Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke is dead

What a sad week: Terry Pratchett is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. No-one comes close as an F&SF comic writer and inspiration -- a pole star who says to me that (at least once) it can be done. Someone can write fantasy that's funny, shrewd, happy, with developed characters and crafted plots. The covers of his books lead you to expect some naff swords-and-sorcery romp; the insides persuade you are in the presence of a fine comic novelist. He too, by the way, like Clarke (and like me) trained as a physicist first.

Then Arthur C Clarke, aged 90, finally gives up his struggle with gravity and decay and leaves the planet by the conventional route. I read everything of his I could lay my hands on when I was a teenager. Like P G Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, and (to a lesser extent because I read him later in life) Terry Pratchett, his ghostly presence shapes what I do and how I think about how writing should be.

If not from him, where else did I get this:

  • Studied physics at King's College London and then became a writer
  • Was passionate about good, hard, accurate science and maths
  • Was fundamentally optimistic about human beings and the future and the galaxy
  • Saw technology as a navigable route to magic and wonder and aspiration

Clarke has left instructions for a strictly secular funeral. As a younger man he had a correspondence with CS Lewis which resulted eventually in a meeting in a pub. Each brought along a companion (Lewis brought J R R Tolkien). Lewis was the better theologian; Clarke the better scientist. Each adorned the worlds of fiction and popular apologetic. Each is so close to my heart. I am so privileged and enriched to have been able to drink deeply of them.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Mission: E Stanley Jones

Am rereading E Stanley Jones, missionary to India, friend of Gandhi and I believe several times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. What a genius. Writing in the 1920s he anticipated, and answered, all the modern critiques of missions. And his book is soul food.

Are missionaries 'international meddlers, creed mongers to the East, feverish ecclesiastics compassing land and sea to gain another proselyte?' Or are we satisfying some 'racial superiority complex' (as many democracy and environment activists surely are today)? Is there 'spiritual impertinence to come to a nation that can produce a Gandhi or a [Rabindrath] Tagore?'

Jones replies that both East and West need three things: 'an adequate goal for character'; 'a free, full life'; 'God'. Christlikeness is the supreme goal for every character. Christ is life realized, not theorized. And Jesus is what God is like. Hence we speak.

Here are some of his juicier quotes:

'Jesus appeals to the soul as light appeals to the eye, as truth fits the conscience, as beauty speaks to the aesthetic nature. For Christ and the soul are made for one another, and when they are brought together deep speaks to deep and wounds answer wounds.'

'Religion is the life of God in the soul issuing in the kingdom of God on earth.'

The quotes are from THE CHRIST OF INDIAN ROAD