On this episode of the podcast, we are speaking with Dr. Kathryn Wehr, about her new annotated edition of Dorothy Sayers’s The Man Born to Be King, a series of 12 radio plays broadcast and published 80 years ago during the Second World War. It is a fascinating conversation of the unique complexities and tensions of adapting the gospels for dramatic production. Among the topics we discuss:
- – Who was Dorothy Sayers? What are some of her works that we should know?
- – The controversy that surrounded the original production of the radio plays and how it drove publicity and affected the final forms of the plays.
- – Which characters were the most challenging to depict and which creative decisions were most successful
- – How Sayers sought to write plays with ecumenical appeal, for the whole church rather than merely for a particular denomination.
- – What Sayers might have to say to creative artists today.
We hope the conversation will encourage everyone to pick up a copy of the plays for themselves, or at least to allow this conversation to lift the film of familiarity from the great and true story that is the gospel.
Get the Wade Annotated Edition: https://www.ivpress.com/the-man-born-to-be-king
Listen to the plays: https://www.amazon.com/Man-Born-Be-King-Collection/dp/B09HSM8FJ9
Other works by Dorothy Sayers mentioned in the conversation
Lord Peter Wimsey series (15 book series)
Introduction and Translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Penguin classic)
The Zeal of Thy House
“The Mind of the Maker”
“The Lost Tools of Learning”
Other authors and books and authors mentioned in the conversation:
Gina Dalfanzo, Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis
Ronald Gurner, We Crucify!
To read a book review written by co-host Laurel Koerner – “Voicing the Gospel Story, a review of The Man Born to be King”.
Transcript (click to expand)
Note: This transcript is autogenerated and may contain grammatical errors.
(00:04) Justin Ariel Bailey: Welcome to the newest episode of the In All Things podcast, where we host conversations with diverse voices about living creatively in God’s created world. I’m your host, Justin Ariel Bailey, and I teach at Dort University, which is home to the Andreas Center, the sponsor of this podcast. On this episode of the podcast, we are speaking with Dr. Kathryn Wehr about her new annotated edition of Dorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to be King, a series of twelve radio plays broadcast and published 80 years ago during the Second World War. It is a fascinating conversation on the unique complexities and tensions of dramatizing the Gospels. We hope it will encourage everyone to pick up a copy of the place for themselves, or at least to allow this conversation to lift the film of familiarity from the great and true story that is the gospel.
One of the things I’ve learned from regularly leading undergraduates through the biblical text is that all of us have unexamined imaginings of scriptural events. On the one hand, it is hard for us to picture biblical characters as real people. On the other, familiarity makes it hard for the Gospel to shock us with grace and truth. The grand drama of the incarnation, passion and resurrection are reduced to ideas that pass through us like ghosts. But it is the gift of imaginative makers like poets and playwrights to give substance to what might otherwise remain airy nothing. To borrow from Shakespeare, “and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” The work of makers can help us recover our wonder at the story at the center of Christian faith. Many of us are familiar with the ways that C. S. Lewis or J. R.R. Tolkien have done this through their tales of Narnia and Middle Earth, but less are familiar with the work of Dorothy Sayers. I only recently learned about Sayers’s radio dramas, which were commissioned, performed, and published during World War II. In the series of plays, Sayers sought to retell the story, to give the gospel a local habitation and a name in the language of ordinary people. The project began amid controversy, but eventually won over most of its critics, reaching over 2 million people who tuned in to the BBC broadcast. In her introduction to the plays, Dorothy Sayers writes it is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all. Thus, these plays seek to make the familiar strange and to make the strange familiar clothing, stained glass, characters with flesh. C.S. Lewis, a close friend of Sayers, would read the cycle of plays every year during Holy Week, and that sounds like a practice worth adopting. There is perhaps no one better to introduce us to the plays than our featured guest, Dr. Kathryn Wehr. Dr. Wehr is the editor of the recently published weighed annotated edition of the plays, which gives us a glimpse of the backstory, the creative process, and the reception of the plays 80 years after their original publication. On this episode, I was joined by Laurel Kerner, professor of Theater Arts at Dordt University, and we found the experience of reading the plays, listening to the radio adaptation, and talking with Dr. Wehr altogether delightful. To that conversation, we now turn.
(04:03) Justin Ariel Bailey: I’m joined now by two guests. The first is my guest, co-host Laurel Koerner, theater professor here at Dordt. Laurel, thanks for hosting with me.
