Marion Zimmer Bradley: Monster

moiraDo you refuse to read Orson Scott Card but not Marion Zimmer Bradley?

Then you’re a damn hypocrite. And you have terrible taste in literature.

Orson Scott Card is a very nice guy and a talented writer who has never hurt a fly. Unfortunately, he has an opinion you don’t like, you poor baby.

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a monster.

No, that’s not hyperbole: she was an actual monster in human skin. This is a woman who tied her daughter to a chair and threatened to pull out her teeth with pliers.

Everyone in fandom knew that her husband, Walter Breen, was a pervert and sexual predator with a long history of sexually assaulting children down to the age of three. I have a lot of friends who were authors and they all knew about Breen.

Last year, Bradley’s and Breen’s daughter Moira Greyland talked about her twisted and terrifying childhood, filled with physical and sexual abuse at the hands of both Breen and Bradley.

Now Greyland is filling in more details, and her latest guest post–at the wonderfully-titled AsktheBigot by Katy Faust–is even more appalling. Given our current debates about sexuality and Bradley’s reputation in the lesbian/pagan community, Greyland’s revelations about their warped beliefs is bombshell stuff:

…both parents wanted me to be gay and were horrified at my being female. My mother molested me from ages 3-12. The first time I remember my father doing anything especially violent to me I was five. Yes he raped me. I don’t like to think about it. If you want to know about his shenanigans with little girls, and you have a very strong stomach, you can google the Breendoggle, which was the scandal which ALMOST drummed him out of science fiction fandom.

More profoundly, though was his disgust with my gender, despite his many relationships with women and female victims. He told me unequivocally that no man would ever want me, because all men are secretly gay and have simply not come to terms with their natural homosexuality.

The beliefs of her parents may seem to deranged to some, but I’ve encountered them before:

My observation of my father and mother’s actual belief is this: since everyone is naturally gay, it is the straight establishment that makes everyone hung up and therefore limited. Sex early will make people willing to have sex with everyone, which will bring about the utopia while eliminating homophobia and helping people become “who they really are.” It will also destroy the hated nuclear family with its paternalism, sexism, ageism (yes, for pedophiles, that is a thing) and all other “isms.” If enough children are sexualized young enough, gayness will suddenly be “normal” and accepted by everyone, and the old fashioned notions about fidelity will vanish. As sex is integrated as a natural part of every single relationship, the barriers between people will vanish, and the utopia will appear, as “straight culture” goes the way of the dinosaur. As my mother used to say: “Children are brainwashed into believing they don’t want sex.”

And then there’s this:

I also know a number of victims of my father who would not testify because they love him. As a personal note, I can understand why: of my parents, he was by far the kinder one. After all, he was only a serial rapist. My mother was an icy, violent monster whose voice twisted up my stomach.

Then Greyland drops the other shoe:

This March I met Katy Faust online: one of the six children of gays who filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court opposing gay marriage. We corresponded, and I left CA. I am still reeling from the death of my last bits of denial. It IS the homosexuality that is the problem. It IS the belief that all sex all the time will somehow cure problems instead of creating them that is the problem.

So I have begun to speak out against gay marriage, and in doing so, I have alienated most of even my strongest supporters. After all, they need to see my parents as wacky sex criminals, not as homosexuals following their deeply held ethical positions and trying to create a utopia according to a rather silly fantasy. They do not have the willingness to accept the possibility that homosexuality might actually have the result of destroying children and even destroying the adults who insist on remaining in its thrall.

Now for all well-meaning people who believe I am extrapolating from my experience to the wider gay community, I would like to explain why I believe this is so: From my experience in the gay community, the values in that community are very different: the assumption is that EVERYONE is gay and closeted, and early sexual experience will prevent gay children from being closeted, and that will make everyone happy.

If you doubt me, research “age of consent” “Twinks,” “ageism” and the writings of the NUMEROUS authors on the Left who believe that early sexuality is somehow “beneficial” for children.

