A few thoughts come to mind when the word “British” is spoken aloud. The first is tea, the second BBC, and the third is books. British literature should be its own parent genre. I could honestly gush about the generally superior nature of Brit-Lit for paragraphs and paragraphs but I shall spare you the rant…for now.
I like to consider this month as “Remember November” not only because of Guy Fawkes day (if you do not know of Guy Fawkes day, please look it up) but also because Dia De Los Muertos, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Remembrance Day all take place in November, it is the perfect month for reflection and appreciation for the past. November first is also National Authors day and in light of that and Remember November, I am on a mission to reacquaint myself and show gratitude for my favorite British authors.
There are several authors who are known well for paving and perfecting the art of writing in Britain. These celebrated names ring multiple bells in many memories and I would like to take a moment to commemorate them for their works and the thousands of lives they have changed through them.
If you have any knowledge of literature, fantasy, Britain, or Orlando Bloom (how else could you find this blog?) you are most likely aware of J.R.R. Tolkien. If you are not familiar with the name, allow me to refresh your faulty memory by reminding you he wrote the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit, the many LotR spin off books, and numerous fantasy epics.
Tolkien was a man of a strict moral compass. Less of strict in the sense of severity and insensitivity but strict as in Tolkien knew what he believed to be right and wrong, good and evil. He believed in what he believed and wasn’t afraid to believe it.
In any biographical passage of Tolkien, one must look at his works of fiction, him being a writer and all of that. And, inevitably, when reading Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit, one finds themselves reading a Christian journey. Tolkien once wrote to a friend that
“I am a Christian, and what I write will come from that essential viewpoint.”
Tolkien did not write evangelical fiction but what he wrote reflected what he believed. If you are a writer, this should always be the case. Write what you know and write what you believe. Your worldview should always be clear to the reader. *end of writer’s perogative*
I almost feel the need of comparing Pilgrim’s Progress to Lord of the Rings. Each character in the series plays roles in what is known as the “Christian walk.” We have the burden bearing sinner who makes all the mistakes (Frodo and also Sméagol), the faithful friend who helps carry the load (Sam), the deceiver who wishes to divert the seeker from his path (Golomn), and the divinity figure who guides and sacrifices (Gandalf and Aragorn.)
One of my favorite Tolkien quotes that I believe describes his worldview and character best is this
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loved upon earth.”
That one quote even beats his next best
“Ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler.”
When mentioning J.R.R. Tolkien it would be unjust to not also give some love to C.S. Lewis as well. The two authors were good friends. Tolkien led Lewis from atheism to Christianity and though the two men’s world views differed on many occasions they nonetheless regarded each other highly.
Can I take a moment to appreciate this dynamic friendship? It isn’t often one sees two friends with different opinions. Nowadays if one person differs in perspective and opinion from another, they label each other as enemies. Friendship can be born on uneven ground but not many people know that, let alone are willing to give such friendships a chance. Okay, I’m done morally gushing now. Back to Lewis.
No author was ever more of a straight-sense talker than C.S. Lewis was. C.S. Lewis may have writ fantasy more often than not but he prized common sense and logic rather highly. Even in his works he made meaning evident and never hid nor coated what he believed to be truth.
Some of the best quotes representing this side of the author’s character are these (be prepared to either scream “AMEN” or be offended…your choice 😂)
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning…”
I love the fact that Lewis never beat around any bush and never sprinkled sugar on a single sentence. The job of a writer is to tell the truth. Most writers have their own way of telling truth…but Lewis just TELLS THEM if you know what I mean.
The Chronicles of Narnia are C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece. Even he adored the series and often called himself a Narnia (which is more than I could say for most authors who end up hating their characters…*cough* Doyle *cough*.) Like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Narnia follows an epic based look on Judeo-Christian themes.
C.S. Lewis, having been redeemed himself, brings to the spotlight the redemption of humankind in his books. It is easy to see how important these ideas of forgiveness and grace might have been to him. The sacrifice of Aslan to save Edmund is one of the saddest most heartbreaking motifs ever written and one of the most pivotal.
Dear old Jane. We all know her, we all love her (and if you don’t you need to read Pride and Prejudice right now!) I feel sometimes that Aunt Jane is too often stereotyped. Either fans assume her to be a old, dry, and boring old maid or a roguish, scandalous lady. I am relieved to be able to confidently report she was most likely neither.
The best Jane Austen biography I’ve ever read was Jane Austen: Christian Encounters by Peter J. Leithart. If you enjoy Austen’s books and would like to know the woman more, go read that book. It really gives an elaborate and accurate depiction of what Jane was like.
One thing that really gets at me though is the stereotype of not only Jane herself but of her work as well. My closest friends consider Austen’s books to be full of romance, nice young girls, and big houses. Are you kidding? During these time periods, Britain was mostly at war! Jane grew up in the midst of both the American and French Revolutions. And it shows in the literature.
She is constantly breaking through the social barriers put up for women and those of lesser means. Jane Austen had the ability to see through all the ridiculous facades and ideas of her period and could grab them at the root. She took these principles and exposed them in an appropriate and acceptable way. An few examples of this ability would be;
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”
“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
And she took plenty of turns to laugh at her society in her turn.
There is a BBC America advertisement that proceeds most of my favorite BBC DVDs. A humorous narrator uses drops a giant Shakespeare head into a boiling cauldron says “When you take a class written society with no ability to address its emotions and let it simmer for a thousand years you frankly have the perfect recipe for drama.”
It’s an accurate illustration.
Shakespeare is the beginning for many Brit Lit lovers. He was for me.
I’m sure I read some British books before I picked up Shakespeare but I suppose I never recognized the elements that make a book so very British until I read Romeo and Juliet. I still know the balcony scene word for word.
It’s hard to appreciate an author that sees to have been overused and, in the eyes of most people, overrated. School kids are basically forced to hate Shakespeare and his plays because of dull and pointless textbooks. Adults become biased against Shakespeare because of the many debates and theories that some find it necessary to cloud his name with.
William Shakespeare and his works aren’t something that one can allow others to judge for them. Everyone should read his plays and study for themselves. I truly believe that for every person there is at least one Shakespeare play made just for them.
Shakespeare is really something sacred. I don’t enjoy such things as where he was born (Stratford upon Avon) or when (April 1564) or all the history-textbook stuff that makes a historic figure into facts rather than a person. But I also don’t think that I can define or tell you who Shakespeare was. That’s for you to decide. Like I’ve said, Shakespeare is sacred.
There are many, many, great British authors. I have picked four that have impacted my own life and really make my British-soul-born-in-America heart throb.
Who is your favorite British author? On this list or off?