Yesterday a group of us met for an informal discussion on Christianity and literature, in imitation, perhaps, of the Oxford Inklings.
For a long time I’ve felt the need for such a group, and when David Levey spoke last month at a more general forum on the value of reading irreligiously, it seemed a suitable opportunity to suggest it. So yesterday five of us gathered at Cafe 41 at the corner of Eastwood Road and Pretorius Street, and started off.
I wish I had the skill of Boswell, who in his Life of Samuel Johnson recorded all the twists and turns of coffee shop conversation, but I can’t, so I’ll give some of the highlights that struck me. I can’t even remember exactly who said what, so perhaps some of the others can add their highlights in the comments.
David had spoken about Philip Pullman’s books, and especially the His dark materials trilogy, and one of the things he had mentioned was the Problem of Susan, and the notion that C.S. Lewis didn’t like children growing up. David pointed out that the “Problem of Susan” was not specifically started by Pullman — it seems to be a meme, which has spread with no record of its source. Val said that this was probably because at the time that Lewis wrote, children led different lives. In Pullman’s time girls of 10 were interested in lipstick, nylons and the like, but when Lewis wrote, children of that age tended to be scornful of such things, or at least felt alienated from them. Val mentioned her mother, who was very shy and retiring, and attributed this to her having written Matric at the age of 13, in a class of much older pupils, whose interests were very different. I recalled attending a teenage party at the age of 11 (about the age of Jill Pole in The Last Battle), and spending most of the time with the younger brother of the hosts, commenting rather scornfully on the antics of the older kids, and the things they thought important.
Tony McGregor showed us something that his daughter had written, to the effect that this world will pass away, and the human race will vanish as if it had never been. A lyrical piece, and worth putting on a blog somewhere.
Val mentioned reading How green was my valley, and remarked that books written at a particular time conveyed more about that time than historical novels, written later, because later writers often missed things that were familiar to contemporary writers, but had been forgotten.
David Levey said he thought that C.S. Lewis’s style was so much better than J.K. Rowling’s, and that from that point of view the Harry Potter books were rather mediocre. We never followed that up — perhaps it’s something for next time.
We also discussed bad books we had read. Someone mentioned Fifty shades of grey, and a couple of us had read The da Vinci code (my review here). Those of us who had read it agreed that the South African send-up of it, The de Villiers code, was a much better read.
Tanya mentioned a book she had been reading, Dataclysm, which none of the rest of us had read, but after she had described it, most of us wanted to.
We also discussed web sites like Good Reads and Book Crossing, which some of us used. I mentioned that if someone wanted to be my “friend” on Good Reads, I would only consider it if they had listed at least 100 books, so that I could see how similar or tastes were using the “Compare Books” feature. Tanya thought that that might lead to a boring sameness. I thought that if we had similar tastes, I might discover books that they had read and I had not that might be worth reading.
We also have online discussions in the NeoInklings forum, which people interested in the topic of Christianity and literature are welcome to join.