Read the rest. She believe her parents’ attitudes and behavior with a logical extension of their sexuality, and one that’s not at all uncommon. Greyland’s horrifying childhood isn’t going protect her here. She’s now an enemy of the new order.

Charles Dickens Solves a Mystery 145 Years After His Death

Charles-Dickens_4This is the kind of discovery literary scholars dream of but never hope to find: a cache of notations in the handwriting of Charles Dickens that reveals lost works by major authors.

Bookseller Jeremy Parrott ordered a bound collection of All the Year Round, a publication edited by Charles Dickens, from an online book dealer. The listing didn’t mention any annotations, but when Parrott began looking at the volumes he realized that not only was he holding the set that belonged to Dickens himself, but that Dickens had made copious notes throughout.

Like many Victorian periodicals, pieces in All the Year Round often were published anonymously or pseudonymously. The only name that mattered, after all, was already at the top of each page: Charles Dickens. In his personal edition, however, Dickens wrote in each author’s name alongside their contribution. The discovery essentially rewrites the history of Victorian literature.

Among the discoveries are new works by Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Carroll, and Dickens himself, along with many others. Here’s a summary of the key findings so far:

Elizabeth Gaskell: two new works have been discovered by the North and South author. The pair of articles on French song and poetry had been attributed to Henry Chorley.

Sydney and Frank Dickens: Charles commissioned his sons to write aged 16 and 17 despite their obvious lack of talent. The three articles on Lord Nelson, preachers and servants are ‘schoolboy essays’ according to Dr Parrott. ‘They’ve taken a book and plagiarised it heavily … there’s not much in the way of original thought or style.’

Wilkie Collins: the collection reveals eight pieces by author of The Moonstone which nobody has previously suggested were written by him. One is an article called ‘The Crusoe of the Snowy Desert’, telling the gripping true story of an explorer in the American Midwest who is stranded for a year in a barren snowy landscape and is eventually saved by a tribe of ‘savages’. In another, called ‘Hear The Postman,’ Collins argues postmen should be paid more because of their use to society.

Lewis Carroll: A possible new poem has been discovered by the Alice in Wonderland author, though its provenance is still under debate.

Eliza Linton: the first salaried woman journalist in Britain, is revealed to be far more prolific than first thought. Previously just a handful of pieces had been listed under her name for All The Year Round but Dickens’ notes show she wrote more than 100 articles.

Women: despite his reputation among some academics for misogyny, the list reveals that Dickens was very supportive of female writers. Parrott estimates that around 40 per cent of the list is women writers. ‘Cumulatively it’s very interesting how many women authors are there,’ he says. ‘Dickens is not generally recognised as having female protégés but you’ve got Queen Victoria’s favourite poet, Adelaide Proctor writing a lot and Hesba Stretton, as well as women writing on serious subjects, such as science.’

Misattributed: The list shows that scholars have wrongly assumed that pieces by his contemporaries were actually by Dickens. An article assigned in his collection to his son-in-law, Charles Collins, had previously been assumed to be by Dickens.

One funny footnote: “Academics in Australia developed computer software to help identify a writer by style, but this latest discovery suggests that many of the articles previously identified by the technology as written by Dickens were in fact by other authors.”

 

Return to Blogging? I Think So!: A Bullet List of Random Thoughts and Pictures

Thanks for you messages and well wishes. My health’s improving, and I’m hoping to get back to work slowly.

What’s been happening since I’m gone? Did I miss anything important?

Good advice!

Good advice!

