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Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis

“When wombats do inspire/I strike my disused lyre”*…

 

Wombat

Rossetti mourning his wombat

 

“‘The Wombat,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in 1869, ‘is a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness!’ Rossetti’s house at 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea had a large garden, which, shortly after he was widowed, he began to stock with wild animals. He acquired, among other beasts, wallabies, kangaroos, a raccoon and a zebu. He looked into the possibility of keeping an African elephant but concluded that at £400 it was unreasonably priced. He bought a toucan, which he trained to ride a llama. But, above all, he loved wombats…

It isn’t difficult to understand Rossetti’s devotion. Wombats are deceptive; they are swifter than they look, braver than they look, tougher than they look. Outwardly, they are sweet-faced and rotund. The earliest recorded description of the wombat came from a settler, John Price, in 1798, on a visit to New South Wales. Price wrote that it was ‘an animal about twenty inches high, with short legs and a thick body with a large head, round ears, and very small eyes; is very fat, and has much the appearance of a badger.’ The description implies only limited familiarity with badgers; in fact, a wombat looks somewhere between a capybara, a koala and a bear cub.

Despite the fact that they do not look streamlined, a wombat can run at up to 25 miles an hour, and maintain that speed for 90 seconds. The fastest recorded human footspeed was Usain Bolt’s 100m sprint in 2009, in which he hit a speed of 27.8 mph but maintained it for just 1.61 seconds, suggesting that a wombat could readily outrun him. They can also fell a grown man, and have the capacity to attack backwards, crushing a predator against the walls of their dens with the hard cartilage of their rumps. The shattered skulls of foxes have been found in wombat burrows…

Katherine Rundell urges us to “Consider the Wombat.”

* Christina Rossetti  (Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sister)

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As we ponder pets, we might wish an elfish Happy Birthday to John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, who was born on this date in 1892.  A philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, Tolkein is better known for the series of books of which he said “my work has escaped from my control, and I have produced a monster: an immensely long, complex, rather bitter, and rather terrifying romance, quite unfit for children (if fit for anybody).”

(Tolkein’s friend and fellow Inkling, C.S. Lewis, when told by Tolkien of a new character with which he was populating The Lord of the Rings, reputedly replied “Not another f—ing dwarf!”)

220px-Oxford_Tolkien

Bust of Tolkien in the chapel of his alma mater, Exeter College, Oxford. He was later a don down the street, at Merton College

source

 

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition”*…

 

The idea that American life is increasingly transient and uprooted is a myth: people are moving less, but worrying more.

In 1971, the great Carole King sang: ‘So far away/ Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?’ Thirty years later, the editors of The New York Times explained that families in the United States are changing because of ‘the ever-growing mobility of Americans’. And in 2010, a psychologist argued that ‘an increased rate of residential mobility played a role in the historical shift’ toward individualism. It’s a common US lament that human bonds are fraying because people are moving around more and more. Americans fear the fracturing of communities that constant moving seems to bring.

Yet when King sang, Americans had been moving around less and less for generations. That decline was even more obvious when the Times editorial appeared in 2001, and it has continued to decline through the 2010s. The increasingly mobile US is a myth that refuses to move on…

More on this widespread misapprehension– and what it means– in “The great settling down.”

* James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

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As we tend the roots we’ve put down, we might recall that it was on this date in 1963 that we lost two greats of imaginative literature:

C.S. Lewis, the novelist The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and others), poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist (Mere Christianity).

And Aldous Huxley, the writer, novelist, philosopher best remembered for Brave New World.

Neither passing was much remarked at the time, as they happened on the same day as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

 

The Groves of Academe…

It’s that time of year- graduation season.  So, from our friends at Good, a look back at what college graduates will remember, and a peek forward to what those escaping high school can expect:  “The Top 10 Oddest College Courses that $50,000 Can Buy.”

Beyond Narnia: The Political Theory and Writings of C.S. Lewis
Offered by Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island)
Annual cost of tuition and fees: $52,030
Photo (cc) by Flickr user menj

More provocative pedagogy at “The Top 10 Oddest College Courses that $50,000 Can Buy.”

As we sharpen our pencils, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that Chinese authorities led by Lin Zexu destroyed 1.2 million kg of opium confiscated from British merchants in Canton.  Sino-British trade had been brisk since 1756.  Initially the trade was an exchange of British silver for Chinese luxury goods; but this generated a trade imbalance that the British addressed by beginning, in the 1780’s to substitute opium (harvested in India) for silver.  While opium had some documented medical uses, the primarily application was “recreational”– and it proved very popular indeed.  Imports of the narcotic exploded.  In the 1830’s the British East India Company’s monopoly on Chinese trade was ended, and Americans began to import cheaper Turkish opium to compete with the British.  Use in China grew even more widespread… and the problem that it created became undeniable.  In 1839, the Daoguang Emperor appointed Lin Zexu governor of Canton, charging him with ending the opium trade… and so it was that the First Opium War was begun.

The Chinese underestimated Britain’s commitment to its merchants– and its newly-strengthened military and naval power.  The War ended In 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking, the first of what the Chinese called “the unequal treaties,” which granted an indemnity to Britain, opened five “treaty [free, for the British] ports,” and the ceded of Hong Kong Island to the Crown.  But even these concessions failed to satisfy the British appetite for trade; the Second Opium War began in 1856.

HMS Nemesis destroying Chinese junks during the First Opium War (source)

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