Philip Jenkins's Christmas list
If you know anyone interested in history, religion, art, or travel, or who simply has an interest in superb writing, alert him to Patrick Leigh Fermor, arguably the finest English-language travel writer of the last century. His trilogy records his teenaged odyssey from England to Constantinople in the mid-1930s. An excellent way to get into his writings is through Artemis Cooper’s recent biography, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure.
Over the last three decades Britain has enjoyed a wonderful flowering of what we broadly call folk music, but which is wide-ranging in its integration of contemporary styles with traditional materials. After fierce internal debate, my choice for this year is The Moral of the Elephant, by Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza Carthy. It’s a lovely collection of songs, with virtuoso performances on guitar and fiddle.
I would give the DVD of the 2013 film Before Midnight, but packaged with its two predecessors in the trilogy. Individually, each of these films is poignant and richly entertaining. Together, they are a major work of contemporary fiction. (Part of Before Midnight was filmed in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house in Greece.)
Leading my own wish list is the two-volume omnibus edition of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Sandman. In addition to their visual splendors, Gaiman’s stories use a dazzlingly broad range of cultural and mythological reference, including G. K. Chesterton as one in an extensive list of characters. If these books weren’t consigned to the ghetto reserved for graphic novels, few critics would hesitate to include them among the triumphs of contemporary literature.
If you grew up in Britain and had the slightest interest in matters religious, you would be fascinated by the bloody persecutions that Protestant regimes inflicted on Catholic dissidents. Each side, in its way, was absolutely right in its attitudes to faith and politics, and both were totally wrong. Jessie Childs’s book God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England is a story of religious conflict set in a world of secret policing and informers, traitors and apostates, torturers and assassins—but all, alarmingly, in a familiar English setting.
As a science fiction classic, Frank Herbert’s Dune cried out for epic treatment in the cinema. (David Lynch’s 1984 version was a horrible letdown.) Even so, Dune did inspire “the greatest movie never made.” Alejandro Jodorowsky planned a wildly ambitious treatment of the book, using major figures in music, art, and graphic design. The project never came to fruition but is the subject of the film Jodorowsky’s Dune (on Blu-Ray). It’s a gorgeous evocation of the creative process at work.