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Reading old books

15 June 2019

A couple of years ago there was a reading challenge: Read a book published before you were born this year – Modern Mrs. Darcy.

I also read somewhere about the same time that reading books published before you were born makes you a better writer, because it gives you an understanding of other times and places, a wider sympathy, and it can deliver us from temporal chauvinism.

So I thought I would try to make a list of books I had read that were published before I was born. Some were published only a year or two before, others were published a century or more before, but they were all published before.

Of course the list is not complete. I can’t remember every book I have ever read. I do remember some of the first books I read, before the age of 7: Choo Choo, the little engine that ran away, Buzzy Wing (about bees) and Hush Wing (about owls). But they may have been brand new when I got them, and so may not have been published before I was born. I recorded some in my diary, and remember reading others, and more recently I’ve tried recording books I have read when I read them (GoodReads also helps with that).

So here is my list as it stands now:

  1. Allcott, Louisa May 1869. Good Wives.
  2. Allen, Roland 1962 [1912]. Missionary methods: St Paul’s or ours,
  3. Austen, Jane 1950 [1816]. Emma.
  4. Austen, Jane Pride and prejudice.
  5. Austen, Jane s.a. Northanger Abbey.
  6. Ballantyne, R.M. 1966 [1857]. The Coral Island.
  7. Belloc, Hillaire 1939. Survivals and new arrivals.
  8. Blackmore, R.D. s.a.. Lorna Doone.
  9. Bront‰, Emily 1847. Wuthering Heights.
  10. Buchan, John 1928. Prester John.
  11. Buchan, John 1947 [1940]. Memory hold-the-door.
  12. Buchan, John 1952. Greenmantle.
  13. Burnett, Frances Hodgson 1977. The secret garden.
  14. Carroll, Lewis 1965. The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
  15. Conrad, Joseph 1955 [1904]. Nostromo.
  16. Conrad, Joseph 1960. The nigger of the Narcissus Typhoon The shadow line.
  17. Conrad, Joseph s.a.. The secret agent.
  18. Conrad, Joseph 1964. Under Western eyes.
  19. Conrad, Joseph 2010. Heart of darkness.
  20. Dickens, Charles 1981. Bleak House.
  21. Dickens, Charles s.a.. David Copperfield.
  22. Dickens, Charles S.A.. Dealings with the firm of Dombey & Son: wholesale, retail and for exportation.
  23. Dickens, Charles 1962. A tale of two cities.
  24. Dickens, Charles 2010. Oliver Twist.
  25. Dickens, Charles s.a.. The life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.
  26. Dostoevsky, Fyodor 2009. Devils.
  27. Dostoevsky, Fyodor 1959. The brothers Karamazov.
  28. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor 2003 [1864]. Notes from underground The double.
  29. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor 2005. Crime and punishment.
  30. Durham, M. Edith 1909. High Albania.
  31. Eliot, George s.a.. Adam Bede.
  32. Farmer, Edwin 1900. The Transvaal as a mission field.
  33. Greene, Graham 1962 [1940]. The power and the glory.
  34. Greene, Graham 1974 [1936]. A gun for sale.
  35. Haggard, H. Rider 1887. Allan Quartermain.
  36. Haggard, H. Rider 1965 [1910]. Queen Sheba’s ring.
  37. Haggard, H. Rider 1979. King Solomon’s mines.
  38. Haggard, H. Rider 1965 [1887]. Allan Quatermain.
  39. Hesse, Hermann 1974 [1927]. Steppenwolf.
  40. Huxley, Aldous 1932. Antic hay.
  41. Huxley, Aldous 1949 [1921]. Crome yellow.
  42. Huxley, Aldous 1994 [1932]. Brave new world.
  43. Johns, W.E. 1939. Biggles flies South.
  44. Johns, W.E. 1939. Biggles in Spain.
  45. Johns, W.E. 1940. Biggles in the Baltic.
  46. Kafka, Franz 1965 [1925]. The trial.
  47. Kingsley, Henry 1909. Ravenshoe.
  48. Koestler, Arthur 1965 [1940]. Darkness at noon.
  49. MacDonald, George 1964 [1872]. The princess and the goblin.
  50. Maugham, W. Somerset 1967 [1897]. Liza of Lambeth.
  51. Maugham, W. Somerset 1970 [1930]. Cakes and ale.
  52. Miller, Henry 1993 [1934]. Tropic of Cancer.
  53. Montgomery, L.M. 1994 [1908]. Anne of Green Gables.
  54. Nesbit, E. 1978. Five children and It.
  55. Nesbit, E. 1978. The Phoenix and the Carpet.
  56. Nesbit, E. 1986 [1899]. The story of the treasure seekers.
  57. Pepys, Samuel 1997. The concise Pepys.
  58. Reed, Douglas 1939. Insanity fair.
  59. Sayers, Dorothy 1970 [1931]. The Five Red Herrings.
  60. Sayers, Dorothy L. 1968 [1937]. Busman’s honeymoon.
  61. Sayers, Dorothy L. 1972 [1935]. Gaudy Night.
  62. Sayers, Dorothy 1986. Have his carcase.
  63. Sayers, Dorothy L 1934. The nine tailors.
  64. Sewell, Anna 1945. Black Beauty: the autobiography of a horse.
  65. Steavenson, W.H 1933. Suns and worlds: an introduction to astronomy.
  66. Steinbeck, John 1967 [1939]. Cannery Row.
  67. Stevenson, Robert Louis 1948. Kidnapped.
  68. Stevenson, Robert Louis 1947. Treasure Island.
  69. Swift, Jonathan . Gulliver’s Travels
  70. Vale, Edmund 1937. North Country.
  71. Waugh, Evelyn 1955 [1930]. Vile Bodies.
  72. Waugh, Evelyn 1938. Scoop.
  73. Williams, Charles 1931. Many dimensions.
  74. Williams, Charles 1955 [1937]. Descent into Hell.
  75. Williams, Charles 1957 [1930]. War in heaven.
  76. Williams, Charles 1965 [1931]. The place of the lion.
  77. Williams, Charles 1965 [1933]. Shadows of ecstasy.
  78. Wolfe, E.M 1935. Beyond the thirst belt.
  79. Woolf, Virginia 1992 [1931]. The waves.
  80. Woolf, Virginia 2004 [1925]. Mrs Dalloway.

