Eric Knight’s “Lassie Come Home”

BLOG #45, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #24
ERIC KNIGHT’S LASSIE COME HOME
November 6, 2013

After the two-month marathon September Book of the Month, Victor Hugo’s monumental Les Miserables, I decided I ought to throw in a real change of pace.  As I searched for a book generations of young people (as well as adults of all ages) have loved, I chanced to look at the most beloved shelf of books in my entire library: the books I cherished most during my growing-up years.  Front and center was Lassie Come Home.  Memories flooded in on me as I retrieved it, looked at my teen-age writing inside the cover, and remembered the impact of that first reading.  My missionary parents [in Latin America] had given me a great gift: the gift of living with my maternal grandparents, Herbert and Josephine Leininger in their large rambling home in then almost perpetually foggy Arcata in California’s redwood country.  I got to live there for my entire eighth-grade year.

Given that I was named after their only son (of seven children), who drowned in a swimming accident when he was only ten, they – especially Grandpa, who declared, when the body of his only son was brought into their house, “The light of my life has gone out!” – I was given a double dose of grandparenting love that year.  And almost every week, I’d be taken to a local book store with enough money to buy another book just for me.  One of those books was Eric Knight’s timeless dog classic.  I could not put it down, reading on to its conclusion sometime in the middle of the night.

But now, I wondered, after over half a century, would the book still have the same power it did back then?  Not to worry: it was near midnight before I reached that last page.

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THE BOOK, THE MOVIES, THE SEVERAL TV SERIES

I would guess that even though millions have read the book, many times that number will have seen the Lassie movies and been addicted to one of the longest-running series in television history.

First of all, the author was himself a larger-than-life-figure: Eric Oswald Mowbray Knight (1897 – 1943) was born in Menston in Yorkshire [James Herriot country], England.  His parents were both Quakers.  His father, a rich diamond merchant was killed in the South African Boer War when Eric was only two.  His mother then moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to work as a governess of the Russian imperial family.  She later settled in America.

Knight had a varied career, including service in the Canadian Army during World War I, and along the way studied art, became a newspaper writer, and later on, a Hollywood screenwriter.  His first novel, Song on Your Bugles (1936) depicted the working class of Northern England.  His This Above All is considered to be one of the most significant novels of World War II.

But it was his 1940 novel, Lassie Come Home, that catapulted him into worldwide iconic fame.  Knight and his second wife, Jere, raised collies on their farm in Pleasant Valley, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, from 1939 to 1943.  Though Knight then lived in America, the setting for the novel was back in the Yorkshire of his childhood, hence the Yorkshire dialect in the book.  Knight met an untimely death in a plane crash in Dutch Guiana (Suriname) in 1943 –he was only 46.

The MGM movie, Lassie Come Home (1943), was directed by Fred M. Wilcox and produced by Samuel Marx.  It had a powerful cast: Roddy McDowell, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp, Elsa Lancaster, May Whitty, and Edmund Gwenn.  Pal starred as Lassie.

Half a century later, in 1994, Daniel Petrie and Lorne Michaels directed and produced Broadway Paramount’s Lassie.  Unlike the earlier film, this one is set in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in a modern setting.  Actors included Thomas Guiry, Helen Slater, Jon Tenney, Brittany Boyd, Frederic Forrest, and Richard Farnsworth.

In television, CBS’s Lassie ran an astounding 21 years; the main series from 1954 to 1974.  During those years, its stars included Tommy Rettig, Jan Clayton, George Cleveland, Donald Keeler, Paul Maxey, Jon Provost, Arthur Space, Cloris Leachman, Jon Shepodd, George Chandler, June Lockhart, Hugh Reilly, Todd Ferrell, Andy Clyde, Robert Bray, Jed Allen, Jack De Mave, Ron Hayes, Skip Burton, Joshua Albee, Larry Wilcox, Larry Pennel, Pamelyn Ferdin, and Sherry Blucher.  The real heroes, of course, were the collies that starred as Lassie.  By the time the series reached its final conclusion, the dog had edged out almost all humans.  The setting was in America rather than England, and the immortalized epic thousand-mile journey of Lassie in the book, Lassie Come Home, was not depicted at all.Scan_Pic0061Scan_Pic0062

There was a later TV series, The New Lassie (1989 – 1991) that was memorable though low budget, starring Will Nipper, Christopher Stone, Dee Wallace Stone, Wendy Cox, and Jon Provost.

* * * * *

Though the book has appeared in a number of editions, it was originally published by the John C. Winston Company.  Grosset and Dunlap thereafter took it into the mass market.  Whatever you do, make sure the book you purchase is unabridged.  The original runs 248 pages.  The Grosset & Dunlap runs 186 pages, with smaller print.  Avoid at all costs the many popular abridged versions.

