The school year ended yesterday amid much tidying of classrooms and eating of comestibles. Another year of teaching down and another class of seniors sent off into the world of adulthood. What that means practically is that summer is here and with it a return to the other things in my life. After all, teachers, contrary to popular belief, don't spend the vacation resting in coffins beneath the school yard until the bell rings and they rise again to feed on the blood of the living (At least I don't). Summer is the privilege of our professional status combined with our relatively smaller(compared with equally educated and qualified professionals) paychecks. It's a time to refresh, recharge, and regroup before returning to the task of tutoring the next generation into adulthood. My grand aunt, who was single for years, spent her summers traveling the world and becoming the sort of person that anyone would be privileged to learn from. At the university level, I have friends and relatives who hit the conference circuit sharing their ideas and consulting with others in their field. I do my share of travel too, but for me summer is chiefly a time to reflect and expand, allowing my soul to unwind from the tight coil it assumes each school year that allows me to do what I have to do.
So where have I been roaming? There are three places where my mind tends to wander most often: the rolling hills and quiet waters of southern Connecticut, the vast, clear leagues of Middle Earth, and the shady groves of Ancient Greece. Don't ask me how those places connect. Each one is an inner castle, a fortress of the spirit, a place from which energy flows to accomplish the thousand homely mundanities that compose human life. These mundanities -and I call them "homely" for a reason- aren't bad. If fact, they are half the comfort and the glory of life -but they are only half. Affirmation in negation, negation in affirmation until the Fire and the Rose are one. I digress, but the point is that summer winds blow wide the doors to these demesnes of the soul. Those doors, for me, so often come in the form of a book.
To pass from the metaphysical to the mundane: what books have I been reading now that school's out for the summer? First on the list is Stratford Caldecott's The Power of the Ring, a revised edition of his earlier work The Secret Fire. I've been looking for Catholic perspectives on The Lord of the Rings to help point out things I might have missed as a non-Catholic. The Power of the Ring promises to do that in spades, but with a sensitivity to the non-Catholic reader that is much appreciated (so far as I've gotten at least). I particularly appreciate the way that Caldecott brings in Tolkien's statements on metaphysics in language and myth to emphasize that The Lord of the Rings was, among other things, a devotional activity to write and can be, among other things, a devotional activity to read. The second work I jumped into was Hammond and Scull's The Art of the Hobbit. I very much enjoyed their J.R.R. Tolkien Artist and Illustrator and I think I will enjoy this equally as well. While no expert, Tolkien's art has a strange and mystic quality that matches perfectly with the worlds he created. It also, incidentally, reminds me in an allusive way of the worlds of 8-bit and 16-bit video games that I enjoyed so much as a kid. The quality of the works may be miles apart, but the fundamental stamp of fantastic sub-creation is upon them both.
So there you have it: the official kick-off for this year's summer reading. I plan on returning to "The Summer of Shannara" as well with Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara, but that will have to wait until after next week and the wrapping up of some business first. Until then, remember: the Platypus speaks Truth.