(04:11) Laurel Koerner: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
(04:13) Justin Ariel Bailey: And our featured guest is Dr. Kathryn Wehr. We are talking to Dr. Wehr about her new annotated edition of The Man Born to Be King twelve plays composed by Dorothy Sayers on the life and ministry of Jesus. This edition comes 80 years after their original publication in 1943. But Dr. Wehr, we’re so thankful to you for joining us on the In All Things podcast.
(04:36) Kathryn Wehr: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
(04:38) Justin Ariel Bailey: So let’s start with Dorothy Sayers. Many of our listeners will have heard of her, perhaps, or maybe not. Or maybe if they have heard of her, they associate her with the Inklings, that group of thinkers that included Lewis and Tolkien, though I’m not sure she ever attended their meetings. Maybe you can clear that up for me. But she is one of the seven authors promoted by Wheaton’s Wade Center, and this is the Wade annotated edition. So without giving us the full story, which I know you probably could, what are some of the most important things that we should know about Dorothy Sayers?
(05:12) Kathryn Wehr: Sure. Well, what I love about Sayers especially, is that she wrote in all kinds of different genres. So she started out writing poetry. Then she got into writing mystery novels. So some people know of her almost exclusively through her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. And then she got into writing plays for the stage and the radio. And that’s about this time that Man Born to Be King came out, which we’ll talk more about. And then she ended up doing a lot of lecturing and speaking and writing for newspaper columns and that kind of thing through the then she actually, thanks to Charles Williams, who was one of the Inklings, got to know Dante and then actually spent about the last 17 years of her life focusing almost exclusively on Dante. But today, especially, her essays about Dante is what people really, still really value as far as scholarship with those. So, you know, she’s involved in all kinds of things, and it gives me a kind of excitement to think, oh, even in midlife, I could take on a new genre, I could learn something new, so I could take that from her.
(06:19) Justin Ariel Bailey: The Dante fascination. She has a well-known translation of Divine comedy. Correct?
(06:27) Kathryn Wehr: Yeah. She was the first to attempt to keep the rhyme scheme in English. There actually weren’t very many English translations before she did hers. It was kind of pioneering, and it was a Penguin edition, meaning that it was like an addition they were hoping the masses would read, and it really did that. We probably wouldn’t care as much about Dante in the English-speaking world today if it hadn’t been for her and her translation. So there have been a number of translations into English since then, and so some of those, perhaps, are more favored today for other reasons. But as I said, a lot of her essays about her translations, her introductions are still really highly valued because of just the depth of how she got into the theology behind the poem and that kind of thing, too.
(07:13) Justin Ariel Bailey: So besides that translation of Dante and this man to be born to be king. You mentioned the Peter Wimsey books. What are some other titles that people might know that were written by Dorothy Sayers?
(07:24) Kathryn Wehr: Yeah, I would say the other one that is very popular at the moment is an essay called “The Lost Tools of Learning” because it’s a favorite of homeschoolers and classical educators. So there are a lot of parents who are reading that and teachers as an inspiration for how to design a curriculum in that kind of classical format. So some people only know her through that, and that’s their sort of introduction to her.
(07:49) Justin Ariel Bailey: And then could you clear up the inkling question? So she should she be considered an inkling? Is she an inkling or she just one of the seven.
(07:55) Kathryn Wehr: She’s not an inkling. But she’s often studied with them because she her dates are 1893 to 1957, so she was writing just the same period. And I mentioned Charles Williams. So thanks to him, she got into Dante, but also, thanks to him, earlier in the mid 30s, she got into writing plays. I mean, she had written a play, and then he recommended her to write the festival play for the Canterbury Cathedral. And so she ended up writing two plays, two different years for them, but he had written one. And then T.S. Elliot wrote Murder in the Cathedral, and then she wrote the The Zeal of Thy House the next year, so it was sort of thanks to him. But then in 1943, just as she was finishing this book, is when she got to know C.S. Lewis, and he became a very important friend for her the last two decades of her life. And they have a lot of letters between them, and they’re a lot of fun. I think they really respected each other. They both had an interesting mix of scholarly work and more popular work. And so they kind of I think that’s partly why they’re studied together, because they were both kind of on this edge of kind of lay apologist sort of writings and some things, but also some fiction and also some scholarship and also a real variety. So they also have a great sense of humor. So they’re in their, like, you know, fifties and sixties. By this time, they’re getting to know each other, and there’s just these fun letters they write about their cats and their chickens. And she wrote him a whole letter in the style of the Screwtape letters relating to these plays when they first got to know each other. And it’s just fun. So I really recommend the letters between them. Someone actually recently wrote a book called Dorothy and Jack that is an interesting look at their friendship. So I recommend that. Yes. But she is often studied with them. She also was very much influenced by G.K. Chesterton, just as many of the Inklings were. And so that’s why she’s grouped with them at the Wade Center. So those so the four Inklings Sayers, G.K. Chesterton and George McDonald, who also really influenced the Inklings.
