Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A kid's odyssey: Homer's The Odyssey for young readers

For two years, I have been teaching Homer’s The Odyssey to Grade 12 Classical Civilization students. My students (those who actually read the epic poem…), are absolutely thrilled by the story. I am thrilled myself. It is a great story. I am planning on teaching it again in the Fall.

Recently, my second son, Nate (7 yrs) also discovered the excitement and thrill of the Odyssey… dangerous voyages, meddling gods and goddesses, escaping an inhospitable Cyclops, outwitting bewitching nymphs, battling self-serving and usurping nobles…

He isn’t reading Homer (per se)… Rather, he is reading a 6-part series of chapter books retelling the famous story. The series, called Tales from The Odyssey, is written by Mary Pope Osborne (the author of the bestselling Magic Tree House series). She retains the bulk of the narrative, including the sordid moments (albeit appropriately diluted for young readers). She also uses the Greek names of gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters and she provides a pronunciation guide at the back of each book.

My son couldn’t put them down. He devoured the books as fast and as ravenously as the six-headed Scylla or the one-eyed Polyphemus devour Odysseus’s men.

Great stories truly stand the test of time. For almost three thousand years, people have been delighted by the adventures of Odysseus and his fated voyage. Thanks to Mary Pope Osborne, the next generation is able to whet their appetite for great---and ancient---storytelling. If you know any Grade 2 students who would love to go on a romping ride of a read, look up Osborne’s Tales for the Odyssey.

NB: For big people interested in The Odyssey, I highly recommend the recent award-winning translation by Robert Fagles. For a great audio version, Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s recent film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, reads Fagles translation (unabridged) on CD.

Monday, July 28, 2008

At the Kilns: Letters to a Friend

Arthur Greeves
I recently borrowed from the library a collection of letters by C.S. Lewis called They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963). Arthur Greeves was one of C.S. Lewis oldest and most cherished of friends. Next to his brother W.H. Lewis or his wife Joy Davidman, I do not think C.S. Lewis had a closer friend in his life. The book contains the nearly all Lewis’s correspondence with Greeves during the course of his lifetime. The book, which is currently out-of-print, runs over 500 pages.

I am sporadically reading through the weighty tome, and I am utterly amazed at Lewis’s intimacy, candidacy, and his fluidity of writing. His gift for communication is clearly evident in even his earliest letters to Greeves.

One of the biographical aspects that struck me was the impression I get that Lewis liked the “look of books” almost as much as the content of the books he read. It seems that he and Arthur purchased and repurchased books in various editions based on their aesthetically pleasing binding (I must admit that I have done the same thing myself...). Most people who are familiar with Lewis are aware that he read copiously. However, it is still astonishing how much Lewis read. He frequently comments to Greeves about his reading such-and-such a book or re-reading such-and-such an author. He read classical literature, he read widely in English literature and European literature, and he read a considerable amount of contemporary literature.

In one letter to Arthur, Lewis describes his present enjoyment while reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He recommends that Arthur read the book himself. He writes,

I strongly advise you to try it. Its length, which deters some people, will not frighten you: you will only rejoice, when the right time comes, —say after tea some day next autumn when fires are still a novelty—at that old, delicious feeling of embarkation on a long voyage, which one seldom gets now.
After reading these words, I was struck with a longing for a cool autumn night in order to begin my own “embarkation” into the world of Tolstoy's War and Peace.

All of the letters I have read are compelling reading. It is particularly striking to read about his thoughts on Christianity as they develop from atheism to unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. In one particularly famous letter, we learn about Lewis’s late night “memorable talk” about Christianity while strolling Addison’s walk with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. In the letter, dated October 1st, 1931, Lewis writes to Greeves,

How deep I am just now beginning to see: for I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity. I will try to explain another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.
Hopefully this most fascinating and incredibly valuable collection of letters will find its way back into print. For my present copy of the book, well, it is due back to the library today.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's a girl!

I am happy to announce that the Lord blessed our family with a beautiful baby; she arrived safe and sound on July 17th, 2008. Her name is Abigail Adriaana.

Her brothers, Joseph and Nathanael, and her sister, Katherine, are very happy with the new addition. We thank God for His goodness and blessings to our family!

Katie with her new sister, Abby (less than a day old).

What's in a name?

