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15 authors (meme)

28 October 2010

15 Authors (meme)
Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose.

This comes from A mule in the chapter house, who asks to be included among the tagged ones, to see what others say. I wasn’t tagged, but thought it might be interesting to join in.

So here’s my list:

  1. Alexander Schmemann
  2. C.S. Lewis
  3. G.K. Chesterton
  4. Charles Williams
  5. Jack Kerouac
  6. Roland Allen
  7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien
  9. G.B. Caird
  10. Gustav Aulén
  11. Alan Garner
  12. Nicolas Berdyaev
  13. Fyodor Dostoevsky
  14. Samuel Beckett
  15. Jonathan Swift

I didn’t choose them because I liked them the most or that I’ve read most of their work, or that I own all their books, but simply because their writing has influenced me and shaped my thinking at various times.

1. Alexander Schmemann

I put him first because his writing probably made the biggest change to my life. It was reading his For the life of the world (or rather the shorter version, The world as sacrament)) that crystallised my dissatisfaction with Western theology, and made me seriously consider Orthodoxy as an alternative.

2. C.S. Lewis

It was Lewis’s fiction, initially the space trilogy, and later the Narnia stories, that influenced me most, and enabled me to experience what Berdyaev (q.v.) meant when he said that “myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept”. It also prepared me to understand what G.B. Caird (q.v.) wrote about.

3. G.K. Chesterton

His Orthodoxy also influeced me a great deal in seeing the value of myths and fairy tales in communicating truth.

4.Charles Williams

I began reading his books at about the same time as I read Lewis’s space trilogy, and though I didn’t then know that they knew each other I liked them for the same reasons. His The place of the lion showed the influence of spiritual power in everyday life.

5. Jack Kerouac

I’ve only really liked one book of his, The Dharma bums. I’ve reread that many times, but haven’t really been tempted to reread most of the others. The idea of a “rucksack revolution” appealed to me. I was turned on to Kerouac and Charles Williams by Brother Roger, of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection, who was a kind of guru to me in my late teens, and whose paper Pilgrims of the Absolute probably influenced me as much as any of the authors listed here, and he wasn’t included in the list only because it wasn’t a full-length book.

6. Roland Allen

Roland Allen’s Missionary methods: St Paul’s or ours helped me to clarify my understanding of the role of the ordained ministry in the church. Roland Allen, an Anglican, wrote about a century ago, when many Anglicans still believed that there were three orders of ministry in the church — bishops, priests and deacons, and Allen explained what their role should be within the Christian community. Nowadays, however, most Anglicans have abandoned that notion, and seem to believe that the three orders of ministry are bishops, vicars and curates. and clericalism is as rife as it was in Allen’s day.

7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

His Cost of discipleship still scares me, and his Life together remains a good guide for Christian intentional communities (sometimes referred to as the “new monasticism”).

8. J.R.R. Tolkien

In 1966 I went to Oxford to be interviewed by a group of trustees about a bursary I had applied for. Another interviewee was a friend from the University of Natal, John Henderson, who told me about Tolkien’s books, and also told me that Tolkien was a friend of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams and that they gathered regularly in that very city to read their works to each other. That was sufficient recommendation — any friend of Williams and Lewis had to be worth reading, and when I got back to my digs in Streatham, I began reading The hobbit. I bought the first two volumes of Lord of the Rings and finished the second late at night, so I borrowed a friend’s copy to continue reading, and didn’t buy the third volume for several years. But I’ve read it several times since then.

9. G.B. Caird

In a New Testament class at university our lecturer, Vic Bredenkamp, was talking about “principalities and powers”, and I didn’t understand what he was saying. I thought of “principalities” in terms of places like Monaco and Liechtenstein, and “powers” in terms of the USA and USSR. Vic recommended that I read Caird’s eponymous book, and suddenly everything fell into place. The Oyarsa of Malacandra; the Lion, the Serpent and the Butterflies of Williams’s The place of the Lion, and what lay behind the peculiar and mundane battles between the Liberal Party and the Special Branch. Our struggle was not so much against Van Rensburg and Dreyer, or even against Vorster and Verwoerd, as against the principalities, the powers, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies. In rural hamlets in Natal, like Hambrook and Stepmore, a conflict was being enacted whose roots reached the depths where angels and demons were locked in mortal conflict. Caird opened my eyes to that. At one time I wanted to write a book about it, but then Walter Wink published first. I haven’t included Wink here, because his writing didn’t really influence me, but he said a lot of the things that I wanted to say about it, based on Caird, Lewis and Williams.

10. Gustav Aulén

Following on from Caird, Gustav Aulén’s Christus Victor helped me to understand the atonement in Christian theology, and also helped to predispose me towards Orthodoxy. Aulén wasn’t Orthodox, he was Lutheran, and his explanation was not complete, but it was more coherent than most of the others.

11. Alan Garner

I loved Alan Garner’s first three books — The weirdstone of Brisingamen, The moon of Gomrath and Elidor. They were Charles Williams for children. Someone described Charles Williams’s books as “supernatural thrillers”. Garner’s first three were supernatural thrillers on steroids.

12. Nicolas Berdyaev

I’ve already mentioned Nicolas Berdaev in connection with what he said about myth. He wrote a lot of stuff, most of it interesting, though not all of it I would agree with, but what he said about myth bears repeating:

Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention, with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything, in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality… The creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life, more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and creative energy of the people… it brings two worlds together symbolically.

13. Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky’s novels have taught me a great deal about compassion, forgiveness and repentance.

14. Samuel Beckett

It was Brother Roger, CR (see above) who turned me on to Samuel Beckett, and lent me most of his books and plays. I suppose that unlike many of the other books I have mentioned, which seem to emphasise premodern themes like angels and demons, Beckett was modern, and his books deal with modernity, but especially the bleakness of modernity, which is the complement of some of the others.

15. Jonathan Swift

When I was at school, and encountered bullies, I would become quite misanthropic, and then I would read Swift’s Gulliver’s travels, because it suited my mood. The more I saw of some people, the more I liked my horse. But Dostoevsky’s compassion trumps Swift’s misanthropy, so I don’t read Swift so much nowadays. I did read a biography of him, though.

And now I have to think of fifteen people to tag.

1. Bishop Seraphim Sigrist
2. Macrina Walker
3. John Morehead
4. Jim Forest
5. Matushka Donna
6. Malcolm Guite
7. Matt Stone
8. Reggie Nel
9. Tinyiko Maluleke
10. Cobus van Wyngaard
11. Arthur Stewart
12. Jenny Hillebrand
13. Terry Cowan
14. Sue Fairhead
15. The mule in the chapter house

 

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