About Me

My photo
I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 10 August 2020

"Demian" by Hermann Hesse

This slim volume (110 pages in my paperback version) was originally published pseudonymously and purported to be the autobiography of a young lad; it was an instant success. At first sight it has similarities with Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, it is very much in the Bildungsroman tradition, but this is not the self-obsessed self-tortures of a man in love; Demian is a novel of ideas about those who are outsiders in society.

There is a short prologue in which the narrator tries to explain what is this autobiography will be all about. It has a sort of dedicatory preface: “All I really wanted was to try and live the life that was spontaneously welling up within me. Why was that so very difficult?” (Prologue). He warns about the limitations of autobiography: “When authors write novels, they usually act as if they were God and could completely survey and comprehend some person’s history and present it as if God were telling it to Himself, totally unveiled, in its essence at all points. I can't, any more than those authors can.” (Prologue) Finally, he warns: “My story isn't pleasant, it's not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.” (Prologue) Then we can start. 

As a boy, the narrator Emil Sinclair recognises that there are two worlds: "the world of a warm glow, clarity and cleanliness; gentle, friendly speech, washed hands, clean clothes, and proper behaviour ... This was the world to adhere to if one's life was to be bright and pure, lovely and well-ordered ... The other world ... was altogether different, smelled different, spoke differently, made different promises and demands. In this second world ... there was a motley flow of uncanny, tempting, frightening, puzzling things, things like slaughterhouse and jail, drunks and bickering women, cows giving birth, horses collapsing, stories of burglaries, killings, suicides.” (Ch 1) Following a juvenile misdemeanour (in fact a pretended one) Sinclair falls victim to blackmail from another schoolboy; Demian rescues him from this. Demian becomes the Guide to Sinclair's Hero on a Journey, but Demian is a guide who starts by challenging conventional ideas of religion and morality. He explains that the Christian God represents "goodness, nobility, the Father, beauty and also loftiness, sentimentality - all fine! But the world is made up of other things, too. And all that is simply ascribed to the Devil, and this whole part of the world, an entire half, is swept under the table and buried in silence"; his solution is to "create some new god, who would also include the Devil within himself, one in whose presence we wouldn't have to shut our eyes when the most natural things in the world take place.” (Ch 3) This is what Sinclair has been waiting to hear and it enables him to go to boarding school where he becomes a drunkard on the point of expulsion; a classic Refusal of the Call. Later he reconnects with Demian and with other characters, such as Pistorius the organist who seeks salvation in ancient mysticism. Finally Sinclair begins his journey to the light. Demian's last visit to him is in the nature, perhaps, of a ghost.

Demian, with Siddartha and Steppenwolf, is the first of a three novels which Colin Wilson in The Outsider considers to be Hesse's exploration of the theme of the outsider. Demian has recognised Sinclair as a fellow who is marked with the ‘mark of Cain’. He explains that the story about Cain is the wrong way round, made up to explain the mark: “They said that fellows with that mark were weird, and so they were. People with courage and character always seem weird to other people.” (Ch 3)

Wilson wasn't too keen on the ending of Demian which he describes as 'airy-fairy' and I can see what he means: it lacks the raw punch of the first few chapters. But the first few chapters are bloody good.

There are some super description in which Hesse uses a comparison entirely unlike any I have heard before and yet spot on:

  • It was as if the wall clock and the table, the Bible and the mirror, the bookshelf and the pictures on the wall were saying goodbye to me.” (Ch 1)
  • He bore and behaved himself like a prince in disguise in the midst farmboys, making every effort to resemble them.” (Ch 2)
  • He didn't look at all like a schoolboy doing an assignment, but like a scholar pursuing his own research.” (Ch 2)
  • The world around me was like a clearance sale of shopworn merchandise, insipid and unappealing.” (Ch 4)
  • A new pot to cook his ideas in.” (Ch 6)
  • Scholarship ... a weary search amid the ruins of worlds gone by.” (Ch 6)
  • I stood at a street corner listening; from two taverns the ritual performed jollity of youth emerged into the night. Everywhere a sense of community, everywhere a squatting together, everywhere is shuffling off of destiny and an escape into the warm togetherness of the herd!” (Ch 7)

Great moments of truth:

