Friday, May 1, 2009

What ho, what ho, what ho?

I not only like what Kevin DeYoung writes about the faith; he has, if this is any indication, great taste in his recreational reading, too: P.G. Wodehouse, and especially Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.
With cheerful delight, I recently started reading another P.G. Wodehouse novel. Wodehouse (1881-1975) is hands down one of the best writers in the English language, ever. He isn’t profound. He isn’t penetrating. His books are not dissected in lit classes. But his command of vocabulary and syntax is amazing and his humor is, unlike other humorists, actually very, very funny. There’s nothing like unwinding with a little Jeeves and Wooster after a four hour elder meeting to get the old egg cracking again, what? (Take my word for it, and read Wodehouse to understand my drift).

.... The stories are about nothing, but the characters are so memorable (e.g., the newt loving Gussie Fink-Nottle), and the dialogue so perfectly ridiculous (“Hello ugly, what brings you here?”), and the put-downs so ingenious (“It was as if nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment”) that you can’t help grin, chuckle, and even occasionally cackle.

The whole reason for bringing up Wodehouse though is to draw attention to his use of the Bible. I don’t think he had much of a faith commitment, but his biblical literacy is astounding. Just yesterday I came across this in the opening pages of The Code of the Woosters, where Bertie is complaining about his rough sleep the night before: “I had been dreaming that some bounder was driving spikes through my head–not just ordinary spikes, as used by Jael the wife of Heber, but red-hot ones.” When’s the last time you’ve heard Jael referenced in a sermon, let alone a novel?....
And DeYoung gives several examples, demonstrating that Wodehouse came from an age when even the irreligious knew something about the Bible. When I started teaching, and for many years therafter, I could allude to biblical stories with assurance that most of my students would have some idea what I was talking about. That stopped being true some time ago. In any event, some of DeYoung's examples of Wodehousian biblical literacy:
For good measure, here are few more of my favorites strung together:
There was a death-where-is-thy-sting-fulness about her manner which I found distasteful.

For the first time since the bushes began to pour forth Glossops, Bertram Wooster could be said to have breathed freely. I don’t say that I actually came out from behind the bench, but I did let go of it, and with something of the relief which those three chaps in the Old Testament must have experienced after sliding out of the burning fiery furnace, I even groped tentatively from my cigarette case.

Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids’ school we were at together, and you know what he’s like. But, of course, Bertie frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common. If that man’s pockets, as he entered the examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting point with lists of the kings of Judah–
There was a wonderful British television series, first shown here on PBS, starring Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. No doubt more people have seen it than have read the books. The series is quite faithful in plot, mood, and characterization to Wodehouse's books. All of the episodes are available on DVD: Jeeves & Wooster: The Complete Series. If you haven't experienced either, you are in a sense fortunate — because you have much pleasure yet ahead, and although Wodehouse can be revisited with great enjoyment, there is nothing like the first time.

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: P.G. Wodehouse and Biblical Literacy

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.