middle.
It was disorienting to read an author who required from me a new way of reading a novel: To read it as people read the Bible or the poems of Blake or Cummings. It was as if an adult discovered a door in the house where he grew up that led to a new upstairs wing that he didn’t know about.
Some years later, I finally got around to reading “Peace”. I knew more by then. Half way through it, my wife asked, “Is it good?” “Oh, yes!” “What’s it about?”
“Well, that’s really the point of reading a Gene Wolfe story.”
Read the rest: Drip Drip Drip: On Gene Wolfe.
A Man is then a certain monstrous beast compact together of parts two or three of great diversity. Of a soul as of a certain goodly thing, and of a body as it were a brute or dumb beast. For certainly we so greatly excel not all other kinds of brute beasts in perfectness of body, but that we in all his natural gifts are found to them inferiors. In our minds verily we be so celestial and of godly capacity that we may surmount above the nature of angels, and be unite, knit and made one with God. If thy body had not been added to thee, thou hadst been a celestial or godly thing. If this mind had not been grafted in thee, plainly thou hadst been a brute beast.
I’m surprised how much I am not enjoying Erasmus’ Enchiridion. I am tempted to write off the Northern Renaissance as Platonic counter-revolution against Aristotle. But I really don’t know enough yet to be sure of anything… except that I’m finding the book a disappointment.
The archaic translation I quoted above is not the one I am reading (see here). It translated the second to last sentence as:
If your body had not been added to you, you would have been Godhead.
I am working from memory because I have mislaid the book, but I promise it used the word “Godhead” and there was no way to mitigate the use of the word in the sentence.
The book seems to consist thus far, in many spurs to pursue real holiness, some admirable statements about faith, a few embarrassing formulations that involve merit (not surprising in 1501), and a great deal of dualism that seems to lead to an idea of “God” as a Platonic oversoul. When Erasmus moves from dichotomous descriptions of human nature, his portrayal of trichotomism sounds like it was ripped off by Freud to give us id (body, passions), ego (soul), and superego (spirit).
Perhaps someone who knows Latin can tell me the best way to translate what looks like a smoking gun to me. I don’t understand how Erasmus did not get in immediate trouble for writing that statement. Yet the book was a best seller in all the languages of Europe.
So I guess, so far, if we view John Calvin as “coming out of” humanism, he looks even more impressive.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I haven’t finished this book yet, but I have gotten far enough (up to WWII) to see its value in exposing how the American populace is being gamed by socialists/monopolists/technocrats/bankers. See this frank admission of his views made by President Obama, as an example.
It seems anomalous that America’s most famous financier was a sworn foe of free markets. Yet it followed logically from the anarchy of late nineteenth-century railroads, with their rate wars, blackmail lines [Note: I think the comma between blackmail and lines is a typo], and lack of standardized gauges. To destroy competing lines, railroads could simply refust to transfer freight to roads that abutted theirs. From an engineering standpoint, Pierpont knew little about railroads. What he did know is that they required steady revenues to cover their fixed interest costs on bonds marketed in New York and London. In the mid-1880s, freight rates were declining sharply under the pressur of savage price-cutting.
For Pierpont, the leading symbol of railway monopoly, pure competition was never an option. Years later, he a said, “The American public seems unwilling to admit… that it has a choice between regulated legals agreements and unregulated extralegal agreements. We should have cast away more than 50 years ago the impossible doctrine of protection of the public by railway competition. As we shall see, the House of Morgan always favored government planning over private compilation, but private planning over either.
As the top manufacturer of crude steel, Carnegie decided to branch out into finished products, such as pipe and wire. As the head of the second largest steel group, Pierpont feared a replication of the railroad chaos with overbuilding and price wars. He growled that Carnegie would “demoralize” the entire industry through competition.
