Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eric Metaxas Calls Tolkien a Jerk

So, I've been watching THE NARNIA CODE, the dvd documentary touting Michael Ward's theory that the seven Narnia books are meant to correlate to the seven planets in the Ptolemaic system. Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of the theory, which is worth a post in itself, I was most struck by a passage following a re-enactment of an Inklings meeting in the Eagle and Child* in which the actor playing Tolkien takes exception to the Narnia story 'Lewis' has just been reading to them and says it "won't do"** because of the mishmash of random elements. At this point, the film cuts away to several 'experts' who criticize Tolkien for not liking Narnia or attempt to explain (or explain away) his response.*** And the most emphatic of these by far is that by one Eric Metaxas:

"Well, first of all, you have to understand that Tolkien is a jerk"

He follows this up with "just kidding", but that has all the effect of a smiley emoticon tacked on at the end of an email designed to start a flame war, especially because he continues

"He [Tolkien] didn't really have the capacity
 to enjoy what Lewis was doing
and wasn't interested in . . .
 . . . it wasn't what made him tick"

I'm not familiar with Metaxas's work (he's identified onscreen as "Author and Broadcaster"), but the name was vaguely familiar. Turns out the reason for this is that when I bought McGrath's new bio of CSL a week or so ago, Metaxas' new work was beside it on the shelf: 7 MEN, which apparently covers seven great Xians Metaxas admires. His selection criteria seem bizarre, ranging from true greats like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Wm Wilberforce, through George Washington (who was not a Xian), to Jackie Robinson (a great man, but not a religious figure) and Chuck Colson (Nixon's goon). He apparently has his own show on talk radio called BreakPoint, which he seems to have inherited from Colson when the latter died.  It's not clear to me from any of this where he gets the gravitas to diss Tolkien.

In any case, while the commentary didn't add anything of value to Tolkien and Lewis's disagreement over Narnia, I enjoyed the three re-enactments featuring Tolkien this documentary included.  I must say while the actor they've got to play Older Tolkien (who's shown as by far the oldest among the Inklings) doesn't particularly look like Tolkien, he's got the eyebrows down perfect.

Next post: Ward's theory, as presented in this documentary.


*yes, I know the Inklings didn't read manuscripts to each other in the pub. The filmmakers probably know that too, or at least I wd hope so, but have conflated the Thursday evening manuscript readings with the Tuesday morning Eagle and Child sessions, prob. as dramatic license.

**The actual lines go like this:
'Tolkien' "No no no Jack it really won't do."
'Lewis': "Why?"
'Tolkien': "Santa Claus? and a talking lion? in the same book? It's like . . . "

Actually, as Janice pointed out, the real problem is in having a character called "Father Christmas" in a world where no one has ever heard the name "Christ" (he being known under another name altogether there).

***they consider every possible explanation except the obvious one: Tolkien was right.


Timon Cline said...

My friend, I find it hard to beieve that you can infer a mens rea from Mr. Netaxas based on a short clip. I also would suggest you research the subject of your critique prior to posting public slander. Metaxas is a NYT best- selling author, tenured public speaker/debater and a Yalie. I suggest those facts alone debunk your underlying assumption that he is unqualified to contribute to the commentary of the film (although I am curious to know which qualities you posses that name you the defender of John Ronald Reuel). If you HAD researched your victim then you would also know that he is known for his humor writing in the Atlantic and the New Yorker, etc, and you would be familiar with his style of speaking (which employs a significant amount of light-hearted jest). In addition, Chuck Colson was not merely Nixon's goon, but that rebuttal can be saved for another time.
Despite my critique of your critique I wish you all the best!

Marcel R. Aubron-Bülles said...

Thank you very much, Timon, for your steadfast defense of Mr Metaxas but I would like to let you know that Mr Rateliff does know his Tolkien (and a bit more besides, if I may add) and if you do know a bit more about Tolkien and the Inklings (that is, C.S. Lewis included, obviously) you'd know that the language of Mr Metaxas used in this short clip is so off the mark that anything else he might have done is perfectly invalid.

However, I wish you all the best.

Timon Cline said...

Marcel, you cannot invalidate someone based upon a single joke. Again, though Mr Rateliff may be familiar with Tolkien, he is clearly not familiar with Metaxas. If he were, he would have understood the comment as joking and typical. Although I don't find the comment too far "off the mark," as you say. I have read extensively on the life of Tolkien, including all of his major works and literature critiques, so I am not a Tolkien-virgin, so to speak. I understand him to have been very much in his own world, often perceived as lazy, and unable to really enjoy much of Lewis' work because he found it so profoundly provocative. And he was definitely a bit of a hermit later in life. Tom Shippey describes him as such.I think the "jerk" joke was in reference to his very British mentality, and his strong critique of Lewis. Saying that he didn't have the "capacity" to understand or enjoy Lewis' Narnia is not a negative comment. It is well documented that it was not his cup of tea, or more appropriately, his bowl of tobacco. His fantasy world was much more complete than Lewis', but the aim of Lewis in the real world were much broader. Again, the issue here is that Mr. Rateliff devalued a critically-acclaimed author because he found his expertise insufficient. Yet, Mr. Rateliff's expertise of his subject were equally insufficient.

Timon Cline said...

*"so profoundly unprovocative..."