The Art of Surprise

Lots of beginning writers pen stories with surprise endings. Surprise! your quirky narrator was actually a bowling pin . . . Surprise! they were on Mars the whole time! . . . Surprise! This is such a ubiquitous phenomenon that books on the craft perennially warn against using such trickery. Jerome Stern gives precisely this […]

Fiction and Fear

In all meaningful fiction, there exists an element of fear. It may lurk more or less in the background, more hidden in some stories than in others, but it’s there. This seems to hold true even outside the genres you’d expect to incorporate fear—horror, thrillers, weird fiction. The dynamic of fear is also hard at work […]

Last-minute Book Recommendations

For those of you still scrambling—or just starting to scramble—to find gifts for your book loving friends, here’s one final round of recommendations. * * * Recommended by Garret Johnson: JRR Tolkien: The Letters of JRR Tolkien – Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien: Part autobiography, part theory-of-everything, part treatise on the author’s […]

The Call to Adventure

Holidays always feel like a time to read the stuff that’s so fun it seems you shouldn’t be allowed to read it any time else. Books with adventure. The bigger and wilder and less familiar the better. It’s a silly constraint, I think, this feeling that we ought to be reading something else (though I […]

HP Lovecraft and Christian Thought

It seemed fitting at this time of year to take up a literary subject that’s often understandably—though I think unfortunately—neglected entirely by Christians: Horror fiction. I’m immediately aware of some well-founded hesitations that probably just sprang to many people’s minds. But I hope after a little digging and clarifying, some profound points of contact between two […]

Elves, Orcs and Freaks: The Shared Authorial Vision of JRR Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this discussion, I outlined several ways O’Connor’s description of the Southern Grotesque and Tolkien’s description of Fantasy are astoundingly, unexpectedly similar. I also pointed out—through a close look at each of their seminal essays on fiction—how they both consider their bizarre or otherworldly genres more effective at conveying reality than strict “realist” fiction […]

Elves, Orcs and Freaks: The Shared Authorial Vision of JRR Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor (Part 1)

It’s not very often you hear the works of JRR Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor mentioned in the same breath—at least not on purpose. Some might find this surprising. O’Connor and Tolkien were, after all, both mid-twentieth century Catholic authors who garnered serious acclaim for very unusual works of fiction. But for most, that would be […]

Poetry Redeemed: Tolkien’s “Mythopoeia”

Sometimes I write poetry when I suppose I ought to be doing other things: grading papers, answering email, doing laundry, making dinner. As I write this, it is almost Easter; we are beginning Holy Week. The long penitential season of Lent is hurrying toward the celebration of the Resurrection. Easter marks what has happened and […]

Surprised by Tolkien

In Enlivened by Lewis, Mary Mueller recounted her experience with C.S. Lewis’s writing; Lewis helped her see that “faith is no less than rational, but it is far more than merely rational.” Now in this second part, she tells the tale of how it was Lewis’s friend Tolkien who finally allowed her to “connect head […]