Happy Birthday Joy! A Talk on Joy Davidman Lewis


  Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Joy Davidman’s birth. Joy was the inimitable wife of C.S. Lewis. It was a privilege to speak on Joy for the Inklings Fellowship Retreat held at Montreat College in Montreat, North Carolina. The Fellowship is organized by two prodigious scholars: Dr. Harry (Hal) Poe of Union University and Dr. Don King of Montreat College. Both Poe and King have published extensively on the Inklings.

Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis

Dr. Crystal Hurd

Given on April 18th, 2015 at the Inklings Fellowship Retreat in Montreat, North Carolina

In 1922, a young Oxford scholar named C.S. Lewis scribbled some verses to a narrative poem that he would later title “Dymer.” The poetic reinvention of “Dymer” was based upon a prose version originally written in 1916 (when Lewis was a mere eighteen years old) called “The Redemption of Ask.” The poetic version, which was published in 1925, chronicles the odyssey of a young man out of the territory of his youth and into a dense forest where he meets a mysterious and enchanting woman.

“He entered into a void.

Night-scented flowers

Breathed there – but this was darker than the night

That is most black with beating thunder showers,

A disembodied world where depth and height

And distance were unmade.

No seam of light Showed through.

It was a world not made for seeing.

One pure, one undivided sense of being

Though darkness smooth as amber, warily, slowly

He moved. The floor was soft beneath his feet.

A cool smell that was holy and unholy,

Sharp like the very spring and roughly sweet

Blew towards him

The same night swelled the mushroom in earth’s lap

And silvered the wet fields: it drew the bud

From hiding and led on the rhythmic sap

And sent the young wolves thirsting after blood,

And, wheeling the big seas, made ebb and flood

Along the shores of earth: and held these two

In dead sleep till the time of morning dew…”

After having an intimate encounter with his enigmatic lover (marked by a sensation he calls “holy and unholy”), she disappears and Dymer, over the next several cantos, searches for her. Eventually, he is killed by his own offspring, a product of that evening together, and becomes a god.

Let us now go forward several decades. Lewis’s final book of fiction, and one he considered his best work, is published as Till We Have Faces. In this exceptional retelling of the Cupid and Psyche romance, Lewis narrates the story from the perspective of Psyche’s sister, the queen Orual. Psyche informs Orual that the god Cupid has fallen in love with her, and that he comes to her under cover of night.

“He comes to me only in the holy darkness. He says I mustn’t – not yet – see his face or know his name. I’m forbidden to bring any light into his –our – chamber.”

“This thing that comes to you in the darkness…and you’re forbidden to see it. Holy darkness, you call it. What sort of thing? Faugh! (124)

Here we find the same scenario, but two very different characters experiencing the same “holy” coupling. In the first, a male operating on adrenaline and hormones, has a complicated encounter with a mysterious female. In the second, the female encounters a secretive male who is her husband. Before Orual’s insistence on discovering his identity, Psyche is comfortable leaving his face in darkness. Dymer becomes a god, while Orual eventually forfeits her selfish appetite for power to the one true God. Dymer reflects an earlier version of Lewis, a version contaminated by the “Christina Dreams,” in which fantasies corrupt real love and companionship. Till We Have Faces not only illustrates Lewis’s talent of narrating outside gender, but also illuminates the importance of humility in revealing our true motivations and intentions. So what significant force provided such a shift in tone?

Enter Joy Davidman.

Joy served as the “midwife” for Till We Have Faces. In fact, the book is dedicated to her, as the creative collaborator behind the book. Lewis nurtured the idea of retelling the romance for many years, and with Joy’s encouragement and assistance, Lewis was able to complete it. So who is this mysterious woman, who emerged from the dense “forests” of New York to alter the life and works of confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis? Essentially, she was a divorced ex-communist ex-patriot poet. Sounds like a great match for England’s beloved children’s author and most famous lay theologian, yes?

But Joy Davidman was much more than that. In the past, certain scholars have accused Joy of exploiting Lewis, of being “gold digger,” only marrying Lewis for the financial stability while he financed the educations of her two sons, with writer Bill Gresham. Some feel that the clandestine civil marriage between Lewis and Davidman, completed simply for extending his British citizenship so Davidman would not be deported, was an attempt to steal his fame or tarnish his reputation. More often, she is framed as the literary death knell, removing him from the company of his Inkling friends, while absorbing his time and attention. And all this from the woman whose death inspired the richly written lamentation known as A Grief Observed, in which Lewis calls her his mistress and muse.

As Lyle Dorsett writes in his work chronicling Joy’s life, And God Came In, Joy came of age in the turbulence of New York City in the 1920s.  Her mother Jeanette descended from affluent Jewish merchants who had abandoned their home in the Ukraine, migrating like thousands of others to the “promised land” of America.   Jeanette, essentially, was historically Jewish.  However, her husband Joseph Davidman was an atheist who restrained his untraditional views to ensure peace in his household; Dorsett identifies it as a “tepid indifference” to Judaism.  As educators and voracious readers, Joy’s parents fostered an appetite for knowledge into Joy and her younger brother Howard.  During the summer, it was not uncommon for Joy and Howard to visit the library nearly every day, although her parents maintained an impressive library in their home. Among the works that Davidman read was George MacDonald’s Phantasies.

However, Joy’s early life was extremely difficult.  Her father was cantankerous and overbearing.  Some family members recall Joseph blowing a whistle to summon his children “in the fashion of trained dogs”.  Joy, forever the doting daughter, attempted to win her father’s affection.  A bright, receptive student, Joy excelled in academics. Although she suffered from a crooked spine, Graves Disease and hyperthyroidism, which contributed to excessive school absences, her grades were largely unaffected. She was soon recognized as a poet with the publication of her poem “Resurrection” (a poem shaped by religious themes, although Joy described it as a “private argument with Jesus”). In addition to a demanding father and nagging illnesses, Joy and her brother Howard endured the “demons of anti-Semitism” which plagued them nearly everywhere they went, even when they travelled throughout the United States on holidays and vacations.

Joy eventually matriculated to Hunter’s College, a tuition-free women’s college located in the Bronx.  Joy thrived there; she quickly found her youthful love of books had matured into an abiding love of literature and language.  Joy was already “proficient” in German and Latin, learned French in college, and taught herself Greek in her spare time.  She also began crucial friendships with other students of the literary persuasion, including novelist Bel Kaufman.  While at Hunter’s, Joy served as associate editor of the literary magazine Echo while participating in the English club and Sigma Tau Delta, the national English studies honorary society.  Joy published a story in Echo titled “Apostate” in which a young Jewish woman elopes with a Christian to avoid an arranged marriage to a “weak man”. The woman is baptized into the Christian faith so she may wed, but the wedding is disrupted by her family who violently beat her as her “husband” looks on and the pastor escapes. The story won the Bernard Cohen Short Story Prize that year. After graduation, she obtained employment as an English teacher at Walton High School.  She also decided to pursue a Master’s degree in English at Columbia University.


Her towering academic achievements were unfortunately overshadowed by major cultural shifts.  The Great Depression ravaged the overcrowded, unemployed residents of New York.  Some predicted a slow, yet steady pace of national rehabilitation, but the hopelessness, for some, was too much to bear.  One afternoon before her graduation in 1934, Joy watched in horror as a young woman on an adjoining building plunged to her death. The girl had leapt to her demise after struggling unsuccessfully with depression and hunger. Joy interpreted this as a byproduct of the growing capitalistic society upon which many staked the precarious recovery of the American economy.

Although Joy had never experienced the pangs of hunger and poverty, she felt a deep compassion stirring for those less fortunate. Dorsett writes that “…her anger grew increasingly at the insanity and callousness of a society that dumped potatoes in the ocean, burned wheat, and poured lime on oranges, while millions of people were unemployed, malnourished, and forced to stand in soup lines and sort through refuse in garbage cans for sustenance” (21). These images, coupled with her increasing animosity toward greedy corporations, eventually led Joy to join the Communist party. Joy resigned from her teaching position in 1937 to devote more time to writing. Earlier, in 1936, some of Joy’s poems were published in Poetry magazine.  This connection would eventually lead her to a friendship with celebrated novelist and poet Stephen Vincent Benet.  Benet headed the Younger Poet Series for Yale University Press. When Joy submitted nearly fifty poems for the competition, she won and found a quick admirer in Benet. These works were published by Yale University Press as Letters to a Comrade in 1938. The following year, Joy won the Russell Loines Award for Poetry, a prestigious award that she shared with Robert Frost. During this time, at the behest of Benet, Joy spent time at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.  This colony utilized the concept of collaboration and encouragement among writers and artists to produce and refine good art.  It served as an artistic catalyst as well as a retreat from the tumultuous society surrounding them.  Much like the Romantics of the nineteenth century, these artists sought repose and restoration through nature as anodynes for the treacherous stranglehold of modern life. Former members of MacDowell include author Willa Cather and poet Sara Teasdale.  If writers and artists were selected for the colony, they were expected to pay their own expenses, although impoverished ones could still attend with the assistance of philanthropic donations provided by wealthy businessmen and politicians such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and President Grover Cleveland. Ironically, Joy used her time at MacDowell to rail against the evils of capitalism (although she was not a sworn Communist yet) while some of her associates attended only through the generous sponsorship of corporations!  MacDowell Colony proved to be artistically beneficial for Joy.  She published a novel, Anya, in 1938. A second novel, Weeping Bay, followed later in 1950. Joy soon became a sworn communist and spent much creative energy contributing to the communist publication New Masses; she also worked a stint in Hollywood writing scripts. Joy eventually met and married fellow writer William (Bill) Lindsay Gresham.


