Books

Christopher Tolkien, Architect of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, 1924-2020

Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the person in charge of his father’s literary estate, passed away at the age of 95 on the 16th of January. After his father passed away in 1973, Christopher began a massive, decades-long project of publishing his father’s unfinished Middle-Earth histories:

In 1977, he collected and published The Silmarillion, a work that Tolkien had intended to publish, which explored the origins of Middle-earth and set up the conflict that he explored in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

In the years that followed, he continued to produce new volumes of Tolkien’s unpublished writings, releasing Unfinished Tales in 1980, the 12-volume History of Middle-earth between 1982 and 1996, and edited and completed a number of longer narratives and translations of epic poems, including The Children of Húrin (2007), The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (2009), The Fall of Arthur (2013), Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, (2014), Beren and Lúthien (2017), and The Fall of Gondolin (2018).

As Gandalf said,

…the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

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2020: What did Sci-Fi predict?

Not a lot of good things, so apparently we are far better off than they thought, and our ever present doomsayers claim. Some disappointments as well, like not being on Mars yet. Check out Travis Perry’s article reviewing what film and books thought we would wake up to in 2020.

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Myths Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson Told Me

Scientists enjoy telling stories. They tell stories about, among other things, the quest to understand the universe — stories that sometimes have implications for belief or disbelief in God…

Too, often, these stories are false.

This is how science historian Michael Newton Keas beings his engaging and enlightening book, Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion.

Unfortunately, he his right.

What he is referring to is when celebrity scientists stop talking about science and interject their personal beliefs under the guise of science. If those beliefs aren’t friendly to religion, they have a habit of promoting the false religion-is-at-war-with-science narrative with a variety of myths. The war between science and religion  is a modern fable, not surprisingly promoted by those who don’t think highly of religion.

This is a shame, really, because we need popularizes of science, but when some scientists become celebrities, they can fall off their intellectual foundation rather quickly. When Neil DeGrasse Tyson turns Giordano Bruno into a martyr for science in his show Cosmos, much of the story is fiction. When Carl Sagan made claims to the effect that the cosmos is all that there is or always will be, he wasn’t making a scientific statement, but a personal, philosophical one. When Sam Harris claims the church had been “torturing scholars” for “speculating about the nature of the stars,” it simply isn’t true.

It’s not hard to review history, as Dr. Keas shows, and see there is no widespread hatred of science from religion. In fact, he details some of the ways “theistic religion nurtured the development of modern science from its start.” He also reveals the irony of these celebrity thinkers replacing religion with their own naturalistic philosophy and materialistic magic.

I’ve studied a lot of history and science over many years, so I have seen elsewhere the history Keas lays out.  Such as there is far more to the Galileo story — he isn’t the poster child of a war between the church and science. The Dark Ages weren’t so dark — the Renaissance didn’t appear out of nowhere. Nor were most of our ancestors really confused about the shape of our planet — most thought it was a sphere and didn’t need Columbus to prove it (he didn’t think it was flat either).

Do the celebrities purposefully spread their myths? I hope not, but the history isn’t hard to find and they keep repeating their myths anyway.

The takeaway from Keas book is we should learn to recognize when our experts, celebrity or otherwise, switch from teaching to evangelizing. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, unless you are passing it off for something it isn’t. And don’t for a moment think you aren’t capable of testing and questioning those who portend to speak for all of science and history.

They don’t own all the keys to our past and our universe. We all do.

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Robert Jordan, Heir to Middle-Earth

The Wheel of Time series, which James Rigney, writing as Robert Jordan…is a true successor, a true heir, to the kind of mythically philological trail of creation that Tolkien had blazed some fifty years earlier. Like Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the world of the Wheel is a myth behind myths. The wondrous Age of Legends, the ‘far past’ of Jordan’s plot-lines in The Wheel of Time, is our mythically Atlantean past just as surely as is Tolkien’s story of the fall of Númenor from the Silmarillion. – Michael Livingston

For those who haven’t dived into Jordan’s epic 14 volume Wheel of Time Fantasy series, you’ll be hearing much more about it in coming months as Amazon Prime begins production on a television adaptation. Will they be able to adapt the voluminous, sometimes dense, successor to Middle-Earth? Or will it follow the troubled road of shows based on Shannara and The Sword of Truth? At least they have a complete book series to work from and can avoid the angst Game of Thrones fans have endured.

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Children & Books: Why #ReadingMatters

We’ve all been told how important reading is for the development of a child’s mind, not just so they can get an A in reading class, but for their intellectually well-being the rest of their life. This has become even more important in the age of electronic gadgets. Anna Mussmann writes:

[Children] must be able to hold large ideas in their minds. They must be able to recognize the differences between logic and propaganda. They must possess the self-discipline needed to focus on issues that are boring, and seek the wisdom to differentiate between what is right versus what is expedient or amusing. Most of all, they must possess the perspective of a true education in ideas so they can think outside the echo chamber of our era.

All of this is deeply connected to what and how we read. It is not that people who use their phones frequently are necessarily dumber than people who don’t. Like any tool, though, screens can be dangerous. They can fill the spare moments of life until no time is left for thought and deep learning. They can retrain our brains and make it hard to focus on a long-form conversation, whether in-person or in print.

Books are one of the best ways to guard our minds against a misuse of screens. Books aren’t magical mind-vitamins, of course. Yet in order to cultivate the ability to think, we must engage with good, wise, and true thoughts. And it happens that the works of humanity’s greatest thinkers are found in books.