Let’s see, what’s been going on in my life for the past few weeks…

  • I was mostly vegetative on the couch or in bed for two solid weeks, watching a truly epic amount of Planet of the Apes, as in the entire franchise: movies, TV show, and cartoon. You know what? With the exception of Tim Burton’s movie, it all holds up amazingly well, and the TV show is far, far better than you might expect given its short life. Apes, Harryhausen, Universal Monsters, King Kong, Corman Poe movies, Hammer, and Doug McClure loomed large in my childhood. Star Wars was, relatively, a late-comer.
Jean Stapleton, Jean Simmons, Roddy McDowell, Alice Cooper

Jean Stapleton, Jean Simmons, Roddy McDowell, Alice Cooper

dcapes

didache

  • However, I wrote almost nothing. I just didn’t have any words.

avoid

  • I see that the Supreme Court reached into their collective buttholes and yanked out an imaginary Right to Gay Marriage. I can’t even pretend to be angry because it was always expected. This is what happens when a country is ruled not be sound reason or laws, but by All The Feels. This is the triumph of sentiment over sanity, and of moral relativism over reality. A person can no more “marry” someone of the same gender than he can marry a lamp. The doesn’t change because our Black Robed Overlords say it’s so.
He's not quite gay enough, apparently.

He’s not quite gay enough, apparently.

  • My dog turned one year old yesterday. Happy birthday Ivy!
My Mastiff-Chihuahua.

My Mastiff-Chihuahua.

  • I’ve been following Rod Dreher’s writing on the Benedict Option, which people continue to insist on misunderstanding as a “withdrawal to the hills” rather than as a building of intentional communities directed towards preserving and strengthening the faith. The idea, once explained this way, is so obvious and simple that only the most obtuse can continue to misunderstand it once it’s explained, but there’s no shortage of obtuseity. (It’s a word because I damn well say it is.)
St. Benedict

St. Benedict

  • My father’s day presents from the best family in the world.

2015-06-21 14.19.47

  • This is a book weight for keeping a book open while you’re doing research. It’s brilliant.

2015-06-21 16.59.44

  • The staggering OPM hack may not be the Digital Pearl Harbor some are claiming it is, but it’s at least the Digitial Invasion of Manchuria. I have been saying, and saying, and saying again that we are heading for a global cyber-war and we are not prepared and not taking it seriously. We will feel the pain of this, right down to the household level. America is not serious about computer security, and it will hurt us more than all the Muslim fundies in the world put together.

robots

  • St. Augustine’s finger is coming to Floridia. This makes me unbelievably happy. My religion is cooler than yours.
I like to imagine him making rude gestures with it.

I like to imagine him making rude gestures with it.

The Most Wicked Man in the Whole World

The Most Wicked Man in the Whole World

  • Did you know Samuel Beckett drove Andre the Giant to school because Andre couldn’t fit on the bus? True story.2015-07-08 11.06.38
  • Oh, what’s this? The pope is a Marxist! Because he scowled at an absurdly offensive and blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix given to him by the little anti-clerical prick ruling Bolovia instead of dashing it to the ground and whizzing on it, because that’s what popes should do! Seriously, people: stop reading hysterical Catholic blogs and outrage-trolling social media. It’s bad for the soul.
Yeah, he looks thrilled.

Yeah, he looks thrilled.

  • Of course, there’s something grotesquely appropriate about the Lord being nailed to the symbol of communism, since so many hundreds of millions have suffered at the hands of leftist ideologies for so long. We are being crucified on a cross of progressive politics right at this very moment. We are being told to move to the back of the bus, bake the gay wedding cake, and STFU. I refuse. Now what are they gonna do? It’s their move.

rebellious

 

 

The Best Novel You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s a mystery where the mystery is 500 years old, and everyone already knows the solution. Or at least they think they do.

The elusive Miss Tey, one of only a few photos of her.

The elusive Miss Tey, one of only a few photos of her.

The detective is stuck in a hospital bed for the entire novel.

There is no action whatsoever. We never leave the hospital room.

Only three characters have any kind of substantial roles, and only a handful of other characters appear at all.

It was voted Number One on the list of Top Crime Novels of All Time by the Crime Writer’s Association (UK) in 1990.

And it is, indeed, the greatest mystery novel of all time.