The couple lived in utter poverty, struggling to make ends meet through literary endeavors. Joy had two sons – David and Douglas – but Bill’s alcoholism and unfaithfulness were wearing on Joy. With no coping mechanism for the increasing strain on his family and finances, Bill Gresham began to spiral out of control.  One fateful night, Bill called Joy exclaiming that he was having a “nervous breakdown”.  He  “couldn’t stay where he was” but “couldn’t bring himself to come home”.  Then he hung up the phone.  Joy was frantic.  She calmly put her boys to bed, then spent the evening on the phone attempting to locate Bill to no avail. She writes in her essay “The Longest Way Round”:

By nightfall there was nothing left to do but wait and see if he turned up, alive or dead. I put the babies to sleep and waited.  For the first time in my life I felt helpless; for the first time my pride was forced to admit that I was not, after all, “the master of my own fate” and “the captain of my soul”. All my defenses – the walls of arrogance and cocksureness and self-love behind which I hid from God – went down momentarily.  And God came in.  – From Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman (Ed. Don W. King).

Joy writes that she felt “a Person” in the room with her that night. She also admits that, a year or so prior to this occurrence, she had begun reading fantasy works which had led her to C.S. Lewis; Joy specifically cites The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, and The Great Divorce as particularly influential. These works provided Joy not only with entertainment, but with intellectual stimulation in a curious, new direction – the rational argument for faith, a faith she had previously dismissed.  That night, overwhelmed by the lack of control over her family life, Joy felt the philosophical foundation shifting beneath her feet.  The fortifications of her atheism were collapsing, and the origin of her wanderlust was being revealed to her. The towering presence of Truth was educating her at this moment.   She could no longer deny that God didn’t exist. After several days, Bill returned home and found a new woman. Joy renounced atheism and began attending church. She indulged her interests in religious philosophy and Christian dogma, seeing it not as a complicated enigma teeming with restrictions and empty litanies uttered to concrete gods, but as an unnamed pulse of life surging through mankind offering liberation and a renewed appreciation for beauty. She befriended professor Chad Walsh, who maintained a robust correspondence with none other than C.S. Lewis.  Fascinated and grateful to Lewis, Joy began a correspondence with him in 1950Joy mentions in “The Longest Way Round”:

“I went back to C.S. Lewis and learned from him, slowly, how I had gone wrong. Without his works, I wonder if I and many others might not still be infants “crying in the night’” (95).

The experience influenced her next novel, Weeping Bay.  Although Joy was ecstatic over the spiritual changes occurring within her, it did little to repair her marriage.  Bill was still drinking and began to dapple in Buddhism while Joy was exploring and practicing orthodox Christianity. In August 1952, she sailed to England “to consult one of the clearest thinkers of our time for help”. She stayed with a friend, Phyllis Williams, while in London and arranged to meet Lewis in Oxford at the Eastgate Hotel.  The visit was a rousing good time.


Warnie loved Joy – her quick wit, her boundless sense of humor, her keen intellect.  Joy returned to stay at The Kilns during Christmas. The Lewis men immensely enjoyed Joy’s visit.  Joy and Lewis discussed her upcoming book Smoke on the Mountain. That Christmas, Lewis gave Joy a copy of George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul with an initial inscription from George MacDonald, followed by “Later: from C.S. Lewis to Joy Davidman, Christmas 1952″.

Joy had a rapturous time at The Kilns, but the tone changed significantly when a letter arrived from Bill. Joy’s cousin Renee was looking after her sons during her voyage and English holiday.  Bill admitted that he had fallen in love with Renee and recommended that he and Joy file for divorce. Distressed and confused, Joy asked Lewis for guidance; Lewis ultimately agreed with Bill and suggested a divorce. In late November, Joy moved, with her sons in tow, to England.  Her marriage was dissolving but Joy was happy to be “a transplant”. She struggled to provide for her family, as Bill’s child support checks were insufficient and often unpredictable. She maintained her friendship with Lewis, even later obtaining a residence in Headington, near The Kilns. Lewis would visit “every day” with many visits lasting “until eleven at night”.

Although many maintain that Joy “forced herself” on Lewis because she needed financial assistance, these visits were prompted by Lewis, not by Joy. In the summer of 1955, Chad and Eva Walsh visited Lewis and Joy and “smelled marriage in the air”. However, Lewis endorsed the Church of England edict which claims that marriages are holy unions and cannot be dissolved, and thus remarriage was impossible. Nonetheless, Lewis eventually fell in love with Joy.  Some of his friends disapproved of the union, partially because of the Church’s views concerning divorce and partly because Joy was known to be brassy and outspoken, an often unwelcomed contradiction to the more reserved British personality. For example, Joy describes attending a debate along with detective novelist Dorothy Sayers in a letter dated October 29, 1954. She writes,

“Dorothy Sayers was at the debate too; she’s enormously witty and a very eloquent speaker, a forthright old lady who wears rather mannish clothes and doesn’t give a damn about her hairdo. Mother said if brains made a woman look like that she was glad she wasn’t intellectual” (223)

Despite this propensity for brutal honesty, it was obvious that Joy was passionately in love and that Lewis was developing mutual feelings for her.  Joy composed love sonnets, most likely written in 1952 during her initial visit to England.  According to the poems, Lewis at first rebuffs Joy’s advances by claiming that he preferred blondes. Perhaps it was the humor of an old bachelor, but Joy is deeply distraught by this dismissal. The theme emerges in several of the sonnets.


 As many now know, thanks to the romantic yet hyperbolic film Shadowlands, Joy’s residential permit was not renewed by the British Home Office.  To extend his British citizenship, Lewis generously married Joy in a civil ceremony on April 23, 1956.  Lewis kept the affair quiet, fearing criticism and disapproval from his colleagues and friends. Joy was then diagnosed with cancer (originating from radium treatments for her thyroid condition when she was young).  She began evasive cancer treatments.  The illness proved to be a turning point for Lewis; he realized that he truly did love Joy.  Furthermore, he wanted to seal a commitment before God.  There were married at her hospital bedside on March 21, 1957.  After this, Joy experienced a period of brief but wonderful convalescence. They honeymooned in Wales and Ireland.  Later they spent twelve glorious days in Greece with Roger and June Green. Although viewed as coy and intangible to Joy at first, Lewis finally warmed to Joy and a beautiful romance blossomed.


Joy writes in a letter dated February 28, 1957: “All I really care about is having a bit of life with Jack and getting adequately on my feet for it. He has been growing more attached to me steadily – is now, I think, even more madly in love with me that I with him, which is saying plenty – and give dear Georgie Sentman my love and tell him he was wrong about the intellectual Englishman’s supposed coldness. The truth about these blokes is that they are like H-bombs; it takes something like an ordinary atom bomb to start them off, but when they’re started – Whee! See the pretty fireworks! He is mucho hombre, my Jack!” (308-309) Joy quickly transformed The Kilns from a bachelor pad complete with ash burns on the carpet and black-out drapes to a habitable abode. Not only did Joy busy herself with redecorating, she also engaged in home security measures by brandishing a shotgun.


Perhaps Lewis admitted that he was not a pacifist, but he certainly was a reluctant marksman. Lewis was opposed to using weapons in threatening trespassers, yet Joy proudly purchased a shotgun to protect the property. Douglas Gresham tells us in Lenten Lands that on one occasion when stubborn poachers refused to leave, Joy retrieved her gun immediately. Lewis stepped in front of her to offer protection (as any chivalrous man would do), to which Joy emphatically yelled, “Damn it Jack, get out of my line of fire!” (85).


Unfortunately the shadow of cancer returned. Joy was in a wheelchair, but still gregarious and lively, playing Scrabble and chatting frequently with Lewis. Despite all of the optimism, all knew, including Joy, that the time was at hand. Joy passed away on July 13 1960. Although their marriage had been brief, it was an experience which made Lewis incandescently happy. The loss shook him to his very core.  His reflections on Joy’s death were later published as A Grief Observed. Lewis writes:

“For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was [Joy] not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me…There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them.  It is arrogance in us to call frankness, fairness, and chivalry ‘masculine’ when we see them in a woman; it is arrogance in them to describe a man’s sensitiveness or tact or tenderness as ‘feminine.’ But also what poor warped fragments of humanity most mere men and mere women must be to make the implications of that arrogance plausible.  Marriage heals this.  Jointly the two become fully human. ‘In the image of God created He them. Thus, by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes.”

As Lewis illuminates, Joy’s influence is undeniable. Joy, along with other female friends such as Dorothy Sayers, Ruth Pitter, and Sister Penelope, assisted Lewis is realigning his perspective on females and feminine depictions.  Notice in earlier Lewis works how women are generally characterized. As we have seen in “Dymer,” she is the mysterious temptress who gives birth to a beast. In Lewis’s first post-conversion work A Pilgrim’s Regress she is both the temptress of the “brown girl” but also “Wisdom” personified. Many have argued that this illustrates Lewis’s strong dislike for women, framing them as “Eves” or intangible ideals. However, if we investigate testimonies of the women Lewis actually corresponded with, we find a very different portrayal.