  • The part of the story that took place among the wicked and the lost was by far the more appealing, and if one were free to state and admit it, it was sometimes actually a downright shame that the prodigal repented and was found again.” (Ch 1)
  • There were secrets I could much sooner share with the coarsest street boys than with my sisters.” (Ch 1)
  • It was my own business to cope with myself and find my own path, and I conducted my business badly, just as most children do who have been well brought up.” (Ch 3)
  • Very many ... for the rest of their life cling painfully to the irretrievable past, to the dream of the lost paradise [childhood], which is the worst and most murderous of all dreams.” (Ch 3)
  • Whoever wishes to be born destroy a world.” (Ch 5)
  • I like music very much, I think, because it's so unconcerned with morality.” (Ch 5)
  • I've always derived nothing but suffering from morality.” (Ch 5)
  • You certainly don't consider all the bipeds running around the street to be human beings merely because they walk upright and carry their young for nine months?” (Ch 5)
  • You shouldn't compare yourself with others; and if nature has made you a bat, you shouldn't try to turn yourself into an ostrich.” (Ch 6)
  • I didn't exist to write poetry, to preach sermons, to paint pictures; neither I know anyone else existed for that purpose. All of that merely happened to a person along the way. Everyone had only one true vocation: to find himself.” (Ch 6)

Fantastic writing from a Nobel laureate. August 2020; 110 pages

Saturday, 8 August 2020

"Tyrell" by Coe Booth

Tyrell is a fifteen-year-old black lad living in New York with his ten-year-old brother and his moms; his father is in prison and the family, homeless, have been sent to a cockroach infested motel with other homeless families. He earns money using NY Metro season tickets which he uses to swipe commuters through the station gates in return for a dollar. He is an intriguing mix of toxic masculinity (aggression and a 24-7 sex drive; "Guys gotta act stronger and tougher when females is watching them." C 13) and 'new man' protection: if he has to kill someone to protect his girl, he reflects, he will just have to go to jail. He wants to earn enough money to get his family into an apartment; the only way he can do this quasi-legally is by setting up a rap party using his pop's DJ equipment. This is a 'lets do the show right here' story set in a context of squalor, homelessness, petty crime and hunger.

He has a great and seemingly authentic voice, there is a lot of verisimilitude and there is a great plot with some fine characters. It has been perfectly st up for a sequel; I suspect there will be a series.

A lot of the book is focussed on food. Tyrell never talks about his hunger but he chronicles every meal, from the one at the church where he has to sit through a two-hour service first to the ten dollar breakfast at McDonalds (two egg-McMuffin meals) and all the times he is invited to share someone's food and wolfs it down:
  • "Troy keep eating and eating like someone gonna take the food away if he don’t eat everything in, like, five minutes." (C 7)
  • "I’m eating so fast, I ain’t even picking my head up in between bites." (C 7)
  • "I ain’t thinking ‘bout no cigarette. I don’t want nothing to spoil the taste of that food in my mouth." (C 8)
  • "And what’s messed up is that I’m really hungry too. Starving. I need this food." (C 27)

There are moments when the hopelessness of homelessness is perfectly captured:
  • "I gotta do something. I wanna go somewhere, but I don’t got nowhere to go." (C 4)

