Category Archives: Fiction

Better to Speak the Language of “Once Upon a Time”

The Jollyblogger talks about the power of story in connection with Pullman’s Golden Compass.

Christian apologists have spent years and years attempting to show the reasonableness of Christianity, and have claimed many victories. Yet the religious landscape around us suggests that whether or not we have persuaded many heads, we continue to lose ground in capturing hearts – so let me join the chorus of those who are saying that we need to learn better to speak the language of “once upon a time.”

The Books are Dark, but the Movie May Not Be

File this under Waiting to See. I gather that several people have seen the Snopes article on the upcoming movie, The Golden Compass. The outcry is that the movie will be as atheistic and anti-church as the books are, but I don’t know that to be true yet.

Months ago when we first talked about this, I remember reading the spiritual themes of the movies would not be like the books. That belief is backed up by this EW article, in which Catholic actress Nicole Kidman says, “The Catholic Church is part of my essence. I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.” The article reports, “Conspicuously absent, for instance, is any reference to Catholicism; instead, the malevolent organization that snatches children to surgically remove their souls is referred to in the movie only as the Magisterium.”

So the movie may not be the atheist tract some are thinking it is, regardless what the author says about the books. It is the movie coming out in December, not the books, which have been around for several years, so (perhaps this is a point too technical) Pullman did not write the movie just as Tolkien did not write the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Scriptwriters adapted both works for the big screen, which means there will be differences.

So will the movie be a hateful diatribe? I don’t know. The books are another matter. Note this summary from a 2001 story in Crisis Magazine:

That is because Lyra is, as Mrs. Coulter learns from a witch she has tortured to death, Mother Eve reincarnate, destined to bring about a redemption from original sin.

Pullman’s treatment of the Catholic Church in his fantasy-Oxford world is at times imaginative (he names one of the popes John Calvin the First). But it is also unflattering. Mary Malone, a physicist introduced late in The Subtle Knife, says, “I used to be a nun you see. I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn’t any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.” What is a seven-year-old to make of that?

Note also the blasphemous quotation at the beginning this article. For a lengthy consideration of Pullman’s writing, see this Touchstone article by Leonie Caldecott, in which she calls Pullman “anti-Inkling.” She sums up the books (not the movie) this way:

Pullman may be a spellbinding magician painting an awe-inspiring scenario of hugely ambitious scope, but I suspect that in His Dark Materials he is trying to remodel the universe to his own taste. It is a kind of Luciferian enterprise to try to do in his story what Sauron tries to do in The Lord of the Rings. Or indeed to believe one can co-opt this power for good, as those whom the Ring has tempted, like Boromir, or even Frodo at the end of his quest, try to do.

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks (JXIIH)

I agreed to review The Dark River, second in the Fourth Realm trilogy, in part because I had not read the first book. I thought I could give a unique perspective. Most reviewers would have read the first book, wouldn’t they? After I agreed, I thought I may have made a mistake. I read somewhere that the plot was so complex a reader should start with book one, and if I had picked up The Two Towers without any knowledge of the rest of The Lord of the Rings story, I’d be lost at the start. But I didn’t have any trouble following the story. There are many times the narrative recalls past events, all of which could be part of book one, but I don’t know and not knowing didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story here.

The story begins exploring the black hats’ attempts to eliminate the white hats. The black hats in this story are The Brethren, a high-tech, international organization that wants to virtually imprison all free people through data networks, security checks, and surveillance cameras. They believe that once everyone in the world agrees to being watched or recorded for security reasons then everyone will become fairly controllable. The Brethren believe people are fundamentally products of their environment, so if the environment can be completely controlled, then everyone in it can be controlled. This belief earned the black hats the label Tabula by the white hats, who are Travelers and Harlequins. Continue reading The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks (JXIIH)

I Am Legend Coming Next Month

Will Smith is in another sci-fi novel adaptation, this time I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which has been adapted twice before. Apparently, a four writer team undertook this adaptation. Either that or two writers adapted a previous two-writer adaptation. Matheson has many stories in the public mind, in part because he worked on The Twilight Zone, in part because authors like Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz have praised his work highly. Another adaptation from him, one of a script seen on The Twilight Zone, is coming in the movie The Box. Still another in The Incredible Shrinking Man.