His friend and poetess Ruth Pitter wrote in a letter to Walter Hooper on 13 January 1969:

It is a pity that he made his first (and perhaps biggest) impact with Screwtape, in which some women are only too well portrayed in their horrors, rather like Milton’s Satan – it is this perhaps that has made people think he hated us? But even here, the insight is prodigious…I would say he was a great and very perspicacious lover of women, from poor little things right up to the “Lady” in Perelandra. I think he touched innumerable women to the heart here – I know he did me…Surely the shoals of letters he got from women (as he told me) must show how great was his appeal to them: nobody’s going to tell me these were hate-letters. (239)  

Additionally, several of Lewis’s female students at Oxford were very complimentary of him. Rosamund Cowan writes in In Search of C.S. Lewis,

It was a joy to study with Lewis. He treated us like queens. I think Pat Thompson and I were the first women students he had. He had perfect manners, always standing up when we came in. And he brought to everything a remarkable original approach. At first we were a bit frightened as he had a reputation of being a “man’s man.” We rather thought he would be a bit down on women. Actually he was delightful. He told me I reminded him of a Shakespearean heroine – a compliment I’ve always cherished. He certainly treated me like one. (62)

We see a distinct change progressing through the space trilogy (composed in the late 30s and 40s). There is a more nuanced, more complex portrait of women, from the “Green Lady” who is full of love and light in Perelandra, to the stubborn Jane Studdock and the ladies of St. Anne’s and extending to Miss “Fairy” Hardcastle, head of the N.I.C.E.  Institutional Police. Later we see major shifts illustrated in each installment of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy, the girl with indomitable faith who leads the group through the Wardrobe to Narnia and later through unfamiliar terrain in Prince Caspian, Susan the queen who eventually get tangled up in the modern day world and forgets about Narnia. Then there is the headstrong protagonist from The Horse and His Boy Aravis, the careful and caring friend to Digory, Polly Plummer from The Magician’s Nephew, and the courageous Jill in The Silver Chair. Lewis provides the reader with a wide variation of female characters. This progression correlates, if unintentionally, with his growing correspondence with women. The later installments of Narnia, as well as Till We Have Faces, illustrate the collaborative benefits of Joy’s expertise. One very notable character from The Magician’s Nephew is Helen, the cabbie’s wife who becomes the first queen of Narnia. Helen is Joy’s name, and this is a sign of her ultimate creative influence as she is incorporated into the fabric of the Narnia stories.


It is also noteworthy to mention that Lewis influenced Joy’s writings as well. Their marriage was one of creative reciprocity. In addition to Smoke on the Mountain, Joy was working on a book concerning “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and thanks to Warnie’s encouragement, a book on Madame do Maintenon. She writes on February 19, 1954… “Warnie keeps suggesting that I collaborate with him on a life of Madame do Maintenon, Louis XIV’s morganatic wife. She’s never been done, and she’s fascinating – a noblewoman born in the workhouse, spending a mysterious girlhood in the West Indies, coming back and marrying a paralyzed poet and wit, later becoming the governess of the king’s illegitimate children and catching the king! She was interested in education for women, founded a girls’ school, and used to pop out of the kind’s bed at dawn to go and get the little ones up and take a few classes herself. Wow!” (179-180). Unfortunately, this book, as well as the book on the Seven Virtues, was never published, with drafts and notes currently housed at the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois.

Although much evidence exists to prove Joy’s influence on Lewis’s later work, Lewis scholarship has a tendency to diminish, if not completely dismiss, Joy’s contribution to Lewis’s personal happiness and creative trajectory. Joy served as a sounding board, an editor, and literary catalyst. Joy had always considered herself possessing this role. She writes on April 29th, 1955:

“I don’t kid myself in these matters – whatever my talents as an independent writer, my real gift is as a fort of editor-collaborator like Max Perkins, and I’m happiest when I’m doing something like that. Though I can’t write one-tenth as well as Jack, I can tell him how to write more like himself! He is not about three-quarters of the way through his new book (what I’d give for that energy!) and says he finds my advice indispensable.” (246)

Joy has been portrayed as a communist seducer, a comfortable commuter of coat-tails, and one prominent scholar even referenced her as a “gold digger.” But the literature proves that Joy was none of these. Lewis financially assisted Joy, but letters show that she reluctantly accepted the help, and often with much remorse. Many scholars support their arguments by expressing the sentiments of Lewis’s friends, J.R.R. Tolkien among them, who was suspicious of the union.

Perhaps the origin of such irritation for many of Lewis’s friends was that Joy was a rather progressive (some might even say feminist) voice for her time. Much like Lewis’s mother Flora Lewis, Joy was an unconventional female. She was a celebrated poet, as Lewis desired to be. She challenged him and simultaneously inspired him to think in new and diverse ways, which is reflected in the depth of his later work. Her marriage to Lewis was treated with the utmost respect. Joy knew the substantial risk but emotional nourishment that marriage can deliver. She viewed marriage through the lens of Christ and yet with the shrewd consciousness of a modern woman.


In her monumental book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments, she stresses the importance of a marriage in a chapter on adultery, a painful experience that she knew all too well:

“Every statement our Lord made about sexuality works to protect women and to awaken men to their own responsibilities. Condemning adultery, he yet forgave the adulteresses who repented and loved God, and denounced the lustful and loveless men who caused them to sin. Perhaps that, in itself, is enough to prove Him more than a man. For throughout history even the best of men have usually sought to shift the blame for their sexual weaknesses to the women. “the Woman tempted me and I did eat!” cried the father of the tribe, and “The woman tempted me!” has been the cry ever since, whenever someone ate where he should not. True enough, most women try to be as tempting as they can. But what Jesus, and later Paul, pointed out was that, although men are not always free agents in love, they are still on the whole far more free than the women are” (89). But at the heart of Smoke on the Mountain, Joy always returns to the theme of love:  “For many contemporaries God has dwindled into a noble abstraction, a tendency of history, a goal of evolution; has thinned out into a concept useful for organization world peace – a good thing as an idea. But not the Word made flesh, who died for us and rose again from the dead. Not a Personality that a man can feel any love for. And not, certainly, the eternal Love, who took the initiative and fell in love with us.” (132)

That love, one originated from the Creator and contagiously spread throughout humanity has a transformative power. It allows us to express love and compassion for one another, which ultimately changes us:

“The difficulty is to love men for what they are – members of yourself in the eternal body of mankind – and at the same time to make them better than they are, through love.”

An interesting correlation emerges when we examine Joy’s perspective of love. Joy was also an admirer of the works of Lewis’s Inkling friend, Charles Williams. In fact, she was invited to give a speech about Williams to Oxford student on February 26, 1956 (278). Williams had an interesting perspective on theological matters, and perhaps his most unique theory is that of Romantic Theology. Borrowing from the wisdom of poets such as William Wordsworth, Williams extrapolates on various aspects of his theory, as well as establishing a literary precedent in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Williams essentially argues that being united in marriage is an extension of God, and thus reflects God’s love for us to the degree that an individual communes with God during intercourse. For more information on this, please visit Sorina Higgins extraordinary blog chronicling the life and works of Charles Williams titled The Oddest Inkling. She specifically references romantic theology in a post comically titled “Jesus is Your Wife.”

So now, let us revisit the first images we evoked, not of a disillusioned Dymer traipsing through peculiar territory, but of a two spouses, one a mortal, one a god, tucked away in a strange and wonderful palace. Of a love expressed, despite uncertainty, in what Charles Williams would deem and Lewis and Joy would concur as a “holy” union, where God is glimpsed in the joining of two souls. Where perhaps, we can understand God more clearly by loving one of his creatures, and by loving, improve ourselves. This is what marriage was for C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. It was intellectual admiration, then an abiding fondness, and finally a spiritual convergence. And after death has ravaged the body, has torn lovers from their embrace, and the widower commenced his mourning, what then?

Then there is renewal. Then “like cast off clothes” she has left but only to “resume” them bathed in a different, but equally wonderful kind of holiness. Joy writes in what is considered one of her most moving verses, “Yet One More Spring” that there is perennial value in her death.


Yet One More Spring

What will come of me

After the fern has feathered from my brain

And the rosetree out of my blood; what will come of me

In the end, under the rainy locustblossom

Shaking its honey out on springtime air

Under the wind, under the stooping sky?

What will come of me and shall I lie

Voiceless forever in earth and unremembered,

And be forever the cold green blood of flowers

And speak forever with the tongue of grass

Unsyllabled, and sound no louder

Than the slow falling downward of white water,

And only speak the quickened sandgrain stirring,

Only the whisper of the leaf unfolding,

Only the tongue of leaves forever and ever?

Out of my heart the bloodroot,

Out of my tongue the rose,

Out of my bone the jointed corn,

Out of my fiber trees,

Out of my mouth a sunflower,

And from my fingers vines,

And the rank dandelion shall laugh from my loins

Over million seeded earth; but out of my heart,

Core of my heart, blood of my heart, the bloodroot

Coming to lift a petal in peril of snow

Coming to dribble from a broken stem

Bitterly the bright color of blood forever.

But I would be more than a cold voice of flowers

And more than water, more than spouting earth

Under the quiet passion of the spring;

I would leave you the trouble of my heart

To trouble you at evening; I would perplex you

With lightning coming and going about my head,

Outrageous signs, and wonder; I would leave you

The shape of my body filled with images,

The shape of my mind filled with imaginations,

The shape of myself. I would create myself

In a little fume of words and leave my words

After my death to kiss you forever and ever.

This morning, we can answer this question. What will come of you Joy Davidman Lewis? Joy will be rightly recognized as a profound poet, as a creative collaborative, an erudite editor, and most importantly as a beloved daughter of God, whose writings gently remind us that love is a gift and that faith, in eternity and in mankind, is a flame never extinguished.

