Books That Have Influenced Me: Part Two

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(Just A Girl And Her Camera)

 

Among the many books that I have enjoyed or have had a large influence on my life are some that I discovered when I was young.  One of the most important such works is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. This magnificent work, which is one novel, divided into three books: The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return Of The King, is not only the most important work of modern fantasy, but it is also the contemporary work of British mythology. It is, in my not so humble opinion, one of the most important novels of the 20th Century.

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Released in 3 parts from 1954 to 1955, this work has not only become an extraordinary bestseller, but also it influenced story-telling, writing, and movie making continually to the present day.

I was a young teenager when I read the book, deep in the heart of the Vietnam War era, in a time when everything was being questioned, and corruption was rampant in our society.  Actually, it has not seemed to change all that much, with the exception of the myriad of good and decent people who are trying to make positive contributions to our world.  This book captured my heart and mind immediately, and I have reread the entire book about once every ten years or so. I am due for another rereading soon.

Tolkien was a deeply important linguist, and he developed a new language—Elvish, complete with syntax, vocabulary, and an alphabet.  This work and his academic work would have made him one of the preeminent thinkers of the 20th Century. His writing of this novel puts him in the upper echelon of writers.

Almost any theme that can be considered is included in this work: life and death, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, the consequences of the industrial age on an agrarian culture, the place of war, the importance of ordinary people as well as leaders, the hero and the quest, and the workings of the human heart are just a few that could be mentioned.  I have been concerned my entire life with the issue of good and evil and when evil must be confronted.  Tolkien, who fought in World War I and saw the horror of World War Two, examines this issue in depth.  For a world that experienced the twin terrors of those wars, Tolkien’s book becomes a place to examine how such fighting impacts people.

No matter how many times, I read this magnificent work, I never cease to be astounded by it. It is not a book intended for children, as The Hobbit is, as some have mistakenly thought. It is a work for adults and through the lens of fantasy, deals with extremely important human issues.

I am also pleased to say that I will be teaching The Lord Of The Rings in my course: Epics of Humanity at the Wescoe School–the adult evening college– of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA this coming fall semester.

I know I will read The Lord Of The Rings throughout the rest of my life.

In my next installment, I will discuss a particular play that has had huge impact on me.

The Wisdom of Walt Whitman–to Question Everything

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I have taught Walt Whitman in several classes both at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, in traditional and adult classes.

This excerpt is from his introduction to the 1855 First Edition of Leaves of Grass.

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(http://www.whitmanarchive.org)

Whitman was one of the greatest American poets and has been called the Bard of Democracy. He challenged the existing views of normalcy in the United States across a wide range of topics. We live in a time, perhaps even more than in the 1800s, when great pressure exists to conform to what society defines normalcy to be. I believe it is crucial for individuals to find out who they are, for what they have passions, and what they believe. With this thought in mind, I want to share this small excerpt:

“re-examine all you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem”

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Whitman shattered the conventions of his time, and his admonition to us to question everything is as important today as it was in the mid-1800s.

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Please, keep Whitman’s idea in mind, and question everything.

The Liberal Arts: Crucial for Education and Society

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I was looking over some of my early blogposts, and I decided I wanted to revisit this piece about the Liberal Arts–the humanities–and their importance. The idea I write about in this little post is crucial for our society–the importance of the Liberal Arts in Education.

I had a piece published in the “Education Guide” of the Sunday, 2/15/15, edition of The Morning Call, the largest newspaper in the Lehigh Valley, PA. I am very proud of have the article in the paper, because I am very proud to be part of the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.

The Wescoe School is the name of the adult college program for Muhlenberg College. In this school, adults are able to gain full Bachelor degrees in a variety of majors and programs as well as certificate of study if they are focused on one specific area.

I have been teaching college English courses for many years, and I have been an adjunct instructor at many colleges, but I am deeply impressed with the quality of education and the care for the adult students that are demonstrated in this program.

I was honored to have been asked to write this piece, and I hope that I delivered a clear and sound explanation of the Liberal Arts, both in terms of history and application. I am an unrepentant Humanist; I still believe in the power of education to help people and in the ability of writing and words to help bridge gaps among people. Even at my age, I remain an idealist. Especially in the Wescoe program, I see education having a positive impact on students, many of whom have never attended college, might be starting their higher education in their 40s or 50s, and many of whom have full-time jobs and families. Their ability to learn and achieve never fails to humble me and to reinforce my belief in the strength of the Liberal Arts.

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What are you reading?

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Occasionally, I write a post in which I ask this question, and it has been some time, so I wanted to ask all of you again: what are you currently reading?

I am reading Aggravated Momentum by Didi Oviatt;

In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson;

Surrender, New York by Caleb Carr;

and rereading for classes that I teach at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College:

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

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I wish Happy Reading to all!

A New Semester

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Today is the beginning of a new semester at one of the two colleges where I am teaching; next week the other school begins, and I am very excited. I always feel like this at the beginning of a new session.  I certainly needed the winter break after last semester, which was very busy, but now I am filled with energy and ready to begin.

I will have a varied group of classes, but tonight I begin with Medieval Literature at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College.  Among the texts we will read are Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Le Morte d’Arthur.  I love these works, and I hope that the class enjoys studying them.

I have to go and put the finishing touches on today’s opening lecture.

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Photograph by my wife Liz French (2014)