Backed by representatives of Barings and Brown Brothers, Pierpont offered the railroad presidents a deal: if they refrained from rate-cutting and cutthroat competition, the financiers would stop underwriting competing railways. It was a clever move, for while Wall Street accused railroads of irresponsible behavior, the railroads blamed Wall Street for floating too many securities and creating the overexpansion that led to price wars.
The populace might dread the power of Pierpont Morgan, but he paid his bills promptly, always stuck by his word, and was almost universally respected among businessmen. He also saw competition as a destructive, inefficient force and instinctively favored large-scale combination as the cure.
Where Pierpont’s theorizing was largely nonexistent [partner, Goerge W.] Perkin’s was sophisticated. He gave speeches and published pamphlets on every conceivable subject. He was an oddity at the world most cryptic bank. he preached a gospel of industrial cooperation, contending that small-scall business depressed wages and retarded technological advance. Not Wall Street, he said, but steam engines and telephones produced trusts. “What is the difference,” he proclaimed, “between the US Steel Corporation, as it was organized by Mr. Morgan, and a Department of Steel as it might be organized by the Government?” He drew a parallel Pierpont wouldn’t admit to–that trusts, with their centralized production and distribution, were a form of private socialism. And unlike Pierpont, he saw that they had acquired a public character, and he favored government licensing of interstate companies and extended worker benefits, including profit sharing, social insurance, and old-age pensions. This, he boasted, would be “socialism of the highest, best, and most ideal sort.” Although Teddy Roosevelt sometimes wondered whether Perkins simply rationalized a selfish Morgan agenda, there was a striking likeness between their views.
That a Morgan partner should advocate socialism is not so startling. After all, Pierpont, starting with his Railway associations of the late 1880s, espoused industrial cooperation instead of competition. He like his capitalism neat, tidy, and under bankers’ control… Perkins wasn’t the only one in the Morgan camp to applaud moves toward a planned, integrated economy. Later on, Judge Elbert Gary of U.S. Steel, who held private dinners to fix prices in the steel industry, testified: “I would be very glad if we had some place where we could go, to a responsible governmental authority, and say to them, ‘Here are our facts and figures, here is our property, here our cost of production; now you tell us what we have the right to do and what prices we have the right to charge.'”
On why Morgan got along with Teddy Roosevelt progressives:
As we shall see, the mortal attacks on the House of Morgan came not from socialists but from such trustbusters as Louis D. Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and William O. Douglas, who favored small economic units and sharp competition. This tradition would lambaste the Morgan Money Trust as the biggest and most dangerous trust of all. Because the House of Morgan preached socialism for the rich, it always had a partial affinity for those who preached it for the poor.
Chernow is an advocate and defender for the Morgans, just as his latest book defends and advocates the mercantilism of Alexander Hamilton over against the Constitutionalist, limited-government, vision of Jefferson. So this is no prosecution’s case but the testimony of a friend.
So what happens under real Capitalism? Answer: The rich end up giving low-cost goodies to the poor and middle class but often end up rejoining those classes because they lose all their wealth in the process. Capitalism does not lead to concentrations of economic power but constantly threatens them. People who want to keep their economic power go to the government to protect it from the competition of the market. Despite Pierpont’s preference for “private planning” his efforts never lasted. He needed the government to get a real cartel going.
People who try to protect us from the concentration of economic power by concentrating economic power are not worth following.
For some more questions about the history of the cartel Utopia (mainly in the oil industry), see these posts:
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Calvin would name his political enemies (and there really isn’t any other kind of enemy available in Geneva) from the pulpit. While they were present, I think.
The sheer extent to which the Reformation in a particular area was simply a church vandalism campaign was disconcerting. Calvin was better than this, but not Farel. (Here my reading of Calvin’s Geneva may be bleeding over into my memories of this biography.)
