All posts by Lars Walker

Adventures in faith, by a non-adventurer

It’s been weeks (or days at least) since I’ve promoted Andrew Klavan. In this LA Times piece today he analyzes Hollywood’s problem with portraying the War on Terror, and as usual he’s dead on. H/T to Dave Lull for the link.

High drama at my house last night—not the kind that would make a John Woo movie, or even an Edward Albee drama, but the internal kind.

I paid my bills, and there was an insurance bill in there I’d been worrying about. Sure enough, when all was done and I looked at my checkbook balance, a metaphorical hand, cold as a pump handle in February, took hold of my heart. The balance was about the size of the check for a large party at a nice restaurant (not that I ever eat at nice restaurants).

I’ll get paid in a few days, so it wasn’t the end of the world, barring emergencies. But it scared me badly. I’m not a gambler, and I find myself in a game of economic Russian Roulette these days.

Many Christians don’t worry about such things, or claim they don’t. “Jesus promised us our daily bread,” they say. “He’ll always provide for our physical needs.”

I don’t read the Bible that way. Lots of better Christians than me have lost homes, family members and their very lives without Jesus doing anything about it. I think the error comes from mistaking Jesus’ point. I don’t believe He meant to say that we were guaranteed some kind of miraculous minimum wage. I think He meant that we have to orient our spirits to understand that all we really need is Him, and if He chooses to deny us any “necessity,” it’s because it’s not really a necessity. Only He is a necessity.

Which isn’t to deny that God generally provides most of us our daily bread. I know the stories about George Mueller. It’s just that sometimes He doesn’t provide physical needs, and it’s always His choice, for His purposes. We can’t manipulate Him, and we’ve got no right to complain if the decision isn’t one we like.

In other words, God has the right to take my house, and I have to live with that. Rejoice in it, even.

Then, just before bedtime, I picked up the mail I’d gotten that day, and forgotten to open. There was a reimbursement check from my health insurance flex account. I’d pretty much forgotten it was coming. It didn’t entirely solve my problem, but it certainly increased my comfort level.

Frankly that spooked me as much as the low balance had.

Bob and Tom today

What shall I say tonight, to follow yesterday’s hubris fest? Something self-deprecatory? That’s always a favorite, and I imagine I’ll get to it before I’m done, but instead, just to make a change, why don’t I deprecate somebody else? Somebody famous, somebody whose majestic literary legacy makes me look not only tiny, but invisible.

I’ll trash Robert Burns.

Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark reminds us that today is Burns’ birthday. Scotsmen and their descendants around the world are toasting him today, no doubt, and good health to them.

But I don’t like Burns.

It’s not his poetry I object to, but his life. When I think of Burns I think of his womanizing, and that offends me. I unloaded on this subject through one of the characters in Blood and Judgment. That whole 19th Century Romantic movement was as famed for its flouting of traditional sexual mores as for its creative accomplishments.

You know what happened to a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock in those days? How many young women debauched by these scoundrels, do you think, ended up thrown out of their homes, walking the streets? I’m not defending that kind of draconian attitude toward “fallen women.” I’m affirming a more draconian attitude toward seducers.

Part of it’s plain jealousy, I have no doubt. I’ve always had a furious, repressed resentment against guys who have an easy way with women. I envy them deeply. I’ll not deny it.

And I know that C. S. Lewis would reprimand me for practicing “the personal heresy,” allowing judgments about a poet’s life to cloud my appreciation of his work, which is a thing whole unto itself.

Guilty on both counts.

But that doesn’t make me like Burns.

I close this section with the only Burns story I know, which isn’t helpful to my purpose in any way, but might soften the effects of my rant.

As the story goes, Burns was walking down the road one morning, when he met a pretty milkmaid.

“Good morning, lassy,” he said to her, tipping his hat.

“Good morning sir.” The girl smiled and continued on her way. Obviously she hadn’t recognized the poet.

“Do you know who I am, lassy?” he asked, turning.

