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Beyond the Region of Thunder: Flannery O’Connor’s Last Days

[Editor's Note: This Sunday, August 3, is the fiftieth anniversary of Flannery O'Connor's death. This memorial is adapted from Jonathan's biography of O'Connor, The Terrible Speed of Mercy, which is available in the Rabbit Room store.]

Fifty summers ago, Flannery O’Connor was thirty-nine years old. She had battled lupus for most of her adult life, managing the disease with massive doses of corticosteroids, which themselves had serious side effects. As she wrote to a friend, “So far as I can tell, the medicine and the disease run neck & neck to kill you.” In the spring of 1954, a major surgery reactivated O’Connor’s dormant lupus; the tell-tale “lupus rash” broke through the protective steroid barrier, signaling that the disease was back in earnest. O’Connor spent a month in Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital–from May 21 to June 20.

A prodigious letter-writer, O’Connor kept up her correspondence from her hospital bed. Through her many hospital stays, she almost always kept up her letter-writing. But she tended to put off fiction-writing until she could get back to her typewriter. The fact that she wrote much of “Parker’s Back” in Piedmont Hospital, in longhand, suggests a sense of urgency that was unusual for this most deliberate writer. O’Connor seemed to understand that there was something different about this hospital stay, about this recurrence of a disease that had come and gone but had been mostly manageable to that point. The letters she wrote that month didn’t have the same cheery tone that she usually assumed in her hospital letters. “I don’t know if I’m making progress or if there’s any to be made,” she wrote her friend Maryat Lee. “Let’s hope they are learning something anyhow.”



Hobbits and Adaptations

So the first trailer for the last Hobbit film has been released, which means the re-commencement of The Battle of the Five (or more) Opinions of The Hobbit Films. Here in the Rabbit Room we are passionate about our books, our films, and our books made into films. When it comes to Peter Jackson’s second foray into Middle-earth, I know there are strong opinions on both sides. All of this brought to my mind the idea of adaptation, and how we think about that.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to teach The Hobbit to high school students. One week I had them watch the two films, and then we discussed the films vs. the books. In my own search for material, I stumbled across a very helpful discussion of adaptation, and how we think about book-to-film adaptation, by Tolkien scholar Corey Olsen. He deals with the buildup to The Desolation of Smaug, but also spends a bit of time discussing general principles of adaptation. The lecture is pretty long at 2 1/2 hours, but well worth your time if you’d really like to listen.

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Olsen’s lecture, and the reemerging discussion with the release of the last Hobbit trailer, has brought some questions to mind that I thought I might share here, and spark some discussion on adaptation in general:

1. How much responsibility does a filmmaker have to adhering strictly to a text vs. creating their own vision of a text? Is an author’s opinion and vision of their own work the final authority? Consider that when you read a story, how you imagine the characters and environment may be very different than how the author does. Does this make you wrong?

2. Is it possible for a filmmaker to improve upon a book in some ways?

3. Is it possible to love both a book and a film adaptation of the book, even if they are significantly different, without betraying a sense of “loyalty” to the original story?

4. How do we navigate the gap between two very different mediums, which require two very different storytelling styles, in a knowledgeable way?

Let’s have a good, respectful discussion. Duels are only allowed over whether Galadriel is the fairest of them all.



Song of the Week: “Silhouettes”

Many of you will already be familiar with Colony House (formerly known as Caleb). They toured with Andrew Peterson for many of the shows in support of Light for the Lost Boy, but what you are likely unfamiliar with is the way they’ve matured as songwriters and performers. Their new album, When I Was Younger, produced by Ben Shive, conjures up comparisons to bands like Keane, Phoenix, Leagues, and The Killers, and the infectious blend is nearly impossible to resist. Check out their single “Silhouettes” for yourself.

“Silhouettes”
by Colony House
from the album When I Was Younger

[When I Was Younger is now available on iTunes. You can also use the coupon code "CALEB" to get 15% off of their To the Ends of the World EP (from back when they were known as Caleb) in the Rabbit Room store.]



Digging Tunnels

I’m writing from the bench at the bend in the trail. When we moved to the Warren these woods were a claustrophobic tangle of thorn, privet, and bush honeysuckle (don’t be fooled by the name–bush honeysuckle is a bane). Jamie and the kids and I crouched our way under the brushy eaves, lopping branches here and there, looking for good trees, marveling at huge slabs of limestone and granite peeking out of the soil, wondering how all those old beer bottles ended up under the humus so far from the house. Eventually we cut a series of trails, the path guided by the shape of the land and the fattest trees we could find–mostly cedar and hackberry, but along the way we happily discovered a couple of young sugar maples, a beast of a shumard oak, as well as the Goliath of our woods–a massive tree that neither of the two experts I’ve brought out here could identify. “It looks like a white walnut,” one of them said, “but if it is, that’s the biggest one in Tennessee.”



