The Imaginative Edgar Cuthwellis : Alice #1

I can still remember the season in which my wife, over a series of nights spanning several months, would lay in bed with the kiddos, devising a story extemporaneously that featured our brood as the main characters. (As I recall, there was a healthy infusion of Star Wars phrasing employed at the time…) The children were delighted to be made a part of the story, and they would rush halfway down the stairs to tell me of their latest adventures.

Stories improvised in a moment often take exciting twists and turns, the kinds of maneuvers that keep children wide-eyed and wondering. It should not come as a surprise, then, to know that Alice in Wonderland began as a series of on-the-spot tales devised for a group of children by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Lutwidge became Ludovic became Lewis.
Charles became Carroll.

Or so says the diary of C.L. Dodgson from February 11, 1856.

(A transposition of the name Charles Lutwidge was also considered, but who knows if he’d be nearly as famous had he gone with the name Edgar Cuthwellis.)

Carroll2The Liddell children were the first audience of the adventures in Wonderland. Alice Liddell served as the muse for the adventures and received the first written copies of the tales. For 20 years, Alice (Liddell) Hargreaves held the original autographs of Wonderland, complete with Carroll’s ink illustrations. Only after 120,000 copies were in print did he request permission to share the originals with the world. What a special treasure to have held for so long!

Atop his gift for clever and fanciful tales, Dodgson was a mathematician (a big fan of Euclid, he was), a logician, a theologian, and a gifted photographer. The word genius is thrown around quite often in Carroll’s biographical sketches. He was an outstanding student and teacher. Yet it was fiction that would dominate his earliest legacy.

It is necessary to acknowledge, even as I am still reading and processing, the somewhat questionable side of Charles Dodgson. Admittedly, I approach my summer reads without much preparatory research. After all, part of the point of the summer read is to do the research in community! As such, I have only begun to read the essays concerning Dodgson’s “artistic and emotional obsession” with little girls.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re sitting exactly where I was at the beginning of the week! Yes, there is an underbelly to Lewis Carroll that is debated and oft-discussed among those who have endeavored to study the man behind Wonderland. Having only read the classic nonsense stories in my younger days, I have wavered between fascination and disappointment this week! And yet the summer will roll on.

Image result for alice in wonderlandI’m no biographer of Lewis Carroll, nor am I a scholar of the Victorian era or the “child-worship” that is attributed thereto. But I enjoy a journey, and I’m ready to engage. I’m thankful for my nerdy Norton Critical Edition. 

Thus far, I’m hooked. I want to know the man and the method behind Wonderland. I’m thankful to know that the stories were all but made up in a moment expressly for the enjoyment of children – and a particular Alice. I’m hoping to find greater clarity regarding the story behind the story.

If nothing else, this week has been a constant reminder that no man is holy unto himself. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – even those who spend their lives in service of his Kingdom. Dodgson himself expressed such a thought in numerous journal entries and letters.

I hope you’re ready to jump in! I hope you enjoy the classic nonsense! If you’re local and you’re reading along, I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about this summer!

 

(Check out more about Summer Reading : Alice)

The Man-Mountain: Gulliver #3

If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post was born of Chapters I-III of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 27.

On Selecting Your Shoes

Rather than combine two ideas into a single post, I’ve opted to post twice this week, figuring maybe one would bless you. Reading can be such a chore. 😉

Throughout Gulliver, we as readers face the task of deciding whose shoes we are to wear in the moment. Gulliver provides the primary perspective. As literary historian Pat Rogers noted in an essay, it is curious that the one item Gulliver would not give up to the Lilliputians was his pair of spectacles. He is prepared to give up “his money, his watch, his guns, his razor, his handkerchief, his knife and even his ‘Journal Book.’ Rogers contrasts this to Robinson Crusoe, who saw no value in those things which helped him maintain perspective. To Gulliver, sight is critical, so it is easy enough to read the story and become Gulliver.

However, as Swift’s task seemed to be drawing out the absurdities of others through observation, it is helpful to assume the role of the Lilliputians, even if we are slightly taller than six inches. It is in the notion of the little people that we often find curiosity and conviction. Rather than reading with a finger pointed, it is sometimes helpful to read with a mirror.

 

On Control

The contract between Gulliver and the Lilliputians struck me, particularly from the vantage point of the smaller folk. As I considered the terms of the agreement, I found myself asking, If I knew someone HUGE, what would I require of them in order to keep them in my life? What would be the boundaries? 

Gulliver’s terms, in very brief:

  1. The Man-Mountain cannot leave without permission.
  2. The Man-Mountain cannot come too close without permission.
  3. The Man-Mountain cannot interfere with infrastructure.
  4. The Man-Mountain must not trample.
  5. The Man-Mountain must serve as a delivery system.
  6. The Man-Mountain must fight for the Lilliputians.
  7. The Man-Mountain must provide labor.
  8. The Man-Mountain must pursue and share knowledge.
  9. If he complies, we will provide for the Man-Mountain.