“No sir.”

“I’m Robert Burns.”

“Oh,” said the girl. “I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”

Commenter Michael suggested the other day, in response to my post about my medical test, that I might be “the Tom Bombadil of psychotropic drugs,” utterly unaffected by them.

That’s flattering, but laughable. If there’s a less Bombadillian character in the world than I, I don’t know who it is.

But it reminds me that in my recent re-reading of The Fellowship Of the Ring, I think I finally figured out a way to think about old Tom.

I’ve always had trouble figuring him out. I know that Tolkien didn’t write allegory, and so it’s always false to say of any of his characters, “This character symbolizes X.” His characters are rich and complex. They reflect qualities, and multiple qualities at that. They sometimes act in ways reminiscent of Christ or the Virgin Mary or others, but none of them is anybody but himself, consistently.

Still I find it helpful to see Tom Bombadil as a sort of Adam figure. Not the fallen Adam, but the unfallen, the First Patriarch who named the beasts and tended the Garden. Bombadil reminds me of the Green Lady in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra, though he’s been tested and lacks her vulnerability. Bombadil, it seems to me, represents humanity as it was created to be—at one with nature but not beastly; highly sexual but chaste.

(By the way, I’m glad they skipped him in the Peter Jackson movie. He’s absolutely unfilmable, and the scenes in his house could only have been done as a sort of musical comedy number. I just can’t see it working).

I could well be wrong in my conclusions. Feel free to tell me why.

Slaves to fashion

I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet (for all you born after 1970, that’s a reference from the Bible).

But I think I have a gift for recognizing cultural trends a little faster than other people do. Or so I’m given to understand by fans of Wolf Time.

It seems easy to me. You just note three related points in contemporary thinking, lay a ruler against them and see where the extended line leads. Perhaps the trick is in recognizing which points, out of the thousands ranged around us, are related in a way that indicates a direction and a trend.

In any case, I’ve identified a trend (or think I have), followed it out, and I’m ready to make a prediction. I could be wrong. But I seriously expect to see this happen in my lifetime. If it hasn’t come true by the time I die, you can stand over my grave and say you told me so.

It seems to me that Taboo Depletion is becoming a serious problem for the cultural left. The problem is this—once you’ve defined “progress” and “art” as the continual demolition of traditional society, culture and social norms, what do you do when you’ve run out of taboos to flout? It was easy in the ‘60s. Make a movie with nudity. Write a novel about homosexuals. Instant, reflexive shock. People write angry letters. Mothers march with signs. The artist gains artistic cred, and the publicity’s good for business.

But it’s more difficult today. Actual sex acts between actors in a film? Done that. Novels about torture murder from the point of view of the murderer, sympathetically portrayed? Been there. What shocking thing can a performance artist do, that hasn’t been done by someone else already? Hard to think of anything. As Alexander is said to have wept because there were no more worlds to conquer (he didn’t, by the way. He wept because he wouldn’t live long enough to conquer them all), one imagines today’s young intellectual weeping because there are no more boundary lines to violate.

But I can think of one. And I see hints that it will soon take its place on the public stage.

I think we’ll soon see a movement to restore the institution of slavery.

First of all, the undeniable historical fact that Christians were largely responsible for the abolition of slavery is a constant irritation to leftists. They like to frame their narrative in terms that say, “Abolitionism was a liberal movement,” which is true, while covering over the fact that liberalism was, for the most part, a Christian evangelical impulse in those days.

It would give many of them much relief to be able to turn around and say, “You Christians abolished slavery, and it was an unforgivable act of cultural imperialism!”

“Cultural Imperialism” is a handy label. Any act of the Right, regardless of the idealism that might lie behind it, can be labeled “cultural imperialism.” Trying to spread democracy in places where it is not found yet? Cultural imperialism. Attempting to stop third world genocide? Cultural imperialism. Fighting international sex trafficking? Cultural imperialism. Defending freedom of speech or religion in Communist countries? Egregious C. I.!

