Meet Characters Who Riveted Me. Meet Me!

A screenshot of the CJSHayward.com homepage

This is my homepage; for better or for worse, this is where I am now, and I have written quite a lot. The home page has a picture of me at Times Square at the top, and lots of discussion of humility further on. This is entirely deliberate.

“This is where I am now:” The site you see before you represents, more than anything else, quite simply my life’s work. Much of it is packaged and available as books or ebooks to curl up with, from my author site on Amazon. It is a vast and varied collection, and I invite you to explore, but not try to read everything. I have only met a scant few people who have read everything I offer here, a collection that is longer than the Bible.

I have had quite a journey getting here, and I would like to introduce you to a few characters who have been signposts along the way. In nearly all the cases, I was too wrapped up in my identification of that character and I needed to let go of something increasingly unhelpful.

A cover image for Madeleine l'Engle's "A Wind in the Door"

A Wind in the Door was my favorite children’s book, from well into my childhood, to well into my adulthood. I was irresistably drawn to the character of Charles Wallace, and surprised when I was told I very much resembled him. Charles Wallace:

  • Is a six-year-old boy.
  • “His IQ is so high it’s untestable by normal standards.”
  • Is getting roughed up in school.
  • Is reading Darwin, but it hasn’t helped. (Maybe he should have been reading Intelligent Design.)
  • Gathers thoughts from loved ones’ minds.
  • By the end of the story, kythes: communication as angels communicate, mind to mind, heart to heart, in indescribable intimacy.

Earlier on, I was drawn primarily to Charles Wallace, and later on the figure of Blajeny. Though Blajeny is introduced as a “Teacher” and states that Charles Wallace has a Work but will never be a Teacher, Blajeny is a mature Charles Wallace. The figure of Blajeny is mysterious, (“Mr. Blajeny? Sir Blajeny? Dr. Blajeny?”—”That is all of my name you ever need to know,”) but the name may have been taken from the Slavonic and Russian Блаженны, meaning Blessed as the term is used in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. He offers the wisdom of an alien world:

Where is my school? Here, there, everywhere. In the schoolyard during first-grade recess. With the cherubim and seraphim. Among the farandolae.

It is also Blajeny who teaches other characters kything.

Cherubim and seraphim are the highest ranks of angels; farandolae are fictional sub-cellular life which power mitochrondria, which are a real energy powerhouse found in human cells and are slightly munged in Star Wars as “midichlorians”, where they have everything to do with energy.

A screenshot of a site with a short story, or Socratic dialogue, of Blajeny from Madeleine l'Engle's "A Wind in the Door"

This site (the domain has lapsed) was a single page site with a fan fiction story or Socratic dialogue. It features two rotating hypercubes (4-cubes), called tesseracts in the book and much science fiction literature from a certain period. The presentation may be a bit archaic, as nobody uses backgrounds like that now, but the presentation attests to the draw the content had to me.

A cover to Robert A. Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land."

Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is about a race of one. Protagonist Michael Valentine Smith grew up biologically human but Martian by culture. The book is a bestseller, a cult classic, and has never gone out of print. It also has any number of things that are creepy. The author grinds the most incredible and unexplained axe against all guns and firearms, but at least in the story gives a hearty endorsement to casually killing and eating human beings. Also, from fairly early on the protagonist is ushered into the company of four lovely women who most of the time scarcely show any needs, baggage, boundaries, or jealousy.

Be that as it may, the story is riveting, although some may lose patience with where things were going when Mike was out to change the world. (The book is a candidate for the ;abel of, “Each chapter was better than the next.“) Michael, who is absolutely brilliant is a figure who pioneers a new way of being human, a common cultural thread in modern times, and the story offers a believable portrayal of someone who is highly gifted. Perhaps because I was impaired not by my own choice, I hated it the first time I read it but the second time through loved it. There is a thread of wholly given attention, and intimacy, in continuity with A Wind in the Door.

I used Stranger in a Strange Land as a model for Firestorm 2034. My version is one quarter the length of Heinlein and at least one reader said he liked it better than Heinlein. One obvious explanation is that the problems and offensiveness in Stranger in a Strange Land are present in Firestorm 2034, but to a lesser degree.

My Looking at Stranger in a Strange Land as a Modern Christological Heresy may be of interest to readers familiar with the book.

A closeup to the cover of Robert A. Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land."

At one point in Stranger in a Strange Land the women are standing in line so Michael can kiss them, which comes across as extraordinarily. A live question is raised over whether any of them will faint. But the author offers a believable surprise when the father-figure Jubal asks Anne what is so special about how he kisses:

“Is this something different?”

Anne pondered it. “Yes.”

“How?”

“Mike gives a kiss his whole attention.”

“Oh, rats! I do myself. Or did.”

Anne shook her head. “No. I’ve been kissed by men who did a very good job. But they don’t give kissing their whole attention: They can’t. No matter how hard they try parts of their minds are on something else. Missing the last bus—or their chances of making the gal—or their own techniques in kissing—or maybe worry about jobs, or money, or will husband or papa or the neighbors catch on. Mike doesn’t have technique… but when Mike kisses you he isn’t doing anything else. You’re his whole universe… and the moment is eternal because he doesn’t have any plans and isn’t going anywhere. Just kissing you.”

I’ve quoted, or wanted to quote, that passage in contexts that have no direct connection to sexuality. For instance, refraining from multitasking at work; I remember when the business world started to recognize that the fractured attention of multitasking is not a good thing, not good for the work or for the employee. Or on a video clip, a CEO explains as “a hack” that her mother, a homemaker, whether she was giving you cookies or doing anything else with you, gave you her whole attention. This point is at least an undercurrent in Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis. The late Thomas Hopko’s brilliant 55 Maxims include, “34: Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.”