She is named Abigail after the "intelligent and beautiful" woman in 1 Samuel 25:3, whose prudence calmed David's anger and kept him from sinning. David said to Abigail, "Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand." (1 Sam 25:32-33). Abby's second name is given in honour of my Opa (her great grandfather), whose middle name was Adriaanus. Opa passed away in May of this year before Abby was born.

Children are a gift of God

"Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."
Psalm 127:3-5

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

"For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them."
Psalm 139:13-16

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Screwtape: The Movie...?!

In February of last year, Walden Media announced that it would be releasing a film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Douglas Gresham (Lewis’s “stepson”) will be producing the film. As exciting as this sounds, I have no idea how they are planning on making this adaptation. I don’t think Walden Media really knows either! In April 2008, the website, “The High Calling”, had an interview with Walden Media President, Michael Flaherty. This is—I think—the latest news on the subject.

High Calling: Can you give any news about when Screwtape or Dawn Treader will come out?

Michael Flaherty: The first time I spoke with you, I had just received the first draft of Dawn Treader. Literally as we were speaking it was there on my desk. I hadn’t even opened it up yet. I couldn’t wait to read it, though, because Eustace is one of my favorite characters.
Dawn Treader is moving very well. Michael Apted, who directed Amazing Grace, is directing it. He also directed Coal Miner’s Daughter and a bunch of others. He’s a great director. He’s the president of the Directors Guild.

Screwtape on the other hand is just a really tricky adaptation.

HC: I think a big part of being faithful to that work is keeping it dark in a way that's probably going to bother some people. I don't know how that works with movie profitability, but Screwtape always takes the approach of the demons. They have to be the heroes—even if they're tragic heroes—for it to be faithful to what Lewis did.

MF: We're trying to find that balance between the comedy and the stakes. We’re working hard on the script. One of the questions we're asking is how do you show the real transformation that happens inside a person.

HC: Screwtape keeps encouraging the patient to go through the motions in his daily life and work.

MF: You just nailed the entire paradox of this project. The book is so clever, because Screwtape is saying things like, "Have them write the check out to Unicef." Just have him writing, saying, "Oh boy, this is going to hurt." It goes back to that great Corinthians passage, you can do all of these things, but if you do them without love, it's worthless. We're trying to figure out how to illustrate that. What I love about Screwtape, what I love about the Gospel is all this external behavioural stuff that too often people confuse as central to our faith, is just an element of it. What really matters is the outpouring of love and the reflection of love.

Friday, July 11, 2008

O Canada: Abortion and Rediscovering Authoritative Christianity

This month, on July 1st, the nation celebrated Canada’s 141st birthday. As a family, we sang our national anthem, we flipped through an encyclopaedia entry on Canada and we each prayed and thanked God for this country. The boys were thankful that we live in a wealthy and peaceful land, Katie was thankful that we were free to worship God and Laurie was thankful for the wonderful and beautiful natural resources this country affords... lakes, trees, mountains, forests, wildlife.

Although we have much to be thankful for, sadly, I could not thank God for the spiritual climate in this country. On July 1st this year, I heard on the radio about the Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s nomination to the Order of Canada, the highest honour bestowed on a Canadian citizen. Morgentaler has pioneered legalized abortion in Canada. I grieve over how much we have lost and how quickly we have lost it.

Eminent Canadian philosopher and thinker George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), a professor at McMaster University and a devout Anglican, lamented what he called the “evident fall of western Christianity.” It was his hope as a philosophy and thinker “to try to understand just a small amount of what was at fault in this particular manifestation of Christianity, so that one plays a minute part in something that will take centuries—namely the rediscovery of authoritative Christianity… it has been given truth in a way no other religion has.”

As evidence of the “fall of western Christianity” and the lack of “authoritative Christianity” was the abortion issue in Canada. Grant wrote in the mid-80s, “If tyranny is to come in North America, it will come cosily and on cat’s feet. It will come with the denial of the rights of the unborn and the aged. In fact, it will come to all those who cannot defend themselves.” A proponent of the Right-to-Life Movement, George Parkin Grant wrote and spoke against the Supreme Court decision to strike down the criminal code restrictions on abortion. He stated on CBC, “The Supreme Court decision on abortion fills me with terrible sadness at what lies ahead for our country—an increase in the mass killing of the weakest members of our species.”

