Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Hobbit -- Happy Anniversary!

September 21st was the 73rd anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

You'd think I would have remembered such an important date. For had The Hobbit not been a financial success, The Lord of the Rings might never have been written. And if it hadn't, the Mythopoeic Society would never have existed. My husband I would never have met; our children would never have existed. (This is beginning to sound like a Twilight Zone episode.) Needless to say, I would never have become acquainted with most of my oldest and closest friends, and the great flowering of fantasy fiction in the late 20th century might not have taken place.

So in belated honor of the day, here is a link to a site with a side by side comparison of the two versions of "Riddles in the Dark," the crucial chapter in The Hobbit in which Biblbo Baggins acquires Gollum's magic ring. (The differences between the two are helpfully marked in blue.)

The Riddle chapter was my first encounter with Tolkien's work. I read it in the early '60s when I was just a kid reading my way through the Azusa public library. It appeared in Just For Fun: Humorous Stories and Poems, edited by Elva Sophronia Smith and Alice Isabel Hazeltine Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Company, 1948. Although it was very odd coming into the story in media res (I had no idea what a hobbit was or how Mr. Baggins had gotten into such a tight place), I enjoyed the chapter so much that I tracked down the original book and devoured the whole thing. Of course, I was a bit puzzled by the differences between the version in the anthology and the one in The Hobbit. At the time, I didn't know that Tolkien had made revisions between the first and second editions of The Hobbit in order to make it more consistent with The Lord of the Rings.

By the way, I'm not usually keen on audio recordings of my favorite books because they never match the cadence of my mind's internal voice which I hear when I read. But Nicol Williamson did a skillfully abridged recording of The Hobbit in the '70s which is brilliant. He gives each character a distinct voice with accents from different parts of the British Isles. A friend gave us a copy when our children were young and they never tired of listening to it. Unfortunately, it has never been released on CD, and our cassette copies of the LP degenerated long ago. So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover a recording posted on the Nicol Williamson website.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Finding God in the Everyday

Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life by Karina Lumbert Fabian & Deacon Steven Lumbert, Tribute Books, 2010.

Long ago I read a book written by a well known Catholic convert* who said that one of the things that most surprised him about becoming a Catholic was that everyday life had become suffused with the supernatural, and that the supernatural was now everyday.

Being a sacramental religion, Catholicism does use ordinary, physical things -- oil, water, bread, wine, the marital embrace -- as conduits for God's life giving grace. And simple, tangible items, such as a humble string of beads or two bits of cloth joined by a cord, can actually become a powerful spiritual weapon or a protective shield. Tempted by demons, guarded by angels, and given an occasional assist by the saints, ordinary life is a deceptively disguised battle-field adventure that rivals any fantasy or science fiction epic.

The problem is, it can look so ordinary. God may whap a few of us upside the head with a spiritual two by four, but the vast majority of us will only come to a radical conversion of mind, heart, and spirit through the small, everyday choices we make in classroom, kitchen, or cubicle.

This idea is the major thrust of Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life. This is not a book about figuring out what to believe -- though both authors had to do that at different points in their lives. (Deacon Steven Lumbert is a convert; Karina Fabian is a cradle Catholic who made a full commitment to the Faith as an adult. ) Instead it's about how God led them to a deeper faith through seemingly ordinary incidents in their everyday lives.

Writing alternate chapters, Lumbert and Fabian recount personal stories with elements as disparate as a Puerto Rican chicken and rice dish, a barefoot stranger at Mass, an unexpected flower delivery, an incense-triggered acid reflux attack, and an armed auto thief who couldn't manage to get his gun out of his pocket. Each is followed by a "Life Lesson" meditating on what the author brought away from the experience, how it contributed to his or her relationship with God, and the possible application it might have to the reader's own life. (I could particularly identify with Fabian's chapter about her disorganized approach to housekeeping and how it paralleled her spiritual life. I have so done that deranged drill sergeant thing to my own kids during the rush to clear things up before guests arrive!)

A related scriptural quotation and an extract from the Catholic Catechism rounds off each chapter. And at the end of the book is a list of resources for further reading which may also be seen here. In the mood for a sample? You can read an excerpt of Chapter 2 on the sidebar of this page.

By the way, Karina Fabian is also the author of Magic, Mensa & Mayhem a fantasy novel about Vern, a dragon detective, and his partner Sister Grace, a high mage of the Faerie Catholic Church, as they shepherd a Faerie contingent to a Mensa convention in the mundane world. Fabian is also the editor of and a contributor to Leaps of Faith, an anthology of Christian science fiction and Infinite Space, Infinite God, a collection of Catholic science fiction stories. (Having read all three of these is what made me interested in reviewing Why God Matters.)

[Disclosure: The publisher sent me a free PDF copy of this book.]

*And my middle-aged brain can't remember his name.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blog Tour Announcement

Hey, there's a blog tour for Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life by father and daughter team, Steven Lumbert and Karina Lumbert Fabian. Karina is also the author of Magic, Mensa & Mayhem, a fantasy novel, and the editor of (and a contributor to) Leaps of Faith, an anthology of Christian science fiction, and Infinite Space, Infinite God, a collection of Catholic science fiction. (Woo-hoo! How cool is that?) So you can see why I'd have a more than ordinary interest in her new nonfiction title. And that's also why I agreed to write a review for for her blog tour.

You can see the other tour bloggers here. And please come back tomorrow to read my review.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chinese Fortune Cookie

Yesterday my mother took my daughter Fillia and me out to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Look what came out of one of the fortune cookies! (Had this occurred in a novel, I would have thought it too unbelievable. But real life is not restricted to what is probable.) If the words on this little slip of paper are true, I must live in a house almost completely made of window glass. Except for the bathrooms, I don't think we have a single room without bookcases.