Constantine P. Cavafy’s “Ithaca” recited by Sir Sean Connery

Orchestrating Vangelis’ soaring keyboards and Sean Connery’s powerful reading of Cavafy’s poem creates an inspiring and unforgettable experience. Do yourself a favor and listen to it in its entirety. Your challenges will shrink before your eyes.

For a little refresher on the significance of the journey to Ithaca, check out the About section in this review of Robert Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey.

Want to be the Daniel Day-Lewis of writing?

Daniel Day-LewisBy Jaguar MENA

Steven McIntosh, writing in the BBC News, poses an interesting idea for writers looking for that little something extra:

Could writers benefit from the same tactics as method actors, who immerse themselves in extreme surroundings in order to prepare for a role?

Every February, as the Oscars roll around, movie fans revel in stories about actors who have gone to extreme lengths to prepare for parts.

Daniel Day-Lewis learned to track and skin animals and fight with tomahawks for The Last of the Mohicans, while, more recently, Leonardo DiCaprio plunged into an icy river and sank his teeth into a hunk of raw bison while filming the Oscar-nominated film The Revenant.

Actors going to such lengths has become more common in recent years and a cynic might argue it certainly did not harm their film’s publicity, but given the apparent success of their technique, could working in a similarly immersive way also benefit novelists?

While I’ve always thought there’s much common ground between acting and writing, what McIntosh is suggesting takes the idea a step further. I think he’s right. Knowing how to do the things you describe your characters doing certainly adds visceral detail to your story. I’m reminded of the research Jean Auel did for The Clan of The Cave Bear. Like her protagonist Ayla, Auel can weave baskets and make her own stone tools. Auel has said that mastering such skills gives her writing an “informed subjectivity” that she could not otherwise achieve. I agree.

I thoroughly enjoy researching my stories, and sometimes that involves more than simply nailing down a particular fact. Despite many years of hunting, backpacking, and hiking, I’d never rappelled before I taught myself while writing my flash fiction piece Cameron Obscura. In fact, all life experience can be put to work in your writing. My career in computer programming and artificial intelligence in the insurance industry no doubt informed my sci-fi pieces, and certainly prompted my misgivings about the dehumanizing effects of technology, as expressed in Snake Heart.

And I have no doubt that my travels in Mexico, as well as my experience with firearms and primitive weapons, livened up my novella Aztec Midnight with sensory details and authenticity you just can’t get from online research.

Maybe that crazy Daniel Day-Lewis is on to something …

The British Library

Isaac NewtonSir Isaac Newton memorial at the British Library.

Wish you could explore the world’s largest library whenever you wanted? Imagine being able to leaf through ancient books, view online exhibitions, and feast your eyes on some of Britain’s most treasured objects. Can you think of a better way to inspire your next story?

You can do just that, and you don’t have to leave home. This resource pretty much tumbled into my lap in the form of an email request from the British Library:

Hello Mike,

My name is Bryn Roberts and I’m contacting you on behalf of the British Library. I noticed recently that you have a mention of Bald’s Leechbook on the following page: https://mctuggle.com/2015/03/31/the-1000-year-old-solution/

This text is now featured as one of our online exhibits, available for all to browse on our website: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/illmanus/harlmanucoll/m/011hrl000000055u00001000.html

The manuscript is unique and sadly can no longer be handled very often due to its partly damaged state, which means it crumbles upon contact. Viewing the document electronically is now the most viable approach for those interested in it, and we have made it available to all via our website.

We would be very grateful if you could include a link to it in your article so your readers can access the original version and discover the text for themselves.

Do you think this might be possible?

Many thanks for your time.

Kind Regards,

Bryn Roberts

How could anyone refuse such an elegant and polite request? I updated my original post on the rediscovery of medical cures from the time of Beowulf. Since that post is nearly a year old (that’s ancient history on the Internet) I thought I’d also link the address in today’s post. Enjoy!

Best Fiction And Writing Blogs

Raymond Chandler

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, with advice and inspiration guaranteed to make you a literary legend. Compiled by ray.

