The Kelmscott Chaucer

You all know by now that I really admire the work of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. One their joint-greatest achievements was the printing of a fabulous edition of Chaucer’s poetry.

Burne-Jones designed the wood-cut illustrations, and Morris drew the elaborate illuminated letters and backgrounds. 452 copies of their edition were printed by Morris’ printing company, “Kelmscott”, hence the common title of their book.

I was fortunate enough to see one of the original copies at the State Library of Victoria, earlier this year. There was a great display of historical books, parchments, letters etc, arranged like a huge timeline around one floor of the building. The Kelmscott Chaucer was there, along with other great works of fact and fiction, including some illuminated manuscripts of the Holy Bible and prayer-books.

I recently made a wall-hanging for my son, Lucien, by stitching a monogram based on one of Morris’ illuminated letters, onto a background of WM fabric. Unfortunately, I took this photograph at night, so the quality isn’t very good, but it may give you some idea of the outcome of my project, as well as give you some ideas for your own.

A movie review.

I have just finished watching the DVD of “Prometheus” with the older members of my family. (Sure, I went to sleep during a crucial scene, but I have seen it before.) I am sure that you have seen at least trailers for this alien/genesis-themed movie.It got me thinking about the differences between pagan mythology and science fiction.

Prometheus stole fire from Zeus as he slept…

Why is it that classical literature has fed our imaginations for thousands of years, and, that although pagan in origin, has continued to inspire us, even after we have been given the revelation of our Redemption by the Son of God?

Classicism always looks backward in order to illuminate both our origins and our future, and to form our characters in order that we live well in the present. My children and I often laugh at the behaviour of those mythical gods, and say how relieved we are that we have a God who actually knows what’s going on around Him, and is infinitely superior to humans. But we enjoy the stories and appreciate them because they have contributed to the Great Conversation of our history and culture.

Modernism, however, tends always forwards. It almost negates any suffering or joy of the present, muddies our memories of the past and blames traditionalism for all of our ills, then leaps into the future – always to a brave, new world, where shackles are broken, and so is morality.

And science fiction must surely be the literary genre of the modernist.

Two scenarios are commonly presented to us in works of science fiction: the post-apocalyptic world, and the science-driven, automated world. Humanity is presented as having devolved into a beast, or evolved into an automaton. We are never portrayed as having become more human.

Well, give me suffering, tears, disappointment any day, because I must be human. I demand it. I will feel compassion, and I will feel it because of the Cross. In classical mythology, we are drawn to the bold exploits of the heroes; their suffering has merit, even in a pagan worldview. Man has a relationship with God, even though it is flawed. But the modern heroes suffer, and there is no reward. There is no merit in their suffering because there is no God.