So it’s only a short jump to a position that would say, “Well of course I’m personally opposed to slavery, but what right has America, a country where zoophiles still don’t enjoy full human rights, to try to impose its antislavery norms on countries with different, and equally valid, traditions?”

And once that’s accepted, why not legalize slavery in “multicultural” America?

Normal-looking deviants could be booked on Oprah, tearfully telling the stories of how they never found personal fulfillment until they entered into a satisfying slave/master relationship. Numerous Muslim clerics could be found to appear on the evening news to condemn American cultural arrogance. Movies would be made, which no one would attend, but they’d win Academy Awards and the moviemakers would be interviewed sympathetically in Time Magazine.

Sound ridiculous? Sure. Lots of things that sounded ridiculous when I was a kid are the law of the land today. And things move a lot faster now than they did back then.

Give it time. See if I’m wrong.

I hope I am.

Hey, have I told you about my test?

Is there anything more tedious and self-indulgent than a middle-aged man telling you all about a medical procedure he’s been through? And yet here I am, and at least some of you seem to expect a report. (More sensitive and tasteful souls are advised to stop reading here.)

I shall not name the procedure I went through yesterday. That low I will not descend. Many of you will guess. The rest of you are better off in ignorance.

The worst part of this particular procedure is preparing for it. It involves two days of eating low-fiber food, and then one day of what’s called a “clear liquid diet,” capped off by the liberal use of certain medicaments which have prompt and dramatic effects.

I had a lot of opportunity to read during that last preparation day. I fear that I will always hereafter associate the reading of The Fellowship of the Ring with… rather intense physical sensations.

The day of the test itself was pretty easy. They don’t allow you to drive yourself, due to the sedatives used. As a certified urban hermit, I was entitled to a cab ride to the clinic, and a shuttle ride back, paid for by the study (there was a bad moment at the front desk where the receptionist told me they didn’t provide rides—I should have been told that. Turned out it was a misunderstanding, and the study people had my ride scheduled. Right hand uninformed by the left hand, as it turned out).

I had to undress and put on a hospital gown and robe (we all know they design those things to deprive us of all human dignity, don’t we?). In the operating room they gave me intravenous drugs for pain control and relaxation. I was told that one effect was amnesia in regard to the test itself, and I was interested to find out what that would be like.

They did their thing, and it was a lot less unpleasant than the preparation had been. Also quickly over. I did not get amnesia. I remember the whole thing, what it felt like and what it looked like on the monitor.

Once again a psychotropic medication has failed to have the promised effect on me. I seem to have superhuman resistance to such things. I think I’ve mentioned that antidepressants do nothing for me at all (except for the side effects).

I should probably be a spy. I can see myself bound to a chair, like Jack Bauer, saying, “I’ll tell you nothing! Your puny sodium pentathol is powerless against me! Uh, what are you doing with those pliers…?”

But I must admit the Valium component did relax me. So much so that I actually made conversation with the shuttle driver on the way home. Or rather, he made conversation and I (uncharacteristically) went along with it. It still took an act of will for me to ask a couple questions, but I did it.

And I had the nicest afternoon nap I’ve had in years.

I could have made a blog post after all, but I’d been through a soul-searing ordeal, and the day was mine, mine, mine! Or at least what was left after the nap was mine. As long as I didn’t drive anywhere.

Worst post ever. Don’t even look at this.

This is appalling. I should just face my failure and give up on blogging now.

I’ve reached the bottom. The absolute sludge-in-the-Worcestershire-bottle of blogdom. I’m going to do a post about my health.

I’m sorry. So very sorry. I’ll try to do better in the future.

First of all, I probably won’t be posting on Monday. Nothing serious. I’ve agreed to participate in a long-term medical study, and it involves undergoing a certain test which I won’t specify, because you may be one of those who (like me) eat at the keyboard. But it involves being sedated, and I may not be up to posting.

If I do post, you’ll know it went better than I expected.

