Word on Fire

  • Hints of the Transcendent in the Science Fiction of Ray Bradbury
    on February 25, 2021 at 12:00 am

    While he is perhaps best known for his critically acclaimed dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury thought of himself primarily as a writer of short stories. Often wedged in between Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke as one of the “ABCs” of twentieth-century science fiction, Bradbury’s work is remarkably divergent in style and substance from that of those authors, indeed from most sci-fi of the last seventy years. Bradbury’s stories sometimes contain themes and plot elements that hint at the existence of a transcendent reality beyond the physical universe that we can observe and measure. Two notable examples, “The Man” and “The Fire Balloons,” can be found in Bradbury’s acclaimed short story collection The Illustrated Man. “The Man” follows the exploits of two space explorers, Captain Hart and Lieutenant Martin, who have arrived on an unnamed planet. Upset that the native inhabitants have not come to greet the astronauts, Hart…

  • Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”: A New Translation Helps to Better Understand a Classic
    on February 24, 2021 at 12:00 am

    This month, the Society of G.K. Chesterton announced the publication of a new book titled Orthodoxy: An American Translation, which should immediately provoke confusion among Chesterton fans. Didn’t Chesterton write in English? Why do we need a translation? What does it even mean to translate English into English? And why is this book, with its plain and dry title, so enduring and impactful? Why has it influenced so many Catholic converts, and why should it still be read today? Word on Fire’s Brandon Vogt sits down with Dale Ahlquist, President of the Society of G.K. Chesterton and one of the three translators involved with the project, to discuss these questions and more. BRANDON: Although I’m guessing most of our audience knows G.K. Chesterton, can you succinctly tell us who this man was and why he still matters? DALE:…

  • The Present You Want Is Not the Gift You Need
    on February 23, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Some time ago, in the feverish throes of buying a book for a good friend’s birthday, I had an epiphany. Wrapping the book in colored paper and neatly nestling it in the gift bag, my wife asked me what I had purchased. After naming the book and smiling at my own thoughtfulness, my wife quipped, “Ah. You bought him a gift, not a present.” Momentarily flummoxed, I had to ask her what she meant. “Well,” she explained, “a gift is something you want them to have; a present is something they actually want.” Well, who knew there was a difference? Not Merriam-Webster, whom I quickly consulted in my defense. Nonetheless, my wife’s sentiment has always stuck with me. I have discovered that I spend a lot of time asking God for presents, while deflecting his many gifts. “Would you do this for me?” I implore. “Here is what I want,”…

  • Memento Mori: Remember That You Have to Die
    on February 22, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Do you remember when you first realized that you would eventually die? I do. Each summer, my family visited my great aunt’s cottage on Christie Lake in southwest Michigan. Sometimes my sisters and I were left there with our grandmother for the week. Besides swimming in the lake and playing cards, there wasn’t much to do, so Grandma and I would take long walks together.  The lake was surrounded by farms of golden wheat that in late summer would sway in the wind, and the landscape became concentric circles of blue, green, and gold. Our path ended at an old, small cemetery and, as the years passed, the path’s ending—always bringing me to the graveyard—became for me a working metaphor about life itself. Each walk came to represent my journey toward my own path’s end, my own demise. I moved from the middle blue of the…

  • “Lost in Thought” and “The Dig”: Let the Cult of the Amateur Arise!
    on February 19, 2021 at 12:00 am

    We need more amateurs. In her new book Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of the Intellectual Life, Zena Hitz, a practicing Catholic and Tutor in the great books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, makes the case for the life of the mind for everyone. Hitz has a PhD from Princeton, but she tells us that the intellectual life requires no degree at all. “It is a source of dignity,” Hitz argues, and Lost in Thought is a universal call to braininess. Passion both for discovery and service, born out of intellectual inquiry detached from mere academic success, is a rarity these days. With our world fracturing into an unfortunate binary of elites and everyone else, we need more ordinary people to advise, explain, explore, and most of all lead, primarily because they love what they do, not because they want (or need) to show off…

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