Posted on behalf of Jef Murray.


Welcome to my newsletter for July, 2008! Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in keeping up with me. To receive these newsletters regularly, please drop me an email or subscribe online from my website ( ) or at: . Notices of new paintings and events are at the bottom of this email.

Epiphanies =========

In the Deep South, we're so steeped in the macabre that it becomes invisible, rather like a print gathering dust over the mantelpiece. The pervasiveness of the grotesque and the bizarre in my homeland reminds me of the old riddle about who discovered water. The answer? Anyone but a fish. When you swim in strangeness, you never see it.

So, I'm wondering about all that weirdness down my way. And it's got me questioning the seeing and the not seeing, the "what's real" and the "what isn't".

"Haints" are a tradition in Dixie, and sometimes the realest stuff can be the hardest to nail down. Ralph C. Wood wrote a book entitled Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South. I don't know Wood, and I've not read his book, but the title teases me with lovely admixture images of big tops and baptisms. There's a perky seediness evoked by such a title. We'd like to think life is clean, straightforward, antiseptic. But, on a day-to-day level, life down here seems more ornery than orderly.

When I was a teenager, I attended tent revival meetings at the old fair grounds in Rome, Georgia. These usually lasted about a week, and each night the preachers focused on a different scriptural or pastoral theme. Sweaty, balding men testified to their coming to Jesus on a big stage while others would pray for and receive healing for diseases, deformities, deficiencies. Folks were struck dumb by the power of the Holy Spirit, fainting away into the soft sawdust scattered on the Georgia clay.

My family was packed full of "intellek'shuls" , so there weren't many chances to discuss such things. They were just there…laid out in front of one to accept or not. Were the healings real? Or just some devilish proof of the Fall? Were the preachers saints, or just some bevy of bamboozlers preying on the hopes of the hapless? "And thus I clothe my naked villainy / With old odd ends stolen forth from holy writ / And
seem a saint when most I play the devil." - Shakespeare

But this stuff is what we waller in all the time down in my part of the world. I've relatives who continue to go to tent revivals. The healers are different, but the message is the same. You can scoff if you will, but for believers in "all things seen and unseen", you always scoff at your own peril. St. Francis called himself the Jongleur de Dieu…God's fool. And, like him, if you mention such things as prayers posited or miracles manifested, you run the risk of being risible.

Yet, despite politicians who scoff at those who "cling to guns and religion", these things are, in some sense, more real than almost anything else. There are many fears in life: some truly are "haints", bogeys left over from childhood. But others are worthy of your attention…always have been, always will be.

Down here, we fear the intrusion of giants into our affairs, knowing that giants, whether they spring from corporate, or government, or criminal loins, are myopic. They tend to stomp on smaller folk. And a gun won't stop a giant, but it might make him take notice.

We also fear God, and this because, although we love God, we also know that sometimes God has to use uncomfortable means to get us do what needs to be done.

But perhaps more than giants or the Almighty, the thing we ought most to fear, yet do not, is that hubris that proclaims that the devil…the biggest "haint" around…does not exist.

Flannery O'Connor spent a lot of her writing life "unmasking the devil" to a world that no longer believes in him. And it makes for pretty uncomfortable reading, knowing that the lion roaring through the night roars for thee. But I'd rather know the lion is out there.

And maybe that's why folks down here always seem a little different to outsiders. We're a macabre peoples, perhaps because we've examined the "enlightened" world and found it wanting. Offered the choice of Faustus by a world that doesn't believe in Mephistopheles, we stick by what we know, even if it is, seemingly, grotesque.

So, if I'm laughed at by more "enlightened" folk, people who claim they aren't "hainted" by the reality of evil, I'll continue to cling to my guns and to my God…and to say a prayer for those who believe in neither.

Nai Eru lye mánata (may God bless you)


Events =========

- There are seven new paintings up on my website at ! These include six Tolkien works (Nimrodel, The Houses of Healing, Este the Gentle, Entwash, Beorn, and The Landing of Elendil) , one new sacred image (Cana), and one painting from C.S.Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia (The Wood Between the Worlds). The easiest way to see all of these is to go to my "Newest Works" gallery by clicking the link below. The latest images are at the top of the page: ... ystudios/new_gallery.html
. Do let me know what you think of these! I'm delighted to hear both accolades and criticisms!

- The newest (July/August 2008) issue of the St. Austin Review (StAR) (please see ) is entirely devoted to J.R.R. Tolkien. The table of contents, plus one article (specifically on the women in Tolkien's legendarium) are now available for free PDF download. The issue features cover by Ted Nasmith, plus artwork throughout by Ted, Alan Lee, John Howe, Please spread the word! This issue should be a real delight for Tolkien fans!

- It is looking increasingly likely that I will be hosting at least one talk/panel at this year's Dragon*Con (D*C) conference in Atlanta on using art (and prayer!) to explore Middle-earth. More details will be announced closer to Labor Day weekend, but in the mean time, you can find out the current D*C Tolkien Track details at .

- I will be attending the upcoming Tolkien celebration, "A Long-Expected Party" (ALEP) in Kentucky, on September 25th – 28th, 2008. I was also delighted to have been asked to develop some of the images that will be used for the event. You can see one of these on my website at: ... hes/Sketch_ALEP_logo.html
. The official website for ALEP (and registration info) can be found at: . Some other ALEP-themed images
o The Party Tree - ... lkien/384_Party_tree.html
o Outlandish Folk - ... /390_Outlandish_folk.html

- Although I will not be able to attend this year's Oxonmoot in England (September 25th-28th…see ), I will have prints and perhaps some original works included in this year's art show. These will be provided courtesy of ADC Books .

- Divining Divinity, the first book of verse by Joseph Pearce, is now available from . Joseph is a world-renowned biographer of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Shakespeare, and many others, in addition to being editor of the St. Austin Review (StAR). I was privileged to have worked with him to develop illustrations for each of his poems, and Leslie Kaufmann did a magnificent job of pulling our efforts together into a sparkling jewel of a book. This is the book that I highlighted in my talk at "Castles in the Mist", and it is now available. If you'd like a copy signed by me, please drop me a note.

- ADC Books now has an online catalog featuring Tolkien-themed original paintings and prints from Ted Nasmith, Ruth Lacon, Peter Pracownik, and myself. In addition, you'll find collectible items and rare books featured in the ADC Books catalog. Please take a look at .