Would you say that the series has an overarching spiritual message?
Not in the way that most people would think of a “spiritual message.” But also yes. Sure it does — in the same way that life has an overarching spiritual message. Only my stories are distilled and stylized. There are a lot of themes that run through the books, but one of the most important things I’ve tried to communicate is a sense of wonder. I want kids to close the book and step back into their own world with wide eyes, marveling at the grass and the wind and the sun and the trees. In some ways, this is anti-escapism. Don’t grow bored with this world and lose yourself in books. Lose yourself in books to wake up in this world. Nothing I can paint with words could ever surpass the artistry in any child’s backyard — the earth beneath, the sky above, the many narratives between.
I had read part of this quotation before, but the other day, over at my friend Dave Mazzella’s place, I came across the whole of it. Here, just for fun, is some pastoral advice by the great Southern Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell, written to “Sister Adger,” who according to Thornwell’s biographer, Benjamin Palmer, had made “a very serious appeal against his favorite habit” and who, it appears, suffered from facial pain of some kind or another. The paragraph breaks are mine, for ease of reading:
Theological Seminary, September 24, 1861
Dearly Beloved Sister Adger:
My sympathies have been greatly moved by the piteous accounts I have received of your keen and manifold sufferings, in that most important of all organs to a woman, “the human face divine.” I know how to feel for the sufferer, especially for such a sufferer as the wife of a friend who has no rival in my heart.
My own experience has led me to recognize the fact that one effect of our afflictions is to disarm us of capricious and idle prejudices, and to reconcile us to what we once abhorred. In my own case, this principle has been most signally illustrated. At one time in my life, sheep, blackberries, and tea were my utter abominations; and I marveled how any human being could reconcile himself to the use of such monstrous articles of diet. But I was brought low. I had either to starve, or to feed on sheep with the voracity of an ancient patriarch or Jew; and I finally came to believe that even a Christian man might make dainties of the fruit of briers, the offspring of the fold, and the leaf from China. My prejudices are all gone; and I sit down to these abominations with as much composure as I would encounter ham, plum pudding, or roast beef. After giving up my prejudices, I began to mend.
Now, it has occurred to me that there is a proud place in your heart, which requires to be humbled. You have some unaccountable prejudices, from which it behooves you to be delivered; and my interest in your carnal comfort prompts me to deal very freely with you on this most delicate subject.
I have no doubt that if you would open your mind to liberal views of that most delectable of all weeds, the tobacco plant, your sufferings might be greatly relieved, and greatly modified. Just reflect upon it as a balm which nature has kindly provided for aching teeth or agonized jaws. Let me advise you, as you prize your comfort, to provide yourself with a clean pipe and a short stem, and set upon the goodly process of inhaling the exquisite fragrance.
There is no sight more truly venerable than that of a mother in Israel, in the chimney corner, with her children about her, refreshing their senses with gales of incense as sweet and cheering as the tones, which proceed from her mouth. It is the very picture of dignified repose. The very idea of neuralgia to such a matron would be a contradiction in terms. Only try it. I never have tooth-ache, jaw-ache, or any other face ache. The reason, perhaps, is that I have no absurd prejudices against “kind nature’s sweet restorer,” a genuine article of tobacco.
How delightful it would be, if you could overcome your antipathies, to visit sister Adger, of a moonlight night, at her hospitable mansion, and join with her in the calm, quiet, dignified composure which the blended fumes of the pipe and cigar would so freely and completely signalize!
My dear, suffering sister, smoke, smoke, and again I say, smoke! It will do you good. Once begin, and you will need no arguments to persevere. The odour of a good conversation and the odour of tobacco sweetly harmonize, and form exquisite incense.
But enough. We all want to see you very much. I think your husband needs looking after; and the worse feature in his case is, that he does not want you to come home. Lizzie, I suspect, is doing pretty much what the boy shot at. The truth is, your presence, provided your face is smooth, would work marvels. But my paper is out. Be sure to smoke, and let us hear no more of neuralgia.
In his brief review of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, published in The Times Literary Supplement (Oct. 2, 1937), C. S. Lewis writes:
To define the world of The Hobbit is, of course, impossible, because it is new. You cannot anticipate it before you go there, as you cannot forget it once you have gone. The author’s admirable illustrations and maps of Mirkwood and Goblingate and Esgaroth give one an inkling — and so do the names of the dwarf and dragon that catch our eyes as we first ruffle the pages. — C. S. Lewis, “The Hobbit,” Of This and Other Worlds, p. 110.
One word jumped out at me in those sentences. Given that Lewis and Tolkien were both members of The Inklings, where Tolkien also read aloud from his writings, is it possible that Lewis deliberately included the word “inkling” in his review as a sort of inside joke, an allusion to the group, a wink in their direction?
Read this. If you need more incentive, here’s a paragraph, but you won’t appreciate it properly unless you’ve read the rest of the article:
I realize more and more that the gift of children is the gift of life. Children, my children, are sabbath life to and for the tired and weary. How easy would it be to come home and collapse on the couch and do nothing? How tempting would it be to sit in silence after a long day? But my children teach me to live. They teach me to laugh. They teach me to dance, to move my body, to sing, to pray, to ask questions, to read between the lines, to demand more from the world, more from my time, more from life. They won’t just leave me alone. They won’t let me miss life; they love me too much for that.
When you’re done reading the blog entry I linked, you can go on and read Toby’s posts on “A Theology of Other People.” And when the latest Credenda comes online, go and read Toby’s article on “Other People” there, too.
Klaas Schilder on Jesus’ suffering when Peter rebuked him when he was preaching about his upcoming suffering, rejection, and death:
And for the Saviour, fully aflame as He is with love for mankind, it is far worse suffering to meet a satan of flesh and blood than to confront that one great Devil who is sheer spirit. Jesus Himself is human. He called Simon Barjona a friend. And a friend’s opposition to the task which God placed upon the Son of man is a burden outweighing a thousand times the enmity to Him and the Father breathed out by the Demon of the pit.
Hearing His bride speak and act satanically, seeing a human being, one of those for whom He is giving His life, become an instrument of Satan, observing the flesh in Simon Peter assert itself to take exception to heaven’s law of atonement through fulfillment, and all that, mark well, at the moment of Christ’s prophesying — that must have been Jesus’ severest suffering up to this time. For He knows all the while that this same rebellion of flesh against spirit will presently nail Him to the cross. — Klaas Schilder, Christ in His Suffering, p. 20.