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Two Lives of Richard Purtill | By Gord Wilson | June 16, 2005 |
For years Dr. Richard Purtill lived two lives: by day, professor of philosophy;
by night, writer of pulp fiction. By day he authored textbooks; by night
he spun out fantasy and science fiction pocket paperbacks. Weekdays he lectured
in classrooms; weekends he was feted at fantasy conventions. When he retired
from his day job, he plunged all the more into his nighttime pursuit, eventually
publishing over twenty books.
The prolific professor is probably best known for his two bestsellers published
by Ignatius Press: J.R.R.
Tolkien: Myth, Morality and Religion and C.S.
Lewis Case for the Christian Faith. Thats not surprising
since his conversion to Catholicism in high school came largely through
reading C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. During a stint in the Army, he was
stationed in England, where he met the Wards and the Sheeds, famous Catholic
writers and publishers. (Hes written about this time in an essay,
"Chesterton, the Wards, the Sheeds and the Catholic Revival" in
The Riddle of Joy: G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, ed. Tadie and
MacDonald, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989). In that heady atmosphere
he found his calling as a writer and philosopher. After receiving his doctorate
from the University of Chicago, he pursued his love of writing and teaching
as Professor of Philosophy at Western Washington University, Bellingham,
By day he taught a standing room only class called "Philosophy and Fantasy,"
in which students read and examined books by popular fantasy and science
fiction writers including Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Ursula LeGuinn,
Robert Heinlein, Madeline LEngle and others. By night he reworked
the class notes into his two bestsellers for Ignatius Press, along with
a third book, Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Philosophy and Fantasy in
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (forthcoming from Ignatius Press).
He had this in common with Lewis and Tolkien: professor by day, by night
author of fantasy fiction. Like them also, his authorship ranged widely,
from philosophic tomes to murder mysteries: Murdercon (Doubleday
Press); science fiction: The Parallel Man (DAW Books), fantasy fiction:
The Kaphtu Trilogy (Author House). From apologetics (Reason to
Believe, to be published by Ignatius Press) to textbooks in philosophy,
ethics and religion. From entries in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy
and the C.S. Lewis Readers Encyclopaedia to short stories
in Alfred Hitchcocks Mystery Magazine, Isaac Asimovs
Science Fiction Magazine, and Marion Zimmer Bradleys Fantasy
Magazine. By day he led the universitys summer sessions in Greece;
by night he was a guest of honor at San Diegos Mythcon and other fantasy
and science fiction conventions.
In short, Richard Purtill is both a Catholic and a catholic writer, both
a Roman convert and a wide-ranging author, which may explain his unique
appeal. Retired from teaching, he is still actively writing (his latest
novel, The Eleusinian Gate, is forthcoming from Author House). He
is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, The Author's
Guild, The National Writer's Union, and The Mythopoeic Society.
Philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft
calls Richard Purtill "a clear and commonsensical philosopher and an
accomplished fantasy writer." Bradley Birzer, author of J.R.R. Tolkiens
Sanctifying Myth, writes: "Purtill's intellectual and highly readable
work offers an overflowing stream of brilliant insights into Tolkien the
man, the author, and the Roman Catholic. One comes away from this book not
only with a better understanding of Tolkien, but more importantly, with
a greater grasp of truth, beauty, and Grace." Peter Kreeft continues: "Discovering
Richard Purtill is like meeting Strider in the Inn at Bree: we have found
a Ranger, a reliable guide through Middle-earth."
For more information, visit Richard Purtills official site at www.alivingdog.com.
Gord Wilson has an M.A. in English from Western Washington University,
where Dr. Purtill was his philosophy professor. He has written for Campus
Life, His, CCM, New Oxford Review, HM, and various animation magazines
and local publications. A convert to Catholicism, he states that he followed
Malcom Muggeridge, Thomas Howard, and G.K. Chesterton into the Catholic
Church. Prior to becoming Catholic he was active in Campus Crusade and InterVarsity.
He still enjoys contemporary Christian music and is writing a book about
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