Further Reading

Joy’s Works

Letters to a Comrade Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments Anya Weeping Bay


And God Came In – Lyle Dorsett (Amazon link)

Out of my Bone: The Letters of Joy DavidmanEd. Don King (Amazon link)

Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis – Doug Gresham (Amazon link)

Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman– Brian Sibley (Amazon link)


Yet One More Spring: A Critical Study of Joy Davidman– Don King (Amazon link)

A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis and Other Poems – Don King, Ed. (Amazon link)

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis – Abigail Santamaria (Amazon link)

Women and C.S. Lewis: What his life and literature reveal for today’s culture – Carolyn Curtis, Mary Key, Eds. (Amazon link)

A Story in 1500 Words…

Black Gold


Crystal Hurd*

There was a loud wail and an agonizing push. The mother lay sweating and screaming, her divided legs steadied against the bedframe. The contractions were coming quicker now. Catherine stood stoic and focused, calling for more rags warmed by the fireplace. From the dark womb came a flailing limb. Breach birth, Catherine thought. Just like those Henderson boys, always making an entrance. The young midwife chuckled to herself, and then took a deep breath to muster confidence. She courageously thrust both hands up through the birth canal and pulled her nephew, feet first, out into the crooked world. The boy was limp in her arms. There was no rowdy rejoicing. She balanced the slippery infant across her arm, cradling his delicate skull in her palm. Robert, her stocky brother-in-law, was wiping his wife’s face with an old rag and uttering assurances. The whole family seemed to hold its collective breath as Catherine placed her fatiguing finger in the baby’s mouth to remove any hindrance to the airway. Please, please cry, she silently prayed. The cheeks were blush and warm, which was indeed promising. After a moment of hushed expectancy, the child finally opened his mouth and weakly moaned. Then it slowly began to squirm, a drowsy sleeper coming to life. A sudden inhalation and then he began to cry, shrill and forceful. It filled the thick air like an angelic chorus. Smiles spread across the room. Whispered prayers of gratitude echoed around her. She handed the fragile infant off to her beaming sister and headed to the front porch, sweeping sweat and auburn wisps of hair from her damp brow.

Amber filled the morning sky. The drizzle had finally stopped. A triumphant sun was melting darkness behind the Appalachian horizon of White Ash groves. Catherine stepped out into the autumn fog, inhaling a familiar mixture of mountain air with hints of chimney smoke. She knew it was going to be a long night. For seven long hours, Catherine wrestled with the child, and after seeing the smile brighten her sister’s face, she could finally allow the nervousness to leave her. She was worried however. Worried that her sister’s family was already suffering.  The long hours slaving beneath God’s Earth and the company store’s ever-inflating prices. And in the midst of all of this turmoil, another beautiful child emerges like sunbeams perforating the darkest storm cloud. She needed water and fresh air. Her niece Lily quietly led her to the old water pump, where Catherine began to wash the blood and afterbirth from her slender arms. Crickets chirped their staccato notes in unison while Lily raised and lowered the squeaky arm, coaxing a burst of cold water from the rusty nozzle. An eerie silence began to settle.

“Well, are you happy for a new brother?”

The girl was quiet for a moment. Catherine could tell that she was deciding if she would be honest, or give an answer her momma would expect her to give. She began inspecting her worn shoes, head hanging and shoulders slouched with sadness.

“Naw,” she said softly.

“No? But you will have a new baby to play with. And someone to help you with the chores later on.”

Lily lifted her head and peered straight into Catherine’s eyes. “It’s just another mouth.  We only got so much scrip a month. Now I gotta split it with that baby.”

And just like a guilty confessor, she turned away, ashamed to have uttered such an awful truth. Catherine never realized that the child didn’t see the birth as a blessing, but as an opponent for survival. Eight years old and already sobered to the cold realities of poverty. A strange pause resumed between the two of them. Catherine wished to respond, but her tongue was fixed. She shivered as the water trickled down her aching limbs.

Suddenly, there was a loud shout. Up out of the bend came a woman, breathless from staggering through the brush, her hem and boots trimmed in mud. She screamed Catherine’s name. “Catherine! Catherine! Oh God. Please come down to the mine. There’s been an explosion. Our boys are inside.” Instinctually, Catherine broke into a sprint down the weeded path toward the windy gravel road. Virgil was in there.

She had met and married him just six months ago. Virgil was tall, lanky, and dark-haired.  He was Robert’s brother, and as strong as an ox. She saw him coming out of the local diner, squinting in the spring sunlight. He had the proud gait of a man who worked for his keep. She remembered thinking how ravishing he was. She was instantly smitten. Within a month, they asked a local preacher to marry them. It was a humble ceremony, but Catherine was incandescently happy. When the papers began to speak of economic distress and plummeting stocks, Catherine fought to remain optimistic. Even in moments when she was plagued with doubt, he soothed her with his solemn promise, “I will always take care of you, Cat.”

All of those lovely memories lingered in her mind as she ran full tilt through the wild, unbridled woodland. She was gasping for air, lungs sore and heaving, but refused to slow her pace. The aroma of wet leaves filled her nostrils. Tears escaped her eyes, leaving wet trails on her temples as the wind rushed against her face. She was close now. The faded tipple rose sharp against the rolling West Virginia hills, creating a towering shadow as Catherine stumbled toward the mine. As she approached, an onlooker swirled around and she heard her name murmured among the crowd. It was an ominous sight – an assembly of neighbors flocking toward the mine shaft as vultures hover around a fresh tragedy.

“Catherine, Catherine. I think they’re bringing Virgil up,” a man assured.  Foreign noises came from the entrance. The mountain coughed black dust and bodies as the hours passed.

One by one, they began to emerge. Twelve in all. With each body came a mingling of sorrow and renewed anxiety. “There are two more,” a mine worker exclaimed. Catherine felt the blood rush from her face, replaced by an abiding numbness.

Just then, the black mouth of the accursed cave belched out a thin, charcoaled man on a makeshift stretcher. His heavy boots were leading the rest of his body, bloodied and unresponsive as the workers wrenched him free from the bowels of the Earth. Although he was covered in dust, his gold wedding band shimmered in the morning sunlight. Catherine took one look as his sober, lifeless face and knew. No coating of filth can hide the unmistakable expression of death. His face looked strangely serene. His mouth was relaxed; his brow no longer furrowed with apprehension. She took his face in her trembling hands and caressed it for the last time.

Three days later, he was buried in his best suit, imported from Charleston for their wedding at the First Baptist Church. Before his brethren returned Virgil to the ground, she removed his ring and placed it on chain. It swung quietly on her neck as the ladies ascended the steep hill toward the cemetery, a mournful procession of widows with puffy eyes and wardrobes of black. The babies cried and the children grasped their mommas’ legs. The whole scene – the willow trees planted along the graveyard’s gentle slope, these tired women dressed in dark clothes, the preacher’s soft baritone describing the sting of grief and promise of everlasting peace – was blurred by the overwhelming ache of loss. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. To return to the ground in which they had once worked by sweat and headlamps. But the light was now extinguished and the darkness which gave them sustenance had now enveloped them.

Later, the mine officials made a statement about the accident. They blamed the whole thing on the mistakes of the team lead, now lying with the rest of his crew. How appropriate, Catherine thought bitterly. Blaming the dead.

Eventually, Catherine was forced to move in with her sister. In preparation, she sifted through the remains of her brief marriage and recalled fondly Virgil’s strong hands, his gentle voice and a silhouette weaving through the pre-dawn mist, supple shoulders heavy with exhaustion. Then the tears began anew.

Within a few days, checks of consolation arrived. The squeak of screen doors opening and a brief exchange. There was the ominous knock. Catherine arose from the sofa to greet the coiffed, clean-shaven man from the coal company. He smiled faintly as he placed the manila envelope in the Catherine’s hand. He muttered some generic condolences. Then, as quickly and indifferently as he had arrived, he turned and walked away. Like a modern Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the whole affair.

Catherine cringed. Did the company really think this would suffice? She had crawled into bed that night and every night since, shaken with grief. She reached out for Virgil’s muscular arm, for his warm torso, but seized only darkness. Nothing remained but the unsatisfied longing. And the loneliness was supposed to be remedied by this cursed check? The thought was so absurd she nearly laughed as the man descended the stairs and vanished.

The infant is strong now. Lily has begun to smile again. The children anticipate Christmas in the valley.

Catherine emerges from the house, belly swollen, and raises her eyes to the morning sun. _______________________________________________________________________________________ *This story is the intellectual property of Crystal Hurd. Any reproduction, without author permission, is discouraged and will be reported.

Crystal Hurd: thatlewislady@gmail.com

Hobbits and Joy: The Latest News…


Hello all!

I have been hard at work on several projects this year, hence the relative online silence (except for my contributions at All Nine Muses and Legendarium). I am planning a new Lewis series very soon on the blog, so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out a recent roundtable on the Hobbit that I did with William O’Flaherty, Charlie Starr, and Brenton Dickieson. The podcast, a two-part broadcast discussing the movies versus the film, can be found here: http://allaboutjack.podbean.com/e/the-hobbit-movies-vs-the-book-part-1/

Also, I am ecstatic to announce that I will be speaking at the annual meeting for the Inklings Fellowship in Montreat, North Carolina!

This amazing conference is organized by Dr. Hal Poe and Dr. Don King. The theme this year is “The Inklings and the Ladies.” Come join us as we celebrate Joy Davidman’s 100th birthday. Also speaking will be the renowned Inkling scholar Colin Duriez. If you have watched the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings, you should recognize Colin from the scholarly interviews. If you want to join us, visit the site for the Inklings Fellowship here:


and listen to a podcast about the Montreat Retreat on All about Jack here:


Stay tuned for more news soon!

From our home to yours…Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Crystalhurd.com!


Image courtesy of madisonweeklynews.com

In all of the hustle and bustle of this holiday, let us remember that Christ came to offer us hope. In the midst of chaos, of uncertainty and national/international strife. God is here. Emmanuel – God with us.

Many blessings for this holiday from the Hurd family to yours!


Interview with Crystal at Wardrobe Door!



Hello friends!

I was very excited to do an interview with Aaron Earls @wardrobedoor over at the fantastic site Wardrobe Door.

I am also in the company of some incredible Lewis scholars and mere Christians. Check out my interview, other interviews, and GREAT blogs at WARDROBE DOOR.