Jim Jordan has said in some lecture I heard once that his father, a French literature professor, claimed that Calvin more or less transformed and invented the French language. I’ve never felt confident asserting this in lectures of my own because it was so second hand by the time I speak of it. But Gordon spends a couple of pages making basically the same claim (which I haven’t articulated very well here).*
*There seems to be a bitter irony here. One step in the evolution of secular nation states was unified languages for a geographical area. Calvin probably never envisioned such things, or would have desired them, but he assisted in the creation of one. (He probably also assisted in giving France a scapegoat of unity. To what extent can French identity and culture be distinguished from hatred of Protestantism? Well, that can change gradually, just like language does.) Calvin was originally Picardian, though since he had come by way of Paris, that distinction was probably lost on the Genevans, just as it has been lost in the absorption that took place in history. He invented a French that he himself had to learn to speak fluently, since Picardian was not quite the same.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I keep wanting the time to get my thoughts together and write a review worthy of this book. Not going to happen (Happily, Sean Lucas wrote a short but worthy review).
Thoughts at random.
Thank God we don’t live in the sixteenth-century.
Calvin may not have been a bishop, but he didn’t operate as a Presbyterian either. His “ruling elders” were state-appointed officers and his consistory was neither precisely a Presbytery nor a Session. It ssemed to function much more like a Family Services department in some ways.
Calvin was never “in power” the way we tend to think, though perhaps after 1555 he got close. When you can get killed and need to worry about being killed in a riot, you are not really in power.
Geneva itself was too small a city to matter as a “power.” Rather, Calvin and Geneva were constantly trying to make their friends happy (for protection) while still trying to save some independence.
“Nationalism” or immigration was an issue I had never realized affected Calvin’s ministry. Calvin found local pastors mainly inadequate, so he brought in talent from France (arguably, I should write “France” in scare quotes). So Genevans found their personal lives being run by foreigners. Not a welcome situation.
Calvin came to repudiate Bucer’s ecumenical attempts of the early 1540s. I had no idea.
Calvin spent much of his time trying to convince French Evangelicals to totally break from the Roman Catholic Church in France and suffer the consequences. Again, Calvin the divider.
Calvin later spent much of his time trying to convince French Protestants to willingly suffer rather than resort to violence and revolution. Weird since he owed his place in a city created by revolution. But it shows that any relationship between Calvin and political resistance is not the result of his own teaching on the matter.
France seemed at first like it would be open to Evangelicals (when Calvin still lived there). But with the break in Germany, French royalty came down on the side of the Roman Catholic establishment. Why? Because the same impulse that led the king to appreciate Evangelicals had led him to win concessions from the Pope that gave him control over the Church in his lands. Opposing the Papacy would make these concessions worthless.
Bullinger thought Calvin’s writings on predestination were over-the-top and could imply that God was the author of sin.
For a time Calvin’s writings were publicly burned in the Protestant city of Berne.
Calvin actively opposed an ecumenical movement in France in the 1550s because it was trying to use the Augsburg Confession. Though earlier in his ministry he had offended Bullinger by agreeing with it, now he saw it as a tool of Lutheran extremists who would try to hurt the Swiss churches and disturb the French Protestants who were not Lutherans.
…and much more…
One fascinating aspect of J. R. R. Tolkien’s story is how much his books were despised simply for being heroic sagas. Perhaps that is not quite right. There were pulp swords and sorcery stories that the intelligentsia simply ignored rather than despised. Who cares about “low” literature, right? Tolkien’s offense was that he was an Oxford don who refused to despise such stories and wrote a serious one because he thought they were important.
Why was this so terrible? I’ve read the reasons and try to relate them briefly in my biography. But it would have been helpful if I had re-read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, especially 2003 edition which has Christopher Hitchens’ introduction and includes Revisiting Brave New World.
Here is the quotation that reminded me quite strongly of the opposition to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:
civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism
This is the voice of the new “modern” world.