Will be most interested in your reactions.

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Calvary Chapel – Memories I made There – Part 3

BLOG #44, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
MEMORIES I MADE THERE
Part Three
October 30, 2013

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Gettysburg Weekend
Program Cover

My mind is still in a whirl after that memorable weekend. I still don’t really know what I expected to see and experience there–I only know that I was deeply moved by my being there.

Late one evening, I had a long chat with Calvary Chapel’s chief shepherd, Pastor Joe Focht. I told him I’d been deeply impressed by what I’d seen, comparing it to what I’d learned about the Post-Apostolic churches during my researching the life and times of St. Nicholas. The early Christian Church had no doctrine or creed, instead living by the Didache, a document as old as the Gospels themselves, based on Christ’s answer to the question, “What do I have to do to be saved?” His answer, according to Matthew, was “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, thy soul, and thy mind–and thy neighbor as thyself.” I noticed that just as Jethro advised his son-in-law, Moses, to stop micro-managing and instead select wise Spirit-led leaders, here in this church are leaders coordinating Medical Fellowship, Special Events, Single Moms, Women’s Prayer, Home Fellowship Missions, Divorce Care, Marriage and Family, Pre-marital Ministry, Men’s Repair Ministry, Hospitality, Bereavement, Worship Bible Study, Outreach, Missions, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Military Support, Russian Fellowship, Prison Ministries, Christian Alternatives to Addiction, Calvary Christian Academy, Over 50’s Ministry, Men’s Accountability, Men’s Breakfast, Hospital Visitation, Children’s Ministry, Bookstore Ministry, New Believers, Transformed College and Career, Radio Ministry, Volunteer Security, Funeral/Memorial Services, Special Needs, Sports, Puppets, Street Evangelism, Crosswalk Jr. High, Greeter and Usher Ministries, Law Enforcement Fellowship, Men’s Prayer, Combat Veterans Support Fellowship, etc.

As a result, instead of feeling I was in the midst of a church dominated by a single-personality, here it was very much like individualized ownership of the church. Each member I spoke with considered the church to be a home/safe haven, a well-organized beehive of activity and involvement. Everybody belongs. I’m not surprised that this one church has spawned twenty more Calvary Chapels in Pennsylvania. Pastor Joe told me his sermons follow the Bible clear through each year; and the following year, he does it again, continuing to study deeply as he prayerfully write new sermons each week. There appears to be no cult clustering around one
person at Calvary Chapel, but rather Pastor Joe prefers to be known as merely a fellow-seeker of spiritual knowledge and service for others. He and I discussed favorite authors and books, and before I left he gifted me with three of his favorite books by an author I’d never heard of before–I’m finding them extremely insightful; I’m planning on returning the favor. In short, with him I feel I shall enjoy many years of friendship with a kindred spirit.

It appears that Calvary Chapel pastors, rather than coming to their pulpits via divinity schools, tend to come from the rough and tumble world itself, just as was true of Christ’s apostles. It was certainly clear to me that Pastor Joe feels called.

As for Pastor Trevor Steenbakkers, my contact, guide, and chauffeur, he too I came to deeply appreciate. He is very good at what he does: shepherding the men of the church. Most certainly the women of the church are led by equally effective leadership.

I am so thankful they invited me to spend a weekend with them. I feel deeply blessed.

CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA – DAY ONE

    BLOG #42, SERIES 4
    WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
    CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
    DAY ONE
    October 16, 2013

I just returned from a most memorable weekend in Philadelphia and Gettysburg.  The appointment had been made a number of months ago, but until I actually arrived there I had only the haziest idea of what I might meet there.  All I knew was that a certain Pastor Trevor loved my 2008 biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to speak to his church on the subject of Abraham Lincoln.  By the time I got there, my newest book, Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories had just arrived.

What a wonderful experience it turned out to be!

I would be dividing my time between the church’s men and their sons, and the church’s high school students.

Since I’ve never belonged to a congregation of more than 3,500 members, it was a radically new experience for me to be speaking to a church of 10,000 members, plus 5,000 teens and children.  A church with a staff of forty; sixteen being full-time pastors.

I might as well confess that up until last weekend, I didn’t think much of large or mega churches.  Mainly, I guess, because I’d never before experienced one first-hand.  With that many people, I really didn’t see how the average member could have his/her needs met.  I even wondered whether or not there might be more than a little of Elmer Gantry-ism in their leadership teams.