The book is The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I have an omnibus of Tey novels I’d never cracked, but I first heard about this one on a BBC radio show when Peter Hitchens described it as the most important novel he’s ever read. We’ll get to his reasons for saying that in a moment (and they’re good reasons), but who is this author and what is this strange book?

Josephine Tey was the pseudonym of respected playwrite Gordon Daviot, whose “Richard of Bordeaux” ran for 14 months in London and helped make John Gielgud a star. Daviot, it turned out, was also a pseudonym. The real author of all these works was Elizabeth Macintosh, but even that doesn’t tell us much, because Macintosh was intensely private and we know very little about her life. She even kept her final illness a secret, and her few friends, such as Gielgud, only learned about her death when her obituary appeared.

What does matter is that she could write like gangbusters. She shows off a bit of this skill as she assesses and imitates different types of novel which people keep leaving with her hero. One is a typical agrarian novel:

The Sweat and the Furrow was Silas Weekley being earthy and spade-conscious all over seven hundred pages. The situation, to judge from the first paragraph, had not materially changed since Silas’s last book: mother lying-in with her eleventh upstairs, father laid-out after his ninth downstairs, eldest son lying to the Government in the cowshed, eldest daughter lying with her lover in the hay-loft, everyone else lying low in the barn. The rain dripped from the thatch, and the manure steamed in the midden. Silas never omitted the manure. It was not Silas’s fault that its steam provided the only up-rising element the picture. If Silas could have discovered a brand of steam that steamed downward, Silas would have introduced it.

That’s just damn good writing.

In The Daughter of Time, Tey’s series detective, Scotland Yard’s Alan Grant, is stuck in bed with a broken leg, being driven batty by boredom. His friend Marta brings an envelope full of engravings to help him pass that time. Grant likes to read faces. He claims he can tell whether a person is a judge or a defendant by just looking at his face. Among the pictures is a print of King Richard III, and this one begins to work on him.

He knows what schoolboys know about Richard: crouchback, the monster who killed the boys in the tower and stole the crown before suffering an ignominious death on the field at Bosworth.

But of course, that’s Shakespeare, not history.

Grant starts to read about Richard, first in schoolbooks, and then with the help of a researcher at the British Museum, he drills down through layers of legend and pseudo-fact. It’s an interesting process, beginning with the kind of common knowledge everything assumes to be true, then peeling away layers like an onion. He doesn’t start with the goal of proving Richard innocent of the murders, but as “facts” are revealed to be mere propaganda and lies, the real story slowly emerges.

And it is absolutely gripping. Grant gets new material (from books, friends, or research), ponders and discusses it, and one by one two tales are told.

The first is a tale of research. Call it a Research Thriller. Anyone who knows the real thrill of discovery when you’re deep in researching a topic (and readers of some of my longer pieces know I’ve experienced it myself) will understand how engrossing this can be. It’s true detection: finding data, interpreting it, and slotting it into the larger puzzle.

The second is the tale of Richard III, the rise of the utterly vile Tudors in the form of Henry VII, and the disappearance of the princes in the tower. If you think you know this story, you don’t. It may or may not prove that Richard is innocent to your satisfaction, but it will raise a lot of hard-to-answer questions. It will make you want to read more on the subject. And there’s plenty to read.

But its most important quality is the way it cuts through received wisdom to get to truth. This is the reason Peter Hitchens singled it out:

I found myself describing ‘The Daughter of Time’ as ‘one of the most important books ever written’. The words came unbidden to my tongue, but I don’t, on reflection retreat from them. Josephine Tey’s clarity of mind, and her loathing of fakes and of propaganda, are like pure, cold spring water in a weary land. Her story-telling ability is apparently effortless (and therefore you may be sure it was the fruit of great hard work. (As Ernest Hemingway said ‘if it reads easy, that is because it was writ hard’) . But what she loves above all is to show that things are very often not what they seem to be, that we are too easily fooled, that ready acceptance of conventional wisdom is not just dangerous, but a result of laziness, incuriosity and of a resistance to reason.

