Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Who’s Who: John Stoddard

A book Lewis finds in his uncle’s house is Volume IX of Stoddard's Lectures, labeled "Scotland, England, and London" [The House with a Clock in its Walls; 18-9].

If you think Bellairs would have been surprised at the Internet and the sort of (mis)information one can find from its recesses, imagine how John. L. Stoddard would have felt – very much a traveler from an antique land. Today you can log onto Wikipedia or Google Earth and read about places you’ve never heard of or ride the roads of a city you’ve never visited. This wasn't the case centuries ago and people really didn't know what to expect if and when they ever traveled abroad. John L. Stoddard was one of the first people to venture out into the world and then return to write about it and share his stories.

John Lawson Stoddard (1850-1931) began in 1879 what would become a successful career as a lecturer. During the next 18 years he traveled widely around the world. Every winter he would return to the states and present lectures concerning his travels in several major American cities. He became something of a household name at the time. His lectures were hugely popular, in part due to his skill as a lecturer as well as his pioneering use of slides to enhance the lectures. In 1897-98, his ten volume lectures were first published. For most of his life he was a protestant and at times went out of his way to criticize the Catholic Church, but after his harrowing experiences during WWI, he ended up becoming a member of the Roman Catholic Church and devoted the rest of his days to religious research and writing. However he is best remembered for his earlier lectures which helped popularize the travel lecture. (Stoddard would probably be awestruck at the thought of the 10+ volumes of his lectures available on one media, too - such as a CD.)

A post in a forgotten newsgroup shows that someone read Stoddard's work after having picked up his name from House. This makes us wonder how much Bellairs' work has inspired younger readers to explore the works of the different authors John mentions throughout his fiction.

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