I also saw my doctor today, on an unrelated matter (getting a prescription changed for insurance purposes, if you have to know).

It’s always dangerous to see a doctor, needless to say. 90% of all people who die of lingering diseases have seen a doctor recently.

It’s especially dangerous to see a new doctor. I had to change horses because my previous Galen, a man who believed in doing as little as possible as long as the patient wasn’t actually in debilitating pain, has retired. The new fellow is more energetic, brimming with fresh ideas for improving my life.

He thinks I ought to be sleep tested, to see if I need one of those C-PAP machines.

I’ve lived in fear of those devices for most of my adult life. In my mind, C-PAPs are for old, fat men.

The fact that I am in fact an old, fat man is of no comfort to me. (Thank you so much for bringing it up.)

On the other hand, the doctor speaks seductive words about improved mood, lower cholesterol and a reduction in acid reflux.

I think I see a face mask and a plastic tube in my future. I’ll keep you posted.

No need to thank me.

Sincerity is overrated

I’ve started taking up my personal devotions more systematically lately (fortunately I started this just before I lost my meal ticket… er, renter, so I can’t accuse myself of doing it just to curry favor in Heaven. My mind does work this way. Really). I’ve switched from my old NIV Study Bible (great notes) to an English Standard Version Bible.

I like it. I’ve been reading Dynamic Equivalency Bibles for decades now, seduced by the argument that if you really want to convey the sense of the original you’ve pretty much got to rewrite everything. Moving back to a more literal translation, I get a pleasant sense of solidity. Nobody’s telling me what they think the text says. They trust me to be a grownup and be able to read books written for grownups.

My first Bible was King James, and then I got an RSV (the old one, before they went all PC and started fiddling with gender and stuff). The ESV is a direct descendent of the old RSV, and so far I’m pleased and comforted.

The following almost feels as if it’s connected, but I can’t think how.

When I was writing song lyrics in an obscure Christian singing group, there was one thing I never did (actually I never did lots of things, notably make time with girls, but that’s another story). I never claimed that “God wrote this song.”

I saw it way too many times. Some sweet, sincere kid with a guitar would say, “God wrote this song. It just came to me while I was laying in bed, and I got up and wrote it down in fifteen minutes. So I know it came from God.”

Then he/she would play the thing and it would be repetitious and clichéd, and you could always count on the word “strife” being employed in contexts where you’d never use “strife” if you didn’t have a desperate need for a rhyme for “life.”

And I wanted to scream at them, “Don’t you realize what you’re saying here? You’re saying that God’s a lousy lyricist!”

I never did, though. I’m too kind-hearted. And cowardly.

I thought of that today when a book crossed my desk at work. It was a novel written by a man whose shoes I am not worthy to polish. He’s one of those unsung saints the newspapers and magazines will never profile, someone who’s given his life in sacrificial service to Christ and his neighbor, living from hand to mouth and enduring a fair amount of danger along the way.

He wrote a novel.

And it’s lousy.

I want to tell people (I’m telling a few right now) that the fact that you have something to say, and a story to tell, and spiritual insight, doesn’t make you a writer of fiction.

Sincerity won’t do it. I might be very sincere about wanting to build a church, to the glory of God. I might pray over every nail, and work with a heart full of devotion.

But that won’t make it a good church building.

Because I’m not a competent carpenter.

Writing fiction is a craft, just like carpentry. It has its own tools and skills, protocols and shortcuts. Regardless of how good your basic idea is, the nuts and bolts have to be properly tightened, the corners squared.

I’m not telling you to stay away from fiction if you’re not a “professional.” I’m not saying I belong to some priesthood which alone is privileged to touch the holy written word.

I’m just saying if you want to get into the guild, you’ve got to learn your craft. And that will take time and diligence.

Thoughts from a mule-headed protagonist

How am I today? Better, I think. A little better.

For one thing, the long-awaited third volume of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis finally arrived. Each volume has been longer than one before, and this one tallies in at 1,810 pages, including the index. It’s going on the shelf for now, but the next time I’m laid up with a multiple fracture of the leg, I’ll have my reading material ready.