When you read Brave New World you are entering a civilization that is based on compliance and consumption as the only path to prosperity. Other than a minimal workday nothing is demanded and everything is offered. No one must wait for sexual gratification nor associate with any exclusive relationship. There are no exclusive relationships (“Everyone belongs to everybody else” as all are conditioned to recite). There is no one to fight for. No one to protect. No one to care for. There are only virtual reality porn experiences and drugs. There is even a kind of religious ecstasy event in which sex and drugs are made into a ritual. Games are forbidden unless they involve expensive equipment to boost spending.
But the direct opposition between Tolkien and Huxley is missed because Brave New World is posed as a kind of dystopian warning, along the lines of 1984 by George Orwell.
This is disinformation. Huxley was not warning against dystopia. He was spelling out his utopia and telling the reader, to borrow from later science fiction, that “resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.” Or else you can go commit suicide.
That is precisely the structure of the narrative of Brave New World. We are presented with a world in which there are a couple of discontents. These are entirely explained by problems with either the biological manufacturing or the fact that society still has a few, very few, needs that allow for the possibility of unhappiness among the “alphas.”
If you have been living in a literary hole: In Brave New World, no one is born and the word “mother” is the most disgusting term imaginable. Babies are mass produced and only Alphas and Betas are allowed to develop normally. Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are all deliberately brain damaged in their artificial wombs to do menial work.
[I consider it a Freudian slip that there is only one female alpha portrayed in the novel, and she is considered unattractive. But the alpha males (literally!) seem to have a lot of fun with Beta females. It even reaches the point where the “arch-songster” (later explicitly compared to an Arch-Bishop) basically orders a Beta female to service him against her interest. She seems not to notice, but requires the help of the drug soma in order to “happily” participate. So without seeming to notice it, Huxley gives us an allegedly egalitarian society (in some ways, aside from the social caste) which actually is ruled by men for their own immediate needs.]
Eventually a real discontent is introduced–a “savage” from a native American reservation. He ends up so repulsed by “civilization” that he starts a riot trying to offer “freedom.” No one wants it. The riot police take the Savage and his two now contaminated friends to the office of the chief Alpha over that region of the global government. They talk. He is perfectly friendly. He is also pretty much free much of the conditioning that has kept down others. In fact, due to his love of “truth” (i.e. science) he was almost exiled to an island. But instead he took the offered alternative–world power over the civilization and the freedom in his own office to learn real history, read books from his safe, and in general be the intellectual that Aldous Huxley pretended to be. He tells the three that civilization is better off without personal autonomy and that he is a martyr for willingly dealing with his own unhappiness as a frustrated truth-seeking scientist in order to lovingly engineer the society. The two discontents must therefore be exiled and the savage must continue to live elsewhere (the actual decision didn’t make much sense to me).
The Savage runs away to live by himself, but he is eventually hounded by the news media and crowds show up. He is driven to eventually commit suicide out of shame for his sins.
Thus fall all who oppose Huxley’s new world order.
In many ways, Huxley was the last of the great Victorian novelists. He was born in 1894, a grandson of the biologist T H Huxley, “Darwin’s bulldog”. Matthew Arnold was his great-uncle, and his aunt was the novelist Mrs Humphry Ward. Secure in this intellectual aristocracy, he might have rebelled and become a great mid-century English eccentric, a liberally minded chairman of the board of film censors, or the first openly agnostic Archbishop of Canterbury.
However, at the age of 16, while an Eton schoolboy, he caught a serious eye infection that left him blind for a year and may have forced him into a more interior vision of himself. With his one good eye, he read English at Oxford, perhaps the best perspective to take on this dubious subject. He was immensely tall, six feet four-and-a-half inches. Christopher Isherwood said that he was “too tall. I felt an enormous zoological separation from him.” Huxley, curiously, disliked male homosexuality but had many homosexual friends, Isherwood among them.