(10:06) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah. For listeners, we will do our best to put links to all of the books that Dr. Wehr mentions so that you can chase those things down afterwards. I thought it’s interesting, 1943, obviously, that’s in the middle of the Great War, World War II. And so you think of some of the things that Lewis wrote as well that have that as the wartime setting. Another thing that’s really delightful about this edition is the backstory that you share surrounding a bit of controversy that these plays were quite controversial. And so I wonder if you could tell us a bit about that controversy and why it was controversial and then the role that the controversy played in shaping the final form of these plays.
(10:50) Kathryn Wehr: Yes, absolutely. One of the really interesting things about these plays and if there hadn’t been a controversy, perhaps we wouldn’t be reading them today. Originally, they were commissioned by the BBC as a series of children’s plays. And there was an early kind of rupture between Sayers and the Children’s Department just because of some feedback, which you can read my introduction. Read about that. But the more interesting controversy happened later when they did a press release conference just before the first play was about to air. So this is December 1941. So they had a press conference and Sayers read some of the dialogue. And she really wanted her characters to speak everyday English, you know, not just use words strict from the King James, for instance. And so she, you know, she had the scene where she has Matthew, who has a cockney accent, and so she was sort of doing this in kind of reading his parts. And so pressmen, they’re there to sell papers, so they jumped all over this and they’re like Life of Christ plays in U. S. Slang, they look to blame any linguistic problems on the US. Or like, gangsterisms in life of Christ plays. And so, you know, of course, the people are like, what? I can’t believe this. This is so irreverent. This is such a problem. Why is the BBC doing this? And so these wonderful we can kind of picture the type of people, these wonderful conservative Christians called the Lord’s Day Observance Society created this letter writing campaign to protest. And so thousands of letters came to the BBC in protest. And people not just like, this sounds like a bad idea, but like, oh no, God is not going to bless our country if you leave this. Let this be on the air, and we’re going to lose the war because God won’t be pleased. Or even that kind of very theological kind of pushback. And even one man wrote to the BBC to say that because these plates had been aired, that Singapore fell during the war. And so that kind of thing was very serious. So people were taking this very seriously. So not only that, but just the general concern. Will a novelist be able to treat the Scripture in a respectful way? I think that was maybe a broader concern, too. And so the first play was aired, but Christ was just a baby in the first play, of course, so it wasn’t actually being portrayed by a human being, because that was also the concern. I didn’t say much about that. But prior to this, there were these blasphemy laws in the UK from the time of the Reformation that for a long time prohibited anyone to actually portray a member of the Holy Trinity on stage, because it was like personification or idolatry. And so just before World War I, that law changed, but people still needed actually permission to have a stage play where someone portrayed Jesus, so they would get around it by doing other things. Like, that’s why nativity plays are such, even now, still such a big part of British theater, because it was a way to get around. No one had to play Jesus, or they would have just the disciples perhaps describing their interactions with Jesus. Or there would be a voice from offstage or a shaft of light on the stage, which you can see how it’s a desire to be respectful, but it also theologically causes problems, because then does that mean that Jesus is sort of this disembodied voice or just a kind of light, and he’s not a real human being? So Sarah really wanted that. But that was part of the controversy. Even though it was legal, there were still many people that felt like that was a bad idea and would be irreverent. And so coming up to play two, which was in January of 1942, there was this whole committee of people that were men clergymen who read her scripts ahead of time to sort of check them for theology, but also just general piety. Will people be shocked? And it actually turns out that the further they went along, the less comments that the clergyman made, because they actually really loved the place and they were getting really into the story and how is she going to write this? And they trusted her the further they went along. So that’s a good part of it. But it was a big controversy and it’s like these plays almost didn’t get on the air. But of course, the controversy brought a lot of press and so then a lot of people listen to them. And within the first few plays, it was like, oh, these are clearly not just for children anymore. And she’s not like the first few plays. She includes a few child characters to kind of like, give the point of view of a child. So she kind of leaves some of those techniques behind because it was clear that it was such a big audience now of people of all ages who are really enjoying them.
