Of Bunnies and Bibles

IN honour of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of the Easter Bunny, I shall post some inspiring lines from the holy texts of both humans and lapines. Now, I don’t think Mr. Adams wrote Watership Down to make a theological point, but I firmly believe that the Holy Ghost can reveal some small shards of truth through authors quite unaware of their inspiration. So do please indulge my ramblings.

I could say much about Watership Down and the Bible, such as the parallel of the whole of the novel to the epic of Exodus, or the process by which the “real” rabbits of the novel create their myths from their collective experiences. But I am too slothful to cover everything just now, and for the holiest day of the Church it seems fitting to speak of the holiest words of lapine religion: Frith’s charge to El-ahrairah after the Fall of Rabbit.

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A Curious Coincidence of Victorian Imposters

FATED to occupy myself in a computerless wasteland for many hours over the last two days, I resorted to the dead trees of King Solomon’s Mines  (H. Rider Haggard, 1885), and The Wood beyond the World  (William Morris, 1895). A full novel per diem, though both  were rather short and I tend to skim at times. No conscious pattern governed my choice of these books I did but snatch them off the shelf on my way out of my house. Neither one had I read before, and I had only the vaguest idea of their stories. However, it came to pass that I discovered certain striking commonalities between them. Both were written by Englishmen in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, both feature mortal adventurers from the Civilized West convincing gullible pagan natives to honour their visitors as more than human, and both times the adventurers use their unlikely authority to abolish barbaric bloodshed.

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The Lively Oracles of God

THE English coronation service has long been an object of my fascination. The script of this ancient pageant reads like a systematic demolition of the political principles held dear by Left and Right alike in the United States. There is no separation of powers: the Sovereign is the chief executive, the chief legislator, and the chief judge. There is no separation of Church and State: the Archbishop crowns the Sovereign; the Sovereign appoints the Archbishop. All men are not created equal, nor do governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed: the Sovereign reigns by right of blood and the will of God. While sadly much of the script can no longer be taken at face value (Parliament, and only the elected half of it, at that, is the real authority), even the words are enough to be noxious to a true son of Uncle Sam. But I have apostatized from the American civil religion long ago, and feel no guilt in pining for the Mother Country’s reactionary rites.

Someday when I have more time and more knowledge, I hope to produce a comprehensive coronation commentary. But for now I shall content myself with looking at a certain facet of the ceremony a facet that glitters especially brightly to a monoglot like me, since, by virtue of its uniquely late arrival, its history can be traced entirely in the vulgar tongue. As the old 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia explains,

The service for the coronation of the King of England even in modern times remains substantially the same, though English has been substituted for Latin and though many transpositions and modifications have been introduced in the prayers and ceremonies, all distinctively Roman expressions being studiously suppressed… the only new element introduced into the English rite since the Reformation is the presenting of the Bible to the sovereign.

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Every Prospect Pleases

SOME of Christendom’s greatest recent hymns have come to her by means of Reginald Heber, an English cleric who ended his career and life in 1826 as bishop of the Church of England’s missionary diocese of Calcutta in India. (To my mind, the nineteenth century qualifies as recent.) Heber’s hymns, which range from the sublime “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the wondrously-manly “The Son of God goes forth to War,” rightly retain a certain popularity even in the still-more-recent world of the twenty-first century. But not all Hebers are created equal, and a glance at the text of “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” will reveal why many contemporary congregations might consider its message incompatible with their cherished modern values:

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The Call of the Wild

NO, not the 1903 Jack London novel. A different author, and a different literary form. Yet it deals with a similar environment, and it appeared only a few years later, in 1911. “The Call of the Wild” this time comes from Robert W. Service, a fellow most famous for his poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” I am fond of the “Cremation,” of course, for who does not like a little Yukon ghosting? But I think this one is a bit more profound.

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On the Namesake

ALTHOUGH hypothetical statements often precede disappointing absences of fulfillment, it would be unfair to heap any blame on hypothetical statements in general, for they occupy one of the more magical places in the English language. They invite neither the dull incontrovertibly of fact nor the sorrowful impossibility of fiction. They straddle the numinous threshold of Yea and Nay, and we would do well to ponder that.

Two of the most common hypothetical adverbs are maybe and perhaps. We tend to think of the former as casual, even childish, and the latter as grave and stately. But the pen of a master is above such petty conventions. Consider these words of J. R. R. Tolkien: “For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.” Thanks to the writings of the other R. R. fellow (George R. R. Martin), I have become familiar with mayhaps, a delightful merger of the two adverbs that calls one to examine the possibilities of perbe. But while I admire the logic of filling in the last remaining corner of the may-be-per-haps quadrant, I must award the honour of my favourite hypothetical adverb to peradventure. Peradventure is just foreign enough to sound exotic – what does an adventure have to do with it? – but just familiar enough to call to mind “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and it grows clearer. Peradventure means one is acting by means of venture, and ventures are perilously uncertain things. Continue reading