The young Huxley must have had immense charm. He soon found himself at Garsington Manor, near Oxford, the legendary home of the literary hostess, Lady Ottoline Morrell, where he met Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell and D H Lawrence. Years later, in the south of France, Lawrence died in the arms of Huxley’s wife. In the final minutes before his death, Lawrence suddenly panicked and cried out to Maria Huxley, begging her to keep him alive. She embraced him, and he died peacefully as her husband watched.
Maria was a wartime Belgian refugee whom Huxley met at Garsington and married in 1919. Murray describes their marriage as intensely close and happy, although Maria was an active bisexual. Huxley seems to have taken quickly to their special version of open marriage. They pursued the same lovers together, like a pair of sexual confidence tricksters: Maria encouraging Aldous, introducing him to the beautiful women he admired, preparing the amatory ground and saving him the fatigue of prolonged courtship. Jealousy and possessiveness, which so handicap the rest of us, seemed never to have touched Huxley, an emotional deficit that some readers have noticed in his novels. In the late 1930s, when they moved to Los Angeles, Maria became a member of the “sewing circle”, a club of prominent Hollywood lesbians reputed to include Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Lets ignore the light whitewash and point out what is evident. Huxley had absolutely no sexual morality. Nothing going on in Brave New World bothered him. In fact, he portrays the life of a nuclear family as an inherently dangerous and neurotic affair. In his world, Ford and Freud are remembered as the same person and treated with great seriousness. In fact, if you don’t believe in Freud (with a dose of Pavlov) you would never imagine the kind of need for the non-family biological reproduction that monopolizes “Civilization.” Just as, if you didn’t believe in Keynsianism, you would recognize that a “civilization” that deliberately caused unnecessary spending would inevitably fall rather than be the most stable in history. And, of course, Keynes was well placed in Huxley’s intellectual social circle.
Huxley’s portrayal of religion is unrecognizable to most Evangelical Christians. It consists of a mixture of paganism and monkish medievalism. All religious believers practice self-torment and vision quests, self-flegellations and induced vomitings. This is the only form of religion that Huxley can recognize because it keeps at bay the truth. His novel is a lie in every way, unless you read it as an accurate guide to his personal utopia (where he rules the world as a free intellectual among the slaves) and an act of psychological warfare against everyone else.
His book, Brave New World Revisited continues to hide in plain sight. We must avoid the future portrayed in Brave New World! How? Well, mostly by imposing radical population control. Like war leaders claiming that the terrorists “hate us for our freedoms” and then demand we give them all up to fight the terrorists, Huxley wants to save us from Brave New World by implementing its agenda. If we do so, we are to believe that it won’t be quite as “bad” as BNW but will end in a compromise. Huxley claims that in 1932, when he wrote it,
Ours was a nightmare of too little order; theirs.. of too much. In the passing from one extreme to the other, there would be a long interval, so I imagined, during which the more fortunate third of the human race would make the best of both worlds–the disorderly world of liberalism and the much too orderly Brave New World where perfect efficiency left no room for freedom or personal initiative.
Yet, that “world of liberalism” is not dying soon enough, decided Huxley in 1958. There are now “impersonal forces” that are “making the world extremely unsafe for democracy” and “so very inhospitable to individual freedoms.” What are these dire armies of Hell, you ask?
Mainly, browner people having babies.
Here are the causes of our curse:
Penicillin, DDT [! – MH], and clean water are cheap commodities whose effect on public health are out of all proportion to their cost. Even the poorest government is rich enough to provide its subjects with a substantial measure of death control. Birth control is a very different matter…
Huxley goes on cursing the lowering of death rates for pages. It is almost poetic. Jumping in again:
…This is especially true of those underdeveloped regions where a sudden lowering of the death rate by means of DDT [again! –MH], penicillin and clean water has not been accompanied by a corresponding fall in the birth rate. In parts of Asian and in most of Central and South America populations are increasing so fast that they will double themselves in little more than twenty years…. the population of some of these underdeveloped countries is increasing at the rate of 3 per cent per annum.