Battle of the [Six] Blogs: All That is Gold Does Not Glitter



Recently, I was asked by Brenton Dickieson of A Pilgrim in Narnia to participate in The Battle of the Five Blogs. It is not technically a battle per se, merely an exchange of ideas, a dialogue, about Tolkien and the recent release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. There are some other fantastic folks in this with me whose bios, links, and social media handles are listed below:

Brenton Dickieson of A Pilgrim in Narnia

Brenton Dickieson (@BrentonDana) is a faith, fantasy, and fiction blogger here at www.aPilgrimInNarnia.com. He teaches religious studies at the University of Prince Edward Island and Maritime Christian College, and is working on a PhD in Theology and Literature at the University of Chester.

Sorina Higgins of The Oddest Inkling

(here is her review on The Battle of the Five Armies for Christianity Today)

Sørina Higgins (@Oddest_Inkling) is an English teacher, writer, editor, and Inklings scholar. The Oddest Inkling is an exploration of the works of poet Charles Williams (1886-1945). See her work as a whole at www.SorinaHiggins.com.

James Moffat of A Tolkienist’s Perspective

James Moffett (@TolkienistView) is currently reading for an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. He is interested in all aspects of writing and filmmaking. When not working, he’s either attempting to write poetry and opinion pieces, producing experimental short films, or reading. A Tolkienist’s Perspective is meant to be an online haven for other Tolkien enthusiasts.

Matthew Rettino of The Vinciolo Journal

Matthew Rettino (@MatthewRettino) studies at McGill University in the English MA program, where he researches contemporary Canadian fantasy, and works on short stories and a historical fantasy novel in his spare time. The Vinciolo Journal includes various book reviews, essays, art, and poetry related to his research and creative endeavours.

Kat Sas of Raving Sanity

Katherine Sas (@Katherine_Sas) graduated from Messiah College in 2009 with a B.A. in English Literature. Kat is a student of all things arts and humanities, in particular Tolkien, the Inklings, and the fantastic and imaginative tradition in storytelling. Raving Sanity is the place for ramblings and musings, be they coherent or otherwise, and especially a venue to connect with others who love to talk about these things.



The Battle of the Five [Six] Blogs: All that is Gold Does Not Glitter

If Middle Earth were a real place, I would certainly sell my house, quit my job, and move there. I don’t know what employment I would find, other than a turnip farmer, but at least I could spend my days pulling turnips from the Earth surrounded by the rich beauty of Tolkien’s world.

Of course, that is all rot. There is no such place, except in the fertile soils of my imagination and the pages of books. And everyone knows that growing turnips is not a lucrative career. So I must default to my job of teaching for now. Because we all know that financial security is necessary. How can you even own the books without some form of currency? There must be something of value to exchange. Bartering is rare these days, and unless stray hair or pocket lint is acceptable, I must labor for a paycheck.

Perhaps that is why Jackson’s latest installment is full of money – both cinematic and budgetary.

Just in case you forgot, Jackson reminds us that one of the prevailing themes of Tolkien’s Legendarium is greed. More specifically, how greed is destructive. Take a peek into Silmarillion, or Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit. Notice that peril is unavoidable when an individual becomes greedy. Justice is discarded, as is common sense and rationality. It’s in the form of powerful jewels, or rings, or GOLD.

Lots and lots and lots of it.

I mean, more gold coins than I ever saw in my highest score of Super Mario Brothers.

And I’m not just referring to the gold of Erebor. There’s gold from Esgaroth that is lost during the escape. Then there is the brassiere full of gold coins. I was starting to believe that Jackson was insulting my intelligence. Oh, all this is about money?  Yes, of course. Tolkien’s readers are usually very clever people. It didn’t take a lake engulfing Thorin for me to figure it out.

And what would Orcs want with that money anyway, other than to locate a decent plastic surgeon and have rhinoplasty done on those horrible, pug-like noses?

It has been reported that Jackson’s budget for this final film was a remarkable $750 million dollars. Certainly he did not skimp on CGI special effects as he did on storyline. For example, take the Dragonball-Z-esque, seizure-inducing flashing that occurs during Galadriel’s battle with the Necromancer. I nearly laughed out loud. The “gold lake” sequence was, I admit, a little cheesy.

Sorina mentions that Jackson left many loose ends in this final film. Despite the exceptional length and grand budget, indeed this is true. There is no closure for the deceased dwarves (yes, even Thorin). Some deaths seem quick and relatively painless, while others (like the final battle with Thorin) tend to take a good ten minutes. It appears that the length of your death is directly correlated to your importance to the storyline.  Thorin nearly takes a stroll after being stabbed in the chest, while Fili is blithely dropped off a cliff (and no pretty elf to weep for him). Other characters are simply neglected. Poor Radagast only shows up in the nick of time, then vanishes. Did you see Beorn, the skin-changer which helped the dwarves in an earlier installment? He was leaping from a cliff at one point. That’s the only time I saw him.

And then there’s Tauriel.

Tauriel and Legolas go to Gundabad (a good 30 miles) on a horse to watch some swarming birds as a sign that “war is coming.” Seriously Legolas, you should talk with your Dad more often. The Elves figured the Orcs were going to show up. Anyway, the couple magically returns back to Erebor in time for the battle. Unless they are enthusiastic ornithologists, I don’t see why they made such a tiring journey.

And Tauriel asks, “Is this what love is?” when Kili dies. Hmmm…well, talking about runes and rubbing herbs on a dwarf’s leg isn’t really my definition of love. After this, poor Tauriel is discarded, like Bard, into the cinematic black hole that swallows up other, what Jackson interprets as, “disposable characters.”

Tom Bombadil anyone? Oh wait, he didn’t even make the LOTR films.


As a film, Jackson has done an admirable job ensuring that the film is action-packed. I loved the characters, as I loved them in the book, so the casting was excellent. Jackson knows that climax is important to film, and in this film, the climax lasts about 90 minutes. The film has some of the best special effects that I have seen anywhere. Visually, it is stunning. The whole sequence with Legolas and the crumbling bridges was very interesting; similar to the barrel scene from DoS (although many people thought it was also a little cheesy).

As an adaptation, this particular film is not successful. Too much fighting. When there’s no plot, just put in a swordfight. There is little focus on characters in this film, and significant attention on conflict. Yes, I knew to expect it, given the title, but I walked out feeling that I had been forced to tolerate nearly three hours of a WCW match, but instead of a cage it was a mountain fortress. And there were archers and short soldiers on pigs instead of smack-talking, greasy guys. I felt as if Tolkien’s story is lost in the chaos, and not for the first time.

The Desolation of Smaug also had its moments. I disagreed with the long sequence where Smaug discusses the dangers of greed while squatting on a hill of stolen treasure. Hypocrisy aside, it reminded me of an interview with Oprah. Bilbo seemed to conduct a Freudian analysis of the dragon, who honestly doesn’t need a clinical evaluation to understand why he desires gold AND why he’s going to lay waste to an entire city. He’s a dragon. Beowulf didn’t interrogate the dragon did he? Although, I do love hearing Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice…

If you are a casual fan of the books or exclusively the films, you will enjoy this movie. You may confess to be a die-hard Tolkien fan and still immensely enjoy it. It has the action, the plot, and the memorable characters (thanks Tolkien), but with the glitter of the 21st century screen. But one must remember that many of the changes (including the ridiculous lengthening) made to Tolkien’s text were made because a studio, in an effort to increase revenue, made many unfavorable changes to the storyline we love. I understand that this film is an adaptation, an interpretation of a text. But there must come a point where the name Tolkien is, for lack of a better verb, exploited for profit. I didn’t go into the film with high expectations, but sadly, even those were not satisfied. Perhaps Jackson had a big budget for this film, but its presentation pales in comparison to the original text.

And thus is the true irony: a film which warns its audience about the hazards of greed is ultimately controlled by a corporation guilty of being avaricious.

Despite this, Tolkien’s story still shines. His gift as a writer is continually illustrated. Even when his works experience poor adaptations, he still portrays, with conviction and veracity, the nature of humankind.





Thirty Days with C.S. Lewis: A Women’s Devotional is now available!


On Amazon!

Hello all!

I know I have been quiet recently, but I have been hard at work on some projects for the last few months. This has limited my ability to write blogs on a regular basis.

One of the projects that I have been working on is a women’s devotional. Several months back, I was approached about doing a devotional, and chose to do a “woman-themed” Lewis devotional thanks in part to the research I did for the Lewis and Woman blog series. I am happy to report that as of this morning, the devotional is now available for purchase on Amazon!  It is only available through e-book right now, but will be offered as a physical copy in late spring. I will keep you updated.

The quotes from this devotional represent a wide spectrum of Lewis writings. Included are verses from “Dymer” (pre-conversion Lewis), quotes from Mere Christianity, a miscellany from essays and sermons, and nuggets from works like The Four Loves, inspiring comments from The Collected Letters, and fiction excerpts from The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space (or Ransom) Trilogy, and Till We Have Faces.

If you are a shrewd consumer (like I am) and want to check it out before you buy, you can sample it on Amazon. I will include one here for your consideration:


Day 19: Seventy Times Seven

“As far as weakness allows I hope, now that you know you are forgiven, you will spend most of your remaining strength in forgiving. Lay all the old resentments down at the wounded feet of Christ.” – Letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 25, 1963

Every time I read the story of the prodigal son, I wonder how the image appeared. The heartbroken father trudging through his daily tasks. Although he is prosperous, he feels as if a fundamental piece of him is missing. Then one day, from afar, he sees a slumped figure hobbling down the road. Limping toward home is his prodigal son. He has squandered his father’s fortune and worked as a pig farmer, where he felt he was treated worse than the pigs. He is tired and broke. He worries that he will return only to be shunned and turned out. They will laugh at him, at his disdain for propriety, at neglecting his family to chase those misleading dreams which were merely fantasies of emptiness. Despite his reservations, he has nothing left. He cautiously approaches home.

Then his father sees him. His eyes are wet with tears of joy. The air is thick with reconciliation. He begins to stride, then run, towards his son and embrace him. No, you are not a lost cause. You are my son. I will always love you. A grand party is held to celebrate his return.

