In Which I write about good things and heresy

This afternoon I am in the basement puzzling over a laundry conundrum, while my sister has tea and cookies with one of her girl friends upstairs. I’ve got a comfy blanket, a buffalo rug, and baroque guitar music, and The Fellowship of the Ring is waiting next to me. Earlier this week Olivia and I stopped at the library book sale. I was looking in one row and she in another, and she came up all excited. “They’re selling Paradise Lost, do you want it?”

“Of course! Show me!” (Inwardly I was cursing the library system for daring to get rid of such a book, while celebrating our own good fortune in being the ones to buy it. Finding good books at a library sale is a complex moral situation.)

So we hurried over. And there, on top of a stack of books in a box, was a hardcover staring up at me. It said PARADISE LOST, all right, in inch-high letters — but it was some Western-romance-murder-mystery-thing most definitely not by John Milton.

But the next day I checked out a book that turned out to be really good, and while Olivia and I were doing chores, I spouted off something about good books and she said “What were you saying?” and I said “Oh, nothing.”

But so rare is the feeling of having found a good book, that I think it’s a good thing to not-complain for once (I do a lot of complaining, especially about books, on this blog).

It is good to look down at the book in your hands and know:

For every cliched fantasy, where you know everything that’s coming next, because it’s the same cliche that’s been written a million and one times, there’s a Wingfeather Saga.

For every cliched “Christian historical romance” which, like the Holy Roman Empire, is neither Christian, nor historical, nor particularly Romantic, there’s The Gest of Beren and Luthien.

For every Da Vinci Code there’s a Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature. (I don’t know myself how good the latter book is, never having read it, but it’s a safe bet it’s better quality all around, in morals and in writing.) Or, better yet, there’s a Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference, Works, and Methods. Now there’s one he could seriously stand to have in his bibliography, and none of this Gospel of Thomas poppycock, humbug, balderdash, and claptrap. >_< Four years. Four years and that still makes me scream internally. Well, they do say S. Nicholas punched Arius in the face after one of the debates over the latter’s ‘own personal truth’. ANYWAY. Moving on to the subject of good literature.

For every poorly-researched “historical” novel (hrrhm’phm, Dan Brown and G. A. Henty, I do mean you, for slightly different reasons), there’s an Edge on the Sword or Across Five Aprils or Adam of the Road or Black Fox of Lorne or Door in the Wall or The King’s Shadow. (And hopefully someday an Of the North and a Wind Age. Though re-researching OtN is giving me headaches. (What was I saying about moving on to good literature? Oh, right.))

For every Paradise Lost written in the 20th or 21st century (I didn’t check the date), there is Milton’s true life’s work. (Should I sue that authour for false advertising or plagiarizing titles or something? But then I’d have to sue Peter Jackson for his dwarf movies too. (What did I say about not complaining in a post this time?))

For every book about necessary evils and how it’s conceivable that we can be genuinely truthful to our co-conspirators regardless of how many lies we’ve told to other people (unless it’s also okay to lie to our co-conspirators, Harry Potter; and either way we’re looking at the destruction of Western Civilization), there’s a Pendragon’s Heir.

For everything written merely to amuse, there’s a tome of G. K. Chesterton or C. S. Lewis.

For every mediocre novel by George MacDonald, forerunner of the Christian Romance section, there’s a Princess and the Goblin, Princess and Curdie, At the Back of the North Wind, Portent, Lilith, and Phantastes.

For every atrocious bit of crime fiction out there (a genre I seem to have taken an especial dislike to since this spring’s writing workshop), there’s a Dorothy Sayers novel.

For every Love Wins  or Altar Call or Finney Lives On (all of which I think I can see from where I sit, or at least, I could before Dad rearranged the library), you can hit a heretic over the head with The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, or Calvin’s Institutes, or Religious Affections, or the Summae, or Augustine’s Confessions. (All of which are quite large enough on their own to deliver a good thump to a heretical skull, and the insides are especially potent when you want to stun and disarm your opponent. (Why do I seem preoccupied with the notion of physical injury to heretics today?))