From what I understand of the story, I Am Legend can’t be called a vampire tale, though there are vampires in it. It’s better described as a post-apocalypse story, focusing on a man as a representative of all mankind. Speaking of the Matheson’s book, Dan Schneider says it focuses “on human loneliness. . . Its insights into what it is to be human go far beyond genre.” (Spoiler warning on that link.) It could be a good movie. Probably is a good book.

Piccadilly Jim Doesn’t Burn It Up, As It Were

calon lan (Bonnie) of Dwell in Possibility reviews P.G. Wodehouse’s Piccadilly Jim–not the best. She loves Wodehouse, but this one just doesn’t burn it up, if you see what I mean. The problem? “There’s just too much going on. I couldn’t keep track of the characters, and frankly didn’t find them interesting enough to keep track of.”

Warning on following the link: music automatically plays (but at least the controls are easily found at the top of the page).

Rowling: Dumbledore is Gay, Books Are Christian Inspired

J.K. Rowling has been talking about her books lately, and in New York someone asked a question about Professor Dumbledore’s, the headmaster of Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, love life. The author answered hesitantly, “I always saw Dumbledore as gay.

According to at least one report, the audience loudly applauded that revelation, to which Rowling responded she would have revealed it earlier had she known it would be well received.

Of course, this doesn’t sit well with me, but I guess we’ll have to live with it. Rowling appears to be in her right mind and not slipping into loony post-story “revelations,” ala George Lucas. When I first heard of this news, I doubted it. Even if she did say Dumbledore is gay and it isn’t an inference drawn from an unclear statement, I thought we may have to wait to hear what other statements she makes about her wildly popular series. If next year we hear her tell readers the hero of her stories is actually Hagrid, then we’ll know she’s flaky. But this appears to be genuine backstory, never before guessed or hinted at in the books. In a few decades if these books are still popular, many readers will probably doubt Rowling ever said this.

In related news, Rowling said the books have Christian inspirations. The Telegraph reports:

At one point Harry visits his parents’ graves and finds two biblical passages inscribed on their tombstones.

“They are very British books, so on a very practical note, Harry was going to find biblical quotations on tombstones,” [Rowling] said.

“But I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones …they sum up, they almost epitomise, the whole series.”

She confessed that she does have doubts about Christianity and the afterlife, but she has not given up on her faith. To the reader who responds to this by asking how she could be Christian and have a major character, admirable in many ways, be a homosexual, I recommend practicing a bit of Christian tolerance. Did the Lord say, “Ye will know my disciples by their stance of current issues?” No, he said his disciples would love each other, even when we disagree.

Cornish’s Foundling

A while back I meant to link to a review Mr. Holtsberry did on his jolly good blog, which could only be improved by short, coffee-related posts, IMESHO. Since I’ve been making good on my thoughts lately (note the radio interview Dr. Bertrand landed after I thought about suggesting it. (I didn’t know he was a doctor. Did you know he had a doctorate?)) Anyway, I saw this review of Foundling, by D. M. Cornish, and having seen the book before, I have faith it’s a good one.

Kevin says the book is both Dickensesque and Tolkienesque. “The Dickens reference obviously comes from the orphan plot line and the semi-Victorian feel. But also from the strong characters,” he writes. “The Tolkienesque aspect comes from the complexity and detailed nature of Cornish’s creation. The world of the Half-Continent has a depth and level of detail that is rare in YA fantasy.” Very interesting, though the hardback has a scary cover. The website is Monster Blood Tattoo, which has a short excerpt from the book.

Harry Potter and the Christian Critics

In First Things, Mark Shea writes:

The magic of Harry is, as John Granger points out, “incantational,” not “invocational,” exactly like the magic of Gandalf. Born with the talent for magic, Gandalf says the magic words and fire leaps forth from his staff, just as from Harry’s wand. No principalities or powers are invoked in HP. Indeed, if any words are “invocational” they are the prayer to Elbereth and Gilthoniel uttered in Middle Earth. Yet nobody accuses Tolkien of promoting the worship of false gods. That’s because we understand Tolkien’s fictional subcreation and its rootedness in Christian thought. I suggest Christian critics try to extend Rowling the same charity.

Spoiler warning. [via Mars Hills Audio]

Is Wodehouse Like the Energizer Bunny?

