A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005 :::
Time still will not allow a certain pudgy, balding English teacher to give proper attention to an accounting of last weekends Latin percussion concert, in which said English teacher distinguished himself by actually producing two solos that had structure, a first, though the second solo ended in a way inconsistent with the underlying structure of the song.

But, pending that, here is a letter which A Mind That Suits felt constrained to write to the estimable Stephen Hunter, longtime film reviewer for the Washington Post. The advantages of blogging are that one can edit, and in fact the e-mail arrived in Mr. Hunter's in-box with a couple of grammatical howlers, and one enormous factual one: although C.S. Lewis's artistic sensibility is almost entirely English, he was in fact born in Ireland and "Lewis" is a Gaelic name, apparently. But his family had somewhere joined the "Anglo-Irish aristocracy" and so he came by his Englishness quite naturally. Still, he was Irish.

One can guess at the nature of Mr. Hunter's review from the comments below.

In keeping with a quite gratifying pattern with Post writers, Mr. Hunter sent back a most gracious reply. Only writers at the Weekly Standard seem to be strong enough to accept criticism. Writers for most other publications are entirely to Olympian, and thin-skinned.

Herewith, the letter:

Dear Mr. Hunter:

I find your reviews most informative and helpful, and very well-written. You are one of the few film reviewers I make a point of following.

Which made this morning's "any wisecrack is a good wisecrack" review ofNarnia so disappointing. You could have said in a serious way that youwere bothered by the film's Christian basis. Instead we got ad hominems and witticisms.

1) Is it a crime for C.S.Lewis to have been British? (His sensibility is almost entirely English, even though he was born in Ireland.) 1950 was not a bright time for Britain. Why would he be wrong for recalling things that were good about England? How does that make the Chronicles an "unquestioning colonial morale-raiser?" The only parallels with Britain would be if Hitler had won, and the British were waiting for someone to throw him out. You would have advised them not to?

2) Where, in all Narnia, is there an empire? The war is a defensive war. Narnia goes on no rampages in other lands.

3) Lewis's biggest villain is white. Why then the slur about the children ruling over "darker masses?" Are the masses darker? I just used The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for an ESL class--three priests and two Korean Presbyterians, so no worries about appearing to evangelize--and I do not recall that the trolls are even given a skin color.

4) In the later books, where a vaguely Eastern religion is introduced, the relationship with the religion of Aslan is laid out with considerable ambiguity and nuance, and darker-skinned characters are heroes. And let's not forget--as who could--Reepicheep? (The name given to the country to the South, Calormen, if you were thinking of saying anything about it, is based on the Latin word for heat, not color.)

5) The "turn the other cheek" rule is for us, not Jesus. Jesus has considerably more leeway. Cf., the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, St. Matthew 25. And even we get to debate people, so it's ok if I write a letter like this, as long as I am fair, temperate, and accurate. Please forgive any excesses of sarcasm.

6) The reason the children become rulers is that beavers can't actuallyread.

7) The reason the fictional children go in through the wardrobe is thatreal children find wardrobes and closets fascinating, unlike certainwriters for the Washington Post.

8) The Post is a family newspaper, so why did we have to hear about Lewis's spanking fantasies? Did he actual spank anybody, anyway?

9) When he took up with the older woman, he was an atheist. (Oops. That's from William Booth's article.)

10) Speaking of which, what's with William Booth's crack about C.S. Lewis's drinking? Only American evangelicals worry about drinking. Lewis was Anglican. Mr. Booth reminds me of the young Democrat who butted into a bar conversation to ask why, if I was so conservative, I was in a bar. If I could find a nice bar in DC that wasn't populated by entirely liberals, I would. SOME would be fine, but ALL?? Far too bland and homogeneous for me.)

11) Back to you: suffering and sin are the warp and woof of any deep understanding of Christianity. The tortured details of his life explain (rather than contradict) Lewis's deep faith, but in what way are the Chronicles a "rich vein of psychological ore?" I know the man's work and life story well, and at no point see any psychological sidelight to any of the Chronicles.

12) Back to the Empire bit: Brittania has four syllables, Narnia three. Narnia bears as close a relation to "Brittania" as do Transylvania,Spotsylvania, Pennsylvania, and Ruritania. "I-A" is Greek for "land of, " as in Indonesia.

13) I will see the movie shortly, so I cannot speak for it, but in thebooks Susan is not timid, she is overly practical.

14) When did Jesus have any doubt? In the Garden, he underwent AGONY, and at several moments He was very sad, but I do not recall any instance where He did not say cearly that he was right.

Well, that about wraps it up. I will continue to read your reviews, and look forward to what you have to say.

You have my eternal gratitude, in any case, for one line, about 1998's radical movie of the year, the horrid Happiness: "The film is devoid of style, unless the decision to push the camera's On button could be called a style." For that, I can forgive a lot.

One suggestion, though: next time you find you have written an out-sized review like this morning's, go back and cut out the wisecracks. They are the salt, not the main meal.

All the best,

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 12:11 PM



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