I read many more Biggles books, but could not remember all the titles, nor when they were published, though I read most of them between the ages of 10 and 12. But it was from Biggles in Spain that I first learned about the Spanish Civil War, and from Biggles flies South that I first learned of an ancient Persian army that got lost in the Egyptian desert. So even from fiction one can learn some interesting things about history.

There are still many books missing from the list, since when I read them I recorded the date of the edition I read rather than the date of original publication, but I think the main point of the linked article remains — every year one should try to read at least one book that was first published before one was born. I would go further, and say one should try to read two such books each year, at least one of which should have been published 70 or more years before one was born.

And it is because of that that I chose to illustrate this post with the cover of The Annotated Alice. That was published before any of my grandparents had been born, so it was a different world, and the annotated edition explains many of the things that contemporary readers would have taken for granted, but which mean nothing to us.

Christian psychotherapy

9 June 2019

Someone posted this cartoon on Facebook recently.

Have a look at it, and before reading any further, see what you think it is saying.

You might find it interesting to write your thoughts down.

I forget who posted it. The artist is on Facebook here.

When I first saw it, I struggled to interpret it, and three or four thoughts passed through my head within about a minute.

My thoughts were the following, in roughly this order.

  1. The church is speaking. It had tried to use the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Jesus wedded to modern secular psychotherapy, but was now finding them incompatible.
  2. The church is speaking, seeking the guidance of the psychotherapist, because the church has departed from the teaching of Jesus, and there is now a. rift between them. The psychotherapist is being called upon to mediate between Christ and the Church.
  3. The church trusts the judgement of modern secular psychotherapy far more than it trusts the judgement of Jesus, so that Jesus has been dethroned, and secular psychotherapy rules over all.

One example of the unholy alliance between Christian theology and secular Western psychotherapy can be found in the way a Swedish Lutheran missionary in Zululand, Bengt Sundkler, evaluated the theology of some African Independent Churches. He judged them not by the Holy Scriptures, not by the Church Fathers, but by the writings of Sigmund Freud — see here Sundkler deconstructed: Bethesda AICs and syncretism.