(16:08) Laurel Koerner: So we’re talking about this kind of controversy and that part of it had to do with this representation of Christ. So I wonder if you could say a little bit about what is the broader story of the plays coming to be, the controversy surrounding them and Sarah’s experience being kind of at the mercy of this committee and so on. What does it tell us about the nature of kind of apprehension around representation or our fear, the power of theater, the power of story?
(16:42) Kathryn Wehr: That’s such a good question. Radio was the main mass media of the day, right? People were getting all of their news from the radio. They were hearing the war bulletins instructions for what the new rules about their food, the rations and transportation are things that were destroyed. They were worrying about family living further away, you know, who was their village hurt in the last bombing. I mean, all these kinds of things. It was just so central to their life. And so whatever was on was what people were listening to. It was just the centrality of radio was a big deal. These plays were also a big deal that I didn’t mention this before, but that the BBC specifically commissioned these, not just not only in a way for children, but also with a real evangelistic goal, which we don’t think of the BBC as doing much evangelistic work these days. But it was a big part of what Dr. James Welch, who was the head of religious broadcasting, what he cared about. So in his letters to Sayers, he’s saying like, these plays will reach the heathen of this country. People that would never read their Bible or go to church, they can encounter Christ this way, and maybe that will be the opening. And Sayers loved that. She actually saw firsthand some of that. She got letters from people saying, like, I’m a teacher and I had children coming to me with their Bible the next day saying, where can I find that story? That was in last night’s radio play? It’s beautiful.
But this controversy as you say, it was a real thing because how we portray Christ, it’s putting specific things in people’s minds about what Jesus is like, what his voice sounds like. In this case, or if we compare it to a contemporary example of The Chosen, it’s a similar thing. Some people don’t want to see them because they’re like, I want to imagine the Gospel the way it is in my own mind. I don’t want the representation, but other people loved it. Or it was the fun of kind of comparing. These are, in a sense, The Chosen of the 40s. People had all kinds of opinions. They may have liked them in general, and in certain things, they may not have been like, oh, I would have done it differently, or where is she finding that? Or why is she combining those characters? Or whatever? Because there are some things that she had to do for the sake of drama.
Part of the fun of the new Wade Annotated edition is that I have side columns with information that from her letters, people will write her and say, why did you give Jesus a golden beard? Which is a question I had the first time I read it. I was like, A golden beard? Dorothy! So she gets a chance to explain herself. Now, I necessarily agree with her answer, but at least she says, well, I was thinking about medieval art, and as a radio writer, I’m conscious of creating visions of people’s heads, of like, how can you differentiate between characters? And so that’s why I did it. But you’re right. Jesus probably had dark hair, but that kind of thing. So it’s like, oh, okay, well, at least she wasn’t just like, oh, I didn’t know. I always thought Jesus had blonde hair. Or like the case of Mary Magdalene, who she has a combined what we call a composite Mary: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman of Luke seven. So Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a former dancing girl. That’s the word that Sayers uses because she is conscious of the children. So she’s not going to use the word of prostitute, but of like, oh, someone with a kind of dicey past that she’s like. At least children will kind of get an idea of something like that. But again, she appeals to Church tradition that this is something that’s common. A lot of particularly early writers like St. Augustine, Gregory the Great, who has died in 604. So these very early people were saying maybe they were the same people. So she says, Well, I had to make a choice for drama. I can’t have all these Marys around. There’s just too many Marys. So I’ve combined them, and that puts me in company with St. Augustine. So that’s fine with me.
(21:25) Laurel Koerner: Okay, I want to ask her next question. So Sayers writes, we judge their behavior, that is, these biblical figures, as though all of them had known with whom they were dealing, referring to Jesus and what the meaning of all the events actually was, but they did not know it. And it can be easy for us to forget that as we are reading the Bible, they did not know they were in the Bible. And so we can view things from our great distance and look at them through a lens that says, well, how did they not know that? Or why didn’t they figure that out? I wonder, is there an alert for us in this now or something for us to wake up to as we ourselves are participating in this unfolding story?
