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  The Two Lives of Richard Purtill | By Gord Wilson | June 16, 2005

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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. That’s 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. (He’s 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, Washington.

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 L’Engle 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 Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. By day he led the university’s summer sessions in Greece; by night he was a guest of honor at San Diego’s 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. Tolkien’s 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 Purtill’s 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 gospel rock.

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