But rather than ramble on in generalities, let me tell you what it was like being there.  I’d be spending my first morning with about 500 of their teens attending Calvary Christian Academy.  I spent considerable time at home writing what I hoped would be an interesting lecture, but, as I continued to pray about the weekend, gradually I was convicted that I ought to ask Pastor Trevor if he’d be willing to get the young people to write out questions that intrigued or interested them (on subjects such as Lincoln, writing, authors, reading, life, etc.—whatever might be on their hearts).  He relayed that message to the teachers.   And so it was, after a three-hour rain delay, I arrived late; but there was this imposing stack of questions—and I’d be speaking to them the next morning.  I finished at 1 a.m.  Believe me, they’d taken me at my word: Here are just a few of their questions:

    PUBLIC SPEAKING

•    How do you handle talking to large groups?
•    Were you always good at speaking to large groups?  If not, how did you overcome that fear?

    READING/WRITING

•    Do you have to know how to use direct objects and predicate nominatives to be a writer?
•    Do you have to be a good reader and like to read to be a good writer?
•    How does journaling help you become a better writer?
•    As a journaler, do people write about their lives or what went on in the world?
•    Does traveling to historic places give you inspiration?

    QUESTIONS DIRECTED AT ME

•    How do you become an author?
•    What is your favorite color?
•    How did you come to know God?
•    What is it like knowing people are reading books you wrote?
•    How do you know what God’s plan is for your life?
•    What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
•    Why did you decide to write biographies about people?
•    Do you ever run out of ideas to make your books better than your previous books?
•    How do you create great books that are interesting to most age groups yet talk about God too?
•    How does it feel to be known and famous?
•    What do you do when you don’t know what to write about?
•    As a professional writer to a young writer, what is the best way to improve one’s writing capability?
•    Which of your works are you most proud of?

    ABRAHAM LINCOLN

•    How long did you study Abraham Lincoln for your book?
•    What made Lincoln a great leader?
•    What do you think was Lincoln’s greatest flaw?
•    In your opinion, what was the single most difficult decision made during Lincoln’s presidency?
•    Was Lincoln a Christian man?
•    What was the hardest decision Lincoln had to make as president?
•    When Lincoln was president, did he have people to discuss his decisions with, and did they agree or disagree?
•    Was Lincoln personally interested in freeing slaves?  Or was it just a political move?
•    How did Lincoln feel about his widespread fame?  How did he handle it and stay humble?
•    Why in most photos does Lincoln wear a top hat?
•    Did Lincoln struggle with the paparazzi?
•    Elaborate on the dream Lincoln had just before he died.
•    How do you think our nation would be different without Lincoln and his faith in God?
•    The Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in history.  Yet he went after another man.  Could you tell us about him?
•    What was the single event in Lincoln’s life that set the stage for what he became?
•    Did Lincoln want to be president as a child?

    * * * * *

As you can see, their questions were not only insightful, they reveal that their Calvary Christian Academy history teachers really teach their students history!  Many college students today wouldn’t have been able to field questions as deep as many of these.  Nor be as knowledgeable about history.

Not only that, but they were most attentive, alert, interested in the subject, and respectful.  Afterwards, a number came up front to ask for my autograph—one wanted it on her wrist. 🙂

    THE FAITH OF LINCOLN

In the evening, I spoke to 400 – 500 fathers and sons about Lincoln’s faith in God–while young; when as an adult he put God on hold for many years, and then when his second son, Eddie, died, how he recognized his great need for God; and finally how, during the Civil War, only his moment by moment reliance on God made it possible for him to face the horrific casualties (620,000 – 750,000), more than all the rest of our wars put together).  I also discussed the need for parents to return to the daily story hour so that they can minister to their children’s spiritual  needs from day to day.

Afterwards, for several hours, I signed their Lincoln books (both the biography and the new story anthology).

Then I was ferried back to the motel.  Next day was Gettysburg.  Will fill you in on that next week—what it was like during the government shutdown!

29th Zane Grey Convention

 

WILLIAMSBURG, VA

Part 1

Every four or five conventions, we go east rather than west.  Williamsburg it was this year—with Jamestown and Yorktown making up the triangular cradle of the American nation.

Once upon a time, in the not very distant past, Zane Grey was a household name across America.  In fact, during the first half of the 20th century, Grey was the world’s most popular and highest-paid author.  He is generally considered to be the Creator of the Romantic West and the Father of the Western Novel.  But today, with reading in decline along with literacy in general, with young people literate in little other than popular culture and sports, with plunging national test scores in history, it should come as little surprise that few people under the age of 50 recognize either his name or his books.

We in the Zane Grey’s West Society seek to do our part to help reverse that sad state of affairs.  We don’t want the love of the West to die out when we step off the stage of life.