I know it’s silly to look for divine signs in the day’s events, but on the way to work this morning I tried to fill up with gas at The Station That Usually Has the Lowest Price. I noted that the toll seemed to have gone up from yesterday, but I was there, and they’re usually the cheapest, so I assumed everybody else had jumped too, and I tried a fill-up. But the lock on my locking gas cap was frozen, and I didn’t have any spray to loosen it, so I drove off in a huff (actually I drove off in my Tracker, but you know what I mean).

This afternoon I stopped at Another Station That Sometimes Has the Lowest Price. Not only did my gas cap open (it was a little warmer today, so it probably melted in the sun), but the price was a full dime a gallon lower than my previous stop.

This undeserved bounty pleased me inordinately. I took it (for no rational or biblical reason) as a sign that God isn’t against me. Not completely, anyway.

Perspective is important, but it’s not my strong suit. There are probably people reading this entry who face the loss of loved ones, to disease or war. What are my problems compared to theirs? I’m sure they’d gladly have a mortgage foreclosed on them if it meant the restoration of their friend or family member.

And when I think it out, my situation isn’t so awful. I got notice in time so that I can still place an ad in the February issue of the Minnesota Christian Chronicle. That means it’s possible I could have a replacement sometime next month.

In storytelling, the dynamics of plot are always the same, whether it’s a literary story about an intellectual with writer’s block (unless it’s something experimental and self-indulgent), or a thriller about international counterterrorists and nuclear devices. The point of the story is always to change somebody. And the change always comes through pain and struggle.

You never read a story where somebody gets good advice, from a friend or from a book, and decides, “Hey, that’s right! I’m going to change the way I handle my life!” and everything is resolved right there.

The change always comes through conflict and hard times. I don’t think that’s only because it makes for a more interesting story.

I think it’s because it’s the way life is for real people.

God is trying to teach me something. So He’s doing what I’d do if I were writing my life—He’s making things hard for me.

Hope it works.

Aspirations and expirations

Blast.

My nice quiet renter is moving out, due to a personal crisis. There goes my economic security, until I can find another one.

Another opportunity to put my faith in God. He’s always taken care of me before. Why should I worry?

I hate living by faith, by the way.

Phil asked if I’d care to do the following meme. I’ll try it, but he’ll probably be sorry he asked.

0) What’s your name and website URL? (optional, of course)

My name is Lars, and… you’re here.

1) What’s the most fun work you’ve ever done, and why? (two sentences max)

The job I have now. Working with books, pottering about with old Norwegian volumes, what could be better?

2) A. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did? (one sentence max)

Amateur theater, which I wish I had time for nowadays.



B. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting it off? (one sentence max)


Getting married.

3) A. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why? (two sentences max)

I’d love to play the guitar. Unfortunately, I know from experience that I have no (zero) talent for it.

B. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn? (two more sentences, max)

I’d like to have taken one of C. S. Lewis’ literature classes. He’d probably have chewed me up and spit me out, though.

4) A. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?

Lazy, depressed, self-absorbed.

B. Now list two more words you wish described you.

Happy and thoughtful.

5) What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes– three sentences max)

I used to be passionate about the Body of Christ, spiritual adventuring and Norway/Vikings. Now I’m too bludgeoned to get excited about much of anything, except maybe live steel, and it’s the wrong season for that.

6) Write and answer one more question that YOU would ask someone (with answer in three sentences max)

Me ask a question? No, I don’t think so.

Who’s got the Remote?

The snow started last night and left about three inches behind. Nothing to compare to the kind of weather they’ve been getting further south and west, of course, but enough to turn the landscape into the sort of scene Walt Kelly said cartoonists loved—all that snow makes it very easy to draw. And, in classic fashion, the clouds rolled out to make way for clear skies and rapidly dropping temperatures. The high today was about 10 above, and tomorrow should be cut from the same climate.

