May 022016

What I’ve been reading and the reason for it goes a long way in explaining why you might have noticed a significant gap in posting to this blog. You might think C.S. Lewis and Bridget Jones’s Diary might be incongruent, or just a fine example of my eclectic taste, and you would be right, but digging deeper you will find much more to the story.

C.S. Lewis

First, we should narrow down just what I’ve been reading from the many works of C.S. Lewis. Thanks to the major motion picture adaptations, The Chronicles of Narnia have become familiar to a vast audience. Unfortunately, far fewer have read the books – especially those which never have made it to film, like The Magician’s Nephew, The Boy and His Horse, or The Silver Chair. This is especially true of the final book in the series, The Last Battle, which has the most depressing happy ending I have ever read.

But what I’ve been reading is not C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narina, I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. While everyone seems to know Lewis and his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien wrote fantasy – or at least what came to be considered fantasy – few remember Lewis also wrote three science fiction novels.

Space Trilogy

Actually, while science plays an important role in the stories (one might even say science is the antagonist, but that would be unfair), they might be more properly classified as spiritual fiction than science fiction, philosophical rather than speculative, theological rather than theoretical. And while Tolkien, a life-long and devout Catholic, wrote his Lord of the Rings trilogy to be a sort of pre-Catholic European mythology, Lewis, who was a late convert to Christianity, was hardly orthodox in his speculation about what lies beyond Earth’s moon.

Still, the three books – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength – do what great science fiction and great literature in general are supposed to make you do: Think. Written at the outbreak and during World War II, they were not bound by later scientific discoveries any more than Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, or Stranger in a Strange Land, allowing Lewis to freely create whatever reality he desired.

The central character of the trilogy is Elwin Ransom, who seems to be modeled in part on Tolkien. A most unlikely hero for a science fiction novel by anyone other than a medieval scholar like Lewis, Ransom is a philologist – a student of languages. His skill proves useful in communicating with inhabitants of other worlds. In another clear connection to Tolkien, the third book makes reference to Numenor and the True West.

I don’t intend to give anything away about the plot, I simply want to peak your interest. But I will say the last two books in particular seem to provide a clear vision of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body at a time before the future pontiff had even been ordained a priest. You might ask why this is important, so I’ll tell you.

Bridget Jones’s Diary

I read Bridget Jones’s Diary as part of an effort to read several books written in diary format (including The Princess Diaries, and Flowers for Algernon) in preparation for writing my own fictional novel in a similar format. It always helps to explore what other have done in a particular format before trying it yourself – like art students studying the great masters.

Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary (and The Princess Diaries) served two efforts, because I have also been reading some romance novels in an effort to study plot development. Romance novels are a great genre for studying plot, because the plots are so formulaic. You can almost predict the exact page at which something will happen to shatter any chance of the two lovers ever finding a happily ever after. (That’s HEA in Romance jargon, and it is a requirement. Hell hath no fury like a woman who reads a Romance which does not have a HEA.)

Theology of the Body

How does Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body tie together? If the later two demonstrate what the true nature of the relationship between man and woman is meant to be, the former demonstrates clearly the results of ignoring that true nature.

Lewis clearly knows the relationship between the genders, even the understanding of the nature of gender, is distorted in the modern world – even if his modern world at the time he was writing was the early 1940s. In fact, it is integral to the plot of the third book. For him, restoration of the natural order of things is a good to be desired.

While Helen Fielding clearly intended her novel to be comedic, over-the-top exaggeration of the trials and tribulations of the thirty-something single woman (particularly in Britain but applicable anywhere sexually liberated modern culture has infiltrated), the agony Bridget Jones and her circle of friends endures could easily be alleviated. Unfortunately, Fielding and her readers are most likely clueless when it comes to the Theology of the Body.

Even if they were introduced to the idea, they would likely write it off as old-fashioned, antiquated, anti-feminist, patriarchy nonsense and continue to wallow in their misery. This is something Lewis also addresses in his Space Trilogy.

Someone once said we laugh when it hurts too much to cry. Bridget Jones’s Diary strikes me as that kind of humor.

And the Reason Is

If you read between the lines, you might have realized one reason I have not been posting consistently has been because I am doing a lot of reading, and what I’ve been reading has been trying directed towards writing fiction. Also, I needed a break from politics. This site was becoming becoming dominated by current political events rather than the eclectic mix of topics I intended. In the future, the politics will be more focused and the topics more varied. That said, what sort of topics should I write about?

Jun 232015

The 500-word, five paragraph essay seems to be a lost art. Do English teachers even teach it any more? If they do, they must not spend much time on it, because I find many teenagers who lack the skills developed by writing this type of essay. The five paragraph essay should be brought back with a vengeance. It provides a structure which can be utilized in more lengthy types of writing. It provides training in outlining and planning a composition. Most importantly, it gives practice in logical thinking and in constructing an argument.

The five paragraph essay, with its introduction, three supporting, and concluding paragraphs, has been criticized as being artificial and useless. But this same structure has been used throughout the history of Western Civilization. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. One or two points are not enough to make a strong case. Four or more points can still be effective, but you run the risk of losing your reader.  For more challenging arguments, you must expand each section to more than one paragraph. You have a ready made formula that works. Why shouldn’t every educated child learn how it’s done?

The formula gives you the beginning of an outline before you even start. You just decide on three points you want to make to support whatever statement you are trying to prove, and then add information to support each point. Actually, each paragraph — or section in a longer essay — is a miniature essay in itself. Each body paragraph needs an introductory sentence stating the point you want to make, one or more sentences to support the point, and a concluding sentence to re-emphasize the point you are trying to make. The outline practically makes itself, leaving you to concentrate on what is most important — the content of your argument.

Determining what to include in an argument to logically support the point you are trying to make is perhaps the most important skill to take away from an education. Once an essay is written, if it fails to convince the reader of the point it is trying to make, the argument needs to be changed. Do the three points make the strongest case for your thesis? Do they contradict each other in any way? Do they really answer the objections your opponents might have? The five paragraph essay is a safe, simple way to learn to ask and answer these types of questions.

In conclusion, the 500-word, five paragraph essay is an unbeatable teaching tool. Extensive practice writing this type of essay provides a prototype for more involved writing, builds skills in planning and outlining, and most importantly provides an opportunity to learn logical thinking and argument construction. Once students can reliably construct a paragraph, they should immediately begin writing short, five paragraph essays. By the time they complete high school, they should have the skills and knowledge to move on to longer pieces requiring more involved arguments.