(22:17) Kathryn Wehr: I love that, and I love the way you say they didn’t know they were in the Bible. Sarah, in her introduction, says that she uses the word “stained glass window” because she sort of imagines like, we picture these stories, like stuck static, you know, as if these people were kind of like, there you are, Jesus, do your thing. And just sort of like setting up the punchline so Jesus can give the joke. Like, no, that’s not the way it was. They were real people. And Sayers is very firm on that. I mean, I would say that’s definitely one of her goals of the way she’s writing the plays is that she wants people to know these are everyday people who encountered Christ in their own way, for their own reasons and motives. And so that goes for any of the people that are coming to him for healing. But the religious leaders, she works really hard to give the background of the Roman Empire and what’s going on. And so her characterizations of Caiaphas and Pilate I think, are very important because she includes a lot of things from, like Joseph, for instance, other sources we have from the time of what was actually going on and how much pressure, for instance, was on Caiaphas and how, if there was an overall rebellion by the Zealots or other groups, he would have been held responsible. The pressure that’s on hand, that like, if something is going to be some kind of rebellion, I have to stop it for the sake of everyone. So giving that is his motive. Like, I’m trying to do the best I can for Israel because if Rome clamps down, that’s the end. That’s it for our whole nation. And so that’s a very strong motive. I mean, and as an actor, that would be a wonderful motivation for an actor to have behind playing Caiaphas, which we don’t see necessarily all of that in the scripture. Sometimes you just read it and you’re like, oh, he was just sort of opposed to Jesus, but he had reasons for being opposed to Jesus. We don’t have to think they were good reasons or good enough reasons, but he was a real person. He wasn’t just there to be the baddie, to be the villain. But I like what you say I mean, does something specific come to mind there when you say it could be instructive for us today? I think that’s an intriguing thing. I’m not sure I know the answer to that. Do you have any thoughts?
(24:46) Laurel Koerner: I don’t know. I just think about what are we, I guess, acknowledging what we don’t know in in the present moment that we could look back on or, you know, the future. People in the future will look back on us and our kind of ignorance and feeble attempts. And I guess it’s it’s it’s a cause for humility, maybe.
(25:10) Kathryn Wehr: Yeah, I like that a lot.
(25:17) Justin Ariel Bailey: You mentioned a couple of characters that you thought she was really successful and portraying. You mentioned Caiaphas. I also felt that character was really believable. I’d love to hear you talk about Judas, probably the most challenging character to depict besides Jesus, because we have to understand how could Judas live with Jesus and still betray him? You mentioned the composite Marys. There’s characters that get added in. And so maybe the question is, even as you’re sort of coming to this as the expert, what did you sort of appreciate? Or are there certain creative decisions that she made in the composition process were really great decisions, and I wonder also if there are any decisions that she left in the margin that you have in the margins. They’re like, oh, I wish that she would have gone this other direction.
(26:06) Kathryn Wehr: Sure. Right. Well, thank you. I’ll certainly give you my opinion. But that’s what’s the fun of it, right? Everyone comes to these plays and interacts with them and likes different things. Yeah. I would say Caiphas is definitely one of my favorite characters. I feel like it’s very well written and researched to really give a sense of that. That character of Caiaphas is actually very much influenced by a book called Ronald up by Ronald Gurner called We Crucify!, where he, as a teacher, describes how he taught a whole year of scripture classes to kind of teenage boys, where he assigned them all roles within the Sanhedrin. And then so they had that, like, identity. That’s their point of view. And so then they looked at different stories from the Gospels all year, but looked at it from the point of view of the Sanhedrin and why the Sanhedrin would eventually condemn Jesus to death. But the book is just so fun because it’s written as, like, business meeting minutes and that kind of thing. And so it’s like they’re all very business-like, so it feels kind of modern in that way, too. And Sayers, even borrows that. There’s a point in I think it’s play Twelve, where they’re paying off the guards who are reporting that the tomb is empty, saying, no record of this payment will appear in the official record.
(27:37) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah, the official record.