A more positive view of the link between Christianity and secular psychotherapy is Dear Church, Let’s Talk About Mental Health:

Let me start by saying that I am still a pastor, I still believe in the absolute power of Jesus to heal the heart and I’m still a huge supporter of church counseling and ministry. But I feel compelled to raise my voice and say:

  • Therapy is not demonic.
  • Taking antidepressants is not a sin.
  • Seeing a psychiatrist is not anti-christian.
  • And those who suffer from mental health problems are not a failure.

One secular psychotherapist who seems to have been discussed quite a lot in Christian (including Orthodox Christian) circles recently is a Canadian, Jordan Peterson.

I first heard of him about a year ago in a discussion at a monthly gathering where we talk about Christianity and literature. Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life was mentioned there, and I was rather put off by it, since it sounded as though he was saying that the first rule was to aim to be the top lobster in the pack. That didn’t sound very Christian to me. In fact it sounded diametrically opposed to Orthodox spirituality. It also appeared that he and Jonathan Haidt, another secular psychologist guru, had overlapping fan groups.

As I noted in my earlier post, however, have grave doubts about both of them, I have ambivalent feelings about Jordan Peterson, however, strengthened (on the positive side) by a blog post by Jé-nae Freel, in which she makes comparisons between the dragon-slaying protagonist in my book The Year of the Dragon and Jordan Peterson Dragons:

What makes a dragon? Steve Hayes challenges his readers with this question as his novel, The Year of the Dragon, unravels, and its characters are forced to face the beast in numerous ways. It stalks them down the story-line with hunger in its eyes, but it also prompts the rising up of Saint George and courage in its prey.

Once a dragon is born, it will only grow if not acknowledged. Jordan Peterson deals with this in his lecture on Slaying The Dragon Within Us, which points out the trait inside each of us to raise up the beast while pretending that it isn’t there. Peterson uses the children’s book, There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon, to draw a picture of what these creatures can become if not acknowledged, as well as the perceived naivety of those who see the dragon for what it is.

So Jé-nae persuades me to re-evaluate Jordan Peterson. What she says about the dragons, it seems to me, is compatible in many ways with what the Church Fathers say in The Philokalia, for example. In my story the dragon is mostly external to the characters, the principalities and powers, the rulers and authorities of an authoritarian state, but it is also within, in the form of the human passions that align us to the dragon. And in that context, quite a lot of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life makes sense.

The first rule, however, remains a stumbling block, as it seems to link to the modern self-esteem cult.

Self-esteem, as a psychological construct, is a relatively recent phenomenon. It has no entry in my Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, 1962 edition. It, like many other psychological constructs, is an innovation. Many of the terms that were used when I studied psychology at university are no longer in use today, and that makes me distrust secular psychology — it seems to be too much subject to the changing whims of fashion.

Jordan Peterson doesn’t actually use the term “self-esteem” a lot, not even in his advice to emulate the top lobster, but his description of the top lobster certainly fits with the traditional understanding of self-esteem in Orthodox spirituality:

There is an unspeakably primordial calculator, deep within you, at the very foundation of your brain, far below your thoughts and feelings. It monitors exactly where you are positioned in society—on a scale of one to ten, for the sake of argument. If you’re a number one, the highest level of status, you’re an overwhelming success. If you’re male, you have preferential access to the best places to live and the highest-quality food. People compete to do you favours. You have limitless opportunity for romantic and sexual contact. You are a successful lobster, and the most desirable females line up and vie for your attention (Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life)..

In Orthodox spirituality, however, such self-esteem is seen to be demonic:

Our seventh struggle is against the demon of self-esteem, a multiform and subtle passion which is not readily perceived even by the person whom it tempts. The provocations of the other passions are more apparent and it is therefore somewhat easier to do battle with them, for the soul recognizes its enemy and can repulse him at once by rebutting him and by prayer. The vice of self-esteem, however, is difficult to fight against, because it has any forms and appears in all our activities – in our way of speaking, in what we say and in our silences, at work, in vigils and fasts, in prayer and reading, in stillness and long-suffering. Through all these it seeks to strike down the soldier of Christ. When it cannot seduce a man with extravagant clothes, it tries to tempt him by means of shabby ones. When it cannot flatter him with honor, it inflates him by causing him to endure what seems to be dishonor. When it cannot persuade him to feel proud of his display of eloquence, it entices him through silence into thinking he has achieved stillness. When it cannot puff him up with the thought of his luxurious table, it lures him into fasting for
the sake of praise (St John Cassian, On the Eight Vices: On Self-Esteem, from The Philokalia).