She also writes on what it means to be a “reader,” and how to set an example to children. Kristen Mae shows us how to “trick” your kids into reading — in a good way. Michelle Woo details the sad truth of why some kids stop reading by age 9 — and how you can prevent this.

Reading is the gateway to all forms of thought and subject matter. It is a doorway to our past and a pathway to what our future will become.

Make sure it is wide open for your children and remove any and all roadblocks.

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Freedom and the Future of Humanity

Here’s a pair of books on four men of the 20th Century that still speak to us today: Churchill and Orwell and A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War. Not one of them was a talking head or armchair expert. Each was a veteran of one or more of the century’s — and mankind’s — worst wars.

Winston Churchill warned there was no appeasing totalitarian governments. Evil regimes only ceased their scourge when facing a people who refused to surrender. Churchill’s prophetic voice was nearly ignored in this, and of what the world was to become in the Cold War. Flaws and all, he reached a level few “leaders” today can approach.

George Orwell experienced in the Spanish Civil War that all totalitarian governments were indistinguishable — whether fascist or communist — in their aims and results. His politics were polar opposite of Churchill’s, but they arrived at the same truths through life, not hypothetical debate. His books Animal Farm and 1984 emerged from those experiences, becoming timeless warnings that wherever power existed, abuse of that power would occur.

After surviving the trenches of World War I, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien became academic scholars. While their contemporaries were writing dismal books on the dark future of humanity, Lewis and Tolkien refused to give in to such defeatism. They eschewed the materialistic and naturalistic philosophies that had brought the world to its knees, and were also being used to paint a future of darkness for humanity. Their fantasy novels were more than fairy tales — they unveiled the hope and the Story that had been gifted to men and women — and that Evil could be crushed.

Out of a dark age came these bright lights. We would be dangerously amiss to snuff them out.

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Mark of the Raven

What if you could enter someone’s dreams? Inside their dreamworld you would discover their greatest fears. You could use their darkest secrets against them.

This darkness you found now wielded as a weapon to kill.

In Morgan L. Busse‘s Mark of the Raven, Lady Selene has been gifted as a dreamwalker. The eldest daughter in the House of Ravenwood, she has inherited what generations of women in her family before her have also known. All seven Great Houses of the realms have differing giftings, but her mother teaches Selene the purpose of hers.

She is to become an assassin for hire and serve the dark schemes of her mother.

I have read many books where the Light and Darkness face off. Usually the characters are either-or: Either bad, or good. In Raven, we see Lady Selene struggle with what is apparently her fate. She believes she has no choice. It’s not clear, even when faced with the Light, if she will, or can, veer off the path she was born into. Morgan Busse tells Selene’s story of struggle with the depth that will resonate with people in the real world. And that’s what makes fiction like this a powerful force:

Among the fantastic, truth is revealed. Reality in the midst of fantasy.

Not coincidentally, I’m sure, I had just finished Lacey Sturm’s telling of her real-life story in The Reason. Surrounded by the Darkness she nearly gave in, but she to encountered the Light and had to make a choice. Lady Selene’s world may be fiction, but it is a story many find themselves in.

In Mark of the Raven, Morgan L. Busse has crafted an absorbing tale, where the reader will viscerally experience the struggle of Lady Selene, and be propelled to a breathless ending.

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The Reason

Darkness can feel honest, and honesty can be beautiful and feel so inspiring. But darkness stops short of resolution. It’s deceptive. You can’t see all that lurks within darkness. The things that inhabit darkness live there because you can’t see them; that way they can deceive you, pervert you, and ultimately destroy you from the inside out…The deception is evil in the sense that if we don’t stop it, it will kill us. – Lacey Sturm

Before Lacey Sturm became a platinum-selling musician (the former lead singer and cofounder of Flyleaf), she nearly ended her life. In a time where so many people seem to be adrift, and think they have no way out, here is one woman’s amazing story on finding purpose, on defeating the Darkness. The Reason is a book you’ll finish without putting it down.

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On Reading, and Not Reading

If you follow my Facebook page, you know I post links to some interesting articles around the web. Here’s a round-up of some recent favorites:

Have trouble finding time to read? Are you optimizing your reading time? What are you reading goals? Why You Need a Reading Plan will answer those questions and set you on a life-long adventure of reading.

In Reading The Great Books Well Should Transcend Moralism, Ramona Tausz asks, “Can books change you? Can they make you a better person? Most importantly, will you let them try?” Learn from the Great Books.

Find out if you suffer from Tsundoku, the practice of buying more books than you can read. Is this a bad thing?

Read the troubling, A Third Of Teens Haven’t Read A Single Book In Past Year, which writes:

Many [teens] simply don’t have experience delving into long-form texts. Learning to do so is imperative…as it lays the groundwork for developing critical thinking skills and understanding complex issues…

“Think about how difficult it must be to read even five pages of an 800-page college textbook when you’ve been used to spending most of your time switching between one digital activity and another in a matter of seconds.”

Follow on FB for more fascinating books, ideas and the cutting edge. Of course, stay here as well for longer discussions, Finding your Story, and the War Among the Shadows.

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Mars Awaits

This month, Mars moves into the best position for observers on Earth since 2003. What Mars book are you reading to welcome the Red Planet?

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