(27:40) Kathryn Wehr: But it’s a very lively portrait. So I love that, as you say, Judas. Right. Early on, she even says that, like, I have got to get my brain around how I’m going to portray Judas because he is a toughie. And before her, I mean, a lot of the earlier forms of gospel plays that we have, or like the medieval mystery plays, for instance, judas was always just the pure baddie that he’s like, here I go sneaking to portray Jesus. And as you say, you think, well, why would Jesus even want that kind of a person? Because he wasn’t a fool. He wouldn’t just have someone like, oh, you just exist in order to betray me. That doesn’t seem right either. And so Sayers thought a lot about this and so she really portrays Judas as the most intelligent of her disciples with the idea of the it’s kind of an ancient dictum that the one with the greatest possibility has the greatest possibility of falling. So he is the smartest, but that also means it’s part of his characterization. He tends to trust his own intelligence. He thinks that he understands what all. He seems to understand more than some of the other disciples. But he comes he kind of jumps to conclusions in a way that he begins to lose trust in Jesus and trust more in his own understanding of what’s happening.
And this becomes important with one of these created characters called Baruch, who is a Zealot. Baruch is important because in the Gospels that actually we don’t see anywhere who the Zealots are, what they cared about, what they did. And so Sayers again borrows outside information from Josephus and other ancient sources to explain what these Zealots were doing. They wanted to overthrow the Romans. Like, the Gospels don’t actually say that. We just know that from outside sources. And so Baruch is an example of someone who’s kind of a man of action and he’s coordinating different groups of people and has a plan. And he sees Jesus as like only he could just be like the figurehead. We could be the brawn behind him. We just need someone who’d be the figurehead. And he says, what a tool. What a tool Jesus would be. He’s a kind of dangerous character here, but he interacts a number of times with Judas and he’s kind of the opposite of Judas because Judas is like all brains versus all bronze and so all bronze. So Judas feels a little intimidated by him as a man of action. And Baruch kind of jumps to conclusions and then Judas has to defend himself in a way that kind of disarms Judas and pushes him toward that doubting of Jesus. Honestly, I think the way Sayers portrays Judas is very possible. I think it’s fairly convincing. I think if Baruch didn’t exist in the story, I think actually the character of Judas wouldn’t work. So I think they kind of go together because of these instances along the way where Baruch shows up and he’s kind of the only one that Judas kind of tells the truth. To and he doesn’t give his doubts to Jesus. But Baruch seems to kind of unravel his doubts whenever they meet. Baruch is also he sends a letter to Jesus to kind of offer military support right before the Triumphal entry and says, if you want us to come in behind you, there’s a warhorse in this stable over here. If you don’t want our help, there’s a donkey over here. And of course, Jesus, we know, enters Jerusalem on a donkey. So Sayers makes that up. But that becomes the very important moment where Judas knows that Jesus has received some kind of message from Baruch. But he doesn’t know that Jesus refuses Baruch’s help by taking the donkey. He just knows that Baruch was somehow involved with the donkey. And so that’s why he decides to go to the High Priest and betray Jesus. Anyway, it’s a very interesting way of portraying the character of Judas. I think Baruch would be, again, another awesome character to play as an actor. He’s just so interesting and kind of scary and dangerous in a way. I think Sayers uses him a little bit to even kind of connect with how people might see the Nazis at the time that she’s writing, because he’s talking about, like, we just need a figurehead to march ahead of. The party and to keep using these kinds of words like party to describe the Zealous in a way that you can imagine. This big crowd of people that have power, that are seeking to overthrow something.
There’s so many interesting characters. I really like the women. Mary Magdalen is a wonderful, interesting character. But particularly as we get into the last two plays when the women are at the foot of the cross and Easter morning, there’s just a lot of beautiful things that Sayers puts in. We don’t see them in the upper room seam at the sort of The Last Supper, but the men keep referring to them like that. The women are below that. The women are preparing the food. I never really thought of it like, I don’t know who prepared The Last Supper, but the idea of the women being there and a part of things and then being there at the foot of the cross and then being there Easter morning and preparing the spices is a beautiful scene of them, like gathering other things. John is there. He kind of expresses a wish that he could go with them. And they say, no, no one’s going to bother women on an errand of mercy. And then Salome, his mother, says, It’s always so, my son. Men make a great bustle in life, but women wind the swaddling bands and the grave bands for all of them. Then they go. But just the sense of that they have a very specific role that they’re doing, and it’s something that the men couldn’t do at this time. It is within their own culture of what is sort of acceptable service and a part of it, but they felt a part of it. And I just get that real sense of like these women were truly disciples of Him and doing service to Him in a way that was really beautiful, that the other disciples couldn’t.