That fits with what Jé-nae Freel cites Jordan Peterson as saying — that these demons or dragons that we battle are mostly internal. And that is the point at which Orthodox spirituality differs from much modern Western spirituality. This became apparent to me when about 12 years ago a group of Christian bloggers had a synchronised blog on “spiritual warfare”. You can see my contribution here. It seemed that many Western Protestant Christians did not see spiritual warfare as spiritual at all, but the saw it as physical.

It’s not purely an East/West thing, but it can be seen on contrasting novels about spiritual powers abroad in the world, those written by Frank Peretti on the one hand, and those written by Charles Williams on the other. Peretti’s novels show “spiritual” warfare as very material and physical, external to the characters, while Williams shows that the struggle takes place primarily within the characters themselves. Yes, there is external evil, but it is the internal response to it that is important. It seems that for many Western Protestant Christians, “spiritual warfare” means the struggle against human enemies — Satanists and practitioners of “the occult”, members of non-Christian religions, atheists and the like — the very “blood and flesh” that St Paul warned us that the struggle is not against. So please don’t get the idea that here I am saying that our struggle is against Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Haidt. But some of the ideas that they propound do not seem to me to be compatible with Christians spirituality, and especially Orthodox spirituality.

So I’m not saying that we should write off all secular psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy as works of the devil. But look at the cartoon at the beginning again, and ask what is going on there, who is in charge here? Who is calling the shots? Who is the ultimate arbiter of what we ought to think about it?

A book that might be worth reading in this connection is Orthodox Psychotherapy by Hierotheos Vlachos, the Bishop of Nafpaktos.

Religion and modernity a century ago

21 May 2019

Jesting Pilate: The Diary of a JourneyJesting Pilate: The Diary of a Journey by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A travel diary of a journey undertaken nearly a century ago — the book was first published in 1926. On his journey Huxley and his companion(s) (whose name(s) are never mentioned) visit India, Burma, Malaya, Java, Borneo, the Philippines, China, Japan and the USA.

His observations are interesting historically, because the first three countries he mentioned were still under British colonial rule, while the Philippines were under American rule. At the end of his journey he concludes that travel is broadening, that it makes one aware of human diversity, and that awareness of that diversity should make one more tolerant, but not too tolerant. His views change with each country he visits, and one can see how each one changes the way he sees things.

The first country he describes is India. As a Westerner he regards India as too “spiritual”, and doesn’t think that attitude has done India much good. Back then India was one country, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (which he did not visit). Muslims and Hindus lived side by side. He describes a visit to the River Ganges, where about a million Hindus had gathered for an eclipse of the sun. They were there to save the sun from a serpent that threatened to eat it. Huxley writes:

To save the sun (which might, one feels, very safely be left to look after itself) a million Hindus will assemble on the banks of the Ganges. How many, I wonder, would assemble to save India? An immense energy, which, if it could be turned into political channels, might liberate and transform the country, is wasted in the name of imbecile superstitions. Religion is a luxury which India, in its present condition, cannot possibly afford. India will never be free until the Hindus and the Moslems are as tepidly enthusiastic about their religion as we are about the Church of England, If I were an Indian millionaire, I would leave all my money for the endowment of an Atheist Mission (Huxley 1994:91).

After he had visited the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the Philippines he made an observation about Christian mission and colonialism that I, as a missiologist, found interesting:

The Dutch and English were never such ardent Christians that they thought it necessary to convert, wholesale and by force, the inhabitants of the countries which they colonized. The Spaniards, on the contrary, did really believe in their extraordinary brand of Catholic Christianity; they were always crusaders as well as freebooters, missionaries as well as colonists. Wherever they went, they have left behind them their religion, and with it (for one cannot teach a religion without teaching many other things as well) their language and some of their habits (Huxley 1994:161).

When he visited the USA he describes his reaction to an advertisement for a firm of undertakers in Chicago, where the undertaker became a mortician, the coffin became a casket, and the deceased became “the loved one” — a phenomenon that was to lead a couple of other British authors to write books about it — The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh and The American Way of Death by Nancy Mitford.