I drove to work cautiously, tense with the secret fear that haunts my winter commute—that I’ll stop at a red light on an uphill grade and not be able to get traction to move again, listening to the horns of equally frustrated drivers behind me. All of them would be saying to themselves, “That idiot’s in an SUV! Why doesn’t he switch it into four wheel drive?” And I’d have no way of explaining that my 4WD doesn’t work, and it’s too expensive to fix.

But I made it in OK. I even got up the driveway at work, a stretch that’s stymied me more than once in the past. Fortunately our crack maintenance team had risen with the roosters and plowed it out.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d gotten stuck there, though. The head maintenance guy is the one who discovered my drive deficiency in the first place. It’s nice to work somewhere where they know your failings and accept you anyway.

By way of Mirabilis, here’s a story on how scientists have reconstructed the poet Dante’s face. He turns out to have been a little less formidable looking than we’d all thought.

I finished Stephen White’s mystery Remote Control last night. This isn’t a review, though I might mention that I found it kind of hard to follow, and thought the ending seemed a little contrived. I have a question about White’s books.

I’m quite sure (though I’m beginning to doubt myself) that I first heard of White in a column at National Review Online. Somebody wrote about mystery writers conservatives could enjoy, and I’m sure I wrote down the names of Jonathan Kellerman and Stephen White.

Kellerman didn’t disappoint. In spite of having a continuing homosexual character, the Alex Delaware mysteries have become steadily more anti-PC as time has gone by.

But I’ve read three White books so far, and I fail to discern any evidence of conservative views, either political or social.

Remote Control begins with the murder of a saintly abortionist by a fanatical pro-lifer. In the course of the book, association with Operation Rescue is just assumed to be a sign of utter moral turpitude.

Did I write down the wrong author name? Do the books get better later on?

Give me the benefit of your experience.

Personally, I’m against winter

Winter again.

I know. It’s been winter for months. But our snow cover is spotty, and temperatures have been teasing the freezing point for weeks—sometimes above, sometimes below. Weather as cold as that would have seemed awful back in October, but in January it’s not so bad.

Today the bottom dropped out. And by “the bottom dropped out,” I don’t actually mean record-breaking low temperatures. I just mean the playing field has moved south to zero-to-fifteen Farenheit territory, wind chills down below zero.

And it feels miserable.

Later, sometime in February, it won’t seem so bad either.

I don’t handle the cold well. I’m fairly sure I’ve told you that. When hardier souls are clapping their unmittened hands and saying, “Ah, this is good! This is bracing!” I’m trying to find another sweater, and calculating whether I can conserve more body heat by jamming my hands in my pockets or using them to cover my ears.

Cold induces physical pain in me, quickly following exposure. My ears hurt. My fingers hurt. My brother Moloch informs me (relentlessly) that it’s all psychological. It’s a failure of my character. If I had a better attitude, he says, I’d enjoy the cold as much as he does.

I’m not convinced. I think I know as much about bad attitudes as anyone, and although I spend enough time in Depressionville to qualify for resident status there, I’ve never been able to make a bad mood deliver actual, physical pain.

And where does Moloch get off talking about character, anyway? He lives in Iowa. It’s practically tropical down there.

Notes of a single-celled organism

Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren has asked his readers to link to his post on the release of Concordia Publishing’s new edition of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. There’s a special discount offer and everything.

I don’t ordinarily pass on commercial offers, but McCain is a fan of my books and a publisher too, and hard experience has taught me to ingratiate myself with publishers at every opportunity, even if they’re not my publishers.

Which, when you think about it, most of them aren’t.

Item: I got a cell phone, finally. I had one once before, a pay-as-you-go thing that cost me far more than the value I got out of it, except for the putting at ease of my mind. This one ought to be more economical. I got it through a special program with AAA, one designed for people who mainly want a phone for emergencies. I pay just ten bucks a month, but I get no free minutes. Perfect for urban hermits. The slogan could be, “This phone could save your life, even though you obviously don’t have one!”

