I started reading Umberto Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages last night, and just one chapter in I'm thoroughly fascinated by his explanation of the radical integration of the medieval worldview. Unlike the modernist worldview, the medievals didn't put things in hermetically sealed categories: they would not have thought of any strict division between the natural and the supernatural, for instance; rather, what we today think of as the natural was a cloak worn by the deeper metaphysical realities beneath. I already comprehended some of this. The point that really surprised me was Eco's observation that the medievals had two words referring to beauty - pulchrum and aptum or honestum - the beauty of form and the beauty of usefulness - and they were never quite able to distinguish between them. To them, moral goodness (aptum) was inextricably bound up with aesthetic goodness (pulchrum).
This was encouraging because I've always felt very strongly that I cannot not evaluate books on grounds of truth and goodness as well as beauty. To refuse to evaluate a work of art on grounds of moral value is to dis-integrate faith from life, something that I refuse to do. It's good to know that the medievals, who made some of the most glorious art civilisation has ever produced, felt the same way.
I've been reading and thoroughly enjoying The Last Chronicle of Barset, which is about middle-aged Victorian clergymen, and I also enjoyed my most recent Crusader-history-read, The New Knighthood, which is a formidably detailed and scholarly account of the Templars. At the same time, I've also been reading Throne of Glass, a young-adult bestseller featuring assassins, a deathmatch, and an eldritch abomination that murders people by night. One of the above is a bland and boring snoozefest that makes me want to weep in frustration. Hint: It's not the Templar history.
Over summer, I realised that my youngest sister had never seen Star Wars and didn't know the first thing about it, so I sniffed out some DVDs and we watched the Original Trilogy together as a family. This was even more entertaining because my mother had never seen it either. I remain confirmed in my belief that The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best films I've ever seen--a film where almost everything went beautifully right. After that high-water-mark, Star Wars went sharply downhill, and after having seen The Force Awakens more recently, I can't say I think things look like getting much better.
Count me among those who thought the new main character, Rey, was a flagrant Mary Sue. I was then surprised to find that this is a very controversial thing to say, and I think this is a great example of how pulchrum and aptum, orthodoxy and beauty, intersect; or, in other words, it's a great example of how an aggressively feminist story decision ("we'll make the whole story about a girl who needs a man, and the skills and strengths of a man, like a fish needs a bicycle") will actually destroy the impact and aesthetic quality of an artwork. As John C Wright demonstrates in his review of The Force Awakens, this was a terrible artistic decision to make for a film trying to feature an ensemble story.
Ever heard of Claude Goudimel? He was the Huguenot composer who pioneered syncopation and soprano melody in the sixteenth century while making large contributions to the Genevan Psalter. Some of Goudimel's arrangements and harmonisations are still familiar today--chances are that if you sing the psalms, you've come across tunes with names like Old Hundredth or Old Ninety-Fifth. These were tunes from the Genevan psalter, and once you get past Old Hundredth you'll find that they feature rich harmonies and rhythms so exciting that Elizabeth I apparently referred to them as "Geneva jigs". Brother Down's Old Paths New Feet album is a perennial favourite, translating these funky old tunes into the style of modern folk rock, but if you want to learn them in a worship-appropriate setting, I highly recommend Michael Owens's site, The Genevan Psalter, where you can find voice recordings, sheet music, and midi files.
I am now wrapping up the month's work on OUTREMER. Not counting January, this is my sixth consecutive month writing 50,000 words per month, which means I recently passed the 300,000-word mark (so, about as long as Middlemarch, and creeping up on Anna Karenina). I anticipate that it will take another 100,000 to get through the rest of the plot, which means another two months' work--but I don't plan to do that right away. Although I hate to take a moment away from a story that I continue to be enormously excited about, I need the rest. So in May, I'm going to take a break to rewrite Never Send to Know, my next fairytale novella, hopefully aiming for publication toward the end of the year. Which is also enormously exciting!
Also, I think I'm going to change the title, to Death Be Not Proud. Help me out, readers! Which one do you prefer?