By virtue of Gulliver’s size he is “dangerous.” Apart from his exhaustion following the shipwreck and/or the Lilliputian’s deception involving a questionable drink, he cannot be controlled. He submits to their requests in his benevolence. But even in gentleness, there are still aspects of his person that they cannot comprehend or handle.

Perhaps these terms make sense when their knowledge of such a being is limited. The Lilliputians had received glimpses of Gulliver’s kindness, but they had not the time nor the evidence to completely trust him. Their time had been consumed cleaning up, restoring self-determined order to a world invaded by such a presence. In their ignorance, their primary interest was control. They saw the potential of having such a Man-Mountain on their side, but they could not surrender sovereignty. Instead, they chose to deliver terms of surrender to a being whom they so precisely calculated would contain 1724 of their own.

In a moment, I am prone to look at the Lilliputians demands and think them silly. Did you laugh there as well? Walk through the terms of the contract, though, replacing Man-Mountain with God, and the mirror falls firmly into place. I’m not so foolish as to see deep parallels between Captain Gulliver and the Creator, but rather in this instance I choose to put on the shoes of a Lilliputian and ask myself a few questions. I ask myself when I’ve treated the Sovereign King in similar fashion. Granted, we aren’t as likely to do so through a written contract, but through our behavior, we often make similar requests.

Don’t leave me, but don’t get too close.
Help me, but only when I ask.
Serve me, and I will serve you.

Its-a-mess.Sometimes it feels as though we have to clean up the mess of having God around – explaining his actions, questioning his motives in the events of the past and the minutiae of everyday living. In our ignorance, we choose to live under the illusion of control. We extend the contract in foolishness, expecting the Sovereign of the universe to surrender to our terms.

The trouble is, if God is God, that means we are not. His terms, not ours. His sovereignty, not ours. His glory, not ours.

In the gospel, though, God has given us a lens through which to view all of his actions, a filter through which we understand all of his words. What might seem a mess without the cross becomes quite clear in light of such amazing love. He has given us the ultimate act of sacrifice as the linchpin to our own existence. He gave his only Son to die in our place, suffering a fate our sin deserves, offering the life he earned in perfect obedience, so that we could find redemption in him. And with that redemption comes surrender, mediated by the Son of God – Jesus. We tear up the feeble contract we might contrive and live to know God on his terms – through the person and work of his Son as revealed in the Bible. The “terms” are found in the story of Scripture. We leave our ignorance in the past and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Love demands as much.

 

 

Tune in next week! Until then, press on and enjoy!

 

 

The Man-Mountain: Gulliver #2

If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post was born of Chapters I-III of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 27. 

On Reading

Monday we sat down to read to the end of Chapter III. More accurately, I sat down to read aloud while my wife was painting the walls. It happens. We found ourselves laughing aloud for a few portions, offering a simple “Hmmm…” for others. Gulliver keeps you on your toes, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of reading Swift’s extensive vocabulary out loud! The book is indeed challenging in that way. Swift demonstrates the unique gift of being able to place 18th century potty humor (Gulliver is not shy about his bathroom exploits) right next to stabbing, yet engaging, human commentary.

The nerd version features a number of footnotes that hint at the possible historical persons who show up in the various characters. Gulliver was a work of offense to Swift’s original audience, but I’ve quickly come to realize that the footnotes add nothing to the enjoyment of the story unless you are interested in finding out what they have to say. Is it helpful to know that Flimnap is “usually taken to represent Sir Robert Walpole, chancellor of the Exchequer and head of the Whig government from 1715-1717?” Maybe. But let’s be honest, if you don’t know, you’re not missing much. It’s a fun story.

 

On Time

Gulliver - 3I found the inventory of Gulliver’s pockets to be enjoyable. It is probably a comment on my own typical reading habits, but trying to decipher the contents of his clothing from the perspective of a man six inches tall, combined with the period in which the book was written proved to be a fun game! I found myself going back, after reading about the gunpowder demonstration, to realize that the pieces in his pockets were in fact pistols.

Most fascinating to me, though, was the pocket watch.

As I sat down to write this post, my son was watching intently over my shoulders – not because he cared to read dear ‘ol Dad’s words. He was watching the clock on my laptop. You see, 3:30 is snack time. He returned to my back three times in the ten minutes between 3:20 and 3:30. At 3:28, he was content to wait for the digital readout to change. Is it snack time yet? I’m sure by having a snack time at all, I am guilty of promoting this pattern, but it speaks to the Lilliputians viewpoint of time.