But Tyrell also rages against the impotence of people like his mother who refuse to take responsibility for picking themselves up off the floor:
  • "Everyone on this bus got some excuse for why they here. None of it is they fault." (C 3)
  • "I’m tired of the way she act, like everyone s’posed to do everything for her all the time. Even if she don’t do nothing. Even when my pops was home, she never did nothing for herself. She just sat ‘round expecting him to do everything for her and buy her things. No matter how he got them." (C 4)
Other great moments:
  • "I never really believed in God ‘cause I knew if there was a God he wouldn’t never take my pops away from me. And my pops always taught me not to depend on nobody but myself." (C 8)
  • "I leave that store with a little over a dollar. Damn, I need to make some money soon." (C 8)
  • "Here we ain’t got no kitchen table to sit at, so we gotta work on the bed, which really don’t cut it." (C 9)
  • "That ain’t who I am. Shit, my pops ain’t raise me to be no pussy." (C 11)
  • "That woman was on me like white on rice, let me tell you." (C 11)
  • "I never used to hate snow, but when you ain’t got no warm coat or boots, snow ain’t cool. Not only that, but I ain’t got no other sneakers to put on, so I’ma be stuck in these all fuckin’ day." (C 13)
  • "If my brother can have some fun while we in this situation, I’ma let him. He don’t deserve to be at Bennett. He should be outside with a good coat and boots playing in the snow, so why I’ma stop him from having a good time?" (C 13)
  • "Life is so fucked up for Troy right now. Someone need to let him win sometime." (C 13)
  • "Just ‘cause she hooked up with a lot of guys don’t mean she wasn’t being used by them." (C 16)
  • "Females don’t know how hard it is sleeping with them when you ain’t doing nothing. Shit ain’t right. My whole body was hurting to get with her." (C 17)
  • "Teachers took one look at me and started putting me in programs for at-risk kids, then at-risk boys, then at-risk teenagers. Personally, I ain’t never knew what the fuck I was s’posed to be at risk of, except growing up Black" (C 17)
  • "Cal has a pops so bad, he make my pops look like one of them TV fathers." (C 19)
  • "Last time they let him out, you shoulda seen him, walking around in clothes from, like, fifteen years ago, trying to pick up young girls with his old-ass self.” (C 19)
  • "Cal a happy drunk, but I’m like one of them sorry-ass drunks you see crying on theyself on the train." (C 19)
  • "My opinion, weed ain’t nothing compared to alcohol. They made the wrong thing legal." (C 21)
  • "My school wasn’t nothing like this. It was more like a prison, you ask me. We had to go through metal detectors just to get in, and if them alarms went off, we had to go to another room to get searched again with one of them hand wands like they use at the airport. And no matter what you had on you, they would say it was a weapon and take it away from you, even when you was bringing it for school. Shit like compasses for geometry and them little staplers wasn’t allowed in my school. Even rulers. Like we was gonna file them down and make knives outta them or something. The whole thing never made no sense to me. They was s’posed to be getting us ready for college, not a life behind bars." (C 23)
  • "Damn. She giving me handouts. I mean, I know she being nice and everything, but all I feel is embarrassed." (C 27)
  • "I don’t know why, but females always think they know what guys need. Like we too dumb to run our own life or something." (C 28)
  • "And the truth is, when you pay nothin’, you get nothin’." (C 29)
  • I need your father,” she say, and she look kinda lost too. “I can’t do it by myself no more. I need him.” (C 31)
A super young adult book from the other side of the tracks.

August 2020

Thursday, 6 August 2020

"The Magnificent Century" by Thomas B Costain

This history covers the reign of Henry III of England (1216 - 1272), son and heir of King John, father of Edward I. This was a pivotal reign known primarily for the rebellion of Simon de Montfort in his attempts to establish the first English Parliament to which Commoners were called. 

The book is the middle volume in The Pageant of England trilogy. These books were initially written in 1951 and therefore provide a broad sweep of narrative history with little questioning (it repeats the claim that “An Italian named Salvenus de Armat invented spectacles in 1280”; Chap 31 although wikipedia suggests that this claim is untrue: "there was no member of the Armati family with that name" at the time) and no reference to sources although it is clear that the author is widely read. The prejudices and perspectives of 1951 are clearly visible! I am sure that the histories we write will be viewed disdainfully by the historians of 2090; our own obsessions distorting our perspective on the past.

Nevertheless this is a cracking read and I learned lots. The thirteenth century was filled with great characters such as Hubert de Burgh, William Marshall, Robert Grosseteste, Simon de Montfort, Eustace the Monk (a pirate) and many more. It starts in the middle of a civil war and in invasion of England by Prince Louis, son of the French King, it involves another civil war and the capture of the king at Lewes who then becomes a puppet until his son escapes from captivity and destroys the rebel army at Evesham. There is incident aplenty, lots of baddies and a few goodies. 

Some great moments:
  • Blanche, wife of Prince Louis demanded of King Philip Augustus of France money for her husband to continue fighting “if he remained obdurate, she would raise the money by pawning her own children.” (Chapter 2)
  • This lumbering, lute-twanging, looby age” (Chapter 26)
  • A live cardinal could do more for you than a dead pope.” (Chapter 28)
  • Those of high station lived in dank stone castles and those of low degree in mean hovels without chimney or window. They clothed their body in dun shoddiness and deemed a man a meacock who wore an embroidered band on his tunic.” (Chapter 29) I thought meacock was a misprint for peacock. I should have known that a meacock is "An uxorious, effeminate, or spiritless man; 
A meek man who dotes on his wife, or is henpecked." according to wiktionary

Very enjoyable. August 2020; 370 pages

Other books in the series include

Sunday, 2 August 2020

"Ape and Essence" by Aldous Huxley

In the frame narrative, on the day Gandhi is assassinated, a script-writer and the narrator discover a film script in a movie studio; when they seek out the writer they find that he has died. The second part of the book is his script. Some of it is sententious nonsense. The rest is a science fiction story in which an explorer from New Zealand, the only country to escape nuclear destruction in the Third World War, discovers the post-holocaust society in Los Angeles. Gamma rays have made all but a despised minority 'on heat' only for a five week window every year; those males who are permanently randy are castrated. The Belial-worshipping society is communist-authoritarian and babies born with more than the usual number of disabilities (thanks to gamma rays) are killed as infants just before the next round of copulation.