(34:18) Justin Ariel Bailey: Just a follow up question. Both Laurel and I listened to radio adaptation of these in preparation for this. I don’t know even which one I listened to now that I look at it, but I listened to a cycle of place which didn’t include all the it was interesting to see the things they left out of the particular. But I just wonder, is there, I don’t know, one that’s better than others.
(34:36) Kathryn Wehr: One adaptation that’s available.
(34:38) Justin Ariel Bailey: Okay, so that’s the one that I listen to. Yeah.
(34:40) Kathryn Wehr: That’s the 1967 World Service adaptation by the BBC. So the original plays took about 50 to 55 minutes on the air, but the 1967 version, excuse me, are about 40 to 43 minutes. So there’s about ten minutes of of content that is cut out. But Sayers, when she published the scripts, she also included a few other things that had been cut originally, too. So they might even if you were to record just as it’s written here, they might be just a little over an hour, some of them, but they’re really great. I love the recordings, I listen to them a lot just as inspiration. But you’re right, there are a number of things missing. I was going to say one of my very favorite other speeches by a woman is a speech by the Virgin Mary while Jesus is carrying his cross. Are you thinking of the one I see, Laurel?
(35:39) Laurel Koerner: It’s just beautiful.
(35:40) Kathryn Wehr: It is. And it’s so theological, but in such basic language. It’s sort of like an explanation of what we call the hypostic union of Christ’s divinity and his humanity together. And she says, I know now what he is and what I am. God is the truth and I am the fact. But Jesus is truth and fact, and you can’t understand the truth until it isn’t fleshed in fact. And so there’s just that sense of like that without the right theological language for it, that his own mother has sensed that there is this difference in Him. There is his divine nature and his human nature, and both of them are there. And then that speech ends with this meaning. Like Christ carrying his cross is the only thing that has ever really happened. That like all of history up to now is God preparing to redeem his people and to sacrifice His Son for the sake of humanity. And that it’s like the it’s the center point or even the only thing that has ever really happened. And I just love that. But that has always been it was cut in the first version for Time, and it was cut in 1967 version. So maybe people think it’s too long of a speech or too theological of a speech. But anyway, it’s that alone. That speech alone is worth reading the actual scripts for.
(37:09) Laurel Koerner: Yeah. So there’s a letter from Sayers to Derek McCullough in which she discusses her inclusion in the first play, this suggestion of the Hail Mary in the Three King Salutation to quote her, but only the bit that will please the Catholics without offending the Protestants. She follows this by pointing to the Greek title for Mary, theotokos, God bearer. And then she’s quoted in a letter to James Welch writing that quote, the Roman Catholics and the Protestants must do a little giving and taking. So where else do you see this? You said “walking a thin line” in your notes between Catholic and Protestant sensibilities within these plays. She is writing right for the catholic church in terms of the Universal Church. So I imagine that was quite a challenge. And I wonder where else you see her, yeah, walking that thin line.
(38:03) Kathryn Wehr: Yeah, I mean, that’s such a good question because it was very important to sayers, even before writing these plays, she was involved with a project that they called the Ecumenical Penguin, just because it was going to be a paperback penguin publisher edition of Basic Theology. And she was very passionate about that because she felt like for people who were unchurched, you know, they didn’t understand what actually, most Christians had in common. And so she and other people from a number of traditions were excited about this kind of idea of creating a book that had basic Theology and the parts of theology that everybody actually agreed on. If you start with, just like, the Nicean Creed, what does that mean? Who do we actually believe God is as Creator? Who is Jesus Christ? Why did he come? What do Christians agree that we believe about Him? Who is the Holy Spirit? So she was very interested in that because she felt like people who weren’t Christians or kind of on the fringes, there was just a lot of confusion, like, what’s all the difference between all these different denominations? And she felt like we could actually help a lot of people by showing that what are the things that we actually all agree on? We’re maybe not as far apart as some people think and then be able to, on a smaller level, denomination say, well, these are some of our distinctives. So it’s a book that never came to fruition, but we have a lot of letters from her about that. And so it’s definitely part of her point of view even before this project. So she comes to these plays knowing that it’s a general audience, and so people of all different denominations or no religious background or people that are even hostile to religion in general are going to be listening to them. And so, as you say that she does, she has a little nod there. When the Three Kings come, they you know, they address her as Mother of God, theotokos Godbearer, and then they and they say Hail