CI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

OK, how about some more limericks?

 

Limerick # 5

 

There once was a limerick writer

Whose income grew tighter and tighter.

“If I want to make bread

With my verses,” he said,

“I will just have to be even snider.”

 

# 6

 

There once was a student of grammar

Who was an incurable crammar.

He studied his best

On the eve of the test

By beating it in with a hammar.

 

#7

 

A writer of verse from Hong Kong

Got all of his limericks wrong.

They started out fine

From the very first line,

But the last one was always invariably and without fail too long.

 

# 8

 

The colleges of education

Thought up many a grand innovation.

But when their reform

Became the norm,

Not a kid learned to read in the nation.

Stars Through the Clouds

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Review: Jackson’s “Battle of the Five Armies”

HobbitCover

After finally watching Peter Jackson’s THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, I was pretty much unmoved, either to admiration or to anger. I was surprised by that, because there was plenty of both to report about all the earlier films. The truth is that there is really nothing left to learn from one more Jackson film about either Middle Earth or Jackson’s version of it. The parts that were good and the parts that were unnecessarily stupid and lame were pretty predictable from the first two Hobbit films. Jackson’s Middle Earth is what it is, and there really isn’t anything left to say about it that I have not said before.

Except one thing: I am never left unmoved by re-reading Tolkien.

OK, what are some of the things I had said before?  Now that Jackson’s entire interpretation of the legendarium is complete it might be worthwhile to revisit some of them.  If you want them in full versions, they can be found here:  http://lanternhollowpress.com/2013/02/04/review-the-hobbit-part-1-directed-by-peter-jackson/;   http://lanternhollowpress.com/2013/02/11/9196/;   http://lanternhollowpress.com/2014/02/03/review-the-desolation-of-smaug/.  For now, I will sum up:

HobbitHole

Skipping the obvious (the visuals are mostly authentic and usually breathtaking), I understand that the change to a new medium requires changes to the story.  So I’m not a purist.  I didn’t mind, for example, Bombadil being dropped or having the characters of Arwen and Glorfindel conflated.  So saying that “It’s different from how Tolkien did it” is not, by itself, a valid criticism.  There are even a couple of changes to the legendarium that are actual improvements.  [I pause for all the Tolkien fans who know me to gasp in horror.]  First, it actually makes more sense for Narsil to be in a shrine in Rivendell than it does for Aragorn to be carrying a useless sword around with him in the wild.  Anybody who has done any serious backpacking knows that dead weight is the last thing you want with you.  Aragorn is the most experienced outdoorsman in Middle Earth.  I rest my case.  Second, it makes sense for Aragorn to have kept the Army of the Dead with him through the end of the Battle of Pellenor Field.  His little band of thirty Dunedain plus an elf and a dwarf, however good they might be, would not have been enough to turn the tide.

TolkMistyMountains

I object to two things:  Changes that are just dumb and changes that alter the basic meaning and philosophy behind the work.  First, the dumb.  OK, it’s a movie, and we have CGI now.  There is still a difference between an epic and a video game.  This became most pointedly evident in the first two Hobbit installments, where people fall down five-hundred-foot cliffs and get up and walk away as if nothing had happened, dwarves randomly fall out of a tree onto Eagles’ backs who just happen to be passing below at the right time instead of being plucked from them (Nobody is that lucky, even if you add the phrase “if luck you call it”), and two ninja elves double-handedly kill more orcs than Saruman and Sauron put together ever bred.  Tolkien added the laws of magic to Middle Earth, but he did not allow himself to break the laws of physics.  All the physical feats performed are physically possible.  Not in Jackson’s Middle Earth.  Even in a movie, it makes the art less serious.

Portrait-Tolkien-line-Murray

The Professor

 

Much more problematic are changes that alter the moral meaning of Tolkien’s tale.  Here the prime example (there are many others) is Faramir.  How do you get from “I wouldn’t pick this thing up if I found it lying in the road” to “Tell my father I send him a powerful weapon?”  There is no logical path from the one place to the other.  The reason so many of Tolkien’s characters have to be “complicated,” some, like Faramir, to the point that they are unrecognizable, is that Peter Jackson lacks the moral imagination to believe that virtue is believable to a modern audience.  Tolkien has evil characters (Sauron, Saruman by the time of LOTR), he has morally compromised characters (Gollum, Theoden, Denethor, Thorin) in whom either good (Theoden, Thorin) or evil (Denethor, Gollum) finally triumphs, and he has good characters with integrity (Aragorn, Faramir, and many others).  We meet more people in the middle category in real life, true.  But Tolkien believed that we need positive portraits of integrity to feed our moral imaginations on.  Jackson either does not understand or rejects as impossible that belief.  It is that difference in philosophy that makes his movies, for all their brilliance, ultimately unsatisfactory to people who truly love and understand Tolkien’s work.  For more on this point, see my article “The World of the Rings: Why Peter Jackson Was Unable to Film Tolkien’s Moral Tale,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 26:6 (Nov.-Dec. 2013): 14-16).  To see it online, go here:  http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=26-06-014-v.

The Professor

The Professor

The last installment of Jackson’s Hobbit adds nothing new to this account.  Jackson’s Middle Earth is what it is, and there really isn’t anything left to say about it that I have not said before.