Yes, exactly. Tey offers one piece of “fact” after another, and then explodes it with a reference to a primary resource that directly disproves it. We learn how rumor and propaganda (specifically Tudor propaganda, of which Shakespeare, peace be upon him, was a master hand) utterly replaced hard fact, and how even subsequent historians merely folded these facts into the old narrative without bothering to see how they make that narrative impossible.

As Grant says about the historians he’s reading, “They seem to have no talent for the likeliness of any situation. They see history like a peep-show; with two-dimensional figures against a distant background.”

Catholics will recognize this immediately because it’s the dominant narrative of mainstream Church history today. The church certainly has her share of dark and shameful moments, but the exaggerated quality of this narrative–the millions tortured and killed, the oppression, the damage done to civilization–is a pure lie concocted largely by Protestant Reformers, political enemies, atheists, and the sensationalist press. As someone who teaches Church history, I read the schoolbooks, just like Grant does in the novel, and I find the same lazy errors and outright lies.

If Richard III is what contemporary records show he was–a good king unseated by a wicked rival with no claim to the throne who actually murdered the princes–then how did the story get turned out around?

And if that piece of history is completely false, what else is?

“Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon in a line that gives the book its title.

Or as Tey says, history is not in the accounts, but in the account books. It’s the little details, not the stories of the victors, that we must look to.

That’s Tey’s gift to you in The Daughter of Time. When you’re done, you won’t take anything at face value, nor should you, even your faith. Probe deeper, ask questions, be a detective. In other words, test everything, hold on to what is true.

UPDATE: I knew when I used the clickbait headline I’d start hearing from people who read and loved it, and it turned out to be a favorite of a large number of Catholic bloggers, including my blogmother Julie D. She has an episode of A Good Story is Hard to Find on Tey.

91CAqmX6YiL

richard

“Everything is diverted from its proper course”

“In the past men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world. The young no longer want to study anything, learning is in decline, the whole world walks on its head, blind men lead others equally blind and cause them to plunge into the abyss, birds leave the nest before they can fly, the jackass plays the lyre, oxen dance. Mary no longer loves the contemplative life and Martha no longer loves the active life, Leah is sterile, Rachel has a carnal eye, Cato visits brothels. Everything is diverted from its proper course. In those days, thank God, I acquired from my master the desire to learn and a sense of the straight way, which remains even when the path is tortuous.”

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

As concise a summary of the modern dilemma as you could want, straight from the lips of medieval monk.

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south,
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again. All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already,
in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to happen
among those who come after.

Ecclesiastes

 

Pre-Order “The Joys and Challenges of Family Life” For $3

A17cSypUOoL._SL1500_Brandon McGinley’s book, The Joys and Challenges of Family Life: Catholic Husbands and Fathers Speak Out is due out next month, but you can order it now at a steep discount. Yr humble blogger contributed a chapter about tech and the family, while writers such as  Tod Worner, Daniel Bearman Stewart, and others address first-time fatherhood, infertility, porn, and other issues of interest to Christian men.

Buy it already and beat the rush! 

 

The Most Important Book of the Year is Only $5 For a Limited Time

manual-spiritual-warfare-1043105Paul Thigpen’s Manual for Spiritual Warfare is a must-have. I hate the phrase “instant classic,” partly because it’s an oxymoron, and partly because time is fickle, but I can see this one being read and handed down and treasured a hundred years from now.

Thigpen’s book is a clear-headed and faith-filled look at the devil and his works, and the tools we have to fight him. My blogmother Julie D. has a review of it here. I hope to write a more considered appraisal of it in the future.

TAN books published it in a leather-bound prayer-book format meant to be carried around, but they blew through their initial print run so fast that people are having trouble getting a copy while TAN prints more.

Because of this, the’ve reduced the price of the Kindle edition to $5 for a limited time. At that price, just buy it. You will not regret it.