Mary. And so she’s very aware that the Catholics would be like, all right. And then but it’s but it’s not the like, you know, pray for us now and at the hour of our death part, which is what she’s saying, not the second part, which would have fed into the Protestant. So that kind of thing. She’s very aware of that. There are other times where I think in Play Twelve when they’re discussing Jesus hasn’t appeared to them in the upper room, but there’s this slight discussion about like, wait, but they’re saying, well, Peter was supposed to be the head of the church. And then they were like, but the Church? I thought it was the kingdom we were waiting for. And so she kind of addresses this like, this is actually still a live question for Christians. Like, where is that? Is the Church synonymous with the Kingdom of God, or is there an overlap or are they different things? And how does that relate to what Jesus was talking about in the kingdom of God? So she’s very aware of some of those things. She also got a lot of letters from a variety of people who assumed that she was part of their denomination. So there’s a letter from someone saying, I’m Methodist, and I can tell that you’re a Methodist too. And she wrote back and said, well, I’m actually Anglican, but thank you, because by the fact that you said that, it shows how I have chosen to focus on what are the essentials to Christian faith. So she had something like that. She had one time a couple of years earlier from a different project, but the Catholic newspaper said, like, oh, Sayers, she’s coming close to following G.K. Chesterton into the arms of Mother Church. And she had kind of a little snarky reply to that, but she felt like that the reason they’re feeling connected to what I’m saying is that I am focusing on the core of kind of creedal faith. Because if you stick close to the creeds, that’s how you know that what you’re saying is actually Christianity.
(42:11) Laurel Koerner: What would you say is Sayer’s lesson to Christian artists? So I’ve highlighted several quotes from her writing that I’ll be sharing with my students. And you mentioned in your biography that you’re a creative artist in addition to being a scholar. So I wonder what you’ve taken to heart as a maker yourself.
(42:32) Kathryn Wehr: Yeah, I mean, I have found these plays to be very inspiring. While I was doing my PhD research on these plays, I also wrote an album of music about women in the Gospels. So there are some direct connections, and sometimes I specifically made a different choice in my song. Like, for instance, I have a separate song for Mary Magdalen and Mary Bethany. So some of them are like that, but some of them are just inspirations from a phrase or something about a character. So I found them just inspiring in that. But I think the whole I don’t know the whole thing to not be afraid to sort of explore the biblical text in a creative way, there’s room for a lot of different ways to portray them, whether it be on stage or in visual art or in music or poetry. We could use a lot more of that kind of engagement because there are people who would read a poem, who might not read a PhD dissertation about Christology or something, but yet they would be inspired by that. And it would strengthen their faith, but also even just intellectually help them discover something that they might not encounter in another form. Even just to use Sarah. She was very big on this. In her book The Mind of the Maker she talks about how because God is Trinity and God is Creator, that we create in the pattern of the Trinity too. That she sees this kind of trinitarian stamp on the whole universe. That we have an idea and then we work on it and it comes to life through in time. Just like Christ came into time, became human to show us who God was. And then there’s sort of the ongoing life of the work of art. So she would say that because we are created by God and we’re made in his image, that we also are creators. So the way we interact with ideas and feelings and even material like the Gospels can be a wonderful way to image God. That’s part of what he made us to do to explore creatively. Now, there might be a whole range of abilities in that some art might be better than others, but just that process of creating art in different genres can be a way of exploring ideas and sharing ideas and creating more and more discussion. And in the case of plays like this, encountering Jesus Christ.
(45:22) Justin Ariel Bailey: The book is The Man Born to be King by Dorothy Sayers. This is a new Wade Annotated edition of this book, published in the 80th anniversary, I guess the 80th year after its initial publication. Our guest is the editor, Dr. Katherine Ware. And Dr. Weir, we thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on the In All Things podcast.
(45:43) Kathryn Wehr: Yeah, my pleasure.
(45:54) Production Team: Thanks for listening to the in all things podcast from the Andreas Center at Dordt University. Original music is provided by The Ruralists and thanks are in order to Ruth Clark, Channon Visscher, Vaughn Donahue, and the production team at the Andreas Center. You can find us online at inallthings.org or follow us on Twitter under the name at in_ all_things. You can subscribe to this podcast on itunes, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are found. And if you find our content beneficial, please help us out by leaving a review and sharing with others. Thanks for tuning in.