Rabbit Room Review 07-25-14

LivingLettersThere’s been a lot going on for the past couple of weeks and I’ll cover it all, but first let me urge you to circle August 4th on your calendar. Stephen Trafton, whom many of you will remember from his performance of Encountering Philippians at Hutchmoot 2012, will be back in Nashville to perform his new show, Encountering Colossians, at the Church of the Redeemer. The show starts at 7pm and the event is open to everyone. It’s also totally free, but we will take up a love offering to help support Stephen in his ministry. Please help us spread the word through Facebook and Twitter, as well as the more traditional grapevine. Hope to see you guys there. You’ll be glad you came. Click here for the Event page.

sonofSpeaking of Rabbit Room events—last week we held the first-ever house show at North Wind Manor. Son of Laughter (Chris Slaten) played to a packed house (literally) and I think it’s safe to say that we all had a grand old time. I especially enjoyed the chance to hear the new songs Chris has been writing for the new full-length record that he and Ben Shive are working on—it’s going to be great. After the show, folks hung around until almost midnight to chat on the porch, visit with friends in the library, and snack on desserts in the kitchen. It made me and Jennifer happy to see so many people enjoying the house and the fellowship. We’re hoping to host a monthly Rabbit Room event at the Manor, so keep an eye on the Rabbit Room website to find out what we’ve got planned for August.

clovenTuesday was the big day for The Proprietor (Andrew Peterson) who  released the final volume of The Wingfeather Saga into the world. There was a release party for The Warden and the Wolf King at Parnassus Books in Nashville and the place was jam-packed with people of all ages, many of whom were dressed up as characters from the books. There were Flabbits, and Sara Cobblers, and Florid Swords, and Podos, and Rockroaches, not to mention Toothy Cows. Oskar Nos Reteep even made an appearance and made wild claims in his mad attempts to cast doubt on the true authorship of the Wingfeather books. If he and Andrew ever meet in person, I expect there will be fireworks.

The Warden and the Wolf King is now available wherever great books are sold. Look for Pembrick’s Creaturepedia, hardback editions of The Monster in the Hollows, and full-color maps of Aerwiar to be available soon.

MoonRebecca Reynolds wrote a couple of remarkable poems last week, and nothing I say about them is going to be as useful as simply going and reading them. You should do that now. Great job, Rebecca. Click here for “Glory Be (I)” and here for “Glory Be (II).”

homeThe newly wed Chris and Jen Yokel have been moving into a new apartment and making it their own, and in Chris’s latest Rabbit Room post he discovers the poetry inherent in the everyday work of bringing color, shape, light, and life into an empty space and making it a home. Click here to read “The Making of a Home.”

weedsBarbara Lane recently took a sabbatical at a monastery in New Mexico, and while there, she found herself pulling up weeds, both literal and metaphorical. In her post, “Gonna Take a While…” she learns that a fruitful garden isn’t grown in a day.

CC-1423x800Matt Conner flexed his music journalism muscles this week and nailed an interview with none other than the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz. They talked about the Crows’ new album (coming out in September) and the unique sense of hope in one of the new songs, “Possibility Days.” We also learned that Adam is a fan of Sunday in the Park with George, which is kind of awesome. Read the entire interview here.

candle-light-burning-free-image-alegri-photosAnd yesterday, Lanier Ivester posted a recollection of her experience with the first Hutchmoot and how that has in many ways shaped her perception of what it means to be an artist. The post is called “Waiting for the Artist” and you can read it here.

And speaking of Hutchmoot, look for an announcement about our special guest speaker next week. We think you’ll be pleased.



Waiting for the Artist

There is no such thing as art. There are only artists.
Ernst Gombrich, The Story of Art

I had that driven home after attending The Rabbit Room’s first-ever gathering in the flesh, saw it living and breathing, laughing and even getting choked up at times. Felt its electricity tingling in my veins and an answering call piercing my heart. In company of some of the most passionate music makers and story tellers and painters and theologians I am ever likely to encounter, I tasted the good bread of Community and drank deep of the wells of Truth.

I was privileged to sit in on lectures that made me dizzy with excitement and stimulation, ranging from the works of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis to Annie Dillard and Flannery O’Connor. I took copious amounts of illegible notes and I told secrets to friends of an hour. I laughed till I cried and I made a fool of myself more than once (always a good thing) and I felt the sweet sting of tears in my eyes as God plunged His words deep with that pain that heals and sings.

And I saw Gombrich’s maxim above excavated and built up by an even greater truth, a higher, nobler beauty:

“There are no such things as ‘artists’ and ‘non-artists’,” Russ Ramsey told us, sitting at the front of a small classroom with candlelight playing almost symbolically off his face. “There is only lit and unlit.”



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