Tarzan: The Russ Manning Newspaper Strips Vol. One [Review]

tarzanc 001

From IDW’s Tarzan: The Complete Russ Manning Strips Volume One

If you want several hours of pure entertainment sandwiched between hard covers, the Tarzan comics of Russ Manning will do the trick.

Manning is one of the great underrated artists of comics. Any short list of the masters of the dramatic strip would include Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), and Milt Caniff (Terry and the Pirates), but you could put Russ Manning right after them. He was younger than the big three and worked later, so his name isn’t as well known. When he’s remembered, it’s usually for two things.

The first is the deliriously awesome Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 AD, a Gold Key comic book series in which you’ll routinely find things like a muscular man in a cocktail dress zipping down icy slopes in rocket skies while killing robots by punching them in the neck.

You thought I was kidding?

You thought I was kidding?*

Honestly, you need to have this now.

The other Manning works that people still read are his Tarzan strips and adaptations. From 1965 to 1968, Manning drew the official comic versions of ten of the first eleven Tarzan novels for Gold Key. He was determined in all his work to be faithful to the original vision of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and his work captures Tarzan as he was written, not as he appeared in the films.

This fidelity to the source material led the Burroughs estate to choose Manning as the writer and artist who would revive the flagging newspaper strips. From 1969 to 1972 he was responsible for both daily and Sunday strips, and he continued doing the Sundays until 1979, when he began work on the Star Wars newspaper strip for a brief stint. He was assisted on Tarzan by Bill Stout, Mike Royer, and Dave Stevens.

The first of four books collecting Manning’s newspaper run is called Tarzan: The Complete Russ Manning Newspaper Strips Volume One: 1967-1969 (IDW: 2013). It gathers all the dailies and Sundays from December 1967 through October 1969. (In most strips, dailies and Sundays had different continuities because not all subscribers who got the Sunday also purchased the daily.)2013-02-PR-Tarzan

The dailies section includes two year-long continuities: Tarzan, Jad-Ben-Otho and Tarzan and the Renegade. Manning’s mastery of the medium is absolute in these strips, and the balance of character, narrative, and action is handled flawlessly. He signals his return to a more authentic Tarzan in the very first panel, where he has the character says “Too long have I adventured in strange lands! It is time I returned to the best land of all—home.” This Tarzan is articulate, thoughtful, and responsible. He has a grown son named Korak, and shows real concern for his African neighbors. Indeed, one of the notable elements of Manning’s work is the respectful depiction of Africans.

The plots of both stories are too complex to relate in any detail. The first finds Tarzan back in Pellucidar, where primitive tribes, cavemen, and dinosaurs are all at war. The second begins with a faux revolution, then veers into sheer madness with the appearance of a race of creepy winged men who need human women to reproduce. Yeah, it’s pretty icky, actually, even though Manning does his best to keep things family friendly. There’s even a moral conundrum towards the end that’s fairly sophisticated for a daily strip.

The Sunday strips are gathered in the back, and constitute three shorter stories, beginning with the wonderfully bizarre Tarzan Returns to the Land of the Ant Men. Manning was adapting the tenth Burroughs Tarzan novel, Tarzan and the Ant Men, for Gold Key around the same time, so this continuity makes a nice little coda to the original. The Return of Dagga Ramba is a delightfully bonkers story about an old enemy using “a method of manipulating relativity that is utterly unknown to modern science” to turn men in human-animal hybrids resembling ancient Egyptian gods. The book ends with Korak and the Elephant Girls, which relies too much on a ersatz Scooby Doo plot twist you can see coming from a mile away.

Manning draws a beautiful line, and makes superb use of blacks and grays. His figures offer the detail of the finest dramatic strips, while his layouts have a naturally dramatic, cinematic quality. And his pacing is phenomenal. At one point, there’s an intricate chase that would have played out over two months of daily installations. That’s a high level of suspense for anyone to maintain.