The thing that really caught Huxley’s attention, however, was the difference in values that this indicated, between the USA and Europe. The undertaker was proud of providing a necessary “service”. Huxley thought that the people who really provided a necessary service did not represent higher values, as the undertaker’s advertisement implied, but rather lower values. Higher values, for people in Europe, were represented by unnecessary services, like art and religion (Huxley seemed to have changed his mind about the value of religion by the end of his journey). In American modernity and materialism unnecessary services were just unnecessary.

In describing this, Huxley reflects on the source of values. He recognises that if one is a thoroughgoing materialist, there can be no values. One cannot talk of “higher values” or “lower values”, because it is meaningless to do so. The problem with America, he realises, is democracy. Science and technology made it possible for him to read, on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about a young wife of an old doctor in California who was arrested and charged with driving her car onto a railway line while drunk and whistling like a train. The people who were entertained by these stories could not possibly have invented the technology that made it possible to transmit them to the furthest reaches of the universe. That was done by the few. I wonder what he would of made of our technology, where people send pictures, not of unusual events, but of what they ate for lunch.

What struck me about it was that in India, Huxley was a liberal, seeing the need for the liberation of the oppressed Indians.By the time he got to America he had become a conservative and an elitist, saying that democracy was causing lower values to have precedence over the higher.

In this I was struck by the contrast between Aldous Huxley and G.K. Chesterton, who was 20 years his senior. By the end of this book Huxley is coming across as a young fogey. Where Huxley was conservative and elitist, deploring democracy, which allowed the untalented many to enjoy the fruits of the work of the talented few, Chesterton was liberal and egalitarian, and stood up for the common man whose common sense was needed to protect him from the elite.

Huxley gives us fascinating glimpses into other places, other times, other values. Travelling eastwards round the world, he thought India needed to modernised, but after crossing the international date line from the East to the West, he seemed to change his mind, and thought that America was too modern.

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Black Diamond: yuppie life in the new South Africa

16 May 2019

Black DiamondBlack Diamond by Zakes Mda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don Mateza works for a security company in Johannesburg, and his ambitious girlfriend Tumi, who runs a modelling agency, is grooming him to become a “Black Diamond”, one of the nouveau riche of the new South Africa. Don is asked to be the bodyguard of an uptight white female magistrate, who has been threatened by a petty criminal she has sentenced to prison, and there is the hope of promotion if he does the job well. This does not satisfy Tumi, however, who thinks it demeaning, and Don has to spend too much time away from her. The magistrate, Kristin, did not ask for protection, and sees having a bodyguard as a sign of weakness.

In this scenario Zakes Mda weaves a plot of shifting loyalties and the conflicting values that characterise the “new” South Africa, though it was already ten years old in the time the story is set, and is another fifteen years older now.

I had only recently finished reading Mda’s memoir Sometimes there is a Void and so was aware that a lot of this book is based on his own real-life experiences. It is social satire, and the story is rather sad, but Mda also sees the funny side of it. I gave it five stars, on GoodReads, but perhaps that is because it is set close to home, and if I were living on another continent I might have given it fewer. Though I don’t move in the kind of social circles described in the book, it looked pretty authentic to me.

It also seemed to complement another book I had recently read, Darkness Suspended, though the tone in that one is much more serious, and lacks Mda’s humour. Both show life in Gauteng, and both observe similar events. Zakes Mda is an atheist and Jurie Schoeman is a Christian, and that could account for some differences, but the picture they give is broadly similar.

One of the debates in South African literary circles has been about what post-apartheid literature should look like, and perhaps these two books provide one answer. The debate was influenced by a book of essays published by Njabulo Ndebele in the 1990s, Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture. I’ve not read it yet, but I have read quite a lot about it, and I gather that the main thesis is, as the title suggests, that post-apartheid literature should not be dominated by political protest, but should rather deal with ordinary people and ordinary lives.

These books do so to some extent, though there is a strong element of political protest in Mda’s book. The message from Mda is that the new South Africa wasn’t meant to be like this, and shows how its failings affect people. The System has changed, but it remains the System, and it still crushes people. The emphasis in Darkness Suspended, however, is more on whether one’s Christian faith can withstand what the System throws at us, and whether and how one’s faith can help one to cope with the System and one’s own personal weaknesses. How “ordinary” any of this is is a moot point.