Except one thing: I am never left unmoved by re-reading Tolkien.  I hope some of the things I have said above help to explain why.

To see more of Dr. Williams’ writing, go to http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., or Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy:  Poems and prose in pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty!

 

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

 

 

Bucket List (New Poem)

BUCKET LIST
A poem by Donald Williams

Masefield longed to go down again to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all he asked was a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
But I would like a Treasure Map and a bonny, loyal Crew
Including Flynn the Librarian, Thor, and Doctor Who;
Our vessel the starship Enterprise with the Tardis built into her bridge,
And lots of Earl Grey in the Replicator and plenty of Pie in the fridge,
And dangerous Dragons to seek and slay, and Orc-Heads to cleave with zest,
And Villains sufficient to challenge us, but never derail the Quest.

EnterpriseInOrbit

De Futilitate

De Futilitate

Sonnet CXIII

The Evangelical Theological Society Meeting, San Diego, Nov. 2014

For the sake of fairness and historical accuracy, this was by no means the most discouraging academic conference I have ever been a part of.  My paper and my panel were well attended and well received, and I was asked to join the steefing committee for a new C. S. Lewis Consultation, an encouraging development in the ETS whether I were a part of it or not.  The sonnet here tries to capture one mood that the general experience of attending such conferences generates over time.  The reality probably does not justify the level of cynicism expressed in the sextet any more than it does the romantic outlook expressed at the end of the octave.  But for the record, I suspect others who have been sharers in the experience of doing academic conferences will recognize the mood and appreciate the fact that it is one we have to fight in order to keep going.  We so much want our contribution to be the first thing, but it keeps threatening to turn into the other!

Sending thoughts like soldiers into the fray . . .

Sending thoughts like soldiers into the fray . . .

When I consider how my light is spent,

Not lost, like Milton’s–rather, cast away

Like pearls before–That’s not what I should say.

It is uncharitable, and I repent.

Yet here I’ve flown across the continent

For what?  To give a paper?  To convey

Thoughts like soldiers thrown into the fray

To conquer, plant their flag, and stake their tent

 

Defending all that’s holy, good, anhd true.

And even if the session’s well attended,

They’ll do with mine just what I do with theirs:

All good intentions notwithstanding, to

File it and forget it.  Thus is ended

Another round of boxing with the air.

 

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Where will they file this thought?

Where will they file this thought?

For more poetry by Dr. Williams, go to http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and orderStars Through the Clouds: the Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams.  Se also his other new Lantern Hollow books there:  Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy.  

If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams' book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO'S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams’ book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

THE BREADTH OF THE HAIR: A Review

Brian Shelton, Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity. Anderson, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 2014. xi + 283 pp., n.p., pbk.

John Wesley famously cracked that Calvinism was “within a hair’s breadth of the truth.”  One would not get any such impression from listening to either contemporary Calvinists or Arminians, who have been practicing polarization with great diligence ever since the passing of their respective masters. Toccoa Falls College VP for Academic Affairs Brian Shelton makes Wesley’s pronouncement plausible again with a much-needed study of Wesley’s doctrine of Prevenient Grace.  Strangely neglected by contemporary Wesleyans, this doctrine is actually their strongest response to Calvinist critiques of their theology.  Shelton treats it exegetically, historically, and theologically in a winsome book that deserves attention from people on both sides of the controversy.  The book concludes with a very useful FAQ section called a “Synthesis of a Case for Prevenient Grace.”

John Wesley

John Wesley

Prevenient Grace is the proverbial hair’s breadth from the corresponding Calvinist doctrine of “Effectual Calling.”  Both deal with the problem that in the Gospel faith and repentance are demanded of people who are incapable of rendering any such response, because they are dead in their trespasses and sins and the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit.  It will be news to many Calvinists that there is an Arminian theology that takes this problem as seriously as they do and offers a similar solution: the enablement of the Holy Spirit is a necessary prerequisite to that response.  The breadth of the hair lies here:  Does the Spirit give that enablement to all men and women who hear the Gospel, or only to those who actually respond?  Does He overcome all men’s sinful indisposition to the truth just enough so that they are able to make a free choice, or does He “call” those whom God foreknows so effectually that we can say that “whom He foreknew . . . He justified . . . and glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30)?

John Calvin

John Calvin

The exegetical section is the key.  There are of course passages that can be taken as supporting either view (I’ve given one I think is on the Calvinist side above).  Shelton shows what a responsible Arminian reading of them looks like.  I think that in several of them the words can be taken either way, depending on the assumptions we bring to the text.  In the end my own moderate reformed view remained intact.  But I think Shelton has shown that constructive dialog between Evangelical Arminians and Gospel Calvinists needs to continue, and that both sides will profit from making this doctrine—and Shelton’s fine treatment of it—central in that discussion.

Bigger on the Inside . . .

Bigger on the Inside . . .

Scripture, as I said, seems to say (or at least imply) both Prevenient Grace and Effectual Calling.  That is a sign that we need to live inside the hair.  If that seems a rather narrow and constricted space, remember: Like the Tardis and a certain Narnian stable, it is bigger on the inside than the outside.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

For more writing by Dr. Williams, visit http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy, or Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of  Letters, all from Lantern Hollow Press:  poems and prose in pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty!

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.