What do you make of Joseph Pearce?
Greetings and salutations to the stadium-sized crowd that follows this blog!
I have a question directed primarily at two groups: my Catholic friends, and my English Literature friends -- realizing that there is a fair amount of overlap!
Joseph Pearce is an English author currently residing in the United States. He is a convert to the Catholic Church, having formerly been active in a rather nasty white supremacist group in the UK prior to his conversion. His specialty is, allegedly, English (and usually Catholic) literary biography. He has been featured on EWTN; has published with Ignatius Press (a publishing house I greatly respect) and has an upcoming autobiography about to be published by TAN Publications -- a VERY conservative and quite traditional Catholic publishing house.
I first came across Pearce around 2000 when I posted a review on Amazon.com regarding his book "Tolkien: Man and Myth" -- a book which I found to be unoriginal -- at best; relying extremely heavily on uncited material from Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography Frankly, I don't think that sections of the book would pass muster with Turnitin.com -- the anti-plagiarizing software I use in my university classes. Another Amazon.com reviewer who goes by the name "FYI" reviewed the same book -- and went into a great deal more detail in documenting word-for-word plagiarism in numerous circumstances. (FYI, if you read this, please feel free to jump in!)
In 2003, he wrote a book on CS Lewis, trying to uncover why Lewis never converted to the Catholic Church -- and that book, too, has had its critics, mostly regarding facts about Lewis that Pearce conveniently ignored, or emphasizing what Lewis minimized (and vise verse)
In 2008, he wrote a book arguing the evidence that William Shakespeare was, in fact, a recusant -- a "closet" Catholic in anti-Catholic Elizabethan England. A number of scholars have strongly suggested this possibility, and there has been an academic debate on this matter for years. Shortly after the book was published, a negative review was published by "First Things" magazine. Pearce wrote an absolutely vitriolic piece against the reviewer which was, functionally, little less than an ad hominim attack. This appears to have continued to be his modus operandi with scholars who disagree with him.
More recently, a "biography" of GK Chesterton has been published -- immediately on the heels of the publication of the foremost academic and critical biography of Chesterton ever written (by the noted scholar Fr. Ian Ker.)
Pearce seems to be quite popular in the world of Catholic apologetics; he has spoken in many venues, on topics like Tolkien's Catholicism and its influence on "The Lord of the Rings" (I suspect that Tolkien would be rolling over in his grave with the ridiculous allegorical implications Pearce insists on finding) and Shakespeare's likely Catholicism (an opinion with which I am reasonably sympathetic, but not fully convinced). In his upcoming autobiography, TAN Publications lists Pearce as "the world's foremost Catholic biographer" which is, in my view patently absurd.
Here's the rub:
What are Pearce's scholarly credentials? Of course, one does not need to be a scholar to have an informed opinion -- but if one is going to attack and ridicule other scholars in the field, one really should have the credentials to do so. I have scoured the web, and have been unable to come up with any scholarly background which would make me want to take him seriously -- much less as an expert. (Especially as an expert on Tolkien -- a subject I know just a bit about!) He has been affiliated with a number of very small (and extremely conservative) Catholic colleges as a "writer-in-residence" -- but even on the website of the college with which he is currently affiliated (St. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts) no academic or scholarly credentials are provided.
Call me crazy -- but somehow, this does not pass the "smell" test to me.
Anyone have any insights?
Vigorous discussion desired; flame-throwing will be moderated.
Labels: Apologetics, Catholicism, Controversy, JRR Tolkien, Literature, Rants