The Scott Stein, who teaches a course on humorous writing at University of Pennsylvania, said that he read P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters before any other Bertie and Jeeves novel. “It was one of the funniest, most entertaining novels I’d ever read,” he said. He read three more and “each has been less entertaining than the previous one. The last one I read, just recently (Jeeves and the Tie that Binds), was even a bit tedious.”

Frank Wilson pointed out Scott’s post and has yet to say whether he agrees with Scott. Not that it really matters, but hey, it’s a detail to point out, and Scott–that is, The Scott Stein–discussed his thoughts further on Frank’s blog.

I haven’t read the books Scott read. Of the Bertie and Jeeves stories, I’ve read Carry On, Jeeves, Very Good, Jeeves, Right-Ho, Jeeves, and The Inimitable Jeeves (I think). Each were hilarious. The story of Aunt Agatha and the Pearls was ripping funny, in part, because we knew about Bertie’s relationship with his aunt, “the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.” I haven’t gotten to The Code yet, but what do you think of Scott’s premise? Do these stories get old after a while?

Voted Most Influential Fictitious Character

Who are the top three most influential fictitious characters in your life? They are probably listed in a new book, The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History. Three scientific authors wrote up their subjective list, including Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, Prometheus, Jim Crow, Siegfried, and J.R. Ewing. Their top three are The Marlboro Man, Big Brother, and King Arthur. (No, no, the legend of Arthur which transcends whatever the reality was. No, I’m not going to argue over it, because you’re probably right.)

I think my personal list would be:

  1. Bilbo Baggins, who left his comfortable home to apply his skills in ways he could never have foreseen
  2. Winnie the Pooh, who is fun and compassionate if nothing else (I should learn more from him)
  3. Wolverine, an angry man who has been a bad influence on me. I should work to replace him with The Man who was Thursday, who strove after God.

Who are the characters on your list?

The Chess Machine, by Robert Löhr

For his first novel, accomplished German author and playwright Robert Löhr spins a remarkable yarn from an obscure historical incident. In 1770, Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen revealed a clockwork device called the Mechanical Turk. It was a chess-playing automaton or at least was presented as such. In reality, it was a clever bit of gears and controls beneath the wooden façade of a stern Turkish chess master (about which Edgar Allen Poe writes in this essay, having witnessed the Turk many years later).

In The Chess Machine, Löhr uses that stone to produce a 300-page soup of deception, ambition, lust, loyalty, prejudice, and faith—with a touch of murder. The lead character is the man within the machine, the brilliant Tibor Scardanelli. Tibor’s religious worldview frames most the drama. When he is first offered a job as the automaton’s mind, he refuses it, citing the commandment to avoid false witness. Within a day his circumstances become so desperate that he runs to find Kempelen to accept the offer. From that point on, Tibor, a dwarf who had lived as an outcast of society, has to become non-existent, because no one can know that Kempelen has been associating with a man who could fit inside his new chess machine.

When he arrives at the workshop which is to be his entire world for several months, Tibor meets another outcast working with Kempelen, a Jew named Jakob whose woodcarving gives the Turk its mystic aura. The three men are a wild success everywhere they perform, which stirs up envy among the mechanicians who know it can’t be done and fear from priests and parishioners who believe it’s of the devil. The deception grows dangerous when a beautiful woman dies while alone with the machine. That’s more of a teaser than you’ll get from the video created by the book’s Dutch publisher.

Tibor causes the most trouble for himself when he sneaks away from Kempelen’s in-house arrest to breathe the wild air of the world. One time he gets caught up in a Viennese masquerade party. Another time he takes refuge with a somewhat deranged sculptor. In both cases, he is carried away by the lust of the flesh and deeply troubled by his sin. This is the most realistic conflict Löhr describes. Tibor is powerless over his sin, and he pleads for God’s absolution. Yet even while he prays, one time, his thoughts turn salacious. Horrified at himself, he stabs his legs with carving tools, hoping to pay for God’s forgiveness. I wish I could say he learned that forgiveness was already bought for him through Jesus Christ, but the story ends ambivalent on this point—perhaps leaving his faith at an altar, perhaps only leaving one faith tradition for another.

The Chess Machine winds up slowly and spins a dramatic finish. It isn’t a safe book (thinking of Association of Christian Retailer guidelines), but it is enjoyable and smart. Translator Anthea Bell did an excellent job bringing this work to English.