And in the corner, burning with resentment, is another brother. He never ran off to disgrace the family, never disobeyed his father’s commandments. What is all this fuss about? He never left and father would never slaughter a fatted calf for him. While others around him rejoice, while the evening is filled with laughter and happiness, this brother still considers his pathetic sibling a traitor.

Here we see clearly what it is like to live with and without forgiveness. Notice how the father is jovial and incandescent. He is beaming. One of his own has returned home and he wants nothing more than to spread the joy. In contrast, the begrudging brother conceals himself among the throng. He has allowed the hurt to injure his would-be contentment. Instead of considering his father’s happiness, he focuses conceitedly on his own. It ruins his evening, preventing him from engaging in the festivities. It creates a barrier which ends up isolating him from the rest of his family.

We are flawed beings, and forgiveness is required for all of us. I cannot withhold forgiveness while others forgive me. In doing so, I impoverish my life – substituting anger and sadness for joy. Let’s be honest, some people are difficult to forgive. Some people may even appear to be persistent prodigals. But God has commanded us to love, not to judge.

Today, choose to forgive others and nurse old resentments. God is offering happiness. Will you embrace it or cross your arms in resistance? What benefit do the old hurts give you? On the other hand, what benefits will forgiveness grant you?

Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Thanks readers! More news coming soon!


Book Review – Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior


Book Review – Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior

“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.”

– Jane Austen, Persuasion

Hannah More was one of those creatures. A woman of humble beginnings, Hannah made her mark first as a poet. As her social circle expanded to include such luminaries as Dr. Samuel Johnson, William Wilberforce, and actor David Garrick, Hannah used her talent to draw attention to serious social inequities of her time. So many, in fact, that I have decided to discuss them individually in this review.

Yes, Hannah More is that important.

But before we explore More’s significant impact, meet her equally talented biographer Karen Swallow Prior.

About the Author: Karen Swallow Prior


Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University, earned her Ph. D. and M. A. at the State University of New York at Buffalo and her B. A. at Daemen College.

Her scholarly work has appeared in 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era; The Shandean; The Scriblerian and various literary encyclopedias.

Prior received the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2013, was named Faculty of the Year by the Multicultural Enrichment Center in 2010, received the Sigma Tau Delta (LU chapter) Teacher of the Year Award, and was the 2003 recipient of the President’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Her books include Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson 2014) and a literary and spiritual memoir, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press 2012).  She is a contributing writer for Christianity Today, The Atlantic, In Touch, and Think Christian.  Her writing has also appeared at Comment, Relevant, Books and Culture, Fieldnotes, The Well, and Salvo.  She has spoken at numerous writing conferences including the Festival of Faith and Writing and the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

Prior is a member of Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.  (Courtesy of Liberty University)

 Meet Hannah More


The year is 1745. Bristol was bubbling with commerce. Sugar. Tobacco. Chocolate. And, the deplorable yet lucrative import of slaves. Up rises the great manifestations of progress – trading centers, factories, a definitive middle class,  a “proliferation of religious denominations.” As prosperity takes firm root in Bristol, a precocious young daughter is born to Jacob and Mary More. In total, there will be five siblings, all female. According to records, Jacob More had agrarian ancestors. He served as a farm bailiff to John Symes Berkeley. When a pretty young servant girl caught his eye – she an innocent girl of sixteen, he a wiser age of 35 – they married. Prior writes that this marriage between the bailiff and the help most likely resulted in Jacob’s dismissal from service. He then became a schoolmaster, whose love of learning and religious convictions were not lost on his daughters. Hannah, especially, would harness her talent to improve what she considered social dysfunction: an insatiable appetite for money (a consequence of “progress”), a lingering disrespect for the female sex, and an enduring apathy for “lesser creatures” be they human or otherwise. Hannah resolved to address these issues with an enthusiasm which inspired many more to join her reform efforts.

 Creative Endeavors

“If musick’s charms can ‘sooth the savage beast,’

And lull the busy cares of grief to rest;

If magick numbers, if the Muse’s art

Can please the raptur’d sense, and reach the heart, –

What nobler charms in eloquence are found,

Where wit with musick, sense unites with sound!

Oh could my unfledg’d muse the theme define,

The well-earn’d praise, O Sheridan, were thine!”

 Although Hannah More was female and educated at Fishponds, she quickly grew to fame as a writer. Her “most public debut” was a poem written to Irish actor and orator Thomas Sheridan, praising his poise and eloquence exhibited during a lecture. Over time, More composed more verses which won her critical acclaim and enduring friendships, such as (the sublime vs. beautiful) Edmund Burke, dean Josiah Tucker, and duchess Elizabeth Somerset. At eighteen, she wrote a play The Search After Happiness to prove that plays, which were typically considered immoral, could actually be an avenue for Christian instruction. More did a translation of the Italian opera Attilio Regolo. She then wrote The Inflexible Captive. More eventually moves to London and gains new admirers with The Inflexible Captive, including actor David Garrick. Through mutual friends, Hannah met the famous Dr. Samuel Johnson, who adored her verses. When they met, Johnson surprised her by reciting her poetry. Her popularity and social circle grew. Her ballads include The Ballad of Bleeding Rock and Sir Eldred and the Bower. More’s talent captured the spirit of the age. Her play Percy (a story of morality, loyalty, and stubbornness) was a roaring success and More broached the topic of marriage in her novel Coelebs in Search of a Wife. With Garrett’s encouragement, More wrote The Fatal Falsehood for the stage. She was also an important member of the female intellectual gathering called the Bluestocking Circle. These women gathered not to discuss needlepoint or dancing, but their beloved literature and interest in the craft.

 Educating Females

“Tho’ should we still the rhyming trade pursue,

the men will shun us, – and the women, too;

The men, poor souls! of scholars are afraid,

We shou’d not, did they govern, learn to read,

At least, in no abstruser volume look,

Than the learn’d records – of a Cookery book;

The ladies, too, their well-meant censure give,

‘What! – does she write? a slattern, as I live –

‘I wish she’d love her books, and mend her cloaths,

‘I thank my stars I know not verse from prose.'”

– Hannah More, The Search After Happiness

Recall that Bristol’s middle class was burgeoning with increased trade. This created a comfortable middle class, a class whose patrons desired for their daughters to be educated. Hannah and her sisters would address the need and answer the call by creating a School for Young Ladies in 1758 which promised to instruct “French, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Needlework…A Dancing Master will properly attend” (16). Hannah’s older sister Mary became headmistress at the age of twenty.

But as in any new endeavor, the More girls were not without their critics. Poet Anna Letitia Barbauld warned that, “Young ladies ought only to have a general tincture of knowledge as to make them agreeable companions to a man of sense, and to enable them to find rational entertainment for a solitary hour” (18). A “display of knowledge” would be “punished with disgrace.” The Monthly Review complained in 1763 that “intense thought spoils a lady’s features”(18-19). But the best defense is a good offense. Society was basking in the luxury of newly-established riches paired with a strong sense of entitlement. “Spoiling” was indeed a fitting verb, but not due to education. Rather, it was due to a lifestyle of frivolity and excess. Educating women in Biblical and moral teachings was an effective way to resist such thinking. As Prior points out, women such as Mary Astell (1694) were suggesting that female education would only benefit the moral climate of the community. Her treatise, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest, provided much food for thought.

In 1799, More published Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education with a View of the Principles and Conduct Prevalent among Women of Rank and Fortune. More argued that the topics of education must be expanded for females. Typical schools for women offered a Humanities- based curriculum (“elective” although no less significant) – modern languages, music, drawing, dancing, painting, embroidery, manners. More rallied against such injustices: “The impatience, levity, and fickleness of which women have been somewhat too generally accused, are perhaps in no small degree aggravated by the littleness and the frivolousness of female pursuits” (21).

And the rigor was richly rewarded. The Mores’ School for Young Ladies thrived for several years. Students recalled fondly the pedagogical methods More employed. She encouraged enthusiasm and innovation to ensure retention. Hannah More was a pioneer of female education.

And she was just warming up.



“I owe I am shocked at this purchase of slaves,

And fear those who buy them and sell them are knaves:

What I hear of their hardships, their tortures and groans,

Is almost enough tot draw pity from stones.

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum,

For how could we do without sugar and rum?

Especially sugar, so needful we see

What, give up our deserts, our coffee and tea?”

– anonymously published in a Bristol newspaper 1792, believed to be Hannah More


Hannah More was appalled at the economic excuse and moral relativism associated with the slave trade. She witnessed firsthand the abominable treatment of the slaves imported into English society. Equally disgusting were the excuses used to maintain the slave trade. More teamed up with politician William Wilberforce to spearhead the abolitionist movement. Steeped in Christian morality, the movement argued that God has created of one blood all of the peoples of the Earth. The English had no right to migrate and enslave thousands and thousands of Africans. In letters written to her sisters, More lamented about the deplorable conditions endured by the slaves and the lack of concern shown by captains and slave owners. One testimony, obtained by More before its appearance before a committee of the House of Commons, explains that slave traders were prepared to put an infant to death “because it had no value.”  More continues from the testimony, “I told them that in that case I hoped they would make me a present of it; they answered, that if I had any use for the child, then it was worth the money. I first offered them knives, but that would not do; they however sold the child to me for a mug of brandy. it proved to be a child of a woman whom the captain of our ship had purchased that very morning. We carried it on board, and judge of the mother’s joy when she saw her own child put on board the same ship; her child, whom she concluded was murdered. She fell on her knees and kissed my feet” (123).

More and her friends began a literary assault on the immorality of the slave trade, appealing to personhood through the use of pathos, providing example after example of eyewitness accounts and fictional narratives.