But reading these books makes it very clear to me that I could never write like this, not just because I don’t move in those social circles, and so my notion of what is “ordinary” is probably quite different. But to me the “ordinary” remains the apartheid period, and protest, and the roles of ordinary people in that. Perhaps it’s because I like reading and studying history, and live in the past, and so most of what I write about is “Tales from Dystopia“.



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Out of the Silent Planet

10 May 2019

Out of the Silent PlanetOut of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read this book at least four times, and probably more, and when a friend who had just read it for the first time posted a review, I realised that I hadn’t yet done so, and that after having read it so many times, any review that I posted would probably contain spoilers, and so I should mark it as such.

*** Spoiler Alert *** If you haven’t read this book, don’t read on unless you don’t mind spoilers.

The book is usually described as science fiction, and Lewis himself intended it to be science fiction, but it is closer to fantasy than science fiction. And even more, it is social satire along the lines of Gulliver’s Travels. Jonathan Swift wrote at a time when most people in the British Isles knew less about earth than Lewis’s generation knew about the solar system, so he could people far-away lands with strange people and societies to his heart’s content. Lewis, writing in the 20th century, had to move the scene to another planet.

The state of geographical knowledge was not his only reason for doing so. He had a theological reason as well — he saw earth as being behind a kind of cosmic iron curtain, sealed off and in quarantine from the rest of the universe, ruled by an insane planetary dictator, a bit like Enver Hoxha’s Albania. Earth was the silent planet.

Quite often people ask questions about what effect the discovery of intelligent life on other planets and encounters with alien species from outer space would have on “religion”. There is usually the implication that the alien species would be a threat. If those who ask such questions were to read C.S. Lewis they would see that he had anticipated their questions by several decades, and turned the answer around. The danger is not from outer space, threatening earth, but earth is the threat, bottled up behind the sanitary cordon of the moon’s orbit. The danger to the universe comes out of the silent planet, not into it.

Lewis is an academic, and his social satire is primarily academic. Even today, people argue about education. Should education be STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)? Weston, the chief villain of Out of the Silent Planet clearly seemed to think so, and had no time for the humanities, represented by Ransom, the philologist. These two branches of academia were fighting over funding and resources, and are still doing so today. For more on this see The Two Cultures.

And what about vocational training? People feel they need a university degree, and being a plumber or an electrician or a mechanic is regarded by many as not good enough.

As Swift with his society of Houyhnhnms shows something better than human society, so Lewis shows three kinds of intelligent beings living together in harmony and seeing their skills as complementary rather than in competition — the Hrossa (poets), the Sorns (scientists) and Pfifltriggi (artisans) see each other, not as rivals, but as collaborators. Human beings in the silent planet are divided by race and class. It is apparent even in the opening scenes that Ransom is torn between his own professional and class links with Weston and Devine, and his exasperation yet sympathy with Harry and his mother.

The difference is that Ransom learns from his experience on Malacandra, while Weston and Devine do not. While human beings may differ in race, class and culture, they all belong to the same species, so should find it easier to get on than the three “races” of Malacandra, which differ far more in physical appearance. They are not simply different races, as human beings are, but they are different species. Nevertheless, they live in harmony, without conflict. That is Lewis’s answer to the question of how we should regard space aliens, and also to differences of “race” and class on earth.

Ransom’s learning from his experience on Malacandra is shown in the third book of the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, when Jane Studdock joins the commune headed by Ransom and finds her domestic servant, Ivy Maggs, there before her, and it takes Jane some time to realise that in that intentional community the class barriers of the secular world outside count for nothing.

The social satire deepens towards the end, when Lewis tackles imperialism and colonialism, trying to translate Weston’s speech to a being that has no comprehension of human sin. Lewis was clearly aware that anthropology as an academic discipline was introduced to serve the needs of European colonialism, and Weston’s assumptions and explanations fit this mould. Dick Devine fits the mould of Cecil Rhodes, and could almost, but not quite, be taken as an allegory of Rhodes.

