Tuesday, August 11, 2015

SOMEWHITHER by John C. Wright - an honest attempt to play the book not the man. Part 1

[Mr Wright has come back in my comments and made a point which I want to acknowledge, sorry I'm only just doing so now - but the comment didn't flag for some reason, or got lost in the hurley-burley.  In any event I literally saw it for the first time yesterday. (14th Feb 2017)

I acknowledge he doesn't just think muslims, atheists, and gay people are going to hell, he thinks everyone is who doesn't receive God's grace.  And I honestly don't mean that as a dig - it is a logically possible proposition that is not necessarily racist, sexist, or homophobic, in itself. 

I believe it to be untrue, because I do not believe in the God so predicated*, but it is not as bad a position as I feared. I have therefore amended the bits of my post below in [ ].
(*neither philosophically, nor biblically).

Edited post.

So what do you do when a writer who has expressed sentiments that strike you as [politically or philosphically wrong], also has an idea for a book that strikes you as having the potential to be brilliant? Do you ignore the book – thereby invisibly dissing the [wrongness]?  Do you buy the book because it looks brilliant?  How far can we disassociate the ‘author’ from the ‘authored’? 
In the case of authors who died before I was born like H.P. Lovecraft – my reasoning is simple, I can’t make him by any action of mine any less racist than he was (though I can note he was less racist by the end of his life than the early years) and I read and enjoyed his work before I knew anything about him. So the work in such cases has the primacy for me. Modern racists are generally not citing him as their inspiration.  He transposes something which is awful when it’s about people into something uniquely unnerving when its about the universe, whereas a lot of his contemporaries went ahead and wrote it about people, and sadly some people still are.  [Note I’m not going on here to talk about racism – that’s an example, its not a stick to beat the author I’m going to talk about with.]
In the case of a current author it’s a bit harder.  I first discovered John C. Wright as a writer, when I read his pastiches / further works set in the world of William Hope Hodgeson’s The Nightland: AWAKE IN THE NIGHTLAND.

Wow, I thought these are great, and the author is being refreshingly careful not to retrofit modern mores over the quasi-antique far far future, which Hodgeson describes through the prophetic dreams of a 17th century man.  Then it turned out that Mr Wright’s world view was – I think he’ll take this as a back-handed compliment - closer to the 17th century than mine, and this lead (for me) to a certain dissonance in the later stories. Particularly his last one (both written and chronologically in his sequence), where if I read it correctly the main character is saved because by faith he does the one thing that his whole society is convinced will utterly condemn his soul to ever-lasting destruction namely entering The House of Silence (or its visionary equivalent.)  [Added, which might not matter if absolute fidelity to rules wasn't a virtue in his other stories in the same setting.]
I noted his name anyway with a view to picking up other works in due course, I read a lot and I’m always looking for new writers to try.
At this point the recent row concerning the Hugo awards broke out, and reading backwards into that I found John C. Wright’s blog / journal where among other things the certain hellward trajectory of [much of humanity] is much discussed.  Now I am myself an ex-christian, so you know *I’m damned* but frankly I take responsibility for my own apostasy.

How then can a writer with very strong beliefs play fair with his characters and write well?  Well I’d argue that generally C.S.Lewis and G.K.Chesterton do – though people have raised issues with both, mostly they set out their worlds and depict people within them having the experiences those world’s bring, but they do not – if I may phrase it this way – stack the dice excessively, or require their characters to ‘happen’ to guess the right faith – rather their characters make the choices which are rational given their experiences of a world in which certain faith’s have real objects.  
I next read some of Mr Wright’s HUGO award nominated works (not all of them because I’m not down to vote and hence I’m paying for what I read) and found them more polemic and less helpful than Lewis or Chesterton, with a certain urgent hectoring stridency waiting to break in.  I downloaded the free-sample from Amazon of the beginning of his COUNTING TO A TRILLION series, and found the same issues there. I was about to sigh and conclude that like some other writers, [we’d simply never see eye to eye.
Then I happened upon a recent post of his – which contained an idea for a book, that looked brilliant – this takes us back to my opening question.  It (looked to me like/was) a multiverse story where the jonbar hinges are not human moral action or every quantum variable, but the decisions taken by God as to whether or not miraculously intervene in space-time. [This might – I thought address such things as – what does it mean for an omniscient, omnicognate, omnibenevolent being to ‘choose’ between two courses of action, my theory is both must be ‘equally good’ or ‘good in different but equal modes’ or else God would being undeceivable, never careless, and incapable of Wrong always choose the ‘best’. Which would be interesting! ]
Around this framework Mr Wright had built and posted on his journal a schema of creatures from the medieval bestiaries refitted as races, each native to one of twenty or so ‘Aeons’ deriving from a different hinge event. I’m a sucker for this kind of complex schematised world-building. This I decided would be my fair test of whether or not I could find new common ground with his work.  The book’s SOMEWHITHER:  A TALE OF THE UNWITHERING REALM.  I’ll be reading it (I’ve bought the kindle version) and reviewing it here in due course.
 (I confess to a slight, very slight feeling that a title should not include both ‘whither’ and ‘wither’ as on saying it rather than reading it creates an aural confusion – but you could cast the same stone at my Brakespeare Voyage which I’ve seen referred to as Breakspear, Breakspeare, Brakespear, or Brakespeer.)
To be continued...  