The cover to C.J.S. Hayward's "Merlin's Well".

The figure of Merlin attracted me from an early age, and I’d like to give some sophisticated reason why, but for a number of years, even if I took Merlin as a nickname, I simply pined for some great and supernatural power. Not that there could be no resonance here: the literature on giftedness contains comments about the abilities of children at extremes can seem like magic powers. Playing AD&D was frustrating for me in that for most players, the character represents a vicarious step up in power, but I found myself making a vicarious step down in power, even if my character was named “Merlin.”

A friend recommended Steven Lawhead’s Merlin to me, not when I asked any question about the figure of Merlin, but when I asked about literature that portrays gifted children well, apart from A Wind in the Door. That point is not front and center to the story but it is only done well.

A book cover for C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, which includes "Out of the Silent Planet," "Perelandra", and "That Hideous Strength."

C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength is a difficult book to appreciate for many, but once it is appreciated, people tend to really, really like it. (And, for some, want to revisit the passages with St. Anne’s company, including Merlin, over the dull banality of evil in the N.I.C.E.)

One basic distinction in literature and writing is between flat and rounded characters. Of the definitions of the difference, the one that most readily comes to mind is that a rounded character believably surprises the reader. One reads these surprises occasionally: hence King David in the Bible prays, weeps, and fasts while the ailing child of his affair was alive, but then washes up and gets back to normal life when he learns of his child’s demise. However, they are ordinarily occasional. The figure of Merlin in C.S. That Hideous Strength comes close to dealing nothing but believable surprises, and may be the most riveting character I’ve encountered in literature.

The cover to C.J.S. Hayward's "The Sign of the Grail."

The novella in Merlin’s Well and The Sign of the Grail stemmed from when I spent too much time reading Arthurian legends, but it also serves to house the major elements of an intended thesis that got squashed by my university. In Arthurian legend there were kisses enough, and I do not think I handled the text roughly. (I did ignore certain parts, like incessant medieval action-adventure style fighting.)

Before I wrote Looking at Stranger in a Strange Land as a Modern Christological Heresy, I wrote in Grail a Christmas homily which unfolds Merlin to say that if he were deepened and expanded, he would look more and more like Christ.

The cover to the Classic Orthodox Bible.

(I have posted and withdrawn the Classic Orthodox Bible, first because I had pastoral encouragement, and second, because this sort of thing needs a bishop’s blessing, and I have not been granted such.)

In Orthodoxy, there is a great emphasis on deification: we are to become by grace what Christ is by nature. Or, as the saying has rumbled down the ages, “God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man that men and the sons of men might become gods and the sons of God.” This is the entire point of Orthodoxy.

One detail of English translation is that one particular word in Greek and Latin is translated by two separate words and introduce a distinction not in the original languages. We have the Apostle referring to “Jesus Christ,” and the Psalmist saying “Do not [violently] touch my anointed ones.” But it is the same term, and in the Classic Orthodox Bible the same term is used: “Christ” as the Latin and Greek alike have christus and χριστο&sigmaf in both kinds of passages. This may or may not all boil down to doctrine—probably it doesn’t—but there is perhaps a shadow of another ambiance that differs between East and West.

A 19th century Russian icon of Christ the King.

When at least some people enter Orthodoxy, there is a quest to find a new name, a Slava or patron saint. It is believed that the choosing runs both ways.

When I was getting ready to enter Orthodoxy, I had picked out the names “John Adam.” John for St. John the Theologian, because I wanted to be a great theologian in a thoroughly Western sense, and “Adam” because I wanted to be, in the fashion of Stranger in a Strange Land, someone forging ahead with a new way of being human. And yes, there’s as much proud narcissism in both of them as it appears at first glance.

I struggled long with my conscience, and when I finally surrendered, the name that was ringing in my ears was “Christos,” a name being read commemorating Orthodox for some need. And now that is the C in “CJS Hayward”.

People have sometimes assumed that it was out of pride that I took the name I took. In fact what I experienced was a check on my ample enough pride, and from the moment of repentance.

All figures but one in this collection are toxic if held too tightly. The one exception is Christ the King, here portayed in a 19th century icon. He holds a king’s orb. All the others, if I have wanted too much of some prominent feature, I have gotten into trouble. Like almost being named “John Adam,” and I don’t care here about the technicality of whether Adam is a saint. My problems were much bigger. By accepting the name of “Christos”, I rejected a Messianic fantasy.

Christ is not the only person who is worth emulating, worth holding as a hero. The Orthodox Church has an extraordinary collection of saints, a real treasurehouse to admire and imitate. Some have said that Russians learned about Christ, not from the Gospel but from the saints, and that is sad if it is true, but it catches something about the saints. Each one gives a glimpse of Christ’s face, if you have eyes to see it.

Best wishes!

You might also like…

Character Sheet

The Sign of the Grail

Looking at Stranger in a Strange Land as a Modern Christological Heresy

Within the Steel Orb

Author: C.J.S. Hayward

Who is Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward? A man, made in the image of God and summoned to ascend to the heights of the likeness of God. A great sinner, and in fact, the chief of sinners. One who is, moment by moment, in each ascetical decision choosing to become one notch more a creature of Heaven, or one notch more a creature of Hell, until his life is spent and his eternal choice between Heaven and Hell is eternally sealed. Man, mediator, midpoint, microcosm, measure: as man he is the recapitulation of the entire spiritual and visible creation, having physical life in common with plants and animals, and noetic life in common with rank upon rank of angel host, and forever in the shadow of that moment when Heaven kissed earth and God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man that men might become gods and the sons of God. He’s also a writer with a few hobbies, but really, there are more important things in life.