Four-hundred years ago, Virginia was the wild West; 250 years ago, the Ohio Valley wilderness was the frontier.  It was during this time period that one of Grey’s ancestors, Betty Zane, became a Revolutionary War heroine when she risked her life in order to race across a clearing, a sack of gun powder on her shoulder, as a desperate act to save Fort Henry (commanded by Col. Ebenezer Zane, her brother) and those settlers within who were being besieged by French and Indian forces.  Since those besieged were out of gunpowder, they were doomed unless by some miracle they could contrive to secure some gunpowder.  Not surprisingly, when Grey grew up and began to write, Betty Zane (a novel based partly on that heroic dash) would become his first published book.  Three more novels set in America’s second West followed: The Spirit of the Border, The Last Trail, and George Washington, Frontiersman.  George Washington was well acquainted with the Zane family.  In fact, after the Revolutionary War was over, George Washington and the Continental Congress authorized Ebenezer Zane and his brothers to blaze a trail into the wilderness, on the west side of the Mississippi.  That route was first known as “Zane’s Trace,” then the National Road, then Highway 40, and today Interstate 70.  All this family history was reason enough for us to meet in Williamsburg the third week of June this year.

I’m often asked the question, “What do you do in your conventions?” Let me walk you through to give you the answer: first of all, we drive to, take a train to, or fly to, wherever a given convention might take place.  Traditionally, the convention begins on a Monday evening, consequently you’d expect everyone to arrive sometime Monday.  NOT.  A number arrive by Friday, and fully half generally check in by Sunday.  Our Zanies so enjoy being together that they can’t wait to catch up on the intervening year.   Registration takes place Monday afternoon, as does the process of hauling books or memorabilia to the room chosen to house the auction items until Tuesday afternoon.  Most everyone brings items since without that annual transfusion of funds, we’d have to dramatically raise our dues (we’ve only raised them once in 29 years!).  The only way we’ve been able to pull that off is to all serve pro-bono.  There is no paid anyone in the entire Society.  For all of us, serving is a labor of love.

Terry Bolinger welcoming the convention

Monday evening is the barbecue or opening banquet.  Since there’d been a lot of rain, this time we held a banquet inside.  No one sits alone—our members make sure of that.  After being welcomed by our president, Terry Bolinger, dinner is served.  Afterwards, Terry had all the new attendees stand, introduce themselves, and tell where they’re from.  These introductions accelerate the getting-acquainted process.  Next came the introduction of James Perry, Public Affairs Officer for the three parks we were visiting this convention: Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.  He welcomed us to the colonial triangle and filled us in on what we ought to look for.  Afterwards, Dr. Jim D’Arc, Director of Film archives for Brigham Young University, took us behind the scenes of the famous movie he’d brought along: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by John Ford, and in the cast: Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, and Edna May Oliver.  Sometimes the films Dr. D’Arc brings are shown on evenings other than Monday.

Tuesdays are always the longest days, perhaps because the members Memorial Breakfast begins at 7 a.m.  As soon as breakfast is over, we give members the opportunity to reminisce about those who are no longer with us.  For to live in the hearts of others is not to die.  Before we separate, always—for 29 unbroken conventions now—, I remind the members that before the Society was founded, the other Co-Founder (the Rev. G. M. Farley) and I promised each other that, in order to make sure no one would ever be lonely at a convention, Poet Laureate of America Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” would be recited, then everyone would repeat it aloud.  We now did just that:

“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

Joe Wheeler giving his 29th keynote address

After a short break, we reconvened.  After preliminaries, I was introduced, and I gave my 29th convention keynote address.  This one was titled, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and had to do with that traumatic six-year period (1982 – 1988) when it appeared that the Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania home of Zane and Dolly Grey would be lost to the wrecking ball.  Few of our attendees had ever heard before the story of  how the miracle of it ended up in the National Park System took place.

Lackawaxen, PA Museum in 1982

This was followed by Dorothy Moon, head curator of the Lackawaxen Museum, who filled us in on all the fascinating things that were happening there.  She in turn was followed by two representatives (Joanne Duncan and Kathryn Miller) from the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in New Concord, Ohio, who also brought us up to date on that facility.  It has been mighty tough for them because the recession has hit Ohio so hard.

In the afternoon, a good share of the attendees gathered to participate in the annual auction.  Since so much is riding on the income derived from it, I encouraged everyone to get into the act.  Besides the regular auction, there was also the opportunity to bid on a large number of silent auction items.

Back side of Zane Grey House in Lackawaxen, Pa in 1982

In the evening, many returned for Huckster’s Night (an opportunity to hawk items you’d rather sell than have to haul home).  Others took the evening off, a number eating in colonial restaurants in Williamsburg—complete with staff in colonial costumes.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll explore Old Town, Williamsburg.