More herself composed a poem titled “Slavery” which aims to change the hearts and minds of those who worried that abolition would injure their profits:

“Whene’er to Afric’s shore I turn my eyes,

Horrors of deepest, deadliest guilt arise;

I see, by more than Fancy’s mirror shown,

The burning village, and the blazing town;

See the dire victim torn from social life,

The shrieking babe, the agonizing wife!

She, wretch forlorn! is dragged by hostile hands,

To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands:

Transmitted miseries, and successive chains,

The sold sad heritage her child obtains.

E’en this last wretched boon their foes deny,

To weep together, or together die.

By felon hands, by one relentless stroke,

See the fond links of Nature broke!

The fibres twisting round a parent’s heart,

Torn from their grasp, and bleeding as they part.”

In addition to “Slavery,” More also wrote “Baby, A True Story of a Negro Woman,” “True Stories of Two Good Negroes,” “The Black Prince, a True  Story, being the Account of the Life and Death of Naimbanna, an African King’s Son,” and later “The Feast of Freedom.”

Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833, assisted by the pens of concerned citizens like Hannah More and the political reform efforts of her friend William Wilberforce.


William Wilberforce

Educating the Poor

“The poverty in one village was so great that ‘a single cup of broth cannot be obtained for there is none to give, if it would save life,’ More reported. ‘I am ashamed of my comforts when I think of their wants” (143)

Using her concept of education as raising the social conscience, More then took to creating Sunday Schools, or schools which educated the poor (not the contemporary definition which indicates exclusively Biblical instruction). Many impoverished families could not afford to send their children to schools to receive an adequate education, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty. More wished to remedy this and did so with Wilberforce’s blessing and financial assistance.

Part of the fuel for this movement was simply to educate Christians to learn and study the Bible. Therefore, literacy was seen as an evangelistic endeavor. More and her sisters travelled on horseback to dilapidated villages and witnessed extreme poverty on their mission to establish Sunday Schools. While on these excursions, the More sisters encountered some shady church dealings, including lazy pastors who “collected tithes” but rarely “preached.” More attempts to confront these corrupt clergyman, but I encourage you to read the book for that discussion!

More’s efforts were fruitful. Prior writes that three-fourths of laboring-class children between the ages of five and fifteen were enrolled in a Sunday School in the 1850s.

 Animal Rights

 “Though my beasts should be dull, yet I don’t use them ill;

Though they stumble, I swear not, nor cut them up hill;

For I firmly believe there’s no charm in an oath

That can make a nag trot, when to walk he is loath”

– Hannah More “The Hackney Coachman; or the Way to Get a Good Fare”

Although God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the Earth, He surely did not give them a license for tyranny. Hannah More’s culture had, however, abused this privilege of leadership. Prior explains that the “form of equality” involved the importance “of each link in the chain” of creation. Animals were lower on this chain, but this certainly did not warrant human cruelty toward animals.  Such abuses were common, from bullbaiting, bearbaiting, and badgerbaiting, to cockfights and cockthrowing. Animals were not seen as creatures, but objects of entertainment. Like she had with so many other social issues, More used her pen to shed light on the depraved practice of “blood sports.”

Prior writes that “In the views of a reformer like More, a society that mistreated animals presented a distorted image of God’s relationship to his human creation” (187). Again, More frames this as not merely a social issue, but a moral issue.  And once more, More and her friends were successful: “Eleven bills on animal cruelty were broguth before Parliament between 1800 and 1835.” By More’s death in 1833, blood sports were on the decline. This loss of popularity indicates a new consciousness (and kindness) toward animals stirred by the writings and persuasions of More, Wilberforce, and “like-minded advocates.”



What I offer here are brief sketches of the significant impact of a woman who used her pen to mold culture and history. It has been nearly two centuries since her passing, and yet, if you are a woman or came from humble beginnings or are of a different race, you have benefited from her efforts for equal rights and education.

Prior does an incredible job bringing the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to life within the pages of Fierce Convictions. As I read, I could envision the dusty streets, the smell of chimney smoke mingled with factory smog. My ears were filled with sounds of drawing room recitations and male and female conversation, of theatres filled with hushed patrons expectantly awaiting More’s newest play.

We also sense the strife. Here is a society divided over rights of human dignity and integrity. On the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, there existed many moral and ethical issues to untangle. It was not merely about cultural and economic progress, it was about the implications these social changes, about human development and the shaping of a new collective conscience which would saturate to the lowest strata of the socioeconomic sphere. Even animals were not exempt from the analytical eye of More and her contemporaries. If we are creatures of Christ, then let us live as such. Let every movement, every word, every thought be reflective of the God we claim to serve and worship.

It has been many years since a biography has impacted me like this. I, as an educated female from similarly humble beginnings, owe a personal debt to More for her relentless work in educating women, in making education a right and not a privilege.

I highly, highly recommend this book. To purchase from Amazon, click here.

Also, to purchase Karen’s memoir Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (which I also highly recommend), click here.

My review of Booked can be found here.





Exclusive Interview with Holly Ordway on her new book Not God’s Type

Exclusive Interview with Holly Ordway on her new book

Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms


Back in 2012, I joined All Nine Muses (www.allninemuses.wordpress.com) and was delighted to write alongside some of the brightest, most creative minds I know. Holly Ordway was one of those writers. Last year, while presenting at a conference at HBU, I got to spend some time with Holly and chat about writing and spirituality. I still refer to the wisdom and guidance she offered in those conversations. Her conversion to Christianity is one of the most intriguing I have ever heard. Holly was a former atheist who came to Christ after weighing heavy considerations, doing intensive reading and research, and discussing theology with her fencing coach.

October 7th was the release date for the second edition of her spiritual memoir, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms. Yesterday, she was featured on the show Fox and Friends.

I am blessed to call her a friend and a sister in Christ. I caught up with her recently to inquire about her new book and ask her advice for those who struggle to accept faith:

 1. Not God’s Type is a memoir about your religious conversion. At what point in your spiritual journey did you decide to write it?

Surprisingly, there were two different points in my journey when I wrote this book! I wrote the first version of Not God’s Type only two years after I became a Christian in 2006, though it wasn’t published until 2010. I had found, in conversation with Christians, that many were both surprised and encouraged to hear my unlikely conversion story, and so I realized that it would be doing a service to tell it at greater length.

Then, in 2013, I had the opportunity that few authors have – to re-visit an already published book and improve it! It had been taken up by a new publisher, Ignatius Press, which gave me the opportunity to include in the book the fruits of several more years of reflection on my journey to faith, as well as to continue my story through my further growth as a Christian, leading to being received into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2012.


2. This is actually the second edition. What changes have you made from the previous edition?

The new edition of Not God’s Type, which has the subtitle An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, is significantly revised and expanded. It’s almost twice as long, for one thing: I include much more on my experiences as a child and young adult, showing both the roots of my atheism and the way that some early experiences of God’s grace (not recognized as such!) planted seeds for the future. I also include more material on my discipleship as a Christian, and several chapters on my conversion to Catholicism.

It’s also much more polished in terms of writing. The first version was good; the second is better! I was able to fine-tune the book at the word and sentence level, to really make it sing.

I think that the second edition will particularly delight literary-minded readers! I explore in-depth the way that authors such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Gerard Manley Hopkins had a profound effect on my life. Careful readers will also discover that the epigraphs for the book are all carefully chosen – each relates to the theme of the book or of the individual chapter, illuminating the chapter in an indirect way, and as a whole, providing a literary ‘narrative arc’ to accompany the story.



3. A major part of your narrative discusses the influence of your fencing coach which also serves as a nice metaphor throughout the book. Can you expand on this and how fencing has surprisingly played a role in your conversion?

When I finally became ready to ask questions about what Christians really believe, my fencing coach was the person I turned to for answers. He had already confounded my stereotypes of Christians by being patient, thoughtful, and non-pushy; I realized that I could rely on him to discuss these challenging topics with me, and not try to bully me into accepting Jesus! The conversations that we had and the books that he recommended for me to read were extremely important. Just as in a fencing lesson or bout, he challenged me to think clearly and provided a sparring partner as we discussed the ideas, but (also as in a fencing bout) he was respectful of me, allowing me time to process these new ideas at my own pace.


4. One of the aspects I love about Not God’s Type is the pragmatic approach you take to exploring faith. You read several books and made lists about your hesitations concerning religious beliefs. What were some of the main works you read and do they still influence you?

Some of the books that I read that were particularly helpful in addressing the philosophical and evidential questions were Does God Exist? by J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen; In Defense of Miracles, edited by Doug Geivett and Gary Habermas; and The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright. These (among other books) were important in providing the evidence and arguments that convinced me that the Christian claim is true.

C.S. Lewis’s writings both influenced me at the time, and have continued to do so! Mere Christianity played a pivotal role in showing me the moral argument for the existence of God. The Great Divorce shattered my misconceptions about Hell and gave me a vivid picture of what Heaven really means. The essays in God in the Dock gave me a deeper insight into the concept of miracles, and gave me a glimpse of a rich, intellectually robust Christian faith. And, as I write about in Not God’s Type, the Chronicles of Narnia helped me understand who Jesus is. Lewis is such a great thinker and writer that all these books (and so many more of his books that I’ve read since then) continue to influence, inform, and delight me!


5. Like C.S. Lewis, you still had to discover your personal beliefs once you accepted the tenets of the Christian faith. You eventually confirmed as a Catholic. Tell me more about that experience.