John Wright said...

Sir,you may put your mind at rest. I do not believe, nor does my Church teach, nor have I said anything or implied anything which would lead an honest man to conclude or even to invent the idea that the various groups you falsely accuse me of wishing damned to hell are damned. It is merely a lazy stereotype used by antichristian bigots to accuse Christians of intolerance. You have either allowed yourself thoughtlessly to be deceived by such bigots, or you are one, and deceive yourself for the fun of it.

It is not as if everything I have said is not available for your inspection upon four minutes effort using Google.

Site Owner said...

I've only just seen this comment. I'm glad to hear that I have misinterpreted your views, however if I did, I did so only only after an extensive reading of your blog.

However I didn't say you wished them dammed, I said you regarded them as having a certian hellward trajectory, that is they would certainly go to hell if they didn't stop being what they were or believing what they believed. I didn't say that pleased you.

What did you think of the actual review?

John Wright said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Wright said...

Technically, all men are damned without repentance. I note you did not say that murderers, liars, theives, gossips, and hypocrites are hellbound without repentance. And, of course, believing in one form of government or another is not on the list.

Come now. You were caught fibbing about me. Own up.

Now, having said that, in all honesty I must doff my cap to you and salute you for at least trying to overcome your loathing of me in order to look at my work. It is sadly unusual these days to be nonpartisan and unbigoted, and you deserve credit for the noble gesture.

Site Owner said...

I have literally only just seen this final comment, and thinking about it. I believe you have a point. I have amended the post accordingly.

I did not meant to fib, but I was willing to rhetorically expound, when I should perhaps have read more charitably.

Simon BJ

John Wright said...

A noble sentiment! I am pleasantly surprised, nay, delighted, that you have amended your stance, and took no offense at my accusation. My faith in humanity is restored.

Let me tell you a personal secret. The reason why I became a Catholic was that when I took the time and trouble to look into what the official teaching authority of the Church ACTUALLY taught as authoritative, I found that nearly everyone of other denominations, faiths and philosophies did not correct report the facts.

Some, no doubt, were innocently deceived, or were merely negligent and failed to pursue the truth with due diligence. But some lied.

The Catholic teaching on the afterlife is that there are certain persons humans can know with confidence have successfully been welcomed into heaven. These are called saints.

There is no one we know with confidence that has been damned to Hell, not even Judas. How do we know he did not utter a silent prayer of repentance in the split second after he tied a noose about his neck, yet before his neck snapped?

One tradition says that Christ harrowed Hell, and brought up all the patriarchs and honest men from Adam onward to John the Baptist, who otherwise would have perished without the intervention of Christ.

Another tradition says that a saint once resurrected emperor Trajan from the death, who immediately insisted on being baptized, and hence was carried up onto heaven, where he is not the only virtuous pagan.

The poet Dante describes residents of heaven to include sodomites as well as those who have committed far greater sins, but who sought the mercy of heaven and were granted pardon. While the specifics were merely a poet's fancy, this is in accord with official teaching. We hold that all men are sinners. We hold no sin is beyond forgiveness.

But the Church officially teaches that the mercy of God is greater than men expect or guess.

I certainly believe Hell is a possibility for me if I do not reform my ways and seek true repentance. I honestly have never contemplated the odds of escape for other men, nor would I think, not being a mindreader, that I know enough about other men to guess.

In any case, in the future if you would be willing to ask me what it is I believe before judging and condemning those beliefs, I would be take it as a kindness, and would take the time to answer politely and as completely as you wish.