It’s a Nokia, a bare-bones model with a black-and-white display. Probably because of its lack of frills, it’s amazingly small (or seems so to me). It’s about the size of one of those old Zippo lighters from WWII, except a little taller. Clearly the near-disappearance of cigarettes from American life has created a spiritual vacuum, a need for a Zippo-sized object to carry around in our clothes. And behold, the moment has produced the object.

And no, you can’t have the number.

Unless you’re Sissel.

Or a publisher.

I got mittens for Christmas!

I finished my combat mitten project on Sunday. This is what they look like.

Viking mittens

Actually, I thought they were done when I took the picture, but then I decided to tighten up the stitching. All the stitching that looks like dotted lines in the picture is now solid lines. Tight seams! Redundancy! Those are my watchwords. I may end up a quivering, broken casualty, but I want the paramedics to say as they wheel me away, “Hey, this guy’s mittens are really put together!”

A lot of live steel guys use gloves instead of mittens, and I think gloves do actually look better. But mittens allow you to have your fingers unseparated as you grasp your weapon grip, and that’s not a trivial advantage. This past year I used welder’s gloves, which looked great with their gauntlet cuffs, but separated my fingers. So my new mittens are equipped with gauntlet cuffs (added by me), which also help to protect my wrists (wrist injuries are one of the most common in our sport).

The original moose hide mittens were a Christmas gift from my brother Baal.

Some guys use mittens covered with mail for live steel, but I’ve heard that that’s actually not the best system. The little rings sometimes drive themselves into the glove and break your fingers. I prefer heavy leather myself, and it’s lighter.

We have no record, literary or archaeological, of the Vikings using combat gloves of any kind, although we know the Normans were using mailed mittens not too long after. It’s hard to imagine doing this kind of fighting with no hand protection, though. Judging from the experience of live steel fighters today, you’d have to expect all the experienced Vikings to be missing a finger or two, if they fought without protection. And you can only sacrifice so many of those suckers before you’ve (literally) lost your grip.

Damnation Street by Andrew Klavan

Had the opportunity to meet faithful commenter “Michael” today. He’s a pastor in my church body, and was here for a missions conference. He probably won’t see this for a few days, but nice to meet you, Michael.

One-line review of Andrew Klavan’s Damnation Street: “Woo-hoo!”

I got a Barnes & Noble gift certificate for Christmas, and Damnation Street was one of the books I chose to get with it. I don’t generally buy hardbacks, but I felt this was a special case.

It was, in fact, a more special case than I knew. Because it appears that Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop books (the previous ones are Dynamite Road and Shotgun Alley) are not going to be an ongoing series, but a trilogy (unless I read the ending wrong).

I’ve told you about these books before. Klavan, author of such blockbusters as True Crime and Don’t Say a Word, made an abrupt shift from big thrillers to smaller mysteries, and the Weiss and Bishop series is the result.

The main characters are Scott Weiss, private detective, and Jim Bishop, his operative. Weiss is a large, sad-faced, fat man, an ex-cop who longs for goodness and justice and true love. Bishop is a wild man with sociopathic tendencies. He’s a special forces veteran who rides motorcycles and flies planes, parties hard, uses women and throws them away. But Weiss saw some decency in him long ago, and gave him a second chance.

Now he seems to have thrown that chance away. In Shotgun Alley he came close to selling Weiss out for the sake of a seductive girl who was using him just as he’d used so many other women. He’s left the firm, and is seriously considering a career in organized crime.

Which is why, as the story begins, Weiss is searching for Julie Wyant alone. We know Julie from Shotgun Alley. She’s a prostitute and one-time porn actress of rare beauty, and Weiss fell hopelessly in love with her without ever meeting her. But Weiss isn’t her only admirer. She is also the obsession of the Shadow Man, a mysterious contract killer. He’s a sadist and a natural chameleon. Five minutes after talking to him, people can’t remember what he looked like. He used Julie once in the past, and he decided she was the woman he intended to love—to death. She managed to escape him, and fled in terror at the things he’d done to her.