I’m rather surprised that none of the “cosmic trilogy” books has been made into a film. But one science fiction film, Avatar, did have a similar theme of earth as the “silent planet” from which dangerous space aliens come to destroy an innocent planet — see District 9 versus Avatar.

None of this was apparent to me on my first reading of the book at the age of 18. I was vaguely aware of some of the theological implications, but it took quite a lot of study of history and other literature to see the full implications of what Lewis was saying. Science fiction, in the sense of interplanetary travel, yes. But the book is even more fantasy and social satire, showing in an exaggerated way the social situation on earth.

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Review of “The Year of the Dragon”

28 April 2019

I don’t usually have guest posts on this blog, but an exception is Bishop John Davies, who has kindly written a review of my recently-published book The Year of the Dragon.

Reviewed by the Rt Revd John D. Davies
Honorary Assistant Bishop, Diocese of St Asaph, Church in Wales

by Stephen Hayes

This book has two natures in one binding.

Primarily, it is a lively adventure story. It has a whole range of classic ingredients – a puzzling bequest, a search for beneficiaries, a strange exploration of possible treasures, along with a possible link to another
search for treasure in an earlier phase of history, an investigation which takes us from Southern Africa to the UK and to the USSR, dealings with oppressive and dishonest police, travels across deserts and into trackless woodlands and treacherous rivers, imprisonments, malaria, pursuits by armed militias, violent deaths, and a strenuous battle with crocodiles. And it is all set in the violent and destructive context of South Africa.

What more could you want?

But at the same time, the narrative introduces an element which goes way beyond physical adventure.

In an age when, in all sorts of enterprises, people and things are being described as ‘ikons’ or ‘iconic’ – everything from footballers to sopranos, experimental buildings and motorbike designs – this story depends on identifying and handling ikons in the original and accurate sense of the word, the special art of painting the features and figures of saints, paintings which serve as access-ways between ourselves and the world of holiness which the saints inhabit and represent.

A major issue in the book is the difference in the ways in which some historic ikons are valued – valued by lawyers and police and auctioneers, and valued by people who treasure and use the ikons in the way that their creators intend. This further raises the valuation put upon different types of people. In the story, the people with greatest wisdom and insight, on whose characters the total balancing of the story depends, are some rather ‘ordinary’ black priests. They put together the connections which make the story work. But they do not come across as exceptional. In the eyes of the white police they are just kaffirs.

To get the point of the story, the reader needs to recognise the geography; although the author acknowledges that he has somewhat adapted the landscape of Southern Africa, the reader would be helped if there were at least an outline map, showing the boundaries of the western Cape, Natal, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia etc -And the reader needs to recognise the stage of history, when (as I understand it) the apartheid regime is beginning to crack, but the police are still forcibly ready with hippos, helicopters, saracens, and other hardware for suppressing opposition, still ready with detention without trial, functioning in buildings designed to intimidate and terrify.. So, along with the struggle for truth and survival at the level of the physical adventure, there is a parallel struggle for truth of the spirit.

This gives the story its edge and interest, along with a thread of dislocation which requires the reader to identify which genre of struggle we are engaged in at any particular stage of the story.

Altogether, an enjoyable read, and a valid exploration of new roads of encounter.

Nyddfa, By Pass Road Gobowen SY11 3NG, UK
Honorary Assistant Bishop, Diocese of St Asaph, Church in Wales
2nd January 2019

In the interest of openness and transparency I should point out that the review might not be entirely unbiased, as I have known the reviewer for 60 years. John Davies used to be Anglican chaplain at the University of the Witwatersrand, and was at one time national chaplain of the Anglican Students Federation of South Africa (ASF) when I was a student in the 1960s.

Revd John Davies, ASF Chaplain, Modderpoort 1964

At one of the conferences of the ASF he led a series of Bible studies on the first three chapters of Genesis, which was later expanded into a full-length book with the title Beginning Now. He was also one of those who identified the ideological underpinning of apartheid as a pseudogospel, and thus more than a mere heresy, and that in turn helped to shape my own theological understanding apartheid, and hence the view of it reflected in my own book.

In 1970 John Davies when to the UK on furlough, and was in effect not allowed to return to South Africa by the apartheid regime, so his main involvement with South Africa was during the 1960s. For the rest of his career, see John Davies (bishop of Shrewsbury) – Wikipedia.