It is, in short, another chilling dystopia from the author of Brave New World.

The frame narrative (Tallis) seems unnecessary, introducing the scriptwriter impoverished by his womanising and the narrator who sees the world in terms of scenes as painted by old masters. This section was a little wordy: "For all their silken softness, the folds of every garment would have the inevitability and definitiveness of syllogisms carved in prophyry, and throughout the whole we should feel the presence of Plato's God, for ever mathematizing chaos into the order and beauty of art." (Tallis).

When the script began my heart sank: there were elements of pomposity and poetry that got in the way of what is an uncomplicated science fiction story that could have graced any B-movie lucky enough to have escaped the censor. Then, in the middle, the crux of the book revolves around an arch-priest explaining the tents of his devil-worship: that the devil is in all of us as clearly evidenced by the way mankind repeatedly self-destructs.

It is the message of the book, rather than the magic of its story-telling, that makes this a worthwhile read. In a few short pages Huxley-the-prophet predicts environmental catastrophe and consequent nuclear holocaust resulting from greed and breeding (all excerpts from 'Script')

  • "If a machine is fool-proof, it must also be skill-proof, talent-proof, inspiration-proof. Your money back if the product should be faulty and twice your money back if you can find in it the smallest trace of genius or individuality.
  • "Immortal souls ... lodged in bodies that grow progressively sicklier, scabbier, scrubbier, year after year.
  • "Even without the atomic bomb, Belial could have achieved all His purposes. A little more slowly, perhaps, but just as surely, men would have destroyed themselves by destroying the world they lived in."
  • "Those wretched slaves of wheels and ledgers began to congratulate themselves on being the Conquerors of Nature ... In actual fact, of course, they had merely upset the equilibrium of Nature and were about to suffer the consequences.
  • "Progress - the theory that you can get something for nothing; the theory that you can gain in one field without paying for your gain in another; the theory that you alone understand the meaning of history ... the theory that Utopia lies just ahead."
  • "Since ideal ends justify the most abominable means, it is your privilege and duty to rob, swindle, torture, enslave and murder all those who, in your opinion (which is, by definition, infallible), obstruct the onward march to the earthly paradise.

The title comes from a passage (cited at the start of the Script section of this novel) in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure when Isabella begs the sexual hypocrite Antonio for the life of her brother, sentenced to death for the crime of premaritally impregnating his fiance:
But man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d;
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep.

Great moments:

  • "Ptolemy was perfectly right: the centre of the universe is here, not there." (Tallis)
  • "Doesn't every schoolboy know it? Ends are ape-chosen; only the means are man's." (Tallis)
  • "Girls. not as they lamentably are, but as the idealists of the brassiere industry proclaim that they ought to be." (Tallis)
  • "What she was, unfortunately, was a bit of a bitch. And that bit had grown larger with the passage of the years." (Tallis)
  • "Tragedy is the farce that involves our sympathies; farce, the tragedy that happens to outsiders." (Script)
  • "From the second century onwards no orthodox Christian believed that a man could be possessed by God. He could only be possessed by the Devil." (Script)
  • "Unconditional surrender ... how many millions of children forced to be thieves or prostituting themselves for bars of chocolate?" (Script)
  • "If you want social solidarity, you've got to have either an external enemy or an oppressed minority." (Script)

Other books by Aldous Huxley include:

  • The Doors of Perception about his experiences with psychoactive drugs which made him a hero to the hippies of the sixties and provided the name for the sixties rock band The Doors.
  • Time Must Have a Stop: novelised philosophy of a rather pretentious adolescent

Saturday, 1 August 2020

"Tales of the Greek Heroes" by Roger Lancelyn Green

This is one of the books that I read when I was young, together with the Tale of Troy and the Saga of Asgard by the same author, that made me adore old myths (and must be at least partly responsible for my atheism, for if these colourful stories are untrue why should the rather less colourful stories from the Bible be true?).

