Smoke on the Mountain

Smoke on the Mountain by Joy Davidman 

Introduced by CS Lewis 

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Joy Davidman, who began her career, appropriately enough as a nursery governess to a lion-cub, first came before the public as the poetess of Letter to a Comrade, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award for 1938. The volume showed, side by side with a delicate precision of imagery (one remembers the crabs “joined, Japanes, and frail”) an occasional orotundity, a deep bell-like note, not very typical of its period; in ‘The Empress Changes Lovers’ and ‘Absolution’ it successfully answered the question we must put to all young poets: “Can you go beyond the pageant of your bleeding heart and the general state of the world, and present a situation?”

*

Something of [the] old Hebraic quality has gone into [this] book. [There] is the style. I do not of course mean that Joy Davidman’s style is derived from her blood. It comes, like all good writing, from an individual talent, from reading, and from discipline. Many writers on “religion” (how odious a word, by the way, how seldom used in Scripture, how hard to imagine on the lips of our Lord!) have a positive love for the smudgy and the polysyllabic. They write as though they believed (in the words of the late George Gordon) “that they should be clothed in pure wood.” There is no wool here. The author, to be sure, is an American and uses her own language, not always lexically or idiomatically the same as ours; but it is none the worse for that.

 

*

I do not of course agree with Miss Davidman at every point. In such a book every reader will have his or her crow to pluck with the author.

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I bought this paperback at Addyman’s in Hay.

This weekend I am seeing my Dad and I thought of him when I saw this book. It was on the desk at Addyman’s, at the top of a stack of books. Joy Davidman’s name caught my eye. She married CS Lewis and the introduction above is a selection of extracts from his foreword to the book. I don’t recall seeing it on my Pa’s bookshelves or at home, so thought I’d buy it for him as a small token gift.

My Dad has an excellent theological library that he has collected over forty years of browsing secondhand bookshops. He knows each book and uses every one of them, although with varying regularity. If he were to lose his sight I am sure he would be able to select a book from the shelves, and flick through to approximately the page of a particular quote or reference he required. That level of familiarity with his books makes his library special, even if is of no great value to anyone else.

It was a great sadness to him when the Barbican Bookshop on Fossgate in York closed after 53 years in operation. I recall Saturdays and holidays when he would take us to the Castle Museum in York or the Yorvik Viking Centre, always followed by a trip to the bookshop. It was a rambling house with rooms of books (rather like Addyman Books in Hay), the walls, floors and steep, narrow staircases piled with books. Dad had his interests – the authors, the subjects he was interested in. He loved the familiarity of the place, but also the element of the unexpected – the chase, the find, a book to slot in to his shelves.

As a child, I wasn’t remotely interested in any of that. I felt the shop felt stuffy and smelt stale. When we walked through the door of a bookshop we were there for a while. But I loved the little rooms at the Barbican. I would find a book I liked the look of and sit and read until Dad had paid for his pile of books and we were on our way.

It is one of the reasons that I love Addyman’s. The little book rooms and stacks of books, and places to sit and read remind me of those days. Oh and it doesn’t feel stuffy or smell stale at all.

Emma Balch

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