Beginning the Pilgrimage

Well, I did it! I accepted the challenge (thanks, Barbara). I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s blogs for so long, and have so much to say myself that I finally had to take time out to set up my personal link to the outside world. I actually started to set up this blog almost six months ago, when I began planning my own website, www.subcreators.com, to be devoted to writers as “subcreators” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s words. Well, the rest of the site isn’t up yet, but I am at least taking the plunge into blogging.

My purpose in writing is to provide a place for my own reflections on the pilgrim’s way of being a Christian writer. This metaphor comes more naturally than any other, since Dante was the first Christian writer who had a profound influence on me – even before C. S. Lewis. And heaven knows Lewis has shaped me profoundly. But I believe that reading Dante’s Divine Comedy in an English translation when I was in the eighth grade stamped me profoundly — though I didn’t realize it at the time — with the image of the writer as on a pilgrimage. For a pilgrim is how Dante described himself, both as a Christian and a writer.

Dante began the journey described in his great work as a sinner with a long way to go before he reached the fulfillment of what God meant him to be as a man and an artist. It was a journey, both literally and metaphorically, from hell to heaven. He begins the first canto of the Inferno in a dark wood “where the straight path was lost,” and travels through hell, the realm of sin, to understand his own fallen nature. When he reaches the beautiful shores of Purgatory, he describes “the vessel of my genius” as setting sail to travel a better sea – the sea of his repentance, of spiritual and artistic purification. And when he at last reaches heaven and the vision of God, he says:

And as a pilgrim, in the temple he
had vowed to reach, renews himself-he looks
and hopes he can describe what it was like-
did I journey through the living light
(Par. 31:43-46-Allen Mandelbaum translation)

I believe that to undergo that purification, so that we can look at that “living light” and return to describe what we have seen, is our goal as Christian writers.

Reading Dante was one of the things that eventually lead me by various strange paths, including library work and a spell freelancing for Catholic periodicals, to get my Ph.D. in Medieval History with a strong minor in Medieval Italian literature. Then, just to make things even stranger, I dropped out of academia to continue my career as a freelance writer, translator, and screenwriter. My desire to write screenplays led me to Act One: Writing for Hollywood, and the wonderful fellowhip, mentoring and networking I found there.

I actually got interested in blogging from Barbara (see above) Nicolosi, whose blog Church of the Masses, chronicles film and Christian screenwriting, and from reading the blogs of several other fellow Christians already online. I’ll be discussing the latest films, Christians in cinema, myth and storytelling, the spiritual path of the artist, the classic Christian mentors for writers: Tolkien, Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and others. Since Jan the Maven has been exhaustively and wittily dissecting the Harry Potter books for some months, and is now promising to write about Lewis as well, and Barbara pretty much has Fannery O’Connor and Emily Dickinson covered, perhaps I’ll vary things a bit by writing more about Dante here. And a little something about my struggles with my own works, of course.

Welcome to the pilgrimage. If you want to come along with me, pick up your staff, your backpack, and start hiking!