Reading the book again as a much older reader I realise the skill that went into telling for children these often complex, frequently bloodthirsty, and from time to time sexy myths. The author can do little with the multiply sinful story of Oedipus except to say "Then Oedipus ruled well and wisely at Thebes, until a curse fell upon the land because of crimes which he had committed unintentionally, and he wandered away as a blind beggar" (C 8; surely the most Mrs Grundyish summary of parricide and incest in the whole of literature). However, normally he simplifies the sometimes contradictory accounts and produces a sanitised but exciting boys' own adventure story. We have the early stories of Zeus and Cronos, of Prometheus, and of the great flood. The central part of the book deals with the labours of Hercules. Finally we learn about Jason and the Argonauts and the Battle with the Giants.

First published in 1958 but still very readable.

A more grown up version of these stories is provided by Stephen Fry with Mythos and Heroes.

Friday, 31 July 2020

"The Little Friend" by Donna Tartt

By the author of The Secret History and The Goldfinch

As usual, Tartt starts her book with a tremendous hook: in The Secret History it is a murder and in The Goldfinch it is a terrorist bomb explosion in an art gallery. In this book it is the death of eight-year-old Robin, found hanging from the branch of a tree in the yard.

Twelve years on Robin's mother is still living in the same house but her bereavement has turned her in to a shadow, sleeping all day. Harriet, who was a baby when Robin died, and her slightly older sister who was four and refuses to talk about that day, are cared for by the black housekeeper, Ira. On the basis of Ira talking about the no-good families in town, Harriet decides that Robin was killed by Danny Ratliff and sets out to exact her revenge.

This is a tremendous loss-of-innocence story, set in the lush greenery and abandoned places of Mississippi, with a side-cast of serpents, preachers, pool hustlers, great aunts, baptists and drug dealers. The dysfunctional Ratliff family, strung out on the drugs they are manufacturing, psychotic and hallucinating, vicious and violent dirty and and clever and pathetic, living in poverty and squalor, is a most tremendous creation.

It is a big book (555 pages in my paperback edition) and a very slow build. But the recreation of a tortured paradise, the landscape and the characters, is a tremendous achievement and well worth the perseverance. This is the recreation of the world of To Kill a Mockingbird complete with the inbuilt racism and the educated whites and the poor whites and the little girl fleeing from the people she imagines are her persecutors. But the world of Harriet is no rural idyll of childhood. Tartt's Mississippi is a dreadful place.

There's a lot of death in the book.

This is a book that overwhelms you with the powers of its detailed descriptions, not a book you can judge by a few quotes. However:

  • "The screen door slammed shut. Robin ran outside, shrieking with laughter at a joke his grandmother had told him (Why was the letter damp? Because it had postage due), jumping down the steps two at a time." (Prologue)
  • "'Life goes on'. It was one of Edie's favourite sayings. It was a lie." (Prologue)
  • "When the Cleves chose to agree on some subjective matter it became - automatically and quite irrevocably - the truth, without any of them being aware of the collective alchemy which had made it so." (C1, The Dead Cat)
  • "Her dill pickles - far from being the culinary favourite she believed them - were inedible, and that the demand for them from neighbours and family was due to their strange efficacy as a herbicide." (C1, The Dead Cat)
  • "Jesus tells us not to lie, but that doesn't mean we have to be rude to our hostess." (C1, The Dead Cat)
  • "She did not care for children's books in which the children grew up, as what 'growing up' entailed (in life as in books) was a swift and inexplicable dwindling of character." (C3 The Pool Hall)
  • "If it's miracles everywhere, what's the point?" (C3 The Pool Hall)
  • "Knowing that it [puberty] was inevitable ('just a natural part of grwoing up') was no better than knowing that someday she would die." (C6 The Funeral)
  • "A despairing glassline shiver ran down Danny's neck as he sped past the funeral home. Airy methamphetamine clarity gliddered over him in nine hundred directions simultaneously." (C6 The Funeral)
  • "She thought of the pirate Israel Hands, floating in the blood-warm waters off the Hispaniola" (C6 The Funeral)


July 2020; 555 pages

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

"God in the Dock" by C S Lewis

A set of thirteen sermons and essays by  CS Lewis in which he explains his position on a variety of tenets of the Christian faith, including whether the church should allow 'priestesses' (no) and whether a man has the right to happiness (no).