The book itself is wonderfully made, with art shot straight from the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate file copies. Two introductions offer background on both artist and subject—one by Manning’s assistant William Stout and one about Burroughs and Tarzan by Hengry G. Franke III. The book lists for $50, but you can find it on Amazon for about $35.

tarzan 001All images from IDW’s Tarzan: The Russ Manning Newspaper Strips Vol. One
except * from Magnus, Robot Fighter Archives Volume 1 (Dark Horse)

 

Dickens on Hope and Despair: “The Chimes”

Charles Dickens’ deep Christian faith rings in all of his works, and especially so in his Christmas books. After the success of “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens published similar titles in the same format: novellas with supernatural elements and a clear Christian message. All of them were successes in their day, but none had the afterlife of “A Christmas Carol,” and few remember “The Chimes,” “Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life” (the worst of the lot and, not incidentally, the only one without a supernatural element), and “The Haunted Man.” There are also a few oddball Christmas items to be found in the margins of his career, such as the fable “The Seven Poor Travellers,” which is bracketed by a nonfiction account of a Christmas celebration among the poor.

I try to make a habit of reading (or listening to audiobook versions of ) some or all of the Dickens Christmas’ tales each year during the season. You need to take them as they are: occasionally mawkish (and what Dickens isn’t?), melodramatic, and filled with certain stylistic tics. You also need to remember that these are sermons in story form.

Scrooge is given a lesson in caritas. Certainly, his sin is greed, but it steams from a more fundamental cause: he has lost a sense of loving charity, which is the root of all Christian virtues. Scrooge’s conversion is not from a greedy man to a generous man. It is the story of a man who killed the love in his heart in pursuit of the world, and who gets that love back.

“The Chimes” follows the exact same format. Instead of 4 “staves,” we get 4 “chimes,” each marking the quarter hour. Instead of a rich greedy man who is shown where his life as gone wrong, we get a poor man shown where the world will go wrong because of his despair. In place of a ghost and 3 spirits, we have the goblins of the church bells, their fairy attendants, and a haunting little girl.

But “The Chimes” has a much harder edge to it. Trotty Veck, the central character, is a message-runner living in grinding poverty with his perfect daughter (Dickens always idealized women), who is eager to marry a young man despite their poor circumstances. Trotty’s sin is despair, which is indeed a mortal sin. The chimes–the church bells–stand for time, and symbolize the voice of God urging people to make the best of their days and have hope for the future. Striking every quarter hour, they remind the faithful of God, and the way that time passes according to His will. When Trotty hears the chimes, he hears hope and love.

But then Trotty and his daughter encounter three rich men who make them feel as if they have no right to even exist. They sink into despair, and believe in their heart that these men are right: the poor are “born bad.” Trotty starts to hear this accusation in the sound of the chimes, it seems as though Dickens is saying this is the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29). Trotty is attributing evil things to the work of the Holy Spirit. Only in this context does the bill of indictment leveled against Trotty by the bell gobin make sense:

‘Who puts into the mouth of Time, or of its servants,’ said the Goblin of the Bell, ‘a cry of lamentation for days which have had their trial and their failure, and have left deep traces of it which the blind may see—a cry that only serves the present time, by showing men how much it needs their help when any ears can listen to regrets for such a past—who does this, does a wrong. And you have done that wrong, to us, the Chimes.’

‘Who hears in us, the Chimes, one note bespeaking disregard, or stern regard, of any hope, or joy, or pain, or sorrow, of the many-sorrowed throng; who hears us make response to any creed that gauges human passions and affections, as it gauges the amount of miserable food on which humanity may pine and wither; does us wrong. That wrong you have done us!’ said the Bell.

It is, however, the rich and powerful who are left for the last and worst condemnation:

‘Lastly, and most of all,’ pursued the Bell. ‘Who turns his back upon the fallen and disfigured of his kind; abandons them as vile; and does not trace and track with pitying eyes the unfenced precipice by which they fell from good—grasping in their fall some tufts and shreds of that lost soil, and clinging to them still when bruised and dying in the gulf below; does wrong to Heaven and man, to time and to eternity. And you have done that wrong!’