The American case that spurred on Canada’s “pro-choice” movement—“Roe vs. Wade”— took place on January 22, 1973. The U.S. Supreme Court granted a young mother (Jane Roe, a pseudonym) the “right of choice” to take the life of the developing child in her womb. “Roe” never aborted her baby, but the landmark case opened the door for the deaths of over 40 million unborn children. It wasn’t until the 1990s when Roe came forward and revealed her true identity in her book I am Roe (1994). In the book, Norma McCorvey—“Roe”—describes herself as a monogamous lesbian living in Dallas. Four years later, McCorvey converted to Christianity and has abandoned her homosexuality. She now advocates for the unborn.

In her new book, Won By Love, (1998) she writes, “I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception.’ It wasn’t about ‘missed periods.’ It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion—at any point—was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.”

After 30 years of abortions in North America, women have not gained true freedom with the decimalization of abortion and the unborn certainly hasn’t gained any freedom. Dr. James Dobson writes, “research reveals that an alarming number of women are coerced to have abortions by their husbands, boyfriends, parents and most notably, by abortion clinic ‘counselors.’” In the U.S., abortion is a multimillion dollar industry. Many women feel—ironically—that they have no choice BUT to abort an “unplanned” pregnancy. Little is explained about the dangers involved. Dobson goes on to write, “The truth is that abortion is far deadlier to women than childbirth; it is linked to a 30 to 50 percent increase in breast cancer; it is related to high rates of abuse, suicide and death; and it causes many women to suffer for the rest of their lives with the physical and emotional scars of Post Abortion Syndrome. And, most importantly, it is an affront to the great heart of the Creator.”

All is not lost. There is still hope to make change in this country. A recent online poll by the Globe and Mail showed that 92% of the participants stated that Morgentaler should not receive the honour. If only Canadians would be more vocal about the actual abortion issue! I am hoping the fervour over Morgentaler receiving the Order of Canada will cause Canadians to stop ignoring the horrible reality of “mass killing” in this country.

In this country, people have fought for the closures of residential schools, the ending of forced sterilization of mentally challenged people, the “persons case” where women earned rights as legal “persons”, and the abolishment of slavery. It took effort, determination and sacrifice. As we sing the line, “God keep our land, glorious and free”, let us ask ourselves how God wants to use US to “keep our land glorious and free”, for all Canadians, born and unborn.

How can we, in the words of George Parkin Grant, resist “tyranny” and rediscover “authoritative Christianity”? Let us wait on the Lord, pray sincerely and speak up for truth. Let us not be ambivalent to the issue.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Teacher in July...

I am sitting outside in my Muskoka chair… right now… as I write this.

So… I listen to the gentle hum of the air conditioner, as it cools the inside of my house… I am enjoying the sound of the peaceful breeze rustling the leaves of our mighty beech tree and “tinging” and “clinking” of my wife’s wind chimes. I watch as moths and butterflies flutter over my yard and I gaze at the quietly swaying tire-swing. Ah, summer. (It would be a lie to say that this was not the best time of the year to be a teacher.)

I lamented to a friend how the summer is just not long enough... how quickly it goes by...

I was met with sarcasm with a hint of disdain.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Binge Reading

I recently purchased a Muskoka chair made of Eon (an indestructible wood-like product). I am able to sit in this chair for hours without incurring back pain. Consequently, I have been “binge reading” for the past two weeks… hence the lack of posts on my blog.

I love to read, and during the academic year, my love for reading is often stifled by reading “last minute” student essays, hammered out in the wee hours of the morning. Actually, “hammered out” is too strong of a phrase. It implies craftsmanship (e.g., blacksmithing or something). “Spewing on paper” is perhaps too crass, but more accurate. Anyway, now that I am free of the manacles of poorly written academic prose, I have been imbibing—heavily—of sweet literary nectar.

In the meantime, I have been thinking of writing a number of blogs. I have discovered that by reading—taking it all in—isn’t completely satisfying. I feel intellectually bloated. I have gorged my mind on too much turkey and cranberry sauce. I need to talk and write about what I am reading. I need to do some “spewing” of my own.

Here is the plan. First, I hope to blog a little about what I have read. Secondly, I also hope to start a journal for jotting, reflecting and private musings. Thirdly, I hope to connect with a reading partner for regular reflection, discussion and friendly chit-chat about a commonly read text. This third activity may also involve imbibing of more “earthly” nectar and enjoying “Hornblower Longbottom leaf”.