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October 22, 2008


Joseph S. O'Leary

Comments on earlier version:

Dear Fr. O'Leary:

I would like to thank you for this beautiful work of literary criticism, so full of erudition and insight, and so lacking in eisegesis (which alas, I have so often found in modern critics).

I would also like to thank you for directly addressing both Pico's and Marlowe's interest in magic; so many modern secular critics appear to have avoided that scholium of each of the above writers like the plague. Thank you also for showing me that de Lubac has written about poor Pico; I shall be attempting to get a copy of that writing, as I would be very interested in de Lubac's insights as well.

If I may suggest, and if you have not yet read them, I would recommend a trilogy of works by the late science fiction writer, James Blish: "Black Easter, or Faust Aleph-Null" and "The Day After Judgment" (two superb works of horror regarding a magician who uses the mediaeval grimoires), "Doctor Mirabilis" (a capable work of historical fiction regarding Roger Bacon) and "A Case of Conscience" (one of the works which got Blish the Hugo Award).

Blish's theme in this trilogy, which he entitles "After such knowledge. . ." regards the seeking of knowledge as a means of obtaining power, and the consequences of such a search.

I would be very interested in what you would have to say regarding these works.

Very truly yours,

Bernard Brandt

Posted by: Bernard Brandt | February 17, 2008 at 09:39 AM

Many thanks, Bernard Brandt, for your encouragement as I embark on a new topic. Thanks especially for your recommendation of James Blish. We have a Fulbright visiting professor here from April whose specialty is Science Fiction, and John Blish sounds like just the thing to fill in the void of my knowledge of this genre.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II | February 17, 2008 at 04:27 PM

If I may recommend, there are seven science fiction writers who you may find worth the trouble to read (I am of course avoiding folk like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, who have already established themselves):

Alfred Bester
James Blish
Ray Bradbury (especially his early works)
Philip Jose Farmer
Ursula K. LeGuin
Theodore Sturgeon
Roger Zelazny

All of them have the advantage of being consummate stylists who in addition tell interesting stories.

Having read science fiction for the last 40 years, I am happy to help you in avoiding the Hugo Gernsbach (i.e.: pulp fiction) quality which is almost omnipresent in the genre.

I dare say that the visiting Fulbright professor would probably recommend a few others as well: Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, etc. My reasons for excluding them is that I do not particularly like either their world view (which I find either irascible or schizophrenic) or their writing. De gustibus, and all that.

There are also some who are genuine masters of the genre, but whose mastery concerns the first noun in the phrase, "science fiction": Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, etc. You may find their writing to be too simple for your taste.

One science fiction author I particularly like, and whose writing style is truly Joycean, but who is definitely an "acquired taste", would be R. A. Lafferty (the "R. A.", by the bye, stands for Raphael Aloysius). Imagine if you will, an Irishman transplanted to Oklahoma, an elaborate autodidact who learned more than twenty languages and had a library of ten thousand volumes or more, and who then decided, at the age of 50, to start writing.


Posted by: Bernard Brandt | February 25, 2008 at 08:06 AM


"Milton lacks the qualities now considered essential in a poet: concision, humour, or romance."

SJ has forgotten his Classics, for Homer is not concise either - his two poems are as long as or longer than PL. Aristo's "Orlando Furioso" is 38,736 lines long - nearly three PLs in length. And Dante's great poem with its 14,233 lines is also longer than PL's 12,565.

People for whom Milton is too long should watch ephemeral soap-operas less, & read the great works of the great poets more.

Besides, taste is ephemeral also - Dante was all but ignored in the 18th century, then cvery popular in the 19th. When Milton finds his

"...fit audience, though few"

he will come back into favour. Those of shallow mind won't appreciate him - but he was not writing for them.

"an elaborate autodidact who...had a library of ten thousand volumes or more"

What an excellent person :)

Spirit of Vatican II

Good response to Simon Jenkins, Rat-biter (you meant to comment on the "Milton Traduced" post, though). Milton has lots of romance and humour, and is one of the most concise writers ever, so Jenkins is as wrong as wrong can be.

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