For every goody-goody, insipid, safe “children’s retelling of a fairy story, which by the way we don’t believe in at all, but it’s okay for the little kids, right?”, there’s an Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye and a Silver Trumpet by Owen Barfield, a Smith of Wootton Major, and a Farmer Giles of Ham, a Wonderful O, a Thirteen Clocks, and too many more to list.

For every modern, up-to-date and progressive, feministic, inclusive version of history, despising all versions written by those infamous “dead white guys”, there’s a Faerie Queene, Le Mort D’Artur, City of God, Pendragon’s Heir to show how medievals really thought. (You know I had to mention it twice.)

For every “inspirational Christian fiction” title that’s more like “mindless Pelagian goop” if advertising were honest, there’s a Cry, the Beloved Country.

And time will fail me if I try to tell of the Mind of the Maker, or History in English Words, and especially if I try to list all the Good Chesterton.

For every dark depressing dreary dystopian disgrace to the name of novel, there’s a book like The Girl Who Drank the Moon, to remind us of the value of life, the power of hope, and the magic of words.

There’s really a surprising number of good books in the world, when you think about it.

And thanks to good old Gutenberg, and a few others, we get to have all these jewels and more for a dollar fifty each at Half Price Books (or just 30 cents each for the 21-volume set of The Book of Knowledge, 1937 edition), even though we’re middle class.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is this week’s discovery. My sister’s started it, and I’ll keep it around till my mother gets home so she can read it too. I obviously commend it.

Spot the Studio C quotes (alliteration is awesome).


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
This entry was posted in Books, Fiction, Historical fiction, Non-fiction, Of the North, Reading and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to In Which I write about good things and heresy

  1. thegermangolux says:

    I’ve been thinking (not very seriously) about someday starting a club called the Dead White Guys Club, in which I and the other members will celebrate books written by dead Caucasian European males. Not because women and minorites are any less valuable than these, but because when colleges have majors in ‘Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies’ (but not men, even though it’s about gender); majors in ‘African-American Studies’ and ‘Indian American Studies’ but no degrees in Western Civilization; and when Shakespeare and Milton are being banned from college literature courses in favor of wildly obscure African lesbian poets; I know something’s wrong.
    White English-speaking guys like me are gonna be an endangered breed in a hundred years or so.

    Good list, though. I saw titles I know and love, titles I’ve been meaning to read for far too long, and titles I’ve never heard of. Those books you mentioned right after the Da Vinci Code are a little odd.


    • I haven’t read all of the books on the list. The first one after the Da Vinci Code is one that was sitting on the shelf across from me while I was writing. I haven’t read it; Dad probably has. But it’s still a safe bet that it’s better than Dan Brown. I remembered too late that I left out the Divine Comedy. That would make a good contrast.


      • thegermangolux says:

        Actually, I found the Dictionary of the Targumim, etc. while I was at the Central Seminary library this week. It’s extremely boring if you don’t know Semitic languages, and possibly pretty boring even if you do.

        Speaking of the Divine Comedy, I found a translation of it this week that I’m fairly impressed with. When I first read it, it was a bilingual edition that you guys lent me, translated into blank verse. The copy we’ve had for a while tries to keep the original terza rima form that Dante used, which results in really twisted sentence structure and stuffy word choice. It’s brutal. So at Half-Price Books, I found an edition translated by John Ciardi, with stanzas that had rhyme, rhythm, and understandable sentence structure.
        All that to say – the edition and translation can make or break a book, and I’m gonna read the Divine Comedy again.


  2. I saw some favorites (in the positive list) and some books still to be read. When I saw “Cry, the Beloved Country” (a book I have enjoyed reading several times), I thought of the miscommunication regarding this book when we lived on a rented acreage. I had a copy of the book, and asked one child to bring it from our library for me. That child asked another and so on, so the heraldic voice through the house was “Daddy wants ‘Cry Blood in the Country’ “. A very strange request, indeed. Thanks for sharing the list of the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s