A. J.HumpageThe Writer’s Essential Checklist
Nicola AlterGreat Books About Writing
Andrew Heisel – In Search of the Novel’s First Sentence
Becca PuglisiHow (and Why) to Write a Logline For Your Story
James Scott BellWho Are You Trying To Delight?
Abbie LuBook Door Lookbook A project both your inner bibliophile and supervillain will love.
Raymond ChandlerTen Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel

The Mysterious Presence of Tom Bombadil

Tom Bombadil

Why did J.R.R. Tolkien stick this odd figure into The Lord of the Rings? What’s Tom Bombadil’s purpose in the story?

No doubt he’s a mysterious character. Elrond, the Lord of Rivendell, confesses he knows nothing about Bombadil. Gandalf calls Bombadil “the eldest and fatherless,” and the dwarves refer to him as “the ancient” or “belonging to the ancient past.”

But theologian Dwight Longenecker argues that Bombadil is central to the theme of Tolkien’s sweeping epic, which unites Christian themes with pre-Christian European myths. Longnecker sums up Bombadil’s role in this gorgeous, remarkable paragraph:

Tom Bombadil, like paganism, is there before everything else. He represents therefore the primitive and natural instinct in man. He stands for the Neanderthal gazing in wonder at his sister the moon and his brother the sun. He points to the rustic soul connecting silently with every living thing and knowing that there is something and someone beyond. He is the child trembling at the thunder and smiling with spring rain. As such he stands for mankind, formed from the earth at one with the earth and all that is within it. He is at one with nature and at the same time the steward of creation. Tom Bombadil is simply Tom Bombadil, but if he must be compared to anyone else in the Christian cosmos, then he and Goldberry are Middle Earth’s quaint and beautiful echo of Adam and Eve.

Understanding Bombadil helps us better appreciate Tolkien’s work. By honoring and even celebrating pagan Europe, Tolkien declared that the pagan past is not some gross error or accident, nor a dead realm to be shunned or forgotten, but a vital part of who we are today. The past, says Tolkien, is full of wisdom and genuine feeling we moderns can re-discover and appreciate.

Tolkien’s theology was decidedly different from fundamentalists, such as the Puritans, who intellectualized religion and sought to “purify” themselves and the rest of society of traditional practices and beliefs. In their zeal to rid the world of its backward and sinful ways, the Puritans hung their fellow citizens as witches. How different is that mindset from today’s fundamentalists in ISIS and the Taliban, who have also declared war on what they see as a sinful, fallen world? Whether they’re blasting pre-Islamic statues or butchering “infidels,” they’re acting on their belief that the existing order must be destroyed so the One True Way can prevail.

And aren’t we guilty of the same thing when we beat ourselves up for past mistakes? Or for having made the wrong choice long ago? I’ve always believed that theology and philosophy arise from one’s self-image. Those who loathe themselves are often unforgiving toward others. Accepting your whole self means, as Dickens put it, living “in the Past, the Present, and the Future.” It’s the first step toward self-forgiveness, which leads to forgiving and loving others.

Why ‘The Force Awakens’ Is the ‘Star Wars’ Movie We Needed

Joseph CampbellReprint of Campbell’s classic with Luke Skywalker on the cover.

Some folks have criticized The Force Awakens for drawing too heavily on Star Wars: A New Hope. Writing in The Rolling Stone, David Ehrlich argues that these critics are missing the point. In The Force Awakens, Abrams is “making new” a tale that inspires and excites with each retelling:

The original 1977 movie was innovative in many respects, but it was derivative by design. In creating a galaxy far, far away, Lucas effectively draped his imagination over a constellation of yarns so familiar that they seem to have spun from the marrow of our bones. Its alchemy is nothing if not well documented: A New Hope combined the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress with the widescreen scale of Lawrence of Arabia and the Saturday morning spectacle of serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. With his 20th-century influences well in hand, Lucas then poured them like molten metal into the iron mold of the hero’s journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell, who traced the origins of modern narrative arcs back to the beginning of civilization. “I wanted a contemporary version of the myth and the fairy tale,” Lucas said in a Los Angeles Times interview published days before Star Wars first hit theaters in 1977.

Whether we’re talking about Beowulf, the Iliad, or Indiana Jones, such stories resonate because, as Ehrlich puts it, “they seem to have spun from the marrow of our bones.” Campbell stripped the heroic myth down to its barest essentials:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The heroic myth, then, is about leaving behind what was once comforting and familiar, confronting new challenges, and finding one’s place in a world that has changed in many ways, some good, some bad. But the hero now knows he can survive and thrive in that world. Sounds like growing up, doesn’t it?