“And we conjecture it is either some unknown Animal, or the God that he worships: But we are more inclined to the latter Opinion, because he assured us… that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his Oracle, and said it pointed out the Time for every Action of his Life.”

The nearest reference (as I remember) to specific time in Lilliputian terms is the “fourth Day of the eighty ninth Moon of your Majesty’s auspicious reign.” They had apparently taken the time to record the length of their good fortune, but the notion of hourly tracking was unusual.

I’ve often heard it said that the obsession with linear time is an American trait. (For a rather lengthy article discussing the proposition, check this link. You will be redirected to Business Insider. Whether fact or no, the article addresses the idea.) From a biblical perspective, this is certainly true as well. For example, what day of the week was 9/11? Easy enough. What day of the week was the Last Supper? Scholarly folks are still arguing about that one. Today, we obsess over tracking every single minute of every single day – studying the trees. Other cultures, perhaps, pay more attention to the forest… or at least different trees!

As I’ve studied biblical Hebrew, one of the most fascinating differences is the treatment of linear time. Verbs in Hebrew do not retain, in and of themselves, a past/present/future voice. Rather they exist as perfect/imperfect with regard to completion. Linear timing is determined largely by context. If that notion confuses you, that’s OK. It confused me as well, at first. I’ve tried to learn from a non-linear expression of time the significance and spatial relationship of the event, rather than simply a timeline.

I am a time-tracker. I’ve not always been surrounded by time-trackers, though. This means I’ve spent unfortunate portions of my life waiting. Only in the current stage of living have I taken considerable time to pay less attention to the clock, or rather to be less controlled by it. Obviously, if I fail to show up to work or class on time, there are consequences. But while this may be true, it is all-too-easy to allow the clock to have a say in my mood or my view of others, or perhaps to dictate the actions of my day, including how I spend my time waiting.

I have been challenged over the past few years on how to strike a balance between honoring the time of others (particularly those who obsess over the clock more than I!), while also resisting the urge to watch the clock to the exclusion of the person or event in front of me. I’ve tried to “calculate” my day based on both time and the importance of the action. It’s not easy. A creature of habit, I am.

At the outset of this year, I spent considerable time (ironic?) considering how I would govern my time. I’ve never been able to maintain an accurate calendar for long, and I am no good with tech calendars. I prefer paper. I can’t help it. I came across a number of interesting resources, including one from Donald Miller called The StorylineWhile I did not adopt the planner as my day-to-day scheduling process, I found the premise to be fascinating, and I have visited the concepts from time to time. His aim is to combine time and significance to achieve productivity (and a hint of peace along the way). If nothing else, it’s an exercise in thinking differently about your time.

 

How much is the clock an Oracle for your life?

How do you react when the hours fail to follow the schedule?

How do you spend time waiting?

And what would the Lilliputians find in YOUR pockets?

 

There is another post coming today!

 

 

Summer Reading: An Invitation

(I’ve set up a page for this project. You can visit the page and follow along by clicking here.)

I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Works for months. I don’t spend much time in fiction, but I love Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle does a wonderful job of drawing me into short stories. I find they challenge me to think along, to observe, to try to solve the case. They also provide a literary framework in which to appreciate the thespian efforts of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

This summer, I’m laying down Sherlock Holmes, though, to take an interim adventure. I’d like to invite you along for the ride… on a bus. No joke. It’s a literary bus ride.

I have a set of books on my dresser. They’ve been there for years. They consist of books that have had an impact on me for one reason or another. Among these books is a work by C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce. I can remember being drawn into this strange bus ride, being challenged and convicted by the encounters of the book. The idea of the interaction of heaven and hell is intriguing.

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations about heaven & hell. These conversations have prompted me to pick up Lewis’ great work again. Because I can’t read multiple works of fiction at the same time, I have also been prompted to put down all 1090 pages of Sherlock Holmes for a season.

So what is the invitation?

I know summer is a time when folks pick up books. I want to encourage you to pick up the Great Divorce and give it a read. 160 pages. It is about as far from intimidating as possible. Though a short work, I believe it will challenge you and provoke thoughts and conversation. I believe the book is suitable for everyone, which means it is an opportunity for individuals – young and old – couples, and families to read together if that’s your situation. Perhaps reading it out loud would be a unique experience? It will be guaranteed dinner conversation and quantity time together.

Will you join me?

Summer Reading

Each week, I’m planning to post thoughts & reflections here on a chapter of the book, as well as encouragement for those who maybe pick up a book every summer but rarely find the motivation to finish!

For those who are part of the FCC family, or those who are local to Grove City, this is an invitation to discuss the book over coffee at Beans, ice cream at Sweet Jeanie’s, or even to track me down on my front porch (it won’t be hard – I’ll be there more often than not for the next few months!) I believe the book will be a blessing. I look forward to hearing how you’ve been challenged as I share the same!