Shotgun Alley ended in a sort of stand-off between Weiss and the Shadowman. Weiss knew that if he found her (and finding people is what he does best) the Shadowman would be close behind. So he made the decision to leave her alone. (Sorry for the spoiler. I can’t see how to avoid it.)

Now Weiss has changed his mind. He’s decided that if he leaves Julie alone, the Shadowman will find her eventually anyway. The only way he can ensure her safety is to find her, use her to flush the Shadowman out, and eliminate him (by whatever means necessary).

Weiss is an old cop. A smart old cop; an intuitive old cop. But he’s not a killing machine like the Shadowman. He could use a back-up man, someone like Bishop. But Bishop’s not around anymore.

So Weiss goes on his own, tracing Julie Wyant’s path across the American southwest, learning her story, bit by bit. Watching his back, knowing the Shadowman is there somewhere, watching. Waiting.

The tension of the story is relieved by a seriocomic subplot involving the unnamed narrator, a young man working as a sort of intern in the agency. This plot thread is a romance, and—wonder of wonders—it has a Christian element. Hopeful Christian authors should read this book just to see how a real storyteller handles spiritual matters.

I loved this book. I can’t praise it highly enough. As I read it I couldn’t avoid the feeling that I was reading a novel that could be a turning point in the history of the detective story, just as the works of Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers and Raymond Chandler were. (That’s not saying it will have such an effect. That will only happen if the book gets the readership it deserves.) In my view, Klavan has taken the detective story to a whole new level of character depiction and spiritual exploration. This is more than a story about crime. It’s about love and hate and loneliness and longing. It’s about the deepest needs of the human soul—good and bad.

Not for children. Cautions are in order for language, violence and disturbing subject matter.

Just like real life.

Hans Christian Andersen: Unsuitable for children?

I was chatting with a friend online last night, and the subject of favorite fairy tales came up. For some reason I forgot to mention “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen. Somebody (I forget who) wrote a book a long time ago, saying that our favorite fairy tales reveal a lot about our basic desires and strategies for life. Girls who like “Little Red Riding Hood,” for instance, seem to always own a red coat, and have a tendency to get into relationships with big bad wolves.

“The Ugly Duckling” is actually a pretty uncharacteristic story for Andersen. It has a happy ending, and he didn’t write those often. Sorry to drop a spoiler on you here, but if you only know “The Little Mermaid” from the Disney movie, the original version doesn’t end the same way at all. Not at all

An excerpt (not the conclusion of the story):

The little mermaid could not help thinking of her first rising out of the sea… and she joined in the dance, poised herself in the air as a swallow when he pursues his prey, and all present cheered her with wonder. She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart. She knew this was the last evening she should ever see the prince, for whom she had forsaken her kindred and her home; she had given up her beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it. This was the last evening that she would breathe the same air with him, or gaze on the starry sky and the deep sea; an eternal night, without a thought or dream, awaited her; she had no soul and now she could never win one….

Andersen was a writer of tragedy. He wrote tragedies for children, which seems perverse to us. But Andersen was a lonely, shy man who had little experience of happy endings. He’d grown up in poverty and been rejected by every woman he ever fell in love with (he was not, despite what the activists will try to tell you, a homosexual). He was only comfortable with children; remained a child himself in many ways. But the message he had for children was not the one we like to give them—“Hold on, keep hopeful, and everything will turn out all right.” His message, forged out of his own experience in a world where lots and lots of children never grew up, was, “You may fail. You may die. But death doesn’t have to be the end, and the way you die can make your life beautiful.”

I wrote about something like this the other day, in regard to the story about the widow in the smoky house. Our ancestors lived in a harder world than ours, and they had wisdom we can’t begin to comprehend, wisdom that allowed them to endure suffering we can’t imagine and retain their sanity. Afraid to look closely at such holy things, we, the descendents, malign them and label them “morbid.”