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Tales from Dystopia XXIII: Academic freedom and university apartheid

16 April 2019

Sixty years ago the Extension of University Education Bill was passed by the South African parliament, which enforced university apartheid. At the time I was a student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), and on 16 April 1959 there was a protest meeting addressed by the Chancellor at which all members of the university were asked to affirm the principles of academic freedom and university autonomy.

Wits University, 16 April 1959

We made the following declaration:

We are gathered here today to affirm in the name of the University of the Witwatersrand that it is our duty: to uphold the principle that a University is a place where men and women without regard to race and colour are welcome to join in the acquisition and advancement of knowledge; and to continue faithfully to defend this ideal against all who have sought by legislative enactment to curtail the autonomy of the University. Now therefore we dedicate ourselves to the maintenance of this ideal and to the restoration of the autonomy of our University.

The Extension of University Education Act, which curtailed academic freedom, essentially turned all existing universities into tribal colleges for Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking whites, and made provision for new ones, separate colleges for Xhosas, Zulus, Tswanas, .Coloureds, Asians etc.

It was, however, a case of “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.”

The only really “open” universities that had non-white staff and students were Wits and Cape Town, and non-white students were not admitted to the university residences (OK, there were laws preventing that). No Afrikaans-speaking universities admitted black students, and other English-speaking universities, like Rhodes and the University of Natal did not do so either. The University of Natal (now UKZN) did have a separate campus for “Non-European” medical students.

Wits University 16 April 1959

About a month before. we had held another protest demonstration, when the bill was first introduced to parliament. About 1000 students stood on the traffic island in Jan Smuts Avenue, during the evening rush hour, holding a chain to symbolise the enslavement of the university. One of the organisers of the protest was our Latin lecturer, Saul Bastomsky, and a newspaper reporter asked him whether first-year students even knew what the protest was about. I was standing nearby and Saul Bastomsky, much to my consternation, pointed at me and said “Here’s a first-year student, ask him.”. The reporter asked me what I thought we should do next, and I said, “Stand outside the houses of parliament.” We didn’t, of course, it would have cost far too much money to get there. But there was the very dignified, very official formal protest meeting on 16th April, which made quite a deep impression on me. .

Not all agreed, of course. While we were standing holding the chain in Jan Smuts Avenue about 20 students stood at the side of the road with placards reading “Fight liberalism at Wits” and “Not all agree with the SRC”, But there were about 1000 students holding the chain.

Ten years later, on 16 April 1969, I observed another protest, this time at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. In 1959 I had been a rather naive first-year student; Ten years later I had completed my full-time studies, and would never been a full-time student again. My last year as a full-time student, 1968, was the year of student power, and son on 16th April 1969 I was asked to speak at a student meeting in Pietermaritzburg organised by the University Christian Movement on “methods of protest”. But it seemed to me that the methods of protest are very much determined by the aims of protest, and that not enough thought had been given to that.

Children fleeing from a burning village in Vietnam.

So I tried shock tactics, which proved to be a little too shocking for many of the students. I told of a group of students in an American city who publicly burnt a dog as a protest, and it caused a huge uproar. Many said that it was counterproductive, and that they weren’t “helping their cause” by doing such a thing. But the uproar itself was the point. They demonstrated clearly that the American public was more concerned about the burning of one dog in San Francisco than about the burning of hundreds of children in Vietnam, which their government was doing with the taxes they paid. The girl in the centre of the picture on the right was one of those children; she eventually recovered, but many others did not.

I don’t recommend burning dogs as a form of protest, but in that instance it clearly made its point.

By 1969, too, many protests were directed at university authorities as much as at the governments. There were sit-ins at university administration offices, and the fees-must-fall protests of a couple of years ago show that some things have changed little. In 1959 it was the government deciding to segregate universities on the grounds of race and colour. In 2019 students are being excluded on the grounds of wealth, or rather the lack of it. As one British friend once said to me back in the 1960s, when South Africa has sorted out the problem of the black and the white, it will come face to face with the real problem — the haves and the have nots.

A luta continua. Die stryd duur voort.


This is part of a series of posts about life in South Africa during the time of apartheid, called Tales from Dystopia. You can see more Tales from Dystopia here.