I became a Christian as a ‘mere Christian,’ not knowing much about different traditions, and began worshipping at an Episcopal church in the Anglo-Catholic style. I also did a second Master’s degree in Christian Apologetics at a Protestant university – which had a significant impact on my becoming Catholic! In my classes, when we were presented with the Protestant perspective on doctrine, I was curious to find out what other traditions had to say, so I read up on Catholic and Orthodox views on each issue. Time and again, I found that the Catholic view made the most sense. I was also increasingly impressed with the Catholic Church’s witness on pro-life issues and sexual ethics. To make a long story short, I found myself moving closer and closer to Rome… and eventually (because circumstances had forced me to reflect more deeply) realizing that I had come to believe that the Catholic claim to authority is true. My reception into the Catholic Church was thus not a rejection of my Anglican faith, but the completion of it – finding the fullness of the faith. It is by far the best thing I’ve ever done.


6. Explain in more detail about the importance of cultural and imaginative apologetics?

Our modern culture has tended to separate the imagination and the reason, with imagination ending up as a ‘nice extra’ at best, completely dismissed at worst. Christian apologists often implicitly accept this false separation, and make apologetics arguments aimed only at the intellect, or appeals to faith aimed only at the emotions. We need to speak to the whole person, because conversion involves the whole person. We need an integrated approach to apologetics, one that includes rational argument, personal witness, and imaginative engagement. Literature and the arts have a special and very important role in showing people a glimpse of the way Christian faith integrates beauty and truth. We need to help people see why our arguments for the truth of the faith are meaningful – so that they are interested in asking questions and willing to listen to our answers.


7. Holly, you are currently working as the Director of the M.A. of Cultural Apologetics at HBU? Can you tell me a little more about that program?

The MA in Cultural Apologetics is a very exciting program! We offer both a fully online and a residential option for the degree, so you can study in Houston or anywhere in the world! The degree focuses specifically on cultural apologetics, with an interdisciplinary approach including history, culture, philosophy, theology, literature, and the arts. We hope to equip students to understand our culture at a deep level, so as to be able to address the root problems (not just the symptoms), to make a case for Christianity that is effective and compelling for people today, and to be able to be creative as well. In addition to apologists, teachers, and ministry leaders, we are teaching future musicians, creative writers, artists, and filmmakers!

It’s a great faculty team. For instance, one of my colleagues is Dr Michael Ward, whom your readers may recognize as the author of the ground-breaking book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, and widely recognized as the top living Lewis scholar. He teaches “C.S. Lewis and Imaginative Apologetics” and “Literature and Apologetics.”

Another great aspect of the MAA is that it’s ‘mere Christian.’ We have Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faculty, and Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox students! We are committed to working together for the good of the Kingdom.

I love teaching in this program. We cap all our classes at 15 students (both online and in Houston), and we never use TAs, so there’s a lot of student-faculty interaction. We also assign lots of reading and writing – it’s an intellectually exciting program!

Anyone who’s interested in learning more can visit HBU’s website for details: hbu.edu/maa and hbu.edu/maaonline. People should also feel free to be in touch with me if they have questions.


8. What advice would you give to young intellectuals who are struggling with the choice to accept belief?

First, seek the truth – don’t be afraid to ask questions, to keep asking questions, and to seek out answers to those questions.

Second, remember that it is not possible to have 100% certainty about questions of faith – any more than you can have 100% certainty about whether you can trust your best friend, or whether you ought to take a particular job offer, or marry a particular person. There is always one more question you could ask, or one more doubt you could indulge; if you’ve concluded that Christianity is probably true, the existence of doubt doesn’t negate that conclusion. Nor, as a Christian, does having doubts mean your faith isn’t real. Even the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith!”

Christian faith is not a math problem or a logic puzzle; it is the invitation to a relationship with a Person. As with any relationship, from friend to spouse to colleague, it will usually have small beginnings, even doubt-filled beginnings, and can grow from there.

Finally, I would say: you are a whole person, with emotions and a body as well as an intellect. Attend church services, in different traditions. Go to a Catholic Mass, especially at a traditional-style liturgy in a big, beautiful church or cathedral, and see how worship can involve all the senses. Explore the Christian faith through reading and study and asking questions, but also through the witness of great writers, musicians, and artists, who can show you the faith in a different way.

 9. What works would you suggest for those who are struggling with faith? Would you recommend some of the books you read? What others would you add to this list?

C.S. Lewis is a great place to start! For millions of people, Lewis has been able to explain the essentials of the Christian faith in a way that’s accessible and intellectually robust. Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters are high on my list of recommendations. For readers who want a slightly more modern author, N.T. Wright’s books for a popular audience are excellent. I particularly recommend his “For Everyone” series of Bible translations and commentaries.

Different people have different questions, though, and the books I’ve mentioned here may not address their particular concerns. As a great all-round resource, I highly recommend Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire ministry and his YouTube videos: http://www.wordonfire.org Fr. Barron has a tremendous gift for communication, as well as a heart truly on fire for Jesus.


10. What speaking engagements and interviews do you have coming up?

For interviews about Not God’s Type, here are two I particularly enjoyed:

William O’Flaherty on All About Jack

“Kresta in the Afternoon” on EWTN Radio and Ave Maria Radio: http://old.avemariaradio.net/archive2/2014/10/kpm_20141010_2.mp3

I wrote a guest post for Anita Mathias’s blog Dreaming Beneath the Spires, with a little preview of the book: http://anitamathias.com/2014/10/13/holly-ordway/

I’m also featured as an interviewee on the documentary Convinced, focusing on my ‘crossing the Tiber’ to become a Catholic. You can find more details of its Indiegogo funding campaign here (and see me in the trailer!): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/convinced

Overall, I’m focusing on my writing and academic work these days. Readers may be interested in checking out the Journal of Inklings Studies, an outstanding peer-reviewed journal; I’m now the Subject Editor for Charles Williams. I have a chapter in the forthcoming book C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books That Influenced Him Most, from Bloomsbury Academic:



And I’m working on a new book about fantasy literature, centered around J.R.R. Tolkien…


To order Holly’s book, you can order from her publisher Ignatius Press and Amazon, among others.



A Review of Charlie Starr’s The Heart of Light


The Heart of Light: A Review

Crystal Hurd

You don’t have to take my word for it. Good book reviews should probably be dispassionate, objective, critical. But when a book not only grabs your intellect but keeps you up into the wee hours to see how it’s going to end, you have to lay your cards on the table and be honest about your enthusiasm. In short, I loved The Heart of Light: A Tale of Solmon Star by Charlie W. Starr. Let me tell you why.

The market is full of dystopian literature these days. Either it’s a young girl hailing from District 12 or another “diverging” from the masses. These types of books, although entertaining, can also be informative. They teach us to truly embrace individualism, to be critical thinkers, to avoid blithely surrendering our allegiance to a “benevolent” administration. Our heroes are not always mingling with the echelon. Sometimes they crouch among the followers and quietly provide obedience.

Until that defining moment.

Literary enthusiasts and scholars call it the climax. That sacred hour in which our beloved character has to make a choice. It is not an ordinary decision, rather one that will make or break his/her preconceived notions of the world. A life-altering shift that some avoid out of fear, others out of convenience or retribution.

Solomon Star is that character. He is commanded to find his father on a distant jungle planet, Kall. Problems with the natives there have made the economy grind to a halt. Solomon is a Colonel in the army but was once, and far more importantly, an Imperial Guard, even the Captain of the Empress’s personal body guard. But of that time he bears only red-stained, white boots and a plasma sword, a frightful weapon which can only be operated by those who are genetically capable. Solomon is guided by a native of Kall simply named Savage. Meanwhile, on the galaxy’s capital world, the Empress Janis rules through a precarious balance of war and peace. She is lovely, an element which drew Solomon to her in the past. But something has passed between them, and Janis, Empress, goddess to millions, is a vengeful one.

As military action and political intrigue make war seem inevitable, Solomon and the Savage navigate terrain both beautiful and treacherous, but none so dangerous as the machinations of Janis’s elite Intelligence arm, led by a mysterious scientist known only as the “Chief.” On one world, Janis journeys toward self-possessing darkness. On another, Solomon journeys toward the heart of light.

Not only does The Heart of Light contain a fantastic plot, but the author Charlie W. Starr exercises a magnificent grasp of descriptive language. Take, for example, this excerpt of Solomon’s evening rest on Kall:

   Night fell arduous hours later for Solomon Star. He and his guide rested between two large tree roots in a niche of obvious human hewing. A fire burned in a specially cut groove. The blackened area around it betrayed the tree’s long time use as a Kalli resting place. Solomon rubbed a soothing ointment over the brush cuts on his face while noting that the indestructible single-suit he wore was already filled with tiny tears—the beginning of its conversion to rags.

   Night had fallen but had not engulfed the jungle. The strange luminescence that Solomon fancied he had seen the previous night asserted the certainty of its existence in the heart of the jungle. He thought perhaps some phosphorescent micro-organism might produce the glow but then decided he was wrong. The medicine on his face relaxed him. Blood pulsed in his cheeks and forehead. There was a life to the light, almost of itself. But nowhere could one point and say, “There is the source” (except the little stars, the fireflies—floating points of light). The intensity of the life that encompassed him seemed to generate the glow. It was light you couldn’t quite use to see with. Nothing was clear, but images danced before the vision, and Solomon experienced memories of a garden place he’d never seen. He felt fragmented images of orchards and flower beds, bushes in rows by height and color, rivers flowing east and west and north and south, meandering with a gurgle, rushing with a roar. Animals great and small roamed freely without fear of man, without inspiring it in men; he knew their names without voice. The greenness of the center place in the vision called him back to the Kalli Jungle. There was peace in the life—harmony.

Starr’s writing, in many ways, resembles that of C.S. Lewis in his beloved space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). The descriptions are rich and vivid, as are the characters. This is no run-of-the-mill, predictable science fiction tale. This is story with true depth, saturated with a spiritual significance. Solomon Star is a hero for the scientific age – trustworthy, agile, perceptive. He is a soldier, yet a warrior unblemished by his often difficult duties.

I urge you to pick up a copy of The Heart of Light today! Click here to purchase from Amazon.