Having previously enjoyed Lewis's theological writings, I was very disappointed by this one. When defending the idea of Christianity he doesn't really ever understand the objection that it might be all a made-up myth; often he depends his point of view by presupposing the truth of Christianity. He has a weak argument from ontology when he argues in favour of belief in miracles: "even to think and act in the natural world we have to assume something beyond it” (Miracles)

He seems endlessly sceptical when it comes to historical assertions and endlessly gullible when it comes to scriptural ones: “When the Old Testament says that Sennacherib’s Invasion was stopped by angels, and Herodotus says it was stopped by a lot of mice who came and ate up all the bowstrings of his army, an open-minded man will be on the side of the angels ... there is nothing intrinsically unlikely in the existence of angels ... but mice just don’t do these things.” (Miracles). He accuses science of being dogmatic because it extrapolates observations beyond what has been observed; this is how he refutes the second law of thermodynamics, a refutation needed by him in order to justify the resurrection (surely dogmatism involves asserting things against all other evidence).

He uses the oft-repeated idea that if science cannot explain everything (as it admits) therefore his dogma MUST be true to fill the gap: “It is certainly a possible supposition that behind this mystery some mighty will and life is at work. If so, so any contrast between his acts and the laws of nature is out of the question. It is his act alone that gives the laws any events to apply to.” (The Laws of Nature) It is breathtaking how he can move from identifying a hole to filling it with "out of the question" in consecutive sentences.
  • The laws of nature explain everything except the source of events ... how there came to be space and time and matter at all.” (The Laws of Nature)
  • Either the stream of events had a beginning or it had not. If it had, then we are faced with something like creation.” (The Laws of Nature)
He is clever about reconciling Free Will with the doctrine of an omnipotent God: we have free will because God, in his wisdom, for purposes we cannot understand, permits us to have free will even though he needn't (and presumably even though his omniscience allows him to see where our exercise of freedom will end): “God has made it a rule for Himself that He won't alter people's character by Force ... He has really and truly limited his power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn't do anything else.

In this book he does not tackle the Problem of Evil (how a supposedly omnipotent and good God can allow innocent people to suffer. In some ways, he embraces evil. He tells us that the Christian concept of the Incarnation (God came to earth in the body of a man) "lights up nature’s pattern of death and rebirth; and secondly, her selectiveness; and thirdly, her vicariousness.” (Death and Rebirth) This implies that he approves of 'selectiveness' (which he suggests is the antithesis of democracy, or egalitarianism: “I cannot conceive how one would get through the boredom of a world in which you never met anyone more clever, or more beautiful, or stronger than yourself.”; Death and Rebirth) and 'vicariousness': “one person profiting by the earnings of another person ... is the very centre of Christianity.” (Death and Rebirth). These doctrines may seem fine when you are an Oxford don in the Senior Common Room; they may seem less wonderful if you are poor and suffering. Inequality and capitalism are the way God has made the world.

He can be even more right wing. For me, the essence of being a good citizen is getting along with others and assisting those who are less fortunate than oneself. Not for CSL: “The vital elements of citizenship - loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principle, splendour, ceremony, continuity.” (Myth Became Fact).

He is a traditionalist in the church: “To cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence.” (Priestesses in the Church?)

He is dismissive of other religions: "We all know about Adonis, and the stories of the rest of those rather tedious people” although he accepts that non-Christians can live a good life ... if they cannot believe in Christianity. But being good is not that important: “Mere morality is not the end of life.” (Man or Rabbit)

Some wonderful or interesting moments:

  • The interpretation of experience depends on preconceptions.” (Miracles)
  • It is a great step forward to realize ... that even if all external things went right, real happiness would still depend on the character of the people you have to live with.” (The Trouble with X)
  • You also have a fatal flaw in your character. ... It is no good passing this over with some vague, general admission such as ‘Of course I know I have my faults’. It is important to realise that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives the others just that same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don't know about ... You say ‘I admit I drank too much last Saturday’; but everyone else knows that you are habitual drunkard.” (The Trouble with X)
  • As the state grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters.” (Priestesses in the Church?)
  • A right is “a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and correlative to an obligation on someone else's part.” (We have no right to Happiness)
I was very disappointed by this book for two reasons. Firstly, I find the the arguments advanced in favour of Christianity being true unconvincing. Secondly, I think that the version of Christianity outlined by CSL is fundamentally intolerant of other faiths (especially atheism, which he repeatedly confuses with Materialism), authoritarian and inegalitarian.

It isn't a difficult book to read: each short essay is a few pages and they could be read on their own. He is able to convey his views clearly and concisely. But other books are better.

CS Lewis was also the author of: these books reviewed in this blog:
Of course he wrote the Narnia children's books as well.

July 2020; 108 pages