All of this is accompanied by a great deal of Malthusian nonsense that these countries will never support themselves. This was all wrong in the 1930s as it was in the 1950s and then in the 1970s during the “population bomb” propaganda. It is still false today. Everyone’s living standards have risen with the population–the local exceptions are due to political problems, usually the attempt to impose order.
I could spend all day typing this in, but lets cut to the chase. As he discusses the alleged impossibility of supporting the populations we liberate from death (again, “with the aid of DDT”!), he writes against the problem that we might actually save lives:
And what about the congenitally insufficient organisms, whom our medicine and our social services now preserve so that they may propagate their kind? To help the unfortunate is obviously good. But the wholesale transmission to our descendants of the results of unfavorable mutations, and the progressive contamination of the genetic pool from which the members of our species will have to draw, are no less obviously bad. We are on the horns of an ethical dilemma, and to find the middle way will require all our intelligence and all our good will.
Yeah, keep your “good will” to yourself you Nazi pervert!
Darwin’s bulldog is still on the attack against all the insufficients saved from malaria by “our” DDT (which, we conveniently took away, didn’t we?). Why is this piece of human trash (not genetically, but his own ethical character) given so much glory in our day? How could he get away with writing such eugenicist propaganda as late as 1958? And yet he is still upheld as the great friend of freedom against totalitarianism. This has got to be one of the most amazing bait and switches in the history of propaganda.
And this, I propose, is the intellectual milieu (and there is plenty more evidence elsewhere) in which Tolkien threw his literary hand grenade. Or rather, shot his sharp arrow. He portrayed a world of honor and courage. People like Aldous Huxley wanted such a world to commit suicide to make room for their own–a civilization (so called) that had no need for nobility or heroism.
… since I did write a book about him and all!
Off the top of my head, I wonder why she didn’t include the Kalevala.
This was a pleasurable biography well written and extensive in its scope. It is easy to read and draws parallels between emotional and historical happenings that impacted Tolkien which then shaped how he wrote and what he chose to write about. I love these peeks into an author’s life that give you the “Aha” moment of understanding.
His early loss of his father, his later loss of his mother and his relationship with Edith, his wife, are thoughtfully explored and covered. The impact of deep and rich relationships with C.S. Lewis and many other men illustrate his care and concern for others. Mr. Horne has used extensive materials in the writing of this biography and it is wonderfully written. In the appendix he lists five other resources for further study that he found very informative and enjoyable.
As a home school mom, I appreciated the fact that his own mother had home schooled him for a period of time. I think these stories are a great length for the high school student to use for essay writing and would be a good complement to any English curriculum.
Read the whole post: Christian Encounters: J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne « beauty in the mundane.
If you pressed me to think about it, I would probably say my all-time favorite fiction author is J.R.R. Tolkien. Last year I read a biography in the Christian Encounters series about Winston Churchill. In the last pages of the book were some “coming soon” advertisements. One was for J.R.R. Tolkien, and I was SOOO excited. I hoped I would have the chance to review it, but I didn’t hold my breath. Recently it popped up on booksneeze as an e-book. It was the opportunity I had hoped for!
Mark Horne compiled many different sources to bring a fresh, new biography about Tolkien which explores his life events and how they shaped his writings.
Tolkien is probably best known as the author of the Lord of the Rings. He wrote that book later in his life, after writing The Hobbit, yet he laid a foundation for Middle Earth many years before either book came to be. In Horne’s biography about Tolkien I discovered many things that fascinated me. Tolkien was a linguist. He was fluent in several languages and preferred to read works of literature in their original languages. (He developed his own fictional elven language.) The passion he had for linguistics shaped his career path as well. Horne avoids making many assumptions or conclusions about Tolkien. Instead, he presents factual information in a chronological format. He sometimes makes suggestions about possible correlation between the events of his life and his writings, but conclusions are left up to the reader.
Read the rest: Sound Off: Book Review: J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne.