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Mythopoeic Scholarship nominations

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  • David S Bratman
    I agree with Joe s point. There s a difference between a literary study of Lewis s fiction that discusses its religious message in that context, and a
    Message 1 of 3 , May 14, 2003
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      I agree with Joe's point. There's a difference between a literary study of
      Lewis's fiction that discusses its religious message in that context, and a
      theological explication of his spiritual beliefs. The former is
      appropriate for the Mythopoeic Award - indeed, it'd be hard to write a good
      book on Lewis's fiction that doesn't discuss his religion - and the latter,
      however admirable, is not. I'd put Nicoli's _The Question of God_ in the
      latter category, for instance. It's an interesting book, and a good one,
      but totally inappropriate for the award. So is Kort's _Lewis Then and
      Now_; and Robert Ellwood's _Frodo's Quest_ is nothing but a guide to a
      theosophical reading of Tolkien.

      I also tend to shy away from books whose topics may seem appropriate, but
      which don't approach them in a mythopoeic way. Ankeny's book on George
      MacDonald hardly touches on his fantasy; Zipes's _Sticks and Stones_ is a
      cultural critique, not a literary study. Some studies of general fantasy
      that are deaf to mythopoeia can be quickly identified by looking up their
      passing references to Tolkien and Lewis, to see if they're dismissive or
      clueless. So, out with Lenz's _Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction_, then.

      I'm also not impressed by scholarship for its own sake. Some books bristle
      with research, but they don't have much to say, or say it in dense academic
      prose (Harries, _Twice Upon a Time_) or just aren't all that intelligent
      (Ang, _Widening World of Children's Literature_) or both.

      But if there is scholarship, it has to be good. Don King's _C.S. Lewis,
      Poet_ is good. It may not have the world's most profound poetic analysis,
      but as a toiler in the same textual research fields, I found that Don's
      research and presentation of his technical findings took my breath away: he
      deserves the award for that alone. On the other end of the spectrum, we
      have Roma King's edition of Williams's letters. It's a tremendously
      valuable primary source that I'm happy to have published, but the award
      shouldn't be for just the good deed of transcribing and publishing the
      letters, it should be for the scholarly work you brought to it, and the
      scholarly apparatus on that book is utterly pathetic. It's a disgrace to
      the field that should never have been nominated. Two Kings, then: Don,
      thumbs up; Roma, thumbs down. In Inklings studies, Michael Stanton and
      Fredrick & McBride are nowhere near as bad, but their lack of command of
      facts also makes me uneasy; I'm still trying to make up my mind about Lewis
      & Currie, whose occasional sloppiness is redeemed by some brilliant
      insights. Martha Sammons in _A Far-Off Country_ refers to the
      Lewis-Tolkien "bet" without having any idea of the existence of _The Lost
      Road_, the work Tolkien wrote to fulfill his side of it: that's inexcusable
      at this date.

      The ideal MSA nominee may or may not have a lot of references or research
      ("scholarship" in the very narrow sense), but shows great and profound
      insight into the work it's studying, expounds its thesis in clear and
      captivating prose, the kind I'm used to hearing at the best Mythcon papers,
      and does this from a Mythopoeic angle, that particular combination of plain
      Lewisian literary analysis and spiritual insight that characterizes our
      best scholarship. (So, the religious aspect is essential, so long as the
      book is still literary criticism and not theology.) And there is one such
      new book on the list this year: Francis Bridger's _A Charmed Life: The
      Spirituality of Potterworld_, which I read with mounting delight.

      That one definitely goes on my list for Myth and Fantasy Studies: I'm also
      looking at Tim Morris's _You're Only Young Twice_ (similar in style and
      approach to Bridger without the spiritual aspect), Day's _Vampire Legends_,
      and a lot of excellent biographies: of Baum, Blackwood, and two of Peake.

      I don't recall telling Joe that collections of essays by multiple authors
      aren't appropriate for the award. I would vote for them, but I tend to
      downgrade them. Also downgradable are collections by single authors that
      pretend to overall coherence but don't achieve it: that's what I think of
      Peter Schakel's _Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis_: a lot of parts of
      variable quality that add up to less than their sum. I was also thrown by
      a horrible grammatical glitch on page 1, a sentence that begins "Every
      evening Mrs. Moore, mother of a deceased army comrade who shared a home
      with Lewis for more than thirty years ..." Probably Schakel thought that
      that "deceased" saved him from his bad phrasing, but like it or not, he's
      just told us that Paddy Moore's dead body was kept in Lewis's home all that
      time, and that's not what he meant. A comma after "comrade" wouldn't save
      that sentence either. (Mother of what comrade?) Sorry, but I can't vote
      for a book with prose that clumsy.

      I wish I could have gotten hold of Garbowski and Sturch, because I'm not
      sure I have enough books for the Inklings award. Don King and _The
      Annotated Hobbit_, yes; but there's not enough new material in the second
      edition of Verlyn Flieger's _Splintered Light_, and none of the other
      relevant books excite me enough. There's some decent stuff there, though,
      so I'll think about it.

      - David Bratman
    • Croft, Janet B
      I would love to see this worked up into an official description of what we are looking for in an awardee! Janet Croft The ideal MSA nominee may or may not have
      Message 2 of 3 , May 15, 2003
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        I would love to see this worked up into an official description of what we
        are looking for in an awardee!

        Janet Croft

        The ideal MSA nominee may or may not have a lot of references or research
        ("scholarship" in the very narrow sense), but shows great and profound
        insight into the work it's studying, expounds its thesis in clear and
        captivating prose, the kind I'm used to hearing at the best Mythcon papers,
        and does this from a Mythopoeic angle, that particular combination of plain
        Lewisian literary analysis and spiritual insight that characterizes our
        best scholarship. (So, the religious aspect is essential, so long as the
        book is still literary criticism and not theology.)


        - David Bratman



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      • David S. Bratman
        Thanks - Ellie and I have been considering something of the sort. I ve hesitated because, while I certainly want to persuade others to share my views on what
        Message 3 of 3 , May 15, 2003
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          Thanks - Ellie and I have been considering something of the sort. I've
          hesitated because, while I certainly want to persuade others to share my
          views on what makes good mythopoeia, I don't think they should be official
          pronouncements. We'll work this out somehow.

          - DB


          At 01:07 PM 5/15/2003 , Janet Croft wrote:
          > I would love to see this worked up into an official description of what we
          >are looking for in an awardee!
          >
          >Janet Croft
          >
          >The ideal MSA nominee may or may not have a lot of references or research
          >("scholarship" in the very narrow sense), but shows great and profound
          >insight into the work it's studying, expounds its thesis in clear and
          >captivating prose, the kind I'm used to hearing at the best Mythcon papers,
          >and does this from a Mythopoeic angle, that particular combination of plain
          >Lewisian literary analysis and spiritual insight that characterizes our
          >best scholarship. (So, the religious aspect is essential, so long as the
          >book is still literary criticism and not theology.)
          >
          >- David Bratman
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