That “lost soil” is the soil of Eden, and the earth made to fashion man in image and likeness of God, which we cling to in our fall. It is the image of God in man. Trotty has believed the evil accusations leveled against him by the rich and powerful, and in doing so has joined them in their sin. It is the task of the goblins to show him the true path of despair, in order to set him back on the path of hope.

The paternalistic do-gooder is also savaged, in the person of Sir Joseph:

‘Your only business, my good fellow,’ pursued Sir Joseph, looking abstractedly at Toby; ‘your only business in life is with me.  You needn’t trouble yourself to think about anything.  I will think for you; I know what is good for you; I am your perpetual parent.  Such is the dispensation of an all-wise Providence!  Now, the design of your creation is—not that you should swill, and guzzle, and associate your enjoyments, brutally, with food; Toby thought remorsefully of the tripe; ‘but that you should feel the Dignity of Labour.  Go forth erect into the cheerful morning air, and—and stop there.  Live hard and temperately, be respectful, exercise your self-denial, bring up your family on next to nothing, pay your rent as regularly as the clock strikes, be punctual in your dealings (I set you a good example; you will find Mr. Fish, my confidential secretary, with a cash-box before him at all times); and you may trust to me to be your Friend and Father.’

After Trotty gives in to misery and self-loathing, Dickens delivers a powerful series of vignettes showing the horrible fall from grace of Meg and all those Trotty knows and love. Remember the moment  in “A Christmas Carol,” when the Ghost of Christmas Present draws back his robes to reveal two feral children: Ignorance and Want? That moment has disturbed me since I first saw it in the Alaister Sim version as a kid.

Well, Trotty’s lesson takes that moment and stretches it to chapter length, grinding Trotty’s face in scene and after scene of wretched squalor and misery. If you give yourself over to it and put aside the modernist tendency to sneer at Victorian melodrama, it’s potent stuff, almost intolerable in the way it careens towards a grim but inevitable conclusion. Since everyone knows “A Christmas Carol,” you know what’s coming in the denouement, but it doesn’t make these visions any less powerful.

The Scrooges of this story don’t get their turnabout. It’s not about them. It’s about the grinding lot of the poor (particularly grinding in the time when Dickens was writing), our need to ease their lot, and the need of the poor to maintain hope in God in the face of the most wretched disappointments.

The “decent” men of “The Chimes” mouth various pieties, but their hearts are far from God. They don’t pause a moment to hear his voice in simple tolling of a church bell, or look for his image in the face of the poor. Because, much as we may not like it sometimes, that’s where Jesus told us to look for it. Unless we give ourselves over the gospel message and allow us to see Christ in the most wretched, or even unlikable, people of all, then we’re doing it wrong. It should be no surprise that the poor and suffering tend to have a stronger faith than the comfortable. God–hated by his own, torn on the cross–has always been near to the broken. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”

* * *

You can read the story here, find a nice annotated collection of all the Christmas stories here, get the complete Dickens for Kindle here, or listen to Ruth Golden’s brilliant audio version here. I recommend the audio version. She does an incredible job, it’s free, and Dickens wrote these stories to be read aloud.

The Bible of St. Louis

Bible-of-st-louis
The Bible of St. Louis is one of the greatest works of illumination in history, with 4,887 illustrations providing an astonishing view of both scripture and the 13th century. The three volumes contain excerpts from the Bible and commentary. They were commissioned between 1226 and 1234 by Blanche of Castile for the education of her son, King Louis IX of France, the future St. Louis.

Take a 5 minute tour of the Bible with the video below, which is an ad for an incredible facsimile edition, but serves as a nice overview of this masterpiece.

Read about the facsimile edition here. (If anyone is looking for Christmas gift ideas, I don’